Sunday, September 28, 2008

Journey Sept 21 - 27 First Consultation with Steven

Well I finally found a time to have my web based consultation with Steven. We used Skype and Steven had a webcam so he came through really well - both the photo and voice. I only used the mike on my laptop and I had posted the pictures of my pots on Flicker so we both could look at the same pic. I had glazed and fired some pre Steven workshop pots using Rhodes 32. He felt that although the Rhodes 32 pots were acceptable, they could be a lot more interesting, by perhaps barely hitting the edges sideways of the design with a very fluid glaze like Watercolor Green or Blue - that would accent the edges of the design.
The shopping ladies definitely could stand some highlights. However it is important to highlight areas that are in relation to the drawing. The monk vase was better as the glaze there was more fluid (it was a reglaze) and so the edges of the design were delineated better.

He felt that the least successful of the Rhodes 32 pots was the fishing lady as the top right hand corner and face were all emphasized in white - the white area really did not relate to the rest of the drawing. I will need to be more careful how I spray.

I really liked a Stoney Yellow glaze that Steven had on one of his pots in an older CM article that he had posted on his webpage. I thought that it might be a more interesting glaze than Rhodes 32 - more lively colour than just the cream of Rhodes 32, yet still show darker brown where thin. Will try that glaze as well as some from a line blend that I did from Rhodes 32. One sample with .75 manganese was the colour of cafe au lait, but dark brown where thin and that may be another more interesting choice. Another with 1% chrome is a warm tan so will try that as well.
We discussed my disastrous firing with the ash glazes, how the ash glazes relate to the design and how they can overpower the design. When using two colours, I will need to be careful not to abruptly separate the colours.

Actually the back of the vases where there was no or little design were best. Hi suggestion of having pots with little or no design as supporting pots around a more complicated pot seemed like an excellent suggestion and will work on that as well. Also looked at my mugs. I could really see the difference between the handles pulled off the mug and some of my pre Steven handles which now really look horrible - yet I had thought that they very quite good. Sometimes you cannot see what you are looking at until someone points it out to you. I had tried from time to time with handles pulled off the mug but until Steven's workshop did not have the perseverance to keep trying.

Also the white glaze going over the top was distracting to the overall design - and I had to agree - there was just too much going on.
So I will continue working on the appliqued pots - even though they are getting more and more complicated which I do not really like. Steven thought that I should continue and eventually I will take from these pots what I like best and will end up with much simpler forms. So lots of stuff to work on in the next month - it is nice to have specific goals to work toward and this year long journey workshop seems to be keeping me at it so far.
On Sat and Sunday took part in an Art Fair that was organizied at a local nursery that was taking part in the "Rural Ramble". Attendance was really poor and was not worth the effort as sold only seconds. However got several ideas from the imported items that the nursery was sellng as they sell home decor items as well as plants.

Journey Sept 18 - 21

Did a lot of sketching of designs for fishing woman/factory ship last week and so started working on one. They do take a long time to finish as I need to let them harden up and dry slowly. My sculptures seem to be getting more complicated - I would rather see them more simplified. This last one will have the fishing woman at the front, with the ship holding lots of fish on the sides. Somehow I seem to have lost the elegance of the design with this one - too many add ons. However will continue and see what Steven has to say in the consultation next week.

Ended up doing a lot of work at the Guild insulating the kiln shed and in helping with our open House on Wednesday. We had 12 new members sign up for lessons - several who had done pottery before so that is always encouraging as they tend to stay with it.

Journey Sept 8 - 15 "The Parade" Pots

I had made a slab vase pre-Steven Hill under "The Parade" theme, and decided to do another one. Not sure how successful this one was, it looked at bit like a prison tower with inmates rioting out the windows, so I added a tree to help it look like a street. With the tree partially sticking out it added another dimension to the vase so can work on this aspect for my slab vases in the future.

Well this was a rather frustrating week - not much time for pottery - lots of time spent cleaning up the Guild in readiness for the Open House next week. We hope to get many new members - the more members, the more inspiration and ideas get passed around. Whether I am helping a beginner or watching/talking to a more experienced potter I always find there is something new to learn. We are lucky to have this facility in Deep River, as for a yearly membership fee of $100, members get 24/7 key access, use of wheels, slab roller, electric and gas kilns. A series of 6 lessons is included in the fee - taught by Guild volunteers. Members buy their own clay and then pay for the firings according to weight. This includes the bisque fire, glazes and glaze firing. Ninety six cents/lb for electric and $1.28/lb for gas. This makes pottery affordable for everyone and it seems like over the 54 years that our Guild/club has been established someone from nearly every household in our town of 4500 has tried out pottery. As a result the townspeople are very supportive of the 6local potters that sell their work.
I did a lot of sketching for the fishing woman/factory ship theme, but having a hard time moving forward with that. I also made some more fish stamps based on medieval woodcuts, trying to get away from the cutesy look for my fish stamps.
I will also continue to make cups, practicing my handles pulled from the cup.

Journey July 28 - Aug 2 Summerfest Raku

Well got off to a flying start Monday as I made slabs for two more slab vases - as I want to continue working on them. However stalled after that as had to glaze slab vases that I had made pre-Stephen Hill as we were loading the gas kiln on Tuesday. Our daughter's boy friend Ken, was arriving in the afternoon, to drop off their dog. We'll be looking after their dog until they have finished moving to Toronto from Victoria in September.

Loaded the kiln on Tuesday and fired on Wednesday. It was the smoothest firing that we had done so far - needed very little adjustment of gas, air, damper after body reduction. I decided to reox the kiln after cone 9 was down as that was something Stephen said he did for the last hour from 9 to 10. Also did a bit of a slow cool from 04 for about an hour and a half.

I have been having a lot of trouble with blistering with fake ash glazes on my iron stoneware, even after a slow bisque. Opening the kiln on Friday - the results were really great - great copper reds and hardly any blistering on the fake ash. We'll try to repeat again in the next firing. Managed to put together the slabs and so have 2 vases ready for decorating.

Thurs - Friday had to help get things ready for our big Raku firing for our Summerfest on Saturday. This is held in Deep River every second year, with music, crafts, etc. The Guild makes small pots for the public to glaze and raku. This is very popular - we sold out of pots (152)and so raised approx $1200. The pots are sold at $8, but if people had a Summerfest wristband (cost $20 that allowed them to see all the music events), they got a $4 discount on the pot and the Summerfest committee then makes up the difference to us.

We were a pretty tired out, smoky crew at end at 5 pm.
We also had a pottery sale and sold about $900.

Journey day 9 "The Contract"

Well Sunday came too soon and we had to pack and leave. We all had had a fantastic time, the workshop exceeding my expectations - along with the accommodations and food! I took a final few pictures of Stephen's unique architecural ceramic additions to the outside of his house.

The evening before we had to make up our contract and sign it - that is what we hoped to accomplish over the year. Mine states:
1. To develop a unified body of work - both functional and non-functional, concentrating on form and design.
2. To have this work ready approximately one month before the show date next July.
3. To develop an appropriate palette for the forms.
4. To document my progress every week via photos etc in a blog.

Marian (the other out-of-town student) and I shared the limo back to O'Hare airport. On the plane I munched on the delicious banana bread that Kim had packed for us while sketching some more ideas. Sunday evening it was back to reality - housework, cooking, house guests, etc, etc - but determined to make pottery my first priority - after all I have a contract that I have to adhere to.

Journey Days 7 & 8

In order to try for a more unified look to my work, I tried to incorporate some of the design ideas from the appliqued vases to the bowls. As I also like to use stamps I thought that by applying a few stamped appliques, it would allow me to also just stamp directly on some pots without any appliques and yet they would look unified (see first pic with small pot stamped with fish next to slab pot with stamped and then applied fish). Appliqued work on small items like mugs just never looks right to me, though just stamps are OK.
It was also difficult to get the appliqued work to look like it was part of the bowl, but a few suggestions from Stephen - like to delineate edges with a rib mark helped to somewhat unify the decoration to the pot. The bowl with the 3 squares (2nd pic down) was done very spontaneously and because of that I don't feel that I can reproduce it easily. Also it just did not feel right to me. I analysed why I felt like that - it was because it felt like a fraud - it was not me - because I did not spend much time working out the design ahead of time, unlike my other ones. May be I need to work on spontaneity. None of the bowls that I tried really satisfied me but it will be an area that I will definitely work on.

Friday afternoon we went on a field trip to Starving Rocks State Park to view the wonderful rock gorges and hiked up to the lookout over the Illinois River. The talk about the flying carp set me off to do a bunch of fish stamps.
Saturday was a busy day, trying to get various pieces finished - and wished that we did not have to leave. Had a great supper of blackened catfish - first time that I had catfish - as it is not a popular fish in Canada. During the week we also showed pictures of our pots so that everyone became familiar with the other's work.

It was wonderful to work with the other participants - kindred souls who love clay and I learned so much from them as well. There was quite the contrast - Marian and I as the two older students where clay is a second career versus the 3 young students who are just starting their careers - hoping to make clay a part of it. Their idealism and enthusiasm made me think back to the heady days of the 60's and 70's when I still had my all my life ahead of me and anything was possible. With so much determination and drive I'm sure that they will succeed in their clay journey wherever it will take them. Every studio needs one of these students! 
Thanks Kenyon, Sarah and Lindsay! 

I found Stephen to be a natural teacher - he taught me to really look at my pots so that I can become more critical. Whenever anyone asked him for an opinion of a pot his first remark was always - "What do you think?" And only after struggling to articulate what I thought would he give his opinion and reason. Every time that I look at a pot now I think of Stephen's remark. I found that I also learnt just as much when he talked to the other students about their pots - I never realized there was that much to say about a pot.

Journey Days 5 & 6 Cups and Bowls

I continued to work on my vases - concentrating on simplifying the design, and incorporating the design into the tops, and Stephens suggestion that perhaps the hair lines would add interest were spot on.

I also wanted to improve my bowls - how to get that wonderful curve in the bottom and his demo provided many tips. He leaves up to 1" for the base, and always makes sure to dig in at the bottom to get all the clay up. Be sure to throw higher that you want the bowl to be as once you start shaping and widening it, it will get shorter. Don't start with too bulbous a belly on the bowl and use a large stiff rib on the interior first, then continue shaping both the inside and outside with ribs. He tries to avoid shadow throwing rings - so the interior of his vessels are always smooth. When trimming a fresh pot while still on the bat he keeps one hand inside for support - making sure to spray the inside with water if the surface is too dry. When throwing plates, be sure to throw them with slight curve so that when you cut them off they will not hump up.

I also threw some cups as that was another area that I thought I was weak in and Stephen's suggestions helped me to see what I was doing wrong. He regards the foot and rim as punctuation marks and he likes them to be balanced so that neither one screams out at you. His handles are either 1 finger or 2-3 finger handles, with the 1 finger handles having the lower part of the handle coming in almost parallel so that it can support the other fingers.

I know that I will have to work on handles pulled off the cup - something that I have tried from time to time but never perfected. When a handles is not pulled off the cup there is a "gap" in the top area of attachment that detracts from the overall shape.

Kenyon, the resident potter showed me how to make a pinched handle - a technique that I had never seen before. His cups have great one finger handles that he makes that way.

Journey Workshop Days 3 & 4 Attention to Detail

We were also encouraged to sketch - something that I always do and I have lots of sketch books from past years. As most of the "doodles" in the books have little merit I think that I will eventually cut and paste the more interesting drawings into one large scrap book - so I can easily scan if from time to time.

I made two large vases and tried to apply Stephen's suggestion to doing something more to the top - rather than just keeping it flat (as in first picture of a pre-workshop vase).

I was going to put figures on the vase with the wavy top, but found my figurative style was very linear and did not suit that wavy topped vase so ended doing a rather abstract decoration. The other vase was thrown and altered into an oval and so I worked on figures for that one, and I ended up adding a round projection to the top rim to add interest.

Stephen also felt strongly that since I was working with a 3-D vessel I should look at putting something on the back of my vases. It did not have to be much - just something that would add interest. So far I had been looking at them as just a piece of canvas and so had not taken full opportunity of the artistic possibilities for the pot and had not looked at every possible detail.

I was not really satisfied with either piece, but felt that the top treatments had possibilities. I have difficulty not making the designs too "cutesy". I also threw several bowls as I felt that I needed help with the inside curve.

Steven Hill Journey Days 1 & 2

Well what a fantastic week it was! On arrival Saturday we had a tour of the facilities - ground floor dormitory with kitchen facilities, the fully equipped studio and then the first floor gallery (first and second pictures) and dining room and kitchen - all decorated with ceramics not only made by Stephen but by many of America's best potters. Stephen had just finished several extra large platters (last pic). We had a great supper of blackened BBQ salmon served on great pottery!

Sunday morning was spent on discussing our respective backgrounds, what our interests are and that was followed by individual interviews with Stephen. We had been asked to bring along any sketches, pictures and pots that particularly interested us and we were asked what our goals were. My goal was to make great pots that truly satisfy me.

The studio was open as early and late as we wanted and we were free to work on what we wanted. Stephen felt that I should work on unifying my work more and that was one of the goals that I had identified as well. I decided to start with my slab pots with the clay appliques as these were something that I had always been interested in.

Each day we were assigned several chapters from Robert Piepenberg's book "Treasures of the Creative Spirit" and they formed the focus of our discussions most afternoons - discussions on what constitutes our spirit, our creativity and how we can express our creative self. Later in the week we played a game designed to give you insight into your creativity. I learnt that I was very literal and tight in my creative thoughts, unlike the other workshop participants who were much more loose and "far out" in their associations. Perhaps that is reflected in my pottery which tends to be rather tight.

Journey Sept 1 - 7 Garbage Can Platter

Well after the rather disastrous firing last week (had lots of other small pots in the kiln - temmoku over celadon with wax resist (again too thick a temmoku). Also I was trying to get some nice red-gold spots on the temmoku by overspraying some rutile, iron combination. One combo from a recent clayart post recommended some clay in the wash so that it would not get dissolved - but it ended up rather dry. The best seems to be rutile / gerstley borate in 1:2 ratio which seemed to produce gold streaks.
I made another boat/fishing woman - this time much bigger. I think that I made the slabs too thick as it is very heavy. I also wanted to incorporate the curves of the woman into one back edge of the boat - to make it more interesting. Took quite a bit to time to get the edge to look right - ended up filling the upper left corner with lots of hair.
Not sure if my message of small fisherwoman vs factory ships comes across. My visiting daughter and her boyfriend both thought that it had something to do with the sea - a mermaid, perhaps the woman protecting fish - but the idea a a big factory ship did not come across at all. So will work on that. I do like one back edge having a curve. Also like the waves in front - again the diorama theme.

I have wanted to make some large plates so thought I would slump a large slab over the top of a garbage can. I tied and taped an old sheet over the top of the can and then used another thin cloth to transfer the slab that had been precut into a circle into the top of the can. It slumped beautifully. I extruded a wide rim and penciled in grooves using a ruler. Once it had stiffened up a bit I attached it to the plate/ I tried some fish paper cutouts - with shark etc. Then I threw a foot and which later attached once they were all stiff enough. In the end I decided no fish, but put on some slab handles. With the nest plate I think I will try some stamping on the slab before slumping and so that way they would tie in to my other work.

This week with visitors and it being the annual cleanup at the Guild - I really had little time for making pots.

Journey Aug 25 - 31 Bearded Ladies

Well this week had to glaze stuff for the Friday firing. I had my stamped mugs - those I used VCAA green and a clear on the inside. They turned out OK - in fact several have already sold.
I did a few more in the blue version of the VCAA but I put on the glaze too thick and they turned out a very strong blue black - not nice at all. However all the handles ended up a loose one finger handle - maybe need to make them either a tad smaller or bigger (for two fingers).

With the two large stamped plates - one I used a rutile blue which shows up texture well and the other a temmoku center , ringed with hannah ochre ash. Both turned out a disaster - no rutile blue - just a grey- brown, though the texture was OK and then my temmoku was too thick so the fish disappeared.
I decided to do the fake ash glazes on the figured pots. The landscape one used iron saturate on the bottom, wiping it off the high appliques. Then I sprayed with the blue ash and Ochre Ash and some more blue ash in the upper right hand corner.

With the women pots I just used the two ash glazes, wiping off the blue from the high points at the bottom. I think that I also did a light overspray with rutile/gerstley borate in some sections like the sun and the trees. However I mostly had too thick an application on all these pots - the backs turned out better as I did not put on such a thick layer - so ran and pooled a bit too much especially on the chins - like a beard. will have to see if I can grind those down - perhaps do a little sandblasting as well next time I visit my brother in Montreal. Well I will have to be more careful on the spraying to get more exacting results.

I am not sure if in the end if I like the ash glazes on these pots better than
the Rhodes 32. There is another glaze that I am thinking of using - that's the VCAA base - but should do a line blend to see what colours I can develop - the VCAA green and blue are both too strong and vibrant I think for these pots. I have the the tan version - but it is a bit dark.

I tried a variation of the landscape on a large plate - but used a wax batik method to apply the iron underglaze decoration and then used a semitransparent that is supposed to be good for iron reds. Unfortunately it is quite shiny - so do not really like the result - though the iron came through beautifully. So perhaps will try to work on that glaze to develop a matte version.