Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Mutual Admiration Society

I sat back with a Woodford Reserve and read my January copy of Ceramics Monthly.  I was thrilled to see an article by Derek Au a young American I met in Jingdezhen, China when I was there studying with the USU crew for 4 months. Derek spoke fluent Chinese and was working and living in China. That was in 2007 and he's still there. Derek's article is one of the most honest reads about being a studio potter I have read in ages.
The last paragraph reads "I have so much respect for anyone who earns a living from making ceramics. It's one thing to have nice ideas, quite another to make them reality, and to actually make money doing it is incredibly difficult."
So Derek here's a tip of the flask to you! Welcome to the Mutual Admiration Society.
Tony Clennell
 President- Ontario, Canada
Mutual Admiration Society

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Page 236

I don't know what it is about winter that has had me read Page 236 of Michael Cardew's Pioneer Pottery. It is a page that I can remember more than 30 years ago lying on the couch with a faceted Richard Batterham bowl resting on my chest and  reading that page. One sentence reads " The potter's maxim should be one which says: "The world only follows those who have despised as well as served it." This is followed further with a paragraph about how the potter does not only follow what his public wants but leads it. Heavy thoughts to be sure but with the snow piling up, people's credit cards piled even higher it is a good time to think lofty thoughts. It will  change when the Christmas leftovers are gone and the wine cellar empty. Cardew is my favourite pottery philosophers.

One of my former students gave m the heads up on a new Cardew book "The Last Sane Man- Micheal Cardew Modern Pots, Colonialism, and the Counter Culture- author Tanya Harrod. It is not out till Jan 13th but you can order it on Amazon with free shipping.  It promises to be an interesting read.  I hope it is full of quotable stuff for the next 20 years.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Choose your weapons

I prefer the Dolan tools for trimming since I trim cheese soft clay. In my arsenal I also carry two handmade Bison tools made by Phil Poburka. I use these tools if my clay gets past the soft stage that I like to trim. I love Phil, I love the aesthetic of the tools and I love the feel of them in my hand. Not for soft clay though!
Whenever I accompany my students to NCECA I tell them to treat themselves to a Bison trimming tool. One should own one. They always gripe and complain about spending $58 on a trimming tool. I always counter with "How much would a carpenter spend on a good hammer?"" If you were a backhoe operator would you not want a good Kubota or John Deere that would start each morning and do the job?" Please why are so many potters penny wise and pound foolish.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Leave the art alone

One of the nice things about trimming soft is you leave lots of nice art on the surface. I also pick up bits of the trimming and add it to the surface. Hey Dennis a kind of handle of sorts. More of a lug than a handle but still a point of interest. I love clay to look like clay not machined to death with a trimming tool. This is what trimming hard clay does. It is more like turning wood than this wonderful soft plastic material we have chosen to work with. Ok, so these pots are not for everyone! That's OK I don't have that many pots left in these hands. Can ya tell I liked making them?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

You know me

I've been  lounging around too long- eating, drinking, talking. I needed to get back to the studio today. What could be better. I had some new music from daughter Eileen to listen to- Jimmie Vaughan and Mumford and Sons.  Mrs. Santa gave me a bottle of top shelf bourbon. So I poured myself a wee nip and headed for La-la land. I had recycled some soft clay so it was perfect for making some yunomi's. The cup without a handle that fetches more money than a cup with a damn fine handle. I am making mine with a European foot flaired out almost like a goblet. Because the clay is soft I'm getting some nice art left that some would take off but in my case hey that's the decoration. Left over turkey tonight and fine bottle of Amarone that my daughter Robin gifted us. Dang my ladies have good taste.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Stuff that works

I cleaned up my tools yesterday. I just noticed the wear on my trusty Dolan trimming tool. Don't know how many years I've had it. 15 or maybe 20. I trim cheese soft so I don't need a sharp trimming tool. I splurged and just bought a Dolan knife. It was $15 but it feels handmade and I like using it. I could have bought a cheaper one but I have always stuck by a good brand. Dolan tools last me so I stick with them.
Here are some brushes that work. They were given to us when Robin "Grass" Hopper retired from the road. Ya gits what ya pay fer! Good quality is worth the price. 

If ya have time listen to one of my favourite Texan sing song writer's " Stuff that works" by Guy Clark

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Collecting bricks

For all of my adult life I have collected bricks. I like them! Once I had a 16 wheeler of bricks and salt glazed sewer pipe delivered. Now, that was a mistake!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My new best friend the I-phone has a free pedometer app that has me walking the streets of my town looking at interesting buildings. I deeked down this back alley and found an interesting building with barred windows and what looks like a gallows hanging from the peek. I talk to the students about kiln building and mention that every 5th  course of bricks ought to be a soldier course. The reference to soldiers probably in the days when soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder to fire their muscats. That would be a bad move with today's semi automatic weapons. I love how in this building they celebrated the soldier courses with red brick. Not only does it look handsome it probably kept the bricklayer in check. Gotta find out the story of that building.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Horse's Eye

Yesterday on Facebook Ron Philbeck posted this wonderful plate with the horse's eye decoration. Thanks Ron for making my day.  I'm also showing a plate potter friend Cathi Jefferson gave me with reference to the horse's eye.  I have loved the decoration since I first saw it in my very first pottery book by Bernard Leach- A Potter's Book. I have tried to do this decoration but it seems I just don't have that small motor skill. I know practice, practice, practice. How is it that such a thing like a plate can take your breathe away. This plate in my horse's eye could stand it's own with any large conceptual sculptural piece. Well made pots have that kind of power.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I went squirrely

I took off to go to work far too early for me in the morn. I got 20 minutes from home and realized I was missing my new best friend- my I-phone. It has replaced my camera that I would lug around in my backpack and allowed me to take some pics for the blog. So I was three days without my phone, email and camera. I went squirrelly! I was making pots when I saw this jar under the table that my aunt had made while in college in  the 40's. True to form my cousin Brenda never throws out anything. Sure enough there was the press mold of the squirrel handles my aunt put on her pot. Like the squirrel said when he went to the psychiatrist "When I heard you are what you eat, I knew I was nuts!!!
Aunt Cavvy's jar had them climbing over the shoulder of the pot peering over the rim. My jars were 20lbs and are still smaller than hers. She'd like to know that!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

How to Lose Money in Pottery

Step #1- Take a perfectly good vase form and pull a lip on it. It is now a jug! Charge 1/3 less for it.
Step#2- Decide to put a lid on it! It is now a coffee pot. Charge even less maybe half price.

Step #3- Decide you want to wood fire that said coffee pot.There goes 3 days labour so we're now making the coffee pot for free.
Now, wasn't that easy! I've been doing it for years.
You see there is much more money to be made in the living room  than the kitchen. A coffee pot is destined to live in the kitchen and the vase to live in splendor filled with beautiful flowers in the living room or the center of the table. Yes, the vase will live center stage while the coffee pot is destined to be the work horse.
So if I'm so smart why do I continue to make jugs and coffee pots out of a perfectly good vase? I set out to make a vase and then sit back and look at it and say to myself "That would make a really nice jug!!! I think I suffer from a fear of financial success.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It's a lifestyle choice!

Being a potter is a life style choice. For 25 years Sheila and I retailed  pots from our showroom. Saturdays in December meant waiting for customers to arrive to buy pots, gift wrapping and usually ordering a pizza on a Saturday night since we were both too tired to make dinner. Since we no longer have a  showroom we decided at 2:30 this aft to stop making pots and  walk downtown to the West Town and have a beer. It's nice to be able to do that but the down side is we spent money instead of making money.  On Facebook I see friends flogging their wares on Etsy and the like. Every potter is trying to squirrel their nuts away for the winter. I just got an I-phone so maybe next year Etsy. Getting with the 21st is taking it's toll on me. Oh BTW, the beer was delicous- Creemore Springs which a favourite of mine.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pickin your nose

Just like Frosty the Snowman there comes a time in a potter's life when they too are pickin' their noses. I'm pickin' mine now. Spent about 8 months with e-ware and got some interesting results on small pots but I am a small man with a Napolean complex that makes BIGWARE. The colourful brushwork didn't translate or let me say we couldn't make it work. So plans are underway for a big wood kiln to be built at Pinecroft(home of my late aunt and uncle's studio). I'm happily making pots that won't be fired for another 5 months. So do don't look for any finished work on this blog for awhile. Keep your fingers crossed that when I pick my nose I pick a winner.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Farting in the bath tub

I know this is something you have never done or dreamed of. One of the gems of information gained from my higher education at USU was John Neely's description of a form that looked like a fart in the bath tub. A balloon form that was filled with air from a smaller orifice. That indeed is my favourite form. I made some jars today with a narrow bottom that will be trimmed even narrower. I attached a slug of clay like Issac Button did in his 60's film. I then went up the one side of the board of jars and formed a handle and then down the other side of the board to do the other handles. Issac did hundreds and I did 8. If I had a corn cob pipe and wore a neck tie I think I could get into his zone. I always wanted to be Issac Button but the artist in me had me fail miserably.

Big Brother is Watching

My blog started in 2007 as a way to keep Sheila, my family and friends abreast of what I was doing on a daily basis during my studies in Jingdezhen, China. I must say it was much easier to do a blog post from China as almost everywhere you looked there was something to photograph and tell about. A trip to Wal Mart would see a shark hanging in the aisle or a flying squirrel stretched and dried to boil in order to help with your sex life. There are no flying squirrels in my town. Wiped out and hence the baby boom.

In writing a blog you never know who is reading you. I was thrilled to see the November Ceramics Monthly had me as one of editor Sherman Hall's 5 good reads. Also thrilled to read an article by my former student Heidi McKenzie "The Language of Line". My relationship  with CM started with former editor Ruth Butler. John Chalke and Barb Tipton introduced us through my writing for the former Contact Magazine. Ruth retired and hired Sherman- damn good choice!