Friday, November 29, 2013

Gobble, gooble

To all my US friends  I luv ya!
Hey sorry we ate all the good turkeys up here in C eh N eh D eh about a month ago. Have a great day and I for one am thankful to have you as friends.
Pie for breakfast is almost as good as cold pizza and warm beer.

Battle of the Bulge

The one challenge of making concave vessels is putting the handle on. I don’t like handles that stick way out from the pot. The other issue is uneven heating in the winter. If I place the handle on the rim as is my signature I often get cracking  because the rim is drier than the rest of the pot. So I thought I’d place this little cap on the cup and the teapot as a place to spring the handle from. I’ve done it before( last winter) and it is yet another step in the process.  I often see people that want a good “D” shape in their handle place them upside down on the edge of a table. I take a piece of newspaper and wet the one end. I place the dry end on the sticky handle pull it up to the “D” shape and attach the wet portion of the newsprint on the other side.  Hey, I wonder if CM will give me $10 bucks for that trick?  Winter is coming and I need the money.
Decorated with paper resist my red/blue slip and some local red clay(Queenston shale)

Speaking of battling the bulge I have been walking 5km on the Bruce Trail each day. Gotta lower my BMI. It’s a nice walk and I feel more energized.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

turn up the volume

  Yesterday I was making some teapots thinking about how I was going to tell you that I like my teapot forms to be full of volume. I like them to swell up at the shoulders and almost be on the verge of collapsing. Volume means increased capacity. In a teapot that means more tea. In a person that means capacity to give, to love etc, etc.   You my readers are to blame for the next 4 teapots collapsing.
I was thinking the teapots are like me- big shoulders and no neck. I've always loved the look of a hand tied bow tie but I can't wear one as I have a neck the size of many people's waste. You know what they say about a guy with a big neck???   He needs a big shirt collar! Mine is a stretched size 18.
Don't know if I can fill Santa's bag before Christmas so I'm going to make these teapots for me. That said I'm making them special. Trimming and handling are my favourite jobs in the pottery. Can't wait to get out there this morning.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dear Father

 I have sinned!!!!! I'm going to come out of the closet on this surface. I sprinkle wood ash on my shino fired in the gas kiln to give a wood fired look!  I sprinkle it on the wet glaze so it sinks right into the surface.

There I feel much better now.
I use a couple of slips that seem to respond to the ash pretty well. Funny thing is that the red colour surfaces where the slip isn't. That copper red migrates under the surface of the slip and shows up where I had a paper resist pattern.
The General Purpose Slip I use is:

General Purpose White Slip
400                 Ball
400                 EPK
500                 Nep Syn
600                 Silica
 for copper red I add 2% each of copper carb, cobalt carb, manganese and RIO.
for Mother in Law blue I add 1/2 % cobalt carb and 1% iron.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Memory Lane

I was surfing thru some photos and I came across this pic of me and a hot babe. For those of you that don't know this in a former life I did a stint as a high school teacher. Here is one of my students that is now all grow up and drop dead gorgeous. Heidi Zach searched me out hundreds of miles away to commission me to make her a dinner ware set. No rules, do what ya want! It is probably the best dinnerware set I have ever made. Heidi's grand father was an amazing wood carver and I would take my class out to visit his castle on the shores of Colpoy's Bay. Almost every square inch of wood was carved. He would put a roast of meat on the table(no plate) with a big knife and some wine and we would talk about art.  He was the kind of character I hope to grow old to be. Heidi couldn't help but to grow up to have great taste in art and oh yeah men!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hey Mum

It's coming up to your birthday and I came across pics of these pots I made the day I was informed of your death. I was at USU and I had just driven up thru Utah, beautiful Idaho and Montana to see my mum in the hospital in Calgary, Alberta. She had rarely gone to a doctor in her life. At age 90 she had an aneurysm that went to her foot. Of course she waited too long and gangrene set in. The doctor told her she would have to have her leg removed, go on dialysis  and live in assisted living. She answered no, no and no with this brave smile I will never forget.

I drove 16 hours back to the University and received a call at 6 am that she was gone. What to do? I went to the studio and made these water buckets. I made 6 that day. I think they may well be the best pots I have ever made. One is decorated with an old piece of red licorice I found on the floor. The other was a roulette of a corn cob.  Have you had a day of making when you are completely in a zone, another world, a place of total la-la. I was there that day.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Four letter word starting with s

Got up at 6:30 this morning all excited to open the gas kiln full of shino. The old dog Missy and I opened the door and I think we both said in unison "Holy S---! Well it, was a four letter word but it wasn't snow. Missy turned around and went back to bed and I waded thru a foot of snow. I got busy and painted up a sign so that I didn't have to do much shoveling.
Canada love it or leave it.
BTW is was a very nice load of pots.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Empress of Plastic

I have had an ongoing laugh with Julie who works as a cook in the kitchen at Pinecroft. Julie likes plastic and has a plastic garden that needs no watering and sometimes a little dusting. On my walk in downtown Hamilton the other day I took a picture for Julie of a plastic Santa house. Of late I have been ordering "A Julie" for lunch. Julie knows I like pickles and usually prepares my grilled cheese with a rude positioning of the pickle. Here is a picture of me and Julie. I had to tell her to say "sex" to get a great smile on her face. If you can't have fun at work stay in bed.

Friday, November 22, 2013


I've told ya Bruce Dehnert is in
a class of his own. Today I received a hand written post card from Bruce thanking me for having him do a workshop here at Pinecroft. It is nice to receive an email but a hand written note is so much more personal and classy. Bruce also wrote to Herm, Brenda and Chad  to thank them for their hospitality and a host of other things that they did. This is what I call follow up Marketing and it is so important. People do hand stands to sell you their product or service but few thank you properly afterwards. Bruce Dehnert is class personified. Bruce was not a taker but a giver. He paid for suppers, bought his share of refreshments and cleaned the workshop like no else has ever.
Bruce you set a standard for me as workshop presenter and workshop host. Your friendship and show of class is top shelf in my books.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Trader Joe

Remember Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Trader Joe?

I must be Trader Joe. Almost all the nice craft in the house is the result of barter/trading. I can't afford the work I love and I am grateful to have so many friends that make great work and happen to like mine. So we trade! The best part about trading is that both think they got the best part of the deal. I traded a couple of nice wood fired pieces with Mary Philpott for these two giant tiles. Boy, did I ever score! I love the crow. Crows are among my favourite birds. Most people don't share my love of them. They are noisy, bossy but mostly they are extremely smart.They can apparently remember a face and they hold grudges. Don't ever cross a crow.
Hey that table was a trade with Stephen Hogbin my old neighbour and one of the best wood guys on the planet. He authored Appearance and Reality. It is a recommended read.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Canadian Landscapes

A couple of days ago I went on about how the Niagara Escarpment must have crept into my soul. I am very proud to present the work of one of my Sheridan students Amber Zuber who is having a show at The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in Toronto. Amber lives right smack dab in the heart of Toronto and the textures she has chosen for her landscapes are man hole covers that she made castings
of and then hand built forms. We fired them in the wood kiln over the past month. God, they look stunning.
Here is Amber's artist statement. I think I'll get her to write mine. Congrats, Amber on a very fine body of work.

Amber Zuber
My Canadian Landscape 
Wood-fired Stoneware
Various Dimensions
My Canadian Landscape, an exhibition of ceramic objects by Amber Zuber at the Gardiner Museum, opening January 9th to March 2nd, 2014.
Artist Statement     My work engages with concepts of identity.  Through the making of objects that elicit memory, whether experienced or imagined, my work is an investigation of the self and of our attachments.  Interpreting my surroundings in order to re-examine and re-invent, My Canadian Landscape is a wood-fired series that looked to my city block as a muse - the visual identity of Toronto that lies in front, above and below me.  The city manhole covers were my texture and the buildings my form.  Using wood to fuel the kiln, the clay was deliberately left bare in order to allow the natural effects of the flame and ash to adorn the surfaces.  I appreciate the mundane textures and forms of the everyday and these vessels serve as trace souvenirs of my immediate surroundings.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Johnnie Appleseed

I'm not much of a Facebook fan. I get all confused and wonder if I am sending a message to the world or an individual. One of things I have enjoyed about FB is meeting some cyber buddies that I think are doing really great work. The one guy that comes to mind is Johnnie Bauman of Indiana. John was on line about a year ago looking for a job at Walmart. I thought WTF is an amazing potter like John doing looking for a job. He probably has the most well crafted saleable line of work I have ever seen.  Today I wanted to make some Christmas stuff that was marketable. John's work came to mind. His work though is more literal in it's representation. An acorn really looks like an acorn. I made some apple dishes influenced by Johnnie but in my broad stroke manner. John please don't ever consider the blue vest of Walmart. My friend Cyndi of Michigan

reads this blog and has a successful gallery called C2C. If you wholesale give Cyndi a call.

She always wins!

For the past 37 years I have had 3 different studios all situated at the base of the Niagara Escarpment. During my one year flirtation with earthenware I tried really hard to to be sold on the colours of the big city lights. I have found a new 5k walk at the base of the escarpment. The flora, fauna and the power of the rock formations are really amazing. The grays, greens and more somber colours are really the palette that I love. Would it be a stretch of the imagination to say that the undulated rims on the bowls I just made are a view of the escarpment from across the valley and the wee lugs I insist on putting on are really ledges on the escarpment. Or is it as I've always thought that a potter does something and then finds something to justify why they did it? Surely such strength and beauty must enter your being in some way.
Mother Nature always wins. Here is her work and a man made wall. Pretty dang good but not as good as hers.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hot Wheels

I just traded down to a 2001 Honda CRV with 227,000 clicks on it. My mechanic said it is hardly broken in for a Honda. This is the perfect car for me. Lots of room for pots and clay, good gas mileage, AWD for Canadian winters and it has just enough scratches and bumps that you stop worrying about them. Hey, it even has a fold out picnic table for when I really take up fly fishing, catch a fish and actually cook it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Biggest Honesty Check of All

I must say the opportunity to teach in Canada's best ceramics programme at Sheridan College School of Craft and Design has been a major factor in the development of my work. As my buddy Harlan House has been known to say "You can shit the fans but not the players!" I am surrounded by talented faculty and students that have gone on to set up studios and earn MFA's. Some are teaching in some good schools and some are successful studio artists. I used to think I had to look over my shoulder as the little beggars were closing in on me. Now, they are my peers and more than anything are there to help me. I have answers and they have strong backs. Sometimes I have to show them though that the old boy is still a force. This may be the time for me to tell the story of the Old Bull and the Young Bull. If you are wondering I'm the Old Bull
There was an old bull and a young bull standing on a hill overlooking a pasture of lovely young heifers.
The young bull said to the old bull "Let's run down and make it with one of those lovely young heifers!"
The old bull
wisely replied " Let's walk down, drink a cool drink of water and make it with them all!.
See the wisdom you get with age.

I ain't ever satisfied!

36 years ago I sold my Hasselblad 500c and lenses moved to the country and grew weird. I  put a down payment on an old field stone barn with a dirt floor to turn into a workshop to make pots.  I had an old oil drum converted into a wood stove and  I started my first pottery.
Hey Dennis always good to read your comments on my blog- humorous and thoughtful. Is this the best mug I can make for $25 is a great question? Again, I'll answer that the only one that cares is you the maker. I find I put more time into my mugs these days and get less money for them. How bright am I??? That's not supposed to be the way it works. You make better work you get more money, right! But here's the "but". I am trying to attract good potters to our workshops at Pinecroft. They don't come to see and learn how to make ordinary. They come to see and make extra-ordinary. Many are very good makers but need to give their work that extra bit that is to become their signature. I have opinions about pots and thankfully most people I have taught respect those thoughts.  How is this one when asked what is a good pot?  A good pot is one that I like!
Having a wood fired kiln has always been my way of making work that is thoughtful.  I hate the thought of putting so much work into something that is a "so what" pot. The work I make for the gas kiln is more market driven and probably what makes me the most income. Strangely enough I am known for my wood fired pots. I think they are better and they aren't really much more money! Boy, I'm smart!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

who cares?

What I have figured out over 35 years of making pots is that no one cares except you. They don't care whether it is fired in oxidation, salt fired, wood fired or fired in a microwave. If it matches the kitchen or the sofa you are in good hands.  You are the one that cares!
Every little mark you make in a pot takes time. Each little mark is lost money!. Straight forward cylinder mugs are easy to make and you can actually make a profit on them. Each time you add a whoopie in the bottom of the cup, a pinch of the rim or shoulder, a trimmed foot and a wedgie to let water drain from the foot ring you are loosing money. Add to that a pulled handle and then decide should I add that wedge in the crotch of the handle or not? Remember no one cares but you! I have the curse of great potters like Dan Finnegan looking at this blog and my pots. It's not a curse really it is an honesty check. Does he walk the walk or just talk the talk?
Here are some cups made today- you decide!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


One of my most early pots just surfaced in a thrift shop in Grimsby and was picked up by a friend. I have offered him $1.60 hard cold cash for it. He took it and I think he made a profit.  It was made some 36 years ago in the basement of Gayle Fairchild's parents house. It is lead glazed earthware with yuck an extruded handle. It is living proof there is hope for everyone.
I maintain that anyone can learn to make pots. To learn how to make thoughtful pots is yet another thing.  "How to" is easy! "Why" is hard! This is the first time in over 25 years that I haven't made pots in over a month. Sure, I did some demos but I never give myself more than a Grade C for those pots. So I've been home for 3 days sleeping, gathering my nuts for winter and just catching up on life.
I got worried that I didn't have any thoughtful pots left in me. Thoughts of Bruce Dehnert and Harlan House making what pleases them is heavy on my mind. Today I wish I had my old Leach treadle wheel to help me ease back into the making.
As we educate  we find we have more eyes on us and therefore higher expectations of the work we make. Trying to live up to those expectations.
On a sad note I went into to Sheridan to throw bowls to raise money for the students to go to NCECA. There was a package addressed to me from Angela Fina. A package of slides of her time as a teacher at Sheridan. I was just about to write her to thank her and read on FB she passed away.  She had been so complimentary of my work. Guess more than ever I better go deep into my well and find a few pots of integrity for Angela and me. Rest in Peace! Hope they left your muddy jeans on.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Craft 2013 at Carnegie Gallery

I went to visit the Craft 2013 Show at the Carnegie Gallery in Dundas, Ontario today. What a beautiful display of fine craft. Best in show went to a textile artist that soaked the fabric in salt and celebrated the salt crystals- really beautiful and a great choice. My choice would have been a chair by Rob Deinart ( wood tech at Sheridan) man what beautiful craftsmanship and design. Ceramics was well represented by wood fire with some very strong pieces. I got 3 of 3 into the show which I'm pretty pleased with- a jug, a teapot and a piece called "Forbidden Fruit" that is an assemblage of my Uncle Jimmie's fruit nappies. From our wood fire group there was a first time juried acceptance of a nice bottle by Nurse Irons- (yeah Nurse Irons!!!) and a really killer vase by Louise McCann.  Also some not

able pieces by Duncan Aird and my student Emma Smith. I am very proud of the wood fire being done in the Hamilton Region. You would, you bet I wood!

Juicey Brucey

Here are a few of the pots made by Bruce Dehnert during the workshop at Pincecroft. There is a trick to making small pots look large. At USU John Neely gave me that project and it was hard indeed especially for a guy that likes handles. Many times my handles gave the pots away. You could photograph these small bottles of Bruce's and they would look huge. He wedged wet silica sand into the clay to give this nasty surface that I love so much. The faceted cup started out as a three pound piece that he just kept faceting. The secret was to facet with a sharp knife and not a wire. The bowl he trimmed with a stick that was destined to be stoked.
Most of the work I have seen of Bruce's is beautifully thrown porcelain with almost engineered trimmed feet and machine like precision to assembling. The Doctor Jeckyl side of Bruce was a complete surprise. All of this and he does sculpture and plays a mean blues piano. Don't you just hate a guy like that?