Flying

The summer has been passing by before my eyes at lightning speed. I have only have four weeks left in Wiarton, before I head back to the big city and try to make it on my own. The past few weeks have been filled with visitors, weddings and other wedding-related events, firings, pot-making and planning for the end of the summer. I have barely had time to sit down and read Game of Thrones (a novel I have been slowly getting through for over three months now), or play my piano - I just can't keep up! IMG_3732I will be doing another wood firing at the end of August, with four other potters in the Hamilton Potter's Guild. So, I have decided that it's about time I start making some mugs - as they are the most purchased and most intimate pottery item, along with bowls. Before working for Tim, handles always scared me, and as a lover of handle-less cups, I rarely ever made mugs. My customers have always been disappointed, "How am I supposed to hold it?!" they ask. Apparently, some people don't like toasting their fingers when they drink their coffee (though I argue you are more likely to burn your mouth if you hold it by the handle) so last week I happily conformed and started cranking out some mugs.

Of course, I couldn't help myself, so I HAD to make some mini mugs - perfect for your morning espresso, a shot of whiskey, or, if you want to make medication fancy, you could knock back a swig of Buckleys. Who knows where these little guys will find themselves? Once they're out in the wide, wide world, anything could happen.

 

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The Rat

RM3I first heard of Ron Meyers in second year at Sheridan, during one of our weekly morning chats with Tony Clennell. Each week we were given a new form to throw, be it cups, bowls, teapots or covered jars. First thing in the morning, we would sit around the table with Tony and start the day with tea, coffee and show and tell. Tony would bring in pots from his own collection, to show us some possible forms.

The teapot that Tony brought in of Ron Meyers' was grungy, eerie and hysterical all at the same time. Tony likes to joke that the teapot looks like it has been fired at with a shot gun - I agree with him. The piece looked bent, it had a crunched knob, and it was decorated with primitive clay smudges and stick scratches. I loved it. I had never before seen a piece of pottery that was so casual and confident. The marks of the maker were prominent and strong; he didn't try to cover up the touch of his hand, he emphasized it.

Since that morning coffee break I have fallen head over heels with Ron's pots. He is quite easily my favourite potter. At Sheridan we were lucky to have several of his demo pieces in the collection, and I spent lots of time admiring them and trying to gain some "looseness" in my work as well. I think what I admire most about his work is that IT'S HARD TO BE CASUAL, but he masters it. I have tried to make my pots gestural, for them to stand and slouch as humans do, informally. They only look sloppy and unintentional. Ron's pieces make sense. They exude confidence and reference the underground in a way that is witty and wise. The animals he carves or paints onto the surfaces are evil and mysterious, with no lack of character. I am in awe of all that this man does. If I worshipped a god, he would be it.

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This past weekend, Pinecroft Centre for the Arts hosted Ron Meyers for a weekend long workshop. Tony's family started Pinecroft 60 years ago - it continues to be the longest running pottery in Canadian history. I attended the workshop on Saturday, and was able to meet Ron for the second time and finally watch him make some pots. The way he works is directly reflected in the way his pieces turn out - he is casual, he is confident, he exudes strength and mystery and knowledge. These attributes are all noticeable in any given piece.

IMG_3459I already have one piece of Ron's in my own collection (remember that Cow plate from my blog entry "Cattle" in March?), but I see many more in the future. Bats, frogs, rats, birds, cats, dogs, pigs? I just can't control myself.

You can find Ron Meyers' work in the online AKAR gallery. www.akardesign.com

You can read more about Pinecroft on their website and on Tony Clennell's blog. www.pinecroftcentreforthearts.com www.smokieclennell.blogspot.com

 

Doilies and Drawing

IMG_1371 A new post is long overdue, sorry that it has been so long since my last update!

Over the last two weeks I have been spending endless hours each day at the studio, preparing for our wood firing, midterm critiques, and exhibition deadlines. In April the 3rd year students in the Craft and Design programs will be participating in several shows - for the ceramics students, there are only two more weeks until photographs of our finished work must be sent for catalogues and print materials. It is crunch time in the studio and not a day is wasted - many of us managed to make it to the studio on the Snow Day, when the rest of the college was closed. Rather than cuddling up by the fire and watching the snow pile up outside, I was on my way to Oakville in a blizzard - one of the few cars on the road. I only got stuck three times on the journey, but when deadlines are close, I can't afford to be taking any time off.

After a greenware critique with my peers and advisors last week, I started working away day and night on sets of cupcake stands, complete with ceramic doilies. I even started working on pillow forms, to play with the "chocolate on the pillow" fancy hotel tradition. Most of my forms are currently made with stoneware and slip, allowing me to play with surface treatment techniques - underglaze*, sgraffito* -  and provide a hazy, atmospheric backdrop for my glazes. The doilies are made of high-fire porcelain, for a minimal, crisp look.

Here are some photos of my cupcake-stand-making process, and the pieces prior to firing.

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*Underglaze is the ceramic artist's equivalent of paint. They come in a range of colours and are able to be mixed (like paint) to develop a wider range of hues and values. Underglaze can also be mixed with water to create a "watercolour" effect, or painted on in layers to create sharp blocks of colour. Most underglazes are made from stains - ceramic pigments that generally stay the same colour after firing. Underglazes are formulated to have a wide firing range so they can be used at a variety of temperatures, and hold the quality of their colour. Though expensive, underglazes are one of the very few ways to develop a bright colour palette at high temperatures. In my work, I use underglazes (like the red in this photograph) >> to create areas of visual interest and "PUNCH", a space to draw the viewer's eye.

*Sgraffito is a traditional Japanese technique where a dark clay body is covered with white or coloured slip, and an image is carved through to reveal the clay body underneath. I use sgraffito in my work to map out a network of roadways, paths and textures. Using a very fine pin tool, the lines carry the user through the world of the pot, over mountains, around valleys and competing through intersections. Line quality and direction is one of the ways that I invite the user to experience the pot.

Preparation

In my first semester of our second year at Sheridan we had Tony Clennell twice a week to teach us throwing, altering and hand building.We would meet every Monday morning with our coffees, sit around the work table, and Tony would tell us stories and tales of wisdom. He would bring in a group of pots from his personal collection each week for us to look at and discuss. I severely miss these mornings. They were such a refreshing and thoughtful way to start the day.

Among the many sayings, thoughts and advice that Tony divulged over the course of that semester, there is one piece of information that I have been thinking of all week. One of those Monday mornings we were having our weekly chat, and along came the thought of "how long does it take to make a pot?" Tony had the answer. In fact, he had written out a step by step process on how a pot is made and all of the chores that are necessary for its making. From picking up clay and materials at your local pottery supply store to photographing and packaging your finished work, there is an extensive list of work that needs to be done in order to make a salable/show-able item.

In Professional Practice last week, our instructor mentioned the statistic that the actual MAKING of work takes up only 30-40% of the tasks necessary for a successful business in art or craft. That means all of the other aspects of a ceramic business: emailing clients and galleries, loading and unloading your kilns, mixing glazes, reclaiming clay etc. constitute more than two thirds of your time as a maker.

This week, I've found these two pieces of information to be particularly true in my own studio.

IMG_1316Two classmates and I are planning a wood firing for the week before our mid term critiques. Along with Tony's list of activities in the life of a pot, he also notes that in the case of a wood firing one must add an additional list of chores to the original activities. Unloading wood, cutting, splitting and mixing wadding and door slop are only the beginning of the extensive requirements for firing with wood.

With the help of our outstanding studio tech Hugh, we cut half of the wood necessary for the firing and will be splitting it over the next few days. We will repeat the process next week.

Along with preparation for the wood firing, I found myself spending the majority of Monday drawing images for my silk screen. After three hours of drawing, we spent the afternoon coating our screens with emulsion in the textile studio, and returned Tuesday morning to expose and clean up. I will be using this screen to develop a new layer of imagery on my future work. I will update with photographs when I get around to trying them out!

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With all of these additional chores, it's easy to see that I have not made many pots this week. On Monday I threw, trimmed and decorated a dozen teabowls, made half a dozen side plates and started to make some porcelain cups. Tuesday I finished up the cups, made another half dozen side plates and finally went out to buy cupcakes to test on my cupcake stands. These at least, are ready for the first firing.

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I'm leaning towards the second form from the left and the form on the far right, but it will take glazing and firing to see which ones really work. The cupcakes make me happy though.

Until next time.