You can often find me here

You can often find me here

Friday, January 17, 2020

"It's Been A Good Week"

On Monday I registered for a two week long workshop at Penland School of Craft.  Going to Penland has been a dream for a while now and I've been saving for years.  I am so excited!!  

This is the time of year that the summer starts taking shape.  Our family settles on a date and location for our family beach trip. It's normally this week that invitations to the Advanced Placement Reading go out.  We make beach plans usually before I know if I'm going to be grading AP Exams, but I always plan with the hope that I'll get to go to what my friends and I have come to refer to as "Math Camp".  This year, the family beach trip got pushed to late July instead of the third week of June (immediately after the Reading) due to some other family obligations.  

When the Penland catalog came to the house last weekend, I found the workshop that I thought I wanted to try to get into.  Checked the dates - June 21 to July 3.  Hmmmm, it doesn't conflict with vacation and would work even if I got an invitation to grade AP.  Perfect!  The next hurdle would be to actually get IN the workshop.  Registration opened at noon on Jan 13.  I was right there at my computer at noon working on registering. As were a bunch of other people...the website was SLOW.  After about 45 minutes, I had confirmation emails regarding my registration and payment of my deposit!  It turns out that I was doubly lucky.  The website crashed twice and the Penland folks suspended workshop registrations until Wed, Jan 15 while they tried to fix the issues.  BUT I got in before all that.  Wow.  

Then on Wednesday, I received my invitation to grade AP Exams!  So I'll leave on June 10 and will get back home on June 18.  I'll switch gears from math geek to crafty artist person.  Then I head up to Spruce Pine, NC for two weeks of pottery-ing.  Cool.  

In addition to all this excitement, I taught Nikki a lesson on Monday afternoon.  She is doing great.  Every week, I see improvement.  

The kiln has been not acting quite right the last few firings, so the Kiln Doctor came to take a look on Wednesday afternoon.  We easily have enough work ready for both a bisque fire and a glaze fire. 

The verdict was that we need new elements.  He said it was ok to bisque fire, but not to try a glaze fire.  OK.  I hope that it will work out for him to come back with the new parts next week. The sooner the better.  I've got a show that opens the first week of February.  Must fire pottery!  

Meanwhile, I've been cranking out stuff.  The first part of the week it rained.  A LOT.  It was a struggle to get things dry enough to finish them.  I made 4 cake plates on Tuesday. 
They sat on the shelf uncovered until Thursday before I could trim them.  I expected them to be dry enough to trim on Wednesday.  

Wednesday, I made the parts to a set of canisters.  
I was able to put on handles Thursday afternoon, but the lids weren't dry enough to work on until Friday morning.  

Sunday, January 12, 2020

And Some Other Things

How can I make a bowl this shape?  
Thanks to Ron Philbeck once again for helping me figure out a pottery "problem".

Obviously, start by throwing a bowl.  But then what?  It needs to be altered and needs to have a foot trimmed.  Altering the rim has to happen when the clay is wet.  Trimming the foot has to happen at the leather hard stage. If I alter the rim, it won't sit flat on the trimming bat.  

Solution?  Make a chuck!

Alter the rim right after throwing the bowl. Then when it is dried to leather hard, invert the bowl on the chuck to trim the foot.

Next up - a lid for something that is not round.
Um, how?
I threw the sides, let them dry to leather hard, and attached to the slab bottom.  I have done this before. This time though, I cut a gallery in the rim to hold the lid.

The lid is also a slab.  Using a big sponge to give some support in the middle (the one on the bottom in this picture), I let the slab kind of sink down in the casserole.  After it firmed up enough to hold its shape while I handled it, I flipped it over and then trimmed it to fit the shape of the dish.  This gave the lid some curve.  The second sponge is there to help it keep the curve while it dried.

This piece is still drying, so I still don't know how it is going to turn out.  Fingers crossed for no cracks and no warping.

I'm working on "not round" lids because I've had a request for a 9 by 12 inch casserole dish with a lid.  That is a challenge on two levels for me. First is the lid and second is the size.  

This is a rectangular piece that might end up approximately 9 by 12.  It is still a guessing game for me to try to get finished pieces of a particular size.  If the size does come out right and if the lid on the oval piece above works out ok, I'll see if I can put the two together.  
Stay tuned.

When Pottery and Geometry Meet

I have to start with a picture of the finished project since the first picture of the post is what gets shared on Facebook. 

This project was fun.  It started with someone that I did not know asking for help finding a potter who could make the pot in the picture below.
We have a number of mutual friends who put us in touch.  I was honest that I didn't know if I'd be able to make something similar, but that I would really like to give it a try.

I love it when I try something new....and it works!  Here are some pictures that I took of the process. 

I started with a hexagon for the bottom of the pot and added 6 pentagons, one on each side.

I used a paper towel to keep the second "layer" from flopping down flat.  Some time in front of the fan did the trick to firm things up enough that I could keep working.

The last "layer" was more pentagons.

Each seam got a lot of attention both inside and outside the pot to make sure that I had good, strong joints everywhere.

I was really worried that one of those joints would crack.

It took the better part of a Saturday afternoon.

Finally got to put that last piece in place.
I was thrilled that everything fit.

This pot was a gift, so even though I worked on it in late November and early December, I waited until I knew that sharing this would not ruin any surprises. 

I've been working on several other unique projects that I'll share with you in another post. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

My Tummy and My Heart Are Full

We had the first Annual A Griffin Pottery Pre-Holiday Party today at the studio and it was WONDERFUL!  Allen would have loved being there. I like to think that he was in some way.  None of those people would have even known each other if not for Allen and his willingness to teach us all pottery. 

This was originally Ronnie Blackburn's idea. He gets all the credit.  I was talking to him a week or two ago about when I planned to put the Christmas decorations up at the studio and he suggested the informal party.  FYI, my Christmas decorations are up now.  The weekend before Thanksgiving.  I have broken my hard and fast rule of one holiday at a time please.  The way the calendar worked out this year, it was necessary if we were going to be decorated for SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY on Nov 30, so I am forgiven, right? 

Everyone brought something to share and we had a feast and wonderful time together. 

Vicki, Gail, Ronnie, and Lisa were there of course.  Lisa brought her sister Karen who is visiting from Georgia.  Karen was nice enough to take the group picture.

That's Karen in the light blue.  I must have caught Ronnie in mid-chew.  Sorry Ronnie.

Gail's husband Jamie stopped by for a bit.  He's in the black pullover.

We managed to get some work done in addition to the eating and socializing.

My new student Nikki was there too!  I am so happy that she was able to work in out to be here with us today. She got to meet everyone, have some food, and then we took care of her lesson.  

Trimming a foot.

Making a serving plate.

The cool thing about our studio is that we all learn from each other.  I learn from Vicki (have been for the 12 years I've been making pots) and from Gail and from Lisa and from Ronnie.  When Nikki comes for a lesson, she's got me (Lord help her) and everyone else who happens to be there to teach her. I'm sure that it is overwhelming at times, but today she wanted to try something that Gail does more often than I do, so Gail helped her a bit.  

From time to time, someone will say to me, "Allen would be proud," and it makes me so happy.  Most recently that was when I introduced Nikki to Vicki for the first time.  Allen would be proud that you have a student learning here.  Today, Nikki got labeled "Allen's Grand Potter."  I absolutely love it!! And Nikki got a glimpse of how important Allen Griffin was to all of us.  

Even Dixie doggie (#Dixiethefosterdog) was part of the action.

She had to stay in her crate when we had the food out, but she was a good girl about it.  She was very happy to check out the floor for dropped bits once we let her out.

Our studio was a happy, busy, crazy place today will all the people there and all the different things going on at once.  Allen would have LOVED it!  I miss him so.

Thursday, November 21, 2019


It's been a busy time in the pottery studio these last few weeks.  I had really good sales at the Carolina Pottery Festival the first Saturday in November and have been working hard ever since to restock so that there are lots of things to choose from for folks who will be Christmas shopping with me in the coming weeks. 

Longer hours in the studio take their toll on me.  I'm not as tired as I was when I was working a full time job and making as many pots as I could, but my feet are definitely sore and tired after 5 or 6 hours standing on the cement floor in my studio.  Have you noticed that when your feet hurt, everything hurts?  Your entire body balances on your feet, so a problem in that foundation can lead to problems in other parts of your body.  

Feet are also important on pots.  A nice foot on a bowl can make a bowl lighter and more graceful.  

Notice the bowl in the background that has not yet been trimmed.

Before trimming.

After trimming.

Trimming a foot on a piece can be a very scary process for a new potter.  I have been working with a new student this month.  Yes, you read that correctly, I have a student.  She's doing pretty well for someone who has no prior experience working in clay.  Centering is a challenge - as it is for EVERY potter.  I remember how it feels.  You know the clay is not centered, but you have no idea what to do differently to get it centered.  When it finally clicked for me was on a Saturday afternoon.  I think Vicki suggested that I try making some shot glasses.  (You can think toothpick holder if shot glass bothers you.  Same thing.  Small cylinders.)  Repeatedly centering a small amount of clay helped me learn what it felt like.  I also found that if I shut my eyes I could feel the clay move to the center of the wheel even though I had trouble seeing it. 

I've gotten side tracked. This is a post about feet.  This is not a post about centering or other challenges for the new student.  

This week's lesson included glazing, centering, and finishing up a couple of leather hard pieces from last week.  I had her trim a foot on the two bowls that she threw last week.  Holding the tool steady with the appropriate amount of pressure takes lots of practice. For the first time, she did well. She removed some extra clay from the bottom of her bowls and did not cut the bottom out of anything.  I have explained that at some point she will do this.  It will be sad when it happens, but life will go on.  In my case, a short hissy fit is necessary before life goes on, but it does eventually go on.  This is true for many fatal mistakes with clay.  I generally feel a lot better after throwing it across the room.  

Feet are important.  They are important on pots and important on people.  I've said a bunch of times to others how important it is to wear good shoes, and I have meant it every time. I meant it and continued to wear my old shoes to the studio. And my feet hurt.  A lot.  It is possible that my worn out shoes are the root of many of my most recent ailments.  So last week, I sucked it up and took my own advice.  I bought shoes for the studio.  

Brand new Dansko XP 2.0 clogs.

I spent more money than I am comfortable with on shoes that are already covered in clay drips and glaze splashes, but my feet do feel better at the end of the day.  I think I'm glad that I did.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Where Oh Where Did October Go?

The Carolina Pottery Festival happens in just 9 short days!

Between a week long vacation to Arizona and southern Utah, returning home to a dying dryer and multiple plumbing problems, and incapacitating muscle spasms in my back (which I blame on the stress of the plumbing and appliance problems coming right after sleeping awkwardly on the plane on the way home), the first 24 days of October have slipped right by me.  I thought that it would be an easier, less stressful time leading up to the first Saturday in November this year since I am not working, but no.  

Yes.  Pots.  You want to see pots.  

It's hard to tell from this picture, but this is a bowl.  I made a couple of these back in the summer because my Mom and Dad needed something to fit under a glass coffee table they'd bought.  They turned out really nice, the parents chose the one they liked, and the other one sold at Buffalo Creek Gallery.  There are also a couple of lamps that are glazed in the same blue that I'll take on Nov 2.


I made some more pieces using the dark brown clay that I have come to love so much.
Mugs in turquoise.

Honey pots and cake plates in turquoise and cream.

More mugs.

Mugs with turtles.  I actually made these as a commission, but I wasn't able to get them finished in time for the person who asked me to make them.  Sometimes that happens.

These are bacon cookers.  How I managed to glaze 3 the same color I do not know. Usually I try to do a variety of colors.  I must have been really loving floating blue the day that I glazed these.  Or maybe I was just tired.  There are 3 more waiting to be fired and they are different colors.

Utensil holder, tall pitcher, canister set, casserole dish, and spoon rests - all in the same tan and green glazes.

There are 9 days until the show on Saturday, Nov 2, but set up for potters is the afternoon of Friday, Nov 1.  I've only got 8 days to get the rest of our stuff finished up. Gail, Lisa, Ronnie, and I are all feeling the push.  There's a bisque fire cooling right now.  We can unload it tomorrow morning.  Then we will have 2 glaze firings to get everything we need finished.  I'll load up on Sunday evening, then that can be unloaded on Tuesday.  If I can load again on Tuesday, then we can unload on Thursday.  That will be just in time for packing.  Keep your fingers crossed that everything goes according to plan.  

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Two Really Cool Stories

Many of you know that I am willing to take commissions.  I'm happy to make things specifically for someone.  In some ways, it takes some of the pressure off.  I don't have to think about what I'm going to make.  In other ways, a commission can add pressure if I am trying to do something I've not done before or if I am working with an uncomfortably short time line. Sometimes with a commission piece, I know immediately what I need to do and I can jump right on it.  Other times, I have to think on it for a while before I can get my head wrapped around what to do.

There were two commissions this summer of which I am especially proud. These stories are special to me.  I was honored to be asked to assist in a couple of very special occasions by sharing my pottery skills.  (I still don't think that I am especially talented, but I have worked hard over the past 12 years to develop my skills.)

Story #1
Please forgive me a short trip down memory lane.  I have to give you some background so you will understand why this story is special.  Luke Harkey has been the pastor of Shelby Presbyterian Church for 20 years.  The Harkey family arrived in Shelby in 1999 the fall that Luke's daughter Anna was a junior in high school.  Jeff and I taught Anna calculus and US History and she became one of my sister Carol's good friends.  Probably because of that friendship, my mom and Luke's wife Carolyn became friends.  Several years later, Jeff and I joined Shelby Presbyterian.  Luke baptized my nephew Callum. The Harkeys are special to me and my family.

Luke retired today.  He preached his last sermon at our 11 am service and there was a church picnic this afternoon in his honor.  Back in July the committee planning the retirement party asked me if I would make a piece that could be a gift from the church to Luke and Carolyn.  Holy moly!  You want me to do WHAT?  You're sure?  We talked for a few minutes about what they had in mind, and I knew immediately what I wanted to do.  The leaves used in this piece are all from the grounds of the church. 

Story #2
About the same time, a friend at the gym stopped me after class one day and asked if I could help him with a gift for another friend. There was a "significant 0 birthday" approaching and he wanted something really special to give her to commemorate the occasion.  This time, it took a while before I got my head wrapped around what to do.  He wanted a flower pot in a particular color.  We talked several times and in between I let my thoughts sort of roll around in my head.  I finally decided on which clay and glaze to use and how to decorate the piece with each of the special things that were important for the occasion - a rainbow, a name, butterflies.  The whole time I worked on it, I was worried that it would be too much.  I sent pictures of each step in the process and continued to ask questions.  

I was worried.  I had never used under glazes before, but that was the only way that I knew that I could get the bright colors in the rainbow and butterflies.  The finished piece turned out GREAT!  My friend said that it was exactly what he had pictured in his head the whole time.  PHEW!

I'm sharing these stories because they are special to me.  What an honor to be asked to help with gift giving for truly special occasions.  Thank you to the folks at Shelby Presbyterian and to Randy for trusting me with your projects.