Monday, September 30, 2013

Come to your senses

If you are looking for a good workshop come to your senses and

look no further than Pinecroft Centre for the Arts. We just had a fantastic workshop entitled "The Narrative Tile" by the pride of Sheridan College, Mary Philpott. We keep learning after each workshop. An old Marketing adage is that the more senses you can appeal to the better your success of making a sale. We appealed to all 5.
Visual- We had Mary! We had her amazing work! She brought an entire library of resources and a couple of decades of great information.  We had an amazing Ontario sunny fall day and the view from the workshop over the pond was indeed fabulous. Mary attracted professional tile makers/potters from as far as Connecticut. First time clay makers were also made easily at home with the material by an encouraging skillful teacher.
Smell: Herm sparked up the wood fired pizza oven early in the day to get it hot for snacks. The smell of wood smoke wafted thru the door.
Touch: The students were kept busy all weekend with numerous techniques of making marks on their pressed and rolled tiles.
Taste: Fresh coffee and cookies from Spicer's Bakery to start the day.  As always lunch at the Green Frog Tearoom  was fabulous. Then on Saturday after class Herm served wood fired pizza and we had some white and red wine.
Sound: Herm had a reunion of the The Jammin' in the Cabin Band play at the pizza party. Many of the workshop participants stayed into the night.
We were all very pleased with the feeling of "energy" that was oozing out of the building.
Pinecroft-" A Potter's Dream Come True" is carved on Uncle Jimmie and Aunt Cavvy's gravestone. It really was a dream workshop.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Spiciing up your life

Today was a whirlwind of a day at Sheridan. We had to make clay, glazes, fire the salt kiln, load the car kiln, entertain the Associate Dean and two nice suits from University of British Columbia. And oh yeah I demonstrated the two piece casserole and gave them their homework for the weekend. I can't give them too much time off for fear that sex will happen and babies and the down fall of our program. We have several Spanish speaking students in the class and in their honour I got some jalapenos to put in our burritos. Traditionally salt is put into the kiln using metal rails. This is so unsexy so I made up burritos with wet sawdust, rock salt and jalapenos and banana skins wrapped in newspaper and taped with masking tape to a piece of stoking wood from the wood kiln. The burritos are easily tossed into the firebox of the kiln.
When the big shots tour the studio and all this human activity is happening how can they leave and wonder what has happened to the North American work ethic. It is alive and well and living in the Ceramic Dept at Sheridan.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dear Micheal

Again a tribute to your casseroles from Africa. I have loved them most of my potting life. I have been giving a lot of thought lately to production and studio pottery. As most of you know I have one foot in each. I make production pottery at Pinecroft, and teach studio pottery at Sheridan and make one off studio pottery at home. I am also going to be on a panel at NCECA 2014 in Milwaukee entitled "Where have all the potters gone- last gasp or rebirth.
Micheal I have made two versions of your casserole. One closely resembles yours and the other is my interpretation of over  two decades of making a two piece casserole referencing yours. An articulated form, a split rim, a double handle, a trimmed foot , some pinches and pokes. All of these steps take time. I am most proud of my version and yet yours was faster and easier to make. So with each detail I try to include do I take away from the bottom line? Should I teach quantity or should I preach God is in the Details?
Filling in the bottom of a cup  handle takes about as much time as pulling and putting on a handle. Why do it? Attention to detail, wood firing, local  materials, shino glazes, etc, etc. Why do I make life so hard?  You Micheal set such a high bar for good pots. You continue to be my favourite read. I wish we could have met.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Make mine a double!

I've been seeing a few pics of the pots that fellow blogger and Facebook pal Dan Finnegan has been making since his return from the UK. Dan worked for a time with Ray Finch and I got an urge the other day to make some what I can Devon jugs. I saw similiar ones when I visited Winchcombe Pottery many decades ago.  I split the rim so decided to put a double handle on them to echo the rim. As if it doesn't take enough time to handle a bunch of jugs I decided each jug needed two handles


Monday, September 16, 2013

Developing Community

It has been a tradition at Sheridan College for us to have a welcome party for the first year students. The second, third years and faculty show a couple of pics of their work and we have a party where everyone gets to know one another. Our technologist Hugh Douglas Murray and his wife Sarah opened their house for the occasion. Hugh had just built a Hybrid fireplace and wood fired pizza oven. Hugh cooked an amazing 45 pizzas that evening. They were delish!!!!!!
Pictures were projected on the man cave wall. A great night of good food and good company.
This is one small piece in the puzzle of  how Sheridan's Ceramic program has remained the envy of the nation.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


In the first week of class my 13 students have produced nearly 500 bowls. Some have called me a slave driver. One student is absent with a bum wrist. I've only asked for 40 pots each in a week. As many of you know I went to school in a program set up by Robin "Grass" Hopper which when I went was run by a Brit potter Roger Kerslake who took over for Grass. Roger never asked for 20 of this or 10 of that! He asked for "one" ware cart full of pots for next Monday. If that were mugs it meant one ware cart full of mugs. If it were casseroles it meant one ware cart of casseroles. Each student had a ware cart to fill. I remember making a ware cart of casseroles that he didn't like. They all went for a swim in the slop bucket. I had to make them over again. I now make a pretty nice casserole.
My class from that program produced many makers that have made pots for over 3 decades. Many have bought houses, raised families, and made a living from their pots. Most are names you will not have heard of. They haven't sought provincial, national or international reputations. They had made good solid pots and made a living. Some of the names from that group -Eric Lindgren, Micheal Collins, Gary Bierley, Ken Loverock, Jane Wilson, Gayle Fairchild, Hartley Woodside and moi. A Dean these days would be very pleased with a 80% employment rate in their field

out of college.

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's a sickness, really!

I made some jars and fiddled around making handles. I started with the double strapped handle and thought criss crossing them would add visual interest. It really is amazing at how you can take one thing like the handle and turn it into your obsession.  I like making handles more than any other part of the entire process. It is a sickness, really!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fun, fat sizzling Boot Camp

There was a neon mobile sign on the highway just as you turn into Sheridan College that read " Fun, fat sizzling Boot Camp". I thought perhaps the Assistant Dean had sprung some advertising dollars for my course. The next 7 weeks I teach what used to be called "Production Throwing" and now I call it Potter's Boot Camp.
At Sheridan we teach the students that when you peel back the sod clay does not magically appear in perfectly wrapped 25 lb clear plastic bags. The students actually make their own clay in an old dough mixer and it is then pugged for throwing. On day one I had the 13 students make 20 general purpose bowls which meant I got to walk in the room and see 260 bowls laid out on the tables.  Homework is 10 3 lb serving bowls and 10 pies plates. So we will have 500 bowls in week #1. Slips were introduced so hopefully the students will have some fun decorating the thrown work.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Teach to learn

Well yesterday was my first day back at school. I taught the throwing of a general purpose bowl. A bowl you can use for chowder, salad, cereal, ice cream, etc. etc. I make it a bit on the big side using 1 and

1/2 lbs of clay so that a nice foot can be trimmed on it. Their assignment was to make 20 yesterday. When I left at 5 most had completed the assignment. Today is clay making and a pot luck to welcome the first years.
What I like about Sheridan is I learn from the students. One of the keener first year students Jordan Scott now in my second year Throwing class spent the summer in Wales working for Phil Rogers. Phil in turn got him a position at the old Leach Pottery in St. Ives for 2 weeks. Phil makes one of the best foot rings this cowboy has ever seen. Now if my student has that down then I will learn once again.
While the students were making GP bowls I made some wee bourbon cups to keep myself busy. I'm not the wander around and hold hands kind of teacher. Jordan made me some of Phil's slip. I asked for it thick. Man do I like the edge on the rim.
Here is the ancient Chinese recipe if you care to use it. Good thick or thin.
3 scoops of ball clay
1 scoop of molochite (porcelain grog)

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Potter's Briefcase

Well I'm cleaning up my Executive briefcase in preparation of back to school days.  After I washed the assembled tools I looked at them in three different groups- throwing, trimming and handling.
The ribs especially the flexible ones are important to a guy that is interested in round bulbous forms. I spend a lot of time in the shaping during the throwing process. I hate to admit it publicly but I don't like throwing. It is too messy! I can hardly wait for Day #2 to begin the trimming and handling. Because I trim at cheese soft I like my Dolan tools dulled by years of trimming tons and tons of clay.
I also have a small collection of Dolan knives. I know it's crazy to use $15 knives when I could use a cheap one for a buck or two. I think it is a consistent line of thought. If you think people should know the difference between a more expensive handmade mug and a cheap mass produced one then you should set an example. I do like the look of the wooden handle and the feel of it in my hands. I sell good quality and like to think that is what I surround myself with.
12 years at Sheridan. I do enjoy the students. They have pushed me to write, to get an MFA, to keep trying to be better. I really owe the students a lot.