Sunday, December 16, 2007

Potter's Seventh Circle of Hell

A quick perusal around some of my favorite pottery blogs confirmed what I suspected: few are writing, including myself. If I know ceramic types—and I do-- I suspect everyone is holed up in their studios, and going through something like this:

1)“I don’t have enough work, I don’t have enough work!” (repeat 500 times a day)
2)“I need to make more work, I need to make more work!” (Repeat in head at least once every 60 seconds and yell at spouse/significant other at least once a day, especially when they try to get you to relax.)
3) Feverishly make work while repeating above mantras, first one, then the other.
4) Have repeated breakdowns and self-loathing sessions as work you so feverishly made cracks, sticks to the kiln shelf, or just kind of sucks.
5) Repeat.

I’ll call this the potter’s Seventh Circle of Hell. I know it well. I’ve slept by the Lake of Fire for weeks on end trying to keep ahead of Christmas orders. I’ve been fielding a few panicked phone calls from my potter friends as they feel the flames licking at their little heels. I’m really a good person to call when a potter is ready to jump because I have been there so many times, I can talk anybody off the ledge.

I’m going to give a tiny little lecture here that I’ve given to more than one artist this season: Hire some goddamn help. If you can’t sleep at night as you consider all you have to make the next day, you need some help. If your stomach or spine is burning as you contemplate your order sheet, you need some help. If you are at the studio, missing dinner, ignoring your boyfriend’s cell phone calls, you need some help. Don’t tell me that you can’t afford it. A half-decent assistant pays for themselves. Don’t tell me you don’t have time to train somebody. You’ll get all that time back and then some when you send that assistant on their own. Don’t tell me you are a lone wolf who creates alone. Hire someone who doesn’t talk too much. There are so many people out there dying to work for you, in your dusty little studio. Go and find them!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

freakishly calm

Just where have I been lately? Everyone has been saying to me, “I know you must be so crazybusy right now!” Yes, crazybusy is oneword. As a matter of fact, things have been freakishly calm at my studio. I’m not doing any of my usual holiday shows this year, and let me tell you, it’s been great. I don’t mind doing shows, I kind of like it in a way, but all of the retail craft shows in California have been going downhill sales-wise for a while now. Everyone has their theory on why, including me, but the bottom line is it’s just not worth it for me to show up at these things anymore. Standing around… looking cute… acting nice… and not making any damn money.

I think after the trial by fire last spring with the five-figure-order I’m simply incapable of getting too hyped up and stressed out over what is happening at the studio right now. I’ve worked really hard at getting a system of steady sales in place, and while I look forward to a bump in Christmas sales, I’m not going to lose my head over it. My mind is really on next year: refining my system even more, adding a few more great pieces to my wholesale collection, and giving my assistant more hours at the studio so I can concentrate on what I’m really meant to do in this life, which is drinking really amazing wine by night while making really incredible art by day…

That being said, I’ve loaded up my etsy site with lots of goods, and I’m adding more things all the time. Help me help my local wine shop by getting on over there and buying something beautiful for yourself AND for a friend!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

be brave. make art.

That last post sure gave me a lot to chew on. I really appreciate how many people commented on their obsessions. Worry and fear seem to dominate the theme. I’m always struck by how so many people out there want to be artists but instead choose to work jobs they don’t really like because they think they can’t make it as an artist.

I had a conversation with a long-time client the other day whose whole family loves and collects pottery. His daughter is probably about my age and has been making pottery for a while now and really wants to make it her job. He was relating this story to me and his reaction to her, which was, “Don’t do it! You have a good job, benefits, stay where you are!” While I tried to control my severe annoyance that he would imply my job is not worth pursuing, I very gently told him that working a job his daughter doesn’t like is no life at all, no matter how secure it may make her feel. I always call that kind of comfort as wearing the golden handcuffs.

I contrasted his reaction with my own parents, who have never once discouraged me in becoming an artist or suggested I may want to go after a more conventional line of work for the sake of having a steady paycheck. Partly because they know it’s useless trying to reason with me, but mostly because they have always believed I can do whatever I want to. My mother was telling me about a friend whose son wanted to be a photographer, and her friend was telling his son that he should get educated in something that he could, “fall back on”. My mom basically told him that was bad advice and if his son failed as photographer, that would be the time to find something else.

I don’t have any real answers for people who have put themselves in jobs they dislike when they really want to be artists. I would only say that fear is an uncomfortable emotion, but fear moves people. It can spur one one to be better, try something new, ignite the desire to create a different kind of life. I have all kinds of fears, and I have always forced myself to confront the stuff that scares me because I hate cowards, and I hate myself the most when I am not being brave. I would never tell someone to just quit their day job and become an artist, because being an artist is a job like any other and it takes some time to create that position. But I would tell them to make a plan to quit their job and start working on being an artist. Today.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


It’s not a secret that I’m an obsessive type of person; when I’m into something, I’m really into it. When I was a kid, it was gymnastics. That’s all I talked about, thought about, and wanted to do. When I was a teenager, it was boys… and we can all imagine where that went. And now, as an adult, it’s pottery.

Last night at the mediation class I attend once a week, it suddenly occurred to me that thinking about pottery all the time is not a good, healthy activity. I estimate that I spend about 70% of my waking thoughts on pottery: what I’m going to make, how I’m going to make it, and how to sell it. Those are the main thoughts. The follow-up thoughts can range from obsessing about how I’m going to obtain more free packing peanuts to ship my work to what I’m going to do to design a better catalogue. And on and on and on.

I was noticing this because when I go to my meditation class it is really hard to stop thinking about pottery and clear my mind. Once I do manage to clear it and focus on meditating I inevitably fall asleep. Every week I’m amazed that I have such a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep in a bed, but in meditation class I can fall asleep sitting up. The problem is that I’m chronically sleep-deprived because when I go to bed at night I’m still thinking about pottery. Who can sleep when in their mind they are on the wheel? When I was relaxing in the hot tub after class I noticed that I wanted to start thinking about pottery right away, and again I thought, “This is crazy”. It’s like, ignore everything else and just wear a groove let in your brain where you feel happy. By the time I’m 50 I’m only going to be able to squawk about clay, because I won’t know anything about anything else.

I know that artists have a reputation for being weird and crazy like this, but I don’t want to be like that. I would really like to know from everybody who read this blog—not just artists—what they think about the most and what percentage of the time they think about it. Don’t be a chicken, it’s so easy to post comments on my blog, you can even do it anonymously.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I’ve been trying this new method and I’m going to share it and encourage every artist who reads this to give it a try. Since I’ve been back from Japan it’s been a big struggle in my studio to make the new, sometimes non-functional work that I want to make, and at the same time fill orders and make all the stuff that sells that I think I have to make. I feel guilty when I work on my new stuff, because I have bills and an assistant who counts on me to pay her. Then I feel guilty when I work on my "have to" stuff because I think I’m ripping myself off and not being true to my artist self. It’s a ridiculous crazy struggle and I think every artist goes through it. The result is that I have not been very efficient. In fact, I have no idea what I made between August and September. It’s a big guilt blur.

So I decided to split my studio time in half: after I deal with my daily paperwork I look at how much time I have to make stuff, and split it in half. One half is my *have to* pottery, half is my *want to* pottery. I can mix that up however I want, but it has to come out to a 50/50 split at the end of the day. And it totally works for me because I’m satisfying all my needs and making great new stuff too! Check out what came out of the kiln today:I’m really excited about these things. I made it with my new porcelain and I threw it super thin so I would get the translucency when you put a candle in it. I’m really into it because I can play around with carving pictures, and at the same time get away from glazing. And I can use the concept on a hundred things I have in mind. The design simplifies my life in so many ways, I’m so tired of slaving over pieces to get all the different colors and relief design. Now this little baby hasn’t been fired yet, but it’s a copy of a magnolia petal that I found on the ground the other day, in the porcelain again. I was walking down the street with Christa on Monday and I saw the petal on the sidewalk. Its proportions were so perfect, so beautiful, that I instantly thought of re-creating it as a spoon. A scoopy-spoon. I think this thing is one of the most beautiful things I have ever made. The picture does not do it justice.

The great thing about these items is that I made them in my want to time, and I think they will both sell well in production and will serve as the foundation for my next collection. There are so many little lessons to be learned here and I don’t think I even have to point them out; I may start sounding like a self-help guru and then I’ll feel the need to demand $19.99 for passing on my wisdom.

Monday, October 29, 2007

christa assad @ the de young museum

Christa is in town at the moment because one of her collectors, Sandy Besser, is making a gift of his extensive art collection to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. So one of Christa’s iron teapots is going to be in the de Young! Christa is my very favorite potter, such an amazing talent, so she deserves it. Christa moved away from San Francisco last spring to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute… we miss her so much. I miss her so much!

The teapot that will be donated to the de Young is, of course, beautiful. But I think I have the best Christa iron teapot in the world.Don't you agree?

Friday, October 26, 2007

if throwing were a superpower...

I’d be freakin’ Wonder Woman!

I’ve been dying to use blogger’s new video feature. I have a bunch of video from Japan but it’s mostly drunken, goofy, and amusing only to those who were present. Then today, as I was banging out plates that will become cake stands for Miette, I suddenly realized throwing on the wheel is the perfect video subject for my blog.

I did it on my digital camera and I’ve never edited video in my life—until today that is—so if the quality is hurting some people’s eyes, well, sorry. Also, my college radio station is blasting in the background, so you might want to turn down your volume. I'm going to try again and learn to do it better, but I was so excited to get this up today that it just is what it is. Uploading the video through blogger is proven to be more difficult. So I gave up and uploaded it to youtube—another first.

Production throwing can be boring, the same form over and over. It’s easy to get sloppy. I always try to make it a challenge for myself. I time myself to see how fast I can do it, and I attempt to make each piece perfect. I used to laugh when people would say, “Throwing seems so meditative!” Potters must hear that 500 times a year. But now that I have actually taken up meditation—the sitting down, hands on knees, eyes closed kind—I realize that throwing is meditative. Whatever thought I was pursuing in my head fades out as the wheel starts up. And then when I finish the piece, my thoughts tune back in.Watching someone throw is a mesmerizing activity. I never get bored with it—the watching or the doing!

Monday, October 22, 2007

strategies & plans

I brush all the glazes onto my work, and that’s part of how I get such beautiful and smooth finishes. Most of my glazes take 5 coats. It’s a tedious and time-consuming job, and nobody in their right mind does it that way. I’ve been doing it for 15 years. When I hired Sara I knew she would question my brushing method, and after a few months, she did. She doesn’t like to mess around with stupid stuff. It’s actually a relief to have someone pushing you to do things differently sometimes. I really hate the way I glaze but I’m too lazy and stubborn to try a different way. We mixed up enough glaze to fill 5 gallon buckets, and Sara started testing. To my relief it hasn’t been a big deal so far. Most of the glazes have taken to it pretty well and it cuts our glaze time in half if not more.

Meanwhile I’ve been pondering what’s next. Vanessa from Miette came in today to order a ton of stuff for their stores and within an hour of her departure I was buzzing away on the wheel, working on her order. I was thinking about the Philadelphia Rosen show, a wholesale show in Philadelphia which I applied and was accepted to. It will be a better fit for me than New York because everything has to be handmade in the States and it caters to more of a gallery crowd. But… I don’t really want to go. I’m not that crazy about marketing myself to wholesale buyers. It’s only been the last couple of years that I started doing primarily wholesale, and I don’t love it. I’ve gotten by for years without it, but I also did more retail shows to support myself. Well, I’ve dropped almost all of my retail shows because they suck so much, so something has to replace that. This Christmas season will be the first ever where I haven’t scheduled a show.

I’m totally on the fence, an irritating place to be. On one hand, I feel I should go, get myself out there in the world, connect with certain buyers and the magazine editors and writers who go to those things. And keep the money coming in if nothing else. On the other hand when I think of all the $350 orders for funky little galleries and gift shops that I'll have to fill – places that will never order again—I get bored just thinking about it. I kind of want to steer myself away from things that bore me. Stress and anger usually follow boredom very quickly in my life. Unfortunately nobody can really tell me what I should do. I keep looking at the unsigned Rosen contract and wonder if that’s a little red flag I see waving there at me.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

new work

Here we are, finally, with some new work. I have my kokeshi dolls and another piece that is kind of like a piece of wood. First the kokeshi dolls: When I was in Japan I went to an antique/junk store and they had a large collection of these wooden dolls, called kokeshi dolls. They are all very simple in design, and I was really taken by their simplicity. Little details, like the shape of the hair and body or the expression on the face would create different characters for these dolls. I bought a few thinking I would give them to some of the little girls in my life—of course that hasn’t happened—but it hit me as I was riding back to Kanayama on my bicycle that they would be great inspiration for some ceramic work.

Wooden kokeshi dolls were originally made to be toys for children, but there is a big, crazy world of kokeshi doll collecting out there, and I'm not sure if you would find any in toy stores anymore. My ceramic ones are made from porcelain, and they don’t feel like toys. They are totally non-functional really, just pieces to look at. I don’t think I’ve ever really made a piece strictly for looking at. It’s a new world for me. I like my pots to do something, but perhaps I should get over that. Anyway, I'm selling these girls off right here.

Speaking of standing around and looking pretty, I’m a little bit in love with this other piece. I’m calling it a “wood altar” because it seems like a place where something ritualistic might happen, a rite of passage. This is also porcelain, and I only glazed the flowers to make sure they would stick to the piece. Again, it’s basically non-functional. I want to make more things like this, but I want it to be thin enough to be translucent. Lately I am very interested in the idea of shadows and translucency. This is a piece I will probably keep for a while, or I may never sell. Sometimes I can hang on to pieces for years, and then the right person will talk me out of it. This piece also looks magical with a candle lit at the bottom.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

the fear

Is there anything more boring, yet at the same time, as utterly compelling as the sound of your own inner voice, reciting in every detail, you how doomed you really are? Annie Lamott, one of my favorite Bay Area writers, calls this inner voice “Radio K-FKD”. It will play 24 hours, 7 days a week if you let it, with no commercial interruptions.

I call this voice “The Fear”. The Fear is a simple animal: It’s scared that if I don’t I move my money into a higher-interest savings account, and soon, I will go broke; terrified that if I don’t come up with new designs tomorrow, everyone is going to get bored with my old crap; and really worried that I say I can’t afford health insurance yet I drop thousands on wine, shoes, plane tickets and dry-farmed-locally-and-sustainably-produced- heirloom tomatoes. Do you have your priorities straight missy? Are you doing what a responsible adult would be doing with her life? Maybe you should go get a job. Pottery Barn is dying to hire you ! As a sales rep of course...

The fear is like a bad date: relentlessly reciting the stories it thinks will get your attention, with little regard for truth. I’m like, “Give it up dude! You suck, you’re boring, and you ain’t even cute! Why are you still here?" I’ve always been receptive to listening to the fear, and believing the fear is in reaction to reality. But as my reality gets better and the fear still talks about the same old crap, I’m really starting to wonder if it ever knew what it was talking about in the first place.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

meant to be

Hello, how cute are these plates? These are a special order for somebody, 12 in all. I always make extras of special orders, and in this case I made an extra 3 plates. Three cracked during the bisque, so every plate left was precious if I wanted the 12 for the order. All three plates cracked in the exact same place in relation to the position of the birds. Hmmm. Another plate got whacked on the edge of something and had a small chip on the underside, which I sanded down so you couldn’t tell. Sara suggested an experiment: why don’t we fill in the crack with this stuff called Magic Mender and see if the crack would still show up through the glaze? This glaze is very thick and it wasn’t impossible that her idea would work.

Now this is the funny thing; I’ve learned over and over that when a piece is going wrong—cracks, chips, warps, etc.—that piece is just not meant to be. It’s like trying to fix up a cake that already fell in the oven. But I try anyway. We filled in the crack with Magic Mender and a half hour later as Sara was glazing it, it went flying out of her hands and shattered on the floor. Sara was devastated, but I knew right away it was the cracked plate. It just committed suicide right in front of us. When the glaze firing came out two days later, one of the birds had migrated across the plate. Again, I knew it had to be the chipped plate, and it was. I glued a dogwood flower to the plate where the bird should be and gave it to my friend. Then I made FOUR more bird plates.

Friday, September 28, 2007

cake dreams

The dogwood cake plates are getting lots of play lately. They are kind of a nightmare to make because so many elements have to come together: the plate part, the stand part, the flowers part, and of course, the glaze part. I have many many dogwood cake stands that have not come out. When people ask me why they cost so much I want to tell then it’s because only about 75% of them come out perfectly. Since I can’t say that without sounding a bit grouchy, I usually keep it simple and tell people it’s a complicated piece to make. Anyway, the picture here to the left will be making and appearance in December issue of Sunset magazine, perfect timing for Christmas! ! I think this picture looks so good, I know lots of people are going to order because of it. We’re going to get cracking on making them right now so we’ll be ready.

Speaking of the Dogwood cake stands here is some eye-candy for you courtesy of Veronica from Veronica's Test Kitchen:

Friday, September 21, 2007

open studio

Today is the day when I have to pull myself away from my work and clean up the joint for my Open Studio. All you Bay Area types should hoof it on over to my place because it is going to be a major clearing out sale. Everything that isn't gone by Sunday is going to be put up on Etsy so you non-Bay Area types can score on some of my pottery too. Go to my website for details on the where and when! Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

success can be dangerous

I really like horoscopes, palm readers, tarot cards, and numerology. I know most people think these things are kooky. The homepage on my browser opens up to Aquarium Age Astrology so that everyday I can be reminded of the forces outside of myself. This helps me to focus my energy on what I believe is my higher spiritual calling—art—and not on the things that hold me back from my calling such as stress, anxiety, and my fears of what’s going to happen to me when I’m an old lady and I got no retirement fund.

I read two horoscopes a week, the other being Free Will Astrology. I often get a kick in the pants from Free Will, and I keep thinking about one I got a couple of weeks ago. I think this is actually a message for all artists:

"Success is dangerous," said Picasso. "One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility." Sorry to start your horoscope with a warning, Leo, especially given how much beautiful success you've generated recently. But the astrological omens suggest you may soon be tempted to turn your spontaneous outpourings into pat formulas. And that would be a shame. There's still a lot more fresh hot mojo brewing within you, and it'll reach its highest expression if it keeps surprising you. Trust what's fresh, uncategorizable, and at the frontiers of your understanding.

I keep thinking about this as I go about my work, because right now I’m going through a period of transition in my work and I’m feeling a bit lost. It is tempting to re-interpret old designs into something new just to keep myself busy. I’ve had several weeks now of low production, and I keep telling myself that it’s okay, and to give myself the time I need to make new work. I think every artist needs to hear Picasso’s message, and I’d love to hear from people on how they resist – or don’t resist—the temptation to copy themselves.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the universe listens

I’m feeling slightly perkier today; the kiln problem was finally fixed without having to call in the kiln doctor for a house call, and I’m leaving for Atlanta tomorrow morning with my husband for a big all-out, no-holds-barred, over-the-top wedding. Naturally this required a new dress, which always makes me happy. And I made something new today:

I know lots of people have this same thing happen to them: When you are open to a new experience, somehow that experience is delivered to you. I had my new slabroller set up for exactly 24 hours when someone walked through the door and asked me to make a ceramic house. 6 Months ago I would have said “no”, because I don’t handbuild work. But now I can say “yes” and bam, an order for a ceramic house. It’s very strange how this works and it happens to me all the time.

By the way, Universe, if you are listening, I’m ready for another gigantic order now. Five-figures, please!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

more kiln dread

My zen-like approach has been challenged in the last couple of days as my kiln craps out on me. We changed the elements in the kiln and then the kiln was not heating up. So I changed the relays, thinking they were burned out. Nothin’. I called around for a new transformer and found one on the other side of the Bay but I wouldn’t be able to get it till the next day. Rrrrrrr. Meanwhile, work has ground to a halt and there is a shelf of bisqueware that was supposed to be glazed and shipping out this week.

Things rarely go as planned, as usual. I went to my meditation class yesterday (yes, I finally took Hector’s advice and started a meditating class) feeling very pre-Japan: angry and frustrated. I came out of class feeling… better, but definitely in need of a large glass of wine. It's so easy to be calm and centered when things are going well, so difficult when they aren't...

I just got off the phone with yet another kiln tech who has his own theories on why my kiln isn’t doing its job, and I’m about to go test it out and see if he’s right. Cross your fingers.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

fresh approach

I think my time in Japan really changed my brain in several ways. To honor this I’m changing the look of my blog. I’ve been really happy with how it looked until recently; all of the sudden it seemed stale. Do you like it? I do. I may not stick with these colors—I’m having a bout of insomnia right now and when I wake up in the morning these colors might be more than I can handle. But at 3:30 in the morning it looks pretty good!

One thing that has been different lately is I have been a lot more patient with myself and my work. I know from experience that everything in the studio takes a lot longer than you ever think it will. I know this, but I’ve always fought it, always pushing for things to go faster than they possibly can and getting all worked up about it. I’ve noticed since I’ve been back that I seem to be okay with giving everything the amount of time it needs and not having an expectation that it should be any different than it is.

For example, I’ve started to think about how all the elements that make my business run are just as important as making a pot, and that includes answering the phone, paying my bills, filing paperwork, taking photos, and following up with clients. I don’t always do these things conscientiously because I often find them to be annoying distractions from my work. Once I accept these things as vital and important rather than annoying, I don’t feel as bothered going through the motions of doing it. I’m giving the task the time it needs and then getting back to what I really want to do: make pots. And I work better knowing that I’ve done the things that enables me to make pots everyday.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

ready... go!

With Sara’s help, we finished off the remodel on the studio yesterday. Everything is put away in its new place, the new slab roller is set up, and I’m ready to go. When I’ve been away from clay for a while, I always go back to it with a sense of anticipation and dread. Getting back into it can be hard, and it can take a couple of hours to feel comfortable again. The good thing is that I have a stack of orders to make so at least I don’t have to think about what I’m going to throw today!
Doesn't Sara look cool sawing ware boards with her big ole sunglasses on?

Monday, August 20, 2007

the clay is waiting

The studio is still in the process of being put back together. I’m trying to contain myself and my impatience to get back to work and put it all back together in a thoughtful way. I’m almost there. In the meantime I thought I would post a comment that came through the other night to an old post, and my response to it. I edited the comment to get to the heart of what the person was writing. As someone who has fallen in love and been brokenhearted many times I could totally feel for this person, while also being pleased that I’ve gotten some distance and some perspective on the pitfalls of love!

Maria wrote:
Today I googled "how to let go of beautiful moments" and this blog came up as a result 'cause of the words Beautiful and Let Go. Oddly, I am a ceramic student w/ 1 more class to take to graduate:... I'm trying to let go of this one guy and the moments we shared, hence my google search. ..And, well, I've kinda lost all desire to work with clay…How could something like a break-up drive me away from clay when on the contrary, I feel I should have gotten me more into it, if only to not think of him… I guess the question is, how does one work with clay or any art consistently when everything around you seems to be falling apart? But I think I know the answer already "just start making something and don't stop" But it is so hard. :(

I wrote:
Everything IS falling apart, all the time. As human beings we are (usually) blessed the ability to cope with our ongoing process of falling apart and learning from it. Nothing is perfect and it never will be. But we are driven to try for those perfect moments, and keep trying. If you are an artist you have the amazing ability to create something beautiful from this process of trying and striving and sometimes --often-- failing. Enjoy it. Quit yer cryin' and get back to work! The clay is waiting!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

i miss japan

There’s the big baby, the Olsen kiln, firing with all its might back in Japan. I’m missing my time in Japan as I go about the work of remodeling my studio and hitting the various roadblocks, but I still think I can get back to work on Monday. Feeling hopeful. I was talking to some friends the other night about Japan and one of the things I really appreciated were the bathrooms. That is such a girl thing, I know. First of all, they are impeccably clean. The worst bathroom I saw was in the Tokyo airport and it was on par with a decent American public bathroom. And everywhere you go, it’s standard for the toilet seat to be heated. Even at the pottery where we were living, all the toilet seats were warm. I never realized how wonderful it is to have a warm toilet seat. Most toilets also come with a bidet with three different settings and angles. You can also adjust the strength of the water flow if you choose to use the bidet. In public restrooms, there are often settings for music, (marked with a musical note), a toilet flushing sound, and a “strong deodorizer” button. I figured out that the music and flushing sounds were employed to cover potentially embarrassing noises. I wondered though, what’s the point of covering the noise when everyone withing earshot knows you are covering the noise with a fake flushing sound? Which is worse? Did I mention that I miss Japan?

Friday, August 10, 2007

back to work...

I’ve been waking up at night with absolutely no idea where I am: Japan? Hawaii? Nope, home. Home sweet home. I dove right back into my studio, doing a little remodel to make more room for production. Good-bye gallery space! Today I drove 45 minutes to Menlo Park to score a free Bailey slab roller I found on craigslist. I love Craig. Remember how I hated hand building? I love hand building now too.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

soft landing

There have been no postings because I have been on Oahu staying with an old friend on the North shore, coming down from the high of my Japan residency. Of course I have my husband here with me too. I will be rejoining the world sometime next week!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

a beautiful result

The Olsen kiln firing was a terrific success. Our experiments worked, and Ryoji said it was the best firing ever to come out of the Olsen kiln. There was a TV crew on hand to film the unloading, and we are all thrilled. Here are a couple of pictures from the site-- my work top pic, bottom pic from inside the kiln:

i like fire

We are still waiting on our baby, the Olsen kiln, to cool down enough to crack open tomorrow and pull our work and see if our little experiment of blowing in ash on one side and sawdust on the other worked to create more beautiful surfaces. Every evening, after dinner, certain members of our tribe have been taking the walk up past the apple orchard to visit the kiln, drink some sake, and pray a little

I just can’t wait to see what comes out. We are all hopeful but also prepared for disasters. We had a meeting last night to discuss improvements for future programs. My suggestion was that there be room for one more firing for those of us who didn’t get enough. I’ve discovered that I like fire. I like the rawness of the firings, the different personalities of the kilns, and attempting to control the heat. Three firings just isn’t enough. I feel like I’ve met a new lover but I’ve only been allowed a couple of dates. I’m a demanding girl so I want more, more more!

By the way, it was my birthday yesterday on July 27. I had one of the most fabulous birthdays ever. I was given lots of small gifts from my friends, and best of all, a group photo of all of us together with notes that everyone wrote to me. And there were birthday songs and other small gifts throughout the day. I was on the verge of tears to receive so much. I feel a deep affection and love for the people here, all so different yet so lovable, just like my friends back home. I can’t believe I will be leaving in a few days and some of them I will never see again. This program that happens here in Kanayama is amazing, but the people who I’ve met here make it magical. I have to stop typing now because I feel tears coming again.

Monday, July 23, 2007

final firing

We are in the middle of firing our last kiln, the Olsen kiln. There are only 6 of this type of Olsen kilns in the world, and they are tricky things to fire. For those of you who like to geek out on kilns, I refer you to this site where you can read all about it. This kiln was built a couple of years ago and has been fired a few times, and results have been boring. Brown, brown, and if you don’t like brown—well, still more brown.

We had several hours of group discussion on how to change the results: How to load the work in, should we build walls inside, should we blow in sawdust or ash or both, how to adjust the airflow… The airflow element is fascinating because this kiln has 4 chimneys, three in the back and one on the side, across from two stoking chambers. It’s referred to as the three queens and a king. At one point in the discussion I wrote a note to Kristin, “Are we in a senior seminar?” Then we both straightened up when we realized at the same moment that yes indeed, we are.

It took 8 hours to load the Olsen kiln, and we’ve been babying it along, raising the temperature very slowly to protect the big work that will only fit in this kiln. I’ve worked two shifts and at some point I started to feel very connected to this kiln. I loved stoking the different sides and observing their differences: how the anagama side would shoot the temperature up like a hot-headed teenager, how the groundhog side would shower beautiful sparks when I dropped the wood in, like little fire butterflies. My shift was done at 8 PM but I went back out there after midnight last night and hung out till almost 4 AM, I really did not want to leave. The kiln was getting hotter, some of my arm hair got burned off, and we just kept feeding our baby wood. By now we were off the smaller pieces and on to the big square chunks, and the kiln just ate it up. It really is starting to seem like a person.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

more beautiful disasters

I’ve written before about the importance of letting go as a general philosophy. This philosophy is imperative if you are a ceramic artist, working with a material that breaks, cracks, explodes, sticks to the kiln shelf, and the hundreds if other things that can go wrong when you work with clay. I slaved over this butterfly piece, one of the handbuilt pieces I made during my break from the wheel. In the process I got very attached. I got so attached that after I finished it and dried it very slowly, nursing it like a little baby, I decided to take a picture of it before I put it in the Olsen kiln, our final firing as a group. I thought it needed a beautiful natural background so I picked it up to take it to the proper place. I still don’t know what happened, I think I was holding it in the middle and the wings were too heavy, and it fell apart in my hands. Everyone was so upset because they knew I spent a whole day making it and a half day beautifying it, and there was a tense moment as my studio mates watched to see what would happen next. I just shrugged and said, “I’ll make another, and it’ll be better, not so damn heavy”. Well, you know I didn't say "damn", but another word... Anyway, tension released. The work that has gotten destroyed around here could break anyone’s heart: two of Park’s effortless teapots shattered during a clumsy moment, Madhur’s sculpted ram lost his horns, Hwang’s life-size table developed a crack during drying, a collapsed composite vase, and a half dozen other things that went awry at some point. No one cries, no one complains. It’s clay, and you just make another.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

one master leaves

Our time is running out here at Kanayama, and certain members of our program have duties to return to at home. Today we are celebrating with Park Kook-Hyun, as he prepares to return to Korea early tomorrow morning. Park-san is one of the top three Unggi masters in Korea, and it has been an amazing honor to work in the same room with him. He has also provided all of us with more laughter than we could have possibly imagined with his frat boy sense of humor, his “mushroom" pots, and perpetual drinking of soju throughout the day. Park is also a very kind person, always ready to share his "Korean water", clay technique, and dirty jokes. We’ll miss you Park-san!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

4 am

The sun is rising, birds are singing, and the kilns are burning.

This is a special kiln that Ryoji designed specifically for creating consistent wood ash effects called a Hai Kaburi. There was a detailed article written about it in the June/July 2006 Ceramics Monthly for those of you interested. This baby eats wood like the monster it is; once it reaches temperature you stoke it for 24 hours straight firing at 1250 degrees Celsius. Below is a picture of Ryoji bringing reinforcements-- this is one of three pallets of wood we burned. When you stoke, the fire is leaping out at you and the heat is incredible. Stoking happens about every 8-12 minutes, and you need that downtime just to make sure you didn't catch on fire anywhere. I was feeling pretty dang studly when my shift ended at 8 am this morning, just in time to feel some aftershocks from the earthquake.

Monday, July 16, 2007

breaking the rules

I don’t have a lot of rules in my studio, but one I do have is I never drink alcohol while I make work. Occasionally I’ll have a beer on a Friday afternoon while I’m cleaning, but that’s it. Looks like in Japan my rules are made to be broken.