Friday, January 30, 2009

My Chalupa

Krystal suggested we make a night at the studio, so we did. Picked up some Taco Bell (indulgent - chalupas are winners) and went in for just over three hours of solid studio work. Krystal kept me company and read many pages of her livre-du-jour.

Unfortunately, I forgot to bust out the camera until everything was packed up, so no progress photos today.

Trimmed and decorated two larger bowls in progress, with perhaps a bit too much time doing some sgraffito work inside of one. When you do everything in spontaneous freehand, it's hard to know when you've gone too far until it's too late. This bowl got a little too busy in its embellishment, so I had to spend some time correcting that. It would have gone much better for me if I had avoided that, but it happens.

Recycled a lot of clay - my slop bucket is now empty. Will have to go in tomorrow to wedge and knead; hopefully it's ready for it.

Threw a number of smaller (soup) bowls. Hoping for a set. Or something. I wanted to throw, and didn't want to mess with anything too big. So, lots of little bowls.

It was a pleasant evening; the throwing room was all ours, though there were some Guilders glazing that were in and out. It was nice to have some time together, Krystal and I, even if I was throwing and she was reading. Her presence is soothing, and we don't get to spend enough time together. Basically, nobody should have to work an 8-5 job. It's just not fair.

In other news, U2's new single was on the radio while we were in the studio. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but I didn't think that "Vertigo" was a great indicator of the sound of their last album, so I'm thinking that No Line on the Horizon should still be solid, regardless of how I feel about this song. It's kind of catchy, in a"has-no-melody, can't-remember-the words, mildly-obnoxious" sort of way. Oh well. March 3rd, here we come. Anybody else have any thoughts on this song?

Good night, friends.

A Finished Photo

Here's my "official" documentation of finished work:

I'm still working out the best lighting, etc. for these. If anybody has any advice/experience with taking slide shots of artwork, specifically glossy ceramics, pointers would be welcomed. Click here for an album of other newer works. I spent some time last night sanding and washing all of these bowls, but I'm hesitant to pack them up until I've shot them.

I should be putting in some serious studio time this weekend, but until then, I'm done here.

Note: I've also added a slideshow to the right sidebar, so all my finished work should be displaying through there.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Here's the pictures from my Monday night glazing, throwing, and new pots.

Empty bowls, glazed and ready for firing.

Recognize those red pieces?

Here's some greenware - dried and ready for round one in the kiln.

The only thing I threw Monday night - it's 15" across, 8" tall.
It will be 20% smaller by the time it's finished.

Finished work. I was happy with this batch. There's some pretty things there.

Had some experimenting in this kiln load - something I haven't done for a while.
(left) This is actually just clear glaze. The bowl was the Calico clay with some blue slip trimmings kneaded in. Neat effect. Not sure it will go anywhere, but interesting.
(right) An attempt at a "checkered" style that my uncle, Tim Langholz, used. Not bad for a first attempt, but still a long way to go before I can do it justice.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jury Duty

It's 6:42 am and I am prepping to head south for jury duty service. Even though Fort Collins is the Larimer County seat, I have to report to Loveland. So I'm up early and won't get a run, and most likely will just be sitting around all day. Oh well.

Was in the studio for some glazing last night - all those Empty Bowls I threw needed glazing! Also got a decent load of finished glazed work, and threw another decent sized bowl. And then was back home to watch the new episode of House.

Photos will be up later. For now, I should probably shower and get ready for my first real commute ever.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Trimming, Sanding, and Functional Art

Didn't spend a whole lot of time in the studio this weekend, but did still accomplish plenty. Krystal and I stayed up way to late Friday night playing a painfully long game of Scrabble. Good, but long. I should have won. Really. But that's another story. I found it good to pass the time between my turns by sanding the bowls that came out of the kiln last week.

Sanding is not horribly fun, and probably not good for one's lungs, but it's definitely good for the furniture on which these pots will be used. While some clays are naturally smooth to finish, most are left with a pretty gritty surface once they've been fired. Since I prize the functionality of my work, and many people prize the surface of their dining room table, I find it necessary to sand the feet of my bowls so that they can be comfortably used. I just use plain old diamond-grit sandpaper, and finish by hand to a 600-grit. Then the bowls are washed and ready for you to buy!

Drying bowls, now with smooth feet.

These five bowls will be packed up with the rest of my work until I find them new families. Unless one gets pulled into every day use. Which happens sometimes. I made a pretty sweet little mug this fall that would have made me rich, but Krystal really liked it, so that was the end of the story. The smallest one there is a smidge bigger than a custard dish, and then they get larger from there. Perfect for side-dishes of rice or vegetables. Green vegetables look great in blue bowls.

The bowls in the picture are drying upside down, which is also the perspective I have in the decorating process. The carving occurs after the foot has been trimmed, which has to be done upside down. The end result then is always a bit surprising to me once the bowl's been turned over. Sometimes a design that I really liked turns out not so spectacular, and one that looked strange to me ends up beautifully. In any case, part of the appeal for me is that the strokes and lines look oddly foreign once a bowl's been righted.

The small bowls will be packed up for the time being, but the larger one I'm less keen on packing up. It's living on our dining room table for the time being, and I think it enjoys being a functional piece of art. I think most bowls want to be used. They like being used. Kind of like Dr. Wilson.

See that banana on the left? It was part of my lunch today.

The inside of our spectacular fruit bowl.

I'm particularly fond of this bowl, as it's one of the larger I've done recently, and definitely the largest in this series (sgraffito decoration on the inside). It's thrown with Calico, which is a white-bodied clay which suits the fine detail work on the inside quite well. Unfortunately, it also has a relatively high rate of shrinkage, so it was about 5% more impressive before it was fired. Although it is by no means a small bowl now, either. Just something to keep in mind.

I did get about two hours in the studio Sunday afternoon to trim and decorate a few bowls, throw one large-ish bowl, and recycle some more red clay. I need to recycle my bucket of Speckled Buff slop - it's gotta be pushing 40 pounds. Just about took my arm yesterday when I was under the impression it was not so heavy. Also, there was a bisque fire and a glaze fire nearly done, but they were both still over 400° F, so no unloading for me. I'll be bringing home a big batch of finished work tonight, in addition to glazing.

That's all for this time - don't forget to post any questions or comments you may have!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mild Case of Creative Problem Solving

Glaze kiln unloaded = new pots = having to pack them up safely and find a home for them = creative problem solving. I didn't major in art; I got a degree in creative problem solving.

Here are the new pieces - a smaller load then I thought they would be, but that happens to be one honking big blue bowl there. They actually packed up quite nicely, without too much trouble, but finding a home for them in my bins amongst the other pots may be a bit of a challenge. I'll link to an album when I get "official" shots of these pieces up.
And here are two pieces of bisque (bisque meaning they've been fired once). In this stage they are not finished and still absorb moisture. So, this is what they look like before they've been glazed and glaze-fired, at least with this clay body (the Speckled Buff). In this stage they can be glazed, glazes being composed of various chemical compounds and water; water, so you can brush/dip/spray it onto the pot. The bisque absorbs the water (and it evaporates) and you're left with a coat of glaze on your pot. Then the pots will be fired again to an even higher temperature range at which the clay and glaze bind and vitrification occurs (look it up, you'll be glad you did).
I'm rather excited about that larger vase, which stands at about 16 inches tall right now. It's the first "bigger" piece I've done in two years, and since I recently sold the large vase keeping our bookshelve even, we need something new to fill that spot. Or, something new to sell. Either one. And then the little vase is just for comparison.

I'm thinking it may be time to find a local gallery outlet for my work... we're running out of room in our apartment... I'll be sure to let you know if anything comes of that thought.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Tonight I was in the studio for a spare hour after work, just to glaze the growing pile of bisqued pots waiting for me. I forgot to grab my camera on my way out the door this morning, which is a bummer. I really wanted to share a view of pots in the bisque stage - having been fired once, but not finished. In the hour there I was able to glaze about 20 bowls and vases ranging from small nut bowls to a couple larger fruit/serving/mantle-piece bowls. There are still two more left to glaze, so maybe I can snag a picture of them.

Glazing is more time consuming than difficult, and also quite exacting - at least in my style, I try to prevent my glazes from running, drizzling, or dripping anywhere that I don't want them. This takes a little more time and patience and care than simply dipping pieces in the buckets of glaze.

Glazing is always a little bit of a crap-shoot; you never really know what you're going to find when you open that kiln, even if you've used the same glaze a hundred times. Hopefully they all turn out the way I want. Or, at the very least, in a way that somebody else likes enough to pay for!

That's it for tonight - short blog for a short trip to the studio.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bowls, Bowls, and More Bowls

I was able to get out to the studio this afternoon for a solid 4 hour block of work. It's amazing how much more productive one 4-hour session is vs. two 2-hour sessions. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I only have clean up once, as opposed to twice. Because it's a co-op studio, I don't get to leave my mess from day to day, but have to clean everything up each time. That means giving the wheel a decent cleaning, putting all my tools/junk away, and mopping my area. For some this was a normal part of taking a pottery class. Not how I roll. I really enjoyed my studio style at Luther where I put forth a sincere deep-cleaning effort once a semester.

Today was mostly spent trimming and decorating, with some throwing mixed in. I finally made it to the bottom of my Empty Bowls donations - they're all nicely trimmed with good clean feet - and they are now drying in prep for their first firing. It's important that things be dry before they're fired, otherwise the water in the clay will expand with greater force than the clay can handle, kind of like putting an egg in the microwave (or so I hear...). When that happens you end up with little pieces of bowls in your kiln, rather than little bowls. Believe me, it's a bummer when that happens. I once blew up an entire stack of plates. It was not fun.

After trimming and applying some decoration to the Empty Bowls pieces, I moved on to finishing the Red clay pots I started this week. They're decorated with a blue slip (liquid clay body with colorant added; cobalt oxide gave me what will be a lovely shade of blue) which I then carve through to reveal the clay body underneath. It's kind of like drawing on a frosted window. Kind of. This technique is called "sgraffito" and it's a particularly nice effect on the red clay - strong contrast. These also have nicely trimmed feet on them, and are now sitting on a shelf to dry for firing.

The trimming and decorating when the clay is "leather hard" - it's firm enough to hold its shape, but still is soft enough to carve into and has some "give" to its shape. When it dries to the point where it's ready to fire, or bone dry, it is considered "greenware." This is its most fragile state in the process. Some terms that may be helpful to know.

Anything not yet fired is still salvagable if something goes wrong - as long as the clay is still raw, if a piece isn't working out right, or it breaks, or cracks, the clay can be recycled and nothing but time has been lost. Clay recycling can be done many ways, but the simplest and cheapest way is to soak in water until the clay has been reconstituted as a sludge, and then spread it over a drying surface, such as a plaster slab, to let the moisture out. When the clay has firmed up on the slab, it can be removed, wedged/kneaded, and used again. Voila, more clay!

I recycled this batch of red clay scraps today. Scraps from trimming pieces, wet slop from throwing, and pieces that don't meet my standards find their way into scrap buckets to be recycled.

Finally, once I was done with all of the trimming, decorating, and recycling, I got to throw some more bowls. They'll be ready to trim and decorate later this week. They were a lot of fun to throw, not too much drama involved.

On a sadder note, the vase that I began work on last week did not survive today's studio visit. A series of poor choices on my part led to its demise. It was cut from the wheel, wedged, kneeded, and thrown again. I think one of the bowls in the picture used to be a vase. It happens.

So, that was it for this Sunday. I'll be back in the studio this week sometime to trim those bowls up and maybe do some glazing too!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Empty Bowls

Last night I had the extreme joy to participate in throwing for an Empty Bowls fundraiser for the Larimer County Food Bank. The Guild donated the clay for us to throw bowls, which will be given to the food bank for their fundraiser. Guests have the opportunity to pick a bowl of their choice, and then use it to enjoy a soup dinner. The food, the bowls, and the time are all donated, making it a great fund raising event in which all proceeds go directly to the food bank.

In short, last night was a throwing party. Though it was a smaller turn-out from the potters than I expected, it was still great fun. There were about a dozen of us throwing, and five or six upstairs hand-building their bowls, while the great Joe Aiken cooked us a sweet cajun dinner. I believe I've mentioned before that sometimes I just want to go in and throw and turn my music up loud and not deal with being social, but this was a great time, and great people.

Potters at work.

I discovered something last night: I love throwing. A lot of my work is very simple, formally, with a stronger emphasis on the decorative aesthetic - something that might indicate the decorating is my favorite part. But really, I love to throw. If somebody called me up and said, "Hey, I've got a hundred pounds of clay here - will you throw it for me?" I'd probably have to say yes. Because I love it. I love the centering, I love the mess. I love the raw work, pre-trimmed, pre-finished. I love cranking them out, bowl after bowl. I love the process, I love to throw. Makes me think that going into production work might not be so painful after all.

Aside from a mix-up over whether the clay we were using was in the right firing range (It wasn't. It's a good thing we caught it, or the first 20 bowls produced would have melted in the firing. Yes, clay can melt.), it was a good night of throwing for me. I threw in the neighborhood of 20 bowls before they told me I needed to stop. So I went on to trimming them (trimming = turning them upside down and putting a nice smooth foot on them, so they don't scratch your dining room table. a good trimmed foot is also aesthetically pleasing) until it was time to go home. I still have lots more trimming to do.

My contribution.

In any event, it was a good evening spent with good people for a good cause. Our "quota" was to produce 40 bowls for the food bank. Somebody counted that we were closer to 70. Good work, Northern Colorado Potters Guild.

Now we just need to trim, bisque, glaze, and fire them again.

Special thanks to my lovely wife, Krystal, for sharing me with the Guild on a Friday night. After I finished, we went to Perkins for a slice of pie and some conversation. It was great. The pie, that is. And the conversation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Guild

I produce my work in the studio of the Northern Colorado Potters Guild, of which I am also a member. The guild functions in many capacities, from non-profit organization to art education resource to the community, but is primarily a resource for local ceramic artists to have access to studio space and equipment that is not cheap to obtain privately. Currently we have two electric kilns, one reduction kiln, a portable raku kiln, slab press, extruder, handbuilding space, and a room full of wheels, as well as private studio space for rent. If you're interested in ceramics and live in the area, it's worth checking out the website for upcoming class offerings, as well as membership opportunities. Oh, and then there's the members: great people, one and all, and as much as it's fun to crank up the radio and be a lone artist, it's usually nice to have some company in the studio.

I got up to the studio this afternoon for a few hours when I escaped from my real job (they were painting my office space and the fumes were pretty special. I think that justifies a sick day. Or maybe I should have stuck it out, OD-ed on interior paint, and collected workman's comp... Hmm...).

All things considered it was one of the better Tuesday afternoons I've had in a while, though I wasn't nearly as productive as I would've liked to be. My primary clay body (Speckled Buff, Cone 5, by Laguna) was too soft to work with, so I started out with a red clay I've been using lately. This clay body has been pretty pleasant overall, but has a tendency to get kind of firm, by throwing standards.

I started out with five balls of clay (15 pounds total?), and ended up with four pieces (using all the clay). If anybody reading this is confused by the fuzzy math, leave a note and maybe I'll explain what happens.

This is how it all begins...

...and then it gets messy.

I did end up moving on to my Spec Buff clay after it had set for a while, but it was still pretty soft. I had a pretty sweet bowl going, but it wasn't agreeing with me, so I had to toss it. It happens. Sometimes you have to cut your losses, otherwise you end up fiddling with a piece for an extra hour or three and still lose it. The other Spec Buff piece (a vase/jar) has survived so far.
We'll see where it goes; at least the way I work, I need to let vertical forms set for a while before I flesh out the shape too much. It's a precautionary thing. I'll be back in the studio in a couple days to finish of the Red pieces and continue on the vase. Sometimes a little patience will go a long way.

The red pieces, fresh off the wheel. The dark band around them is a blue slip (liquid clay) that has been brushed on and will be used in future decoration. These are covered in plastic and sit for a few days until they're firm enough to trim and decorate.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Potter's Blog

My aim in this is to offer a glimpse into the studio process, providing regular updates on life in the studio. Hopefully there will be plenty of photos along the way.

A pottery story:

I had the opportunity to throw pottery as part of a worship service last December. We had a camera zoomed in tight on my hands and the wheel, and as I threw, the entire process was projected big-screen in the front of the church. Considering I hadn't touched clay or wheel for nearly 8 months, I was pretty pleased with the end results. I sat behind the wheel for 5 hours - several small warm-up pieces, and then one piece to each of the two services - two decent sized vases. Well centered, good height, clean lines. I was pretty pleased with myself, to be honest.

After each service a good number of people came up to talk with me as I finished up the pots. Some complimented me on how lovely the pieces had turned out, but more overwhelming was the response from people who had always admired pottery, but honestly had not even the slightest idea where it came from or how it was done.

The experience of watching a lump of clay transformed to a jar right in front of them was a new and exciting experience. And it doesn't get any less exciting just because you know how it's done. I'm always amazed by the process and the result - sometimes the clay doesn't cooperate or behave the way I want it to, or maybe it performs even better than I thought it would. The result can be disappointing, or just different from expected, or an exciting step in a new direction.

I'd like this space to be a forum for sharing that process - life in the studio. Success, failure, and everything in between.