Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hangin' out

The reason everyone wants to be a potter is that they are a real fine bunch to hang out with. We went for our annual farewell at Ron and Hester Meyer's cottage on the shores of Lake Erie just outside of the lunch bucket city of Buffalo. Once the 7th largest US city it has seen better days. However, if you look underneath there is a charm of yester year there. I like the town a lot!
We were treated to pieaya with mussels, shrimp, chicken and sausage cooked by Rusty the Chef. Here are some pics of the Sugar Shack (where Ron creates all his eye candy), Sheila checking to see if Ron can trim, the Rat's nest( a kiln room that looks as neat as mine), the deck area of potters demolishing Ron's savoured bottle of 90 proof George Dickel Reserve Bourbon, Rusty the Chef's slim pickings were served up. Life is good for those of us that know that life is good. It doesn't get much better than this!!!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A rose between 2 thorns

In the last couple of weeks I've had a couple of surprise visits. Potter Johnnie J and Pat flew in from Myrtle Beach for a week to visit my favourite city- Teeeeee- ohhhhhhhh! Toronto for those that are from away. Toronto is an amazing multi cultural city with lots to do for clay lovers. The Made in China exhibit is on at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art and the Chinese collection at the Royal Ontario Museum is one of the most extensive in North America.
Ronnie the Rat Meyers and his bride Hester also dropped in for coffee on their way to the above exhibits. They have been to China twice and had some great pointers about survival there. We are going to their cottage this Wednesday for our annual fish fry. There will be other potters present- the Reno's a hard working pottery couple, recently retired SUNY- Fredonia prof Marv Bjurlin and Tina, Brian Hopkins U Buff, and Julia Galloway RIT. There will be others but that's all I can remember today. Ronnie has been saving a bottle of George Dickle Reserve 90 proof for us to savour. Life is tuff!!!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Shiny Brown Dawg

It's taken me a few days to eat my large portion of humble pie. The results from the last train kiln are in and they are brown. There is only one colour worse than brown from a kiln and that is shiny brown. I tried to fire so that we'd both be happy and we both came out with frowns. Besides brown every single one of my jars cracked so I can't even give them away. I have one cooling in the gas kiln right now, so we'll see if it is the thrower, the clay or the firing. I had tried to get some reduction in cooling at the front of the kiln by not committing time stoking on the way down and just filling up the firebox with coaling wood. I ain't gonna do that again! We have to fill the kiln with Sheila's stuff, fire hot and a quick crash cool at the end for those oranges she likes. We then have to fire a load for me keeping the temperature under Cone 9 and stoking on the way down for a reduction cool. It's the drab colour palette I'm lusting for.
One thing I have noticed is that the previous reduction cool I did in the kiln played hell with my soft brick arch. The hot face of the brick peeled off in 1/8 inch thick waffers. It would seem to me the reduction not only weakens pots, it weakens bricks. The arch had been as good a new up until that firing.
I usually have a bad firing just before Christmas. The last firing of the season always seems to present me with some dawgs. I figure it is so I don't go into the next year feeling cocky. Well, I'm off to China 2 weeks today and there ain't nuthin' I can do but think about my wood kiln till 2008.
Last firing I sent Dan Murphy at USU a disk of images, firing schedule, clay bodies used etc, etc. I didn't want him to think all I was doing this summer is making a living. I think this firing got eaten by the neighour's shiny brown dawg.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Future

Three or 4 years ago I started a book on how to make a living at craft as my family has done since 1947. I was very excited about all the things I had done to stay afloat in the Art Pond. I wrote enthusiasticly about what I had done to prime the pumps and stay on an even keel. The world seemed to change overnight and I became worried about the futures of the students I was teaching to become potters at Sheridan College of Craft and Design in Oakville, Ontario. I had even had my buddy Ron Meyers Professor Emeritus from the University of Georgia make illustrations for my copy. His drawings of buzzards, rats and fat cats seemed to marry very nicely with my irreverent writing style and off the wall titles ie: Romancing the Buzzards. I hit the proverbial wall and couldn't seem to write about what the future would hold for these hard working keeners. It took me going back to school to rekindle the damn the torpedoes/ full speed ahead attitude of youth. I'm pumped by the students I see entering the ceramics field. They are better prepared than ever before and they will make work that is faaaaaaaaaar more interesting than the work that came before them.
Four of my students visited today for some wine and pot conversation. Ceramics is in good hands with this bunch.
On the left is George a Sheridan third year student, the good looking guy in the green shirt is yours truly, Christine a recent grad now working in my favourite store- The Liquor Board of Ontario, Danny her main squeeze is off to Alberta College of Art to finish his Bfa and Lisa who is back to Sheridan to finish her third year after spending a year managing and teaching at a pottery/teaching facility. These are fine people, fine craftspeople, fine friends and the future is in fine hands.


Gesture is one of the things I'm interested in when looking at pots. For me this is often shown in pots made from soft clay and trimmed at a soft cheese stage. Trimming soft allows the potter to make marks and gestures. Trimming hard is a bit like lathe work and seems to me leaves the surface smooth and rather boring. I have seen examples of a potter throwing pots leaving gesture on the outside only to trim the inside. What do you mean trim the inside???? Who said there was rule about only trimming the outside? This may well be the way I will need to approach the clay in Jingdezhen. Sometimes the clay leads you and you must find a way to get friendly with it. The totally unforgiving Lizella clay that I used at USU forced me to cut it in order to alter it. It would not bend without cracking, so I just cut it and reattached. The clay lead me in a direction of it's own and once I learned what the clay was trying to teach me I loved it.
I'm showing two bowls from my collection. One is the bottom of the beautifully decorated cobalt bowl from Jingdezhen. Check out the foot ring! What a huge disappointment! A. that it isn't glazed inside and B. that there is no gesture in the trimming of the foot.
The other little bowl is one I bought in Mashiko when Lee Love kindly toured me around. It was made by Korean potter working in Mashiko. It was cut off the hump and the foot ring left untouched but there is noticeable gesture in the quick trimming of obviously soft clay
Watch potters pick up pots! The foot ring is the first thing they examine. It is also the part they fondle when holding. I have a foot fetish and hope that I will find a way to trim the Jingdezhen porcelain in a casual gestural way.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Chinese Made Easy

I read that to be even semi literate in Chinese you need to know 2500 characters and there are up to 50,000 characters that one could learn. In light of that I am indeed intimidated by the task of taking the course at the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute entitled "Chinese Language and Culture". I got a little help from a friend and I think I'll pick it up pretty quickly.

White Powder

I have to admit to y'all that I've tried the white powder but I didn't inhale it. I tried to throw it. Jackson Lee who owns San Bao in Jingdezhen, China lives about a half hour from me in Mississauga, Ontario. His wife gave me some of the white porcelain from Jingdezhen to try. The clay had froze several times in their garage and was hard as a rock. In fact it was similiar to a high feldspar glaze that settles to the bottom of the glaze bucket and is impossible to do anything with. It isn't plastic and it just doesn't seem like it's worth the effort. We did manage to make a small bourbon bowl and wood fire it. It was a beautiful bronze colour. So I figure it will take me about 3 months to learn how to make anything from this clay. That will leave me 2 weeks to make something half way decent to bring home.
Along with the clay I purchased this beautifully decorated bowl from Jingdezhen. I don't know how old it is and I don't really care. I love to stare at it on our hutch as it is so strong, sure and direct. Just look at the sureness of the brush stroke. Man, I'd love to be able to make marks like that. I will make a point of searching out a good brush and a good teacher while in China. Then all I need is about 10,000 bowls to practice on.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Sparrow Farts in Arkansas

Yesterday and today we fired our train kiln. I have posted a picture of our kiln at full tilt boogie with the firebox full of wood and Sheila side stoking the back of the kiln. Look at the stack!!! Not a wisp of smoke to be seen. Precisely, why every ceramics program considering a wood fired kiln ought to consider a train.
AT USU the kiln yard is right smack dab in the middle of administrative offices, the Art Dept, the Computer Center and it is privy to the inspection of many a passerby. The air intake for all these buildings is right near the kiln yard. The Ceramics programme at USU is a bit of niche program that is world renowned for it's wood firing expertise. Where there is smoke there is fire! John Neely is a hawk whne it comes to being able to see and smell smoke. The students at USU are taught to fire wood kilns clean. The worst shift a student can draw on a wood firing shift is early morning between 6:45 and 7:45 when John arrives for work. There is no margin for error. If there is no smoke, you'll get the thumbs up. If there is smoke you will be shown what you should already know.
I told the students that if a sparrow farts somewhere in Arkansas John can smell it. Don't think cause he's sleeping or not there that he doesn't know about the smokin' kiln. The program he worked so hard to create hinges on responsible firings..............period.
I can't imagine how proud he is to park his car across from the Art Dept, walk down the alley way to see the lights on in the indoor kiln room, music playing in the studio and the smell of heat not smoke in the kiln yard.
One day the Provost and VP were to be given a tour by John. David Secrest guest metal sculptor was beating the crap outta a piece of metal along with about 15 students, I was on one wood splitter, Danny on another, Trevor was chainsawing and the whole damn place was a hubbub of work activity. The Provost and VP were dressed to the nines and nodded to me as they paraded by. I think they thought I was too old to be a student so I must be a ex-con doing community service. None the less, I think they couldn't help but be impressed that here was a place where work gets done. Energy!!!!! Human energy-physical and creative energy.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Slow train to China

I have to fire my train off before I head for China. Ho-Lee-chow time has flown by and it's 88degrees F in the shade. We need a few pots for some fall invitational exhibitions and I'll be in China till just before Christmas.
I have very few pots in this firing so I hope the kiln devil is kind. We have to try and slow this train down since the last firing went toooooooo fast and we didn't put much surface on the clay. 24 hour firings are snack time in a train but I have found that under 32 hours doesn't give enuff surface for the aesthetic that I am lusting for- crusty as a bear's arse. I try to hide Sheila's boxes behind my things so that the ash doesn't seal the lids shut. The pounding of the ash has been known to absolutely seal the gallery of the box. Sometimes I even put up a small bag wall of a firebrick soap to protect that gallery from ash.
We have both used a high iron clay for this firing thinking about doing a reduction cool. I'm going to fire for 32 hours and keep it under Cone 9. At the end of the firing we will fill the firebox up to the armpits with cherry and plum wood. I have found these two woods to really make a lot of coals. The plan is to have my pots near the front cool in reduction and Sheila's pots near the back will be more prone to a oxidation cool. It's all just theory at this point. The proof will be in the puddin'.
I just got up from a nap, so I'm out the door to spend the night with the owls and the coyotes. At first light I'll see Dr. Pumpkin out in his garden watering. It is as dry here as a popcorn fart. Here is a pic of some jars that are in the fire as I write this. It's Sheila's shift and I'm killing time before I put in my overnight.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Serious Pot Addictions

This past weekend Sheila and I had two sets of friends that have serious addictions to pot come to our studio. They not only like pot they seriously inhale. On Saturday we had Jacques and Gabrielle Israelievitch who have a collection of pots that is unparalled in the City of Toronto maybe Canada. Gabrielle being a beautiful woman despairs of Jacques dreaming of pots that he would like to hold. Gabrielle being a gifted psychiatrist has tried therapy on her equally gifted musician husband.
In our conversation over a small cup of wine we talked of how the clay community was such a warm family to hang with. Fine wine, fine conversation, fine company and fine art. Life is good for those that know that life is good.
Here is the reduction cooled t-pot jacques and Gabrielle purchased for their collection;

On Sunday we had Brian Musselwaite and Conrad Biernacki from The Royal Ontario Museum visit and choose some pots that also included a reduction cooled teapot similiar but different to the one Jacques and Gabrielle choose. It is delightful to find yourself in the company of people that have wonderful taste in pots .Here is Conrad and Brian's t-pot-

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Good taste in cups

Here is a pic of the ole master Paul Soldner having his cuppa out of one of my cups. Thank heavens, he kept his clothes on!
My Clayart friend Belinda sent me the pic. Not sure if she staged it or not, but i do luv it!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wok the Dawg

I named my blog smokieclennell in memeory of my dad whose nickname was Smokie. He was named that because of his activity in Scouts and Rovers throughout his life. My dad's favourite activity was to cook for everyone around the campfire. He was always the first up in the morning and you would awake to the smell of smoke and a good ole fashioned heart atack on a plate breaky ( bacon, eggs, home fried potatoes, pancakes, beans and campfire coffee) This still remains my favourite meal in the whole wide world. I figure I must be Smokie Jr by now with the greying of my hair and my 3 decades of experience with wood kilns. I've started this blog to keep family and friends posted of my adventures in China. I'm off on Sept 7th till Dec 14 with the gang from Utah State University.

Woking the Dawg: I've written to all that will be accompanying me to China that woking the dawg could have a whole new meaning in China. They say the Chinese will eat anything with 4 legs except a table and anything with two wings except an airplane. I am not a very adventureous eater so this has me looking at my 3 1/2 months in China as a visit to a foreign Fat Camp. I figure I'll live on beer and rice and just send y'all pictures of the snake soup, water buffalo innards, pigeon heads and the Lassie appts. If worse comes to worse I understand there is a KFC in Jindezhen.
The other day I had to go into to Toronto to get my Chinese visa from the Embassy. I lucked out and got a parking spot across from the Embassy and on the way in there were a couple of old folks doing some zen like exercises. I thought that is really neat. While in the Embassy a protest was forming outside. I looked out the window to see our car surrounded by banners and protesters. There were mixed messages about genicide, Tibet, boycotting the 2008 Olympics, human rights, the Dali Lama and Fulan Gong. Luckily as we left the building the protest moved back off the street which allowed us to leave. We were presented with a pamplet describing Fulan Gong and it then became clear to me that the old people doing the zen like exercises were practicing members of Fulan Gong. It is an interesting time to be going to China and I for one will be keeping mynose clean. Say whatever ya please in your own home but don't go visiting another country to vent your views is my cowardly take on this.