Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dec 31 - An Incredible "Journey" so far!

The end of 2008 brings me to the halfway point in my Journey Workshop and I have decided to review my progress so far. The pot pics posted are from the last firing of 2008. Some successful, mostly not, but getting better.

Since starting my journey in July, I can see a decided change for the better in my work. I attribute this directly to the fact that Steven's superb critical eye and hsi helpful suggstions are never far from my mind. I find myself continually asking, "Is this the best that I can do?"

I find that I am working on several themes - the handbuilt appliqued pots, oval covered pots, bowls, teapots and cups and trying to tie them together into a more unified look - one of my goals for this year long journey workshop. A unified look is something that is hard for me to achieve as I love trying new ideas, especially decorating ones.

There have been many other lessons learned from Steven as well.

1. I try to examine all the details, front and back, top and bottom. As Steven says , "God is in the details". Steven has an incredible eye for detail. Nothing is too much trouble for him. When I complain about something being difficult to do, such as a tedious decoration or a difficult handbuilding section, he says, "But that's not the point. " I continually try to remind myself of that and try not to take shortcuts.

A good example is his view that a pot is a 3-D form so decoration should be on all sides. It does not have to be a lot - just something that ties in and catches your attention.

2. He emphasizes making lots of sketches of pots. Although I had already been doing this, I am doing this even more now and this has been invaluable - even if I draw the same form over and over. I may then set it aside for several days/weeks. When I come back to it, often forms are refined and new ideas developed.

3. Focus on the rim and foot. Steven says those are like punctuation marks on a pot. One should not overwhelm the other, unless one deliberately intends to, for the sake of the design. One thing that I have noticed with potters who have had formal training is the strong feet and rims that their pots have. Self taught potters tend to have especially weak feet. I have been trying to makes stronger rims and feet - the bowl pictured below has a stronger rim than I used to make.

4. Handles. Although I had tried over the years to make handles pulled off the cup I had never succeeded in making those my standard handle. Several years ago I had ordered the DVD from Tony Clennel on making handles and that helped a lot. It wasn't until I finally made myself try them again at Steven's suggestion at Centre Street Clay that I am finally beginning to get comfortable making them.

I still have a long way to go, but as Steven says, "They are miles better than they were before." Yet I had thought my handles before were not bad. Again that is another sure way to often spot whether a potter is professionally trained or self taught (and that's me mostly).

5. Asking myself, "What do I like, not like about the pot." Steven usually starts a critique with - "Well what do you think?" What he thinks is sometimes different and together it makes for an in depth look at the pot.

Verbalizing my opinions to him during our consultations has helped me really think about my pots and to remember my ideas. I feel this has directly led to an improvement in the overall look in my pottery.

7. Emphasis on form - is the total in balance, resulting in a pleasing shape? What is the pot saying to you? What do handles, knobs, decorations add to the pot? In the small covered jar the knob adds elegance, but the copper red glaze on the lid is off centre (it is hard to see in the pic) and so very distracting from the overall design and central placement of the knob, which is more formal. This ties in to point #5 below on how glazes empathize the form - rightly or wrongly - wrongly (to me at least)in this case.)

5. How glazes emphasize the form, bring out the best features in a pot. As well a sprayed pot should not necessarily look sprayed. Glazing is still a major weak point with me. You can see from the pics posted here that my pots still mostly look sprayed - no subtlety there. I hate glazing! You can see that the painter's water jar and brush rest on right would have been more attractive without such a strong central blue area - I need to think about my spraying more carefully. As well I have difficulty with color combinations - I need to try to better visualize the final result.

Although my work is still all over the map in terms of style, glazes etc, I am slowly getting to a more narrow focus - to achieving that unified look. Thank you Steven for a marvellous, inspiring 5 months and there are 6 more months to go!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Journey Workshop Dec 15 - 22 Fourth Consultation with Steven

Well it was a mad rush last week and this week to get stuff bisqued and glazed for the Dec gas firing on the 17th. I also needed to get all my pics posted on Flicker for the Thursday consult with Steven. From the Nov firing, the one with the muddy results, Steven agreed that they could have been a result of the accidental reduction during the slow cool.

We discussed the handbuilt sculptures. Steven felt that I needed to concentrate more on my spraying - I was delineating the different areas too much - you can see the the dark brown bands on the back of the boat/fishing woman sculpture where the different glazes separate and he felt this was a distraction. At first I rather liked them, but now in terms of total design I can see where he is coming from. He mentioned that he feels that it should not be too obvious that a pot has been sprayed - the areas should blend together.

Our Guild sprayer does not work that well - it tends to get clogged and the control is not that good. Steven orders his sprayers from Harbour Freight in the US and I got the item numbers from him. I will order the small one as that will work with our small compressor.

My last boat/fishing woman sculpture was still in the greenware state - I was really pleased with it as I felt that I had finally improved by simplifying - as well I was designing with the glaze in mind. In my previous vases the runny ash glazes were interfering with the appliqued design, yet I loved the effect of the rivulets. So this time I left large blank areas and kept the appliques to a small area in the forefront. To add some interest to the front blank areas I added a Kanthal wire ladder. Steven liked the Kanthal wire addition, as it fitted the design. As well when one looked down from the top the resulting wave shape also fitted in with the boat theme. I still felt the top edge when looking at it from the front was a little wishy washy - it was supposed to be scooped out front and back and swoop up in the front middle protrusion. I think that a stronger projection in the middle and on the right as well would have helped.

We discussed the anchor. I have put an anchor on all the sculptures to indicate that it is a boat. However I have to agree with Steven they were just too obvious and to me, just too angular. The rest of the design is more curvy. Now when I look back at all the other sculptures, the anchors just scream out at me. Next sculpture no anchor!!!

I had included Kanthal wire as a knob in a teapot. Steven asked me what I thought of the wire knob. I felt that it was not substantial enough and perhaps spiked up too much in relation to the rest of the pot. Steven felt that although it was a novel idea it was too out of place on that pot - in relation to the handle etc. He felt that if you use that type of wire knob you need to add more of it somewhere. The Kanthal wire worked on the sculpture because of the repetition.
After thinking about it for a few days, I now am excited about the possibilities of more wire additions on a teapot such as on the handle and under the spout - ala a nose ring like Tony Clennel has on his gravy boats.

One of the big advantages of being able to discuss your work with an experienced teacher such as Steven is that you end up seeing so much more than you had before, even if it was something that Steven had not pointed out. These discussions also generate a lot of new ideas over the next few days as I mull over his comments.

The glaze results will be out this Saturday - I had decided to concentrate on the Stony Yellow, Hannah Ochre and Blue Ash Glazes, using the Waterfall Blue and Fraser Titanium overglazes which create crystals and movement. So lots of pots in that combination - let's hope they turn out.

Journey Dec 1 - 14 - teapots, bowls and mugs

Along with a few others I brought in a few pots for the critique during the workshop with Robert Tetu. He had several good suggestions. When I glaze the foot of my bowls I tend to glaze just halfway down. He suggested either all the way or not a all. On stoneware I don't mind an unglazed foot though on porcelain the white clay somehow is rather jarring. Also regarding the bowl with the fish stamped on the rim - liked the bowl but wondered why the fish were there. Well I am trying to get a more unified look to my work - as I have stamped fish on the appliqued work. Someone else suggested that there was too much symmetry with the two fish - so that week made some bowls with just one fish and I think I like those better now. Also tried to get the spiral in the middle more fluid and less symmetrical as Steven had suggested.

I continued with several more teapots out of HP porcelain - again pulled the handles off the pot and these seem to be getting easier now, though I am still not very pleased with them. I think that I finally got the spout straight - with the end not tapering out.
Also made some more cups - for once I knew how I was going to glaze them as I was making them. One set with stony yellow and Hannah blue ash as in the bowl and covered jar from the Nov firing and the others a shino with Gosu brushwork underneath. However not very pleased with the brushstrokes, but need some new designs for the Co-op for Xmas.

I continued with the fishing lady theme - this time I like the shape a lot better, as it is a more of a vase shape and the appliqued is more restrained. I used kanthal wire to make a ladder on the side of the ship - I used to watch the huge frieghters coming up the St Lawrence river to Montreal and remember those ladders on the sides and they aways stopped partway down before they reached the water.
Sales at the Co-op seem to have slowed quite a bit - maybe there will be a last minute rush.