Wood Season

brazil

Over the past few years I've found that I work best under pressure; I need deadlines and commitments to work efficiently. At the beginning of each week I set myself a schedule of what I'd like to accomplish, on which day. It's wood firing season, and with a woodfiring on the horizon, time management becomes imperative. For each firing I plan the days I will sand and glaze, when I need to get my last bisque firing in, and how much time it will take for pieces to dry. This planning activates a side of my brain that I really enjoy using – I feel joy while filling out calendars and date books.

Last week I unloaded work from my fourth firing this year, and will be loading my fifth this Saturday. While I still need to sand and wash the pieces we just unloaded, I am instead pulling handles on cups and jugs, finishing up details on prototype vases, and adding rims to serving dishes for the firing coming up. Studio life is a constant balancing and juggling act – one that I am starting to get comfortable with. While one tray of bowls dries you throw creamers. While the creamers are drying you roll out slabs to get them stiffening and then start to trim your bowls. When the slabs are stiff enough to work with you build the walls for vases and slowly dry them while you finish the creamers. On it goes, a carousel.

Here are some photos of the pots that came out of last week's firing. It was my first time leading a firing in the Manabigama, and was delighted to have a great time of eager potters who wanted to learn about firing with wood. The pots turned out delightful.

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Jump to the Left

It's been a while since my last post, almost a month actually. I have had such good intentions of blogging (I REALLY HAVE!) but life keeps getting in the way, and not always in the best of ways. The recent developments in the Jerseyville General Store have been both physically and mentally exhausting. I am still trying to wrap my head around the serious repairs that need to be done before we can move forward in some areas of the building (ie. the workspace/store). The safety of a potter and her partner are priority, and for the worrisome (like myself) cause for stress and unravelling emotions.

Still, we putter on. My studio has recently done the Time Warp and taken a jump to the left (or rather, several jumps..) in order to proceed with the repairs mentioned above. I've also had to refrain from putting up my shelving, which results in constantly covered tables, especially after a full day of making. Last night I weighed out glaze on the floor, and I currently have ware boards of pots balancing on chairs and windowsills. My disorganized semi-studio is an accurate reflection of my brain these days.

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The silver lining is that I'm making pots, if but slowly.

 

Polar Vortex II

photoMany of my fellow humans in Southern Ontario were irritated with the coming of  "polar vortex part 2"  this week. But, the snow storm came to me as a blessing. Instead of braving the roads (and drivers!) into work, I took the day to stay at home and finally made some pots in my new studio. The studio isn't fully functioning yet. Our severely sloped floor is limiting the amount of shelves I can put up (ie. none, as they lean FAR, FAR away from the wall) and therefore, there are still a lot of boxes of stuff hanging around on the floor. I need to make pots for this woodfiring though, so I wedged up some clay on my rickety table and spent the afternoon throwing mugs, espresso cups and tealight holders. It was a lovely way to spend the day.

While the wind whistled  and the snow piled up on our porch, I sat inside with the woodstove crackling away, and a very happy cat watching me throw.

Happy spring/dead of winter.

A Lot Can Change in a Year.

At this time last year, I was in my final year at Sheridan College and was preparing to spear head my first woodfiring. I had participated in three up to that point, merely showing up for a shift in the middle of the night and receiving a few finished pieces out of the deal. This firing I organized myself, chopped the majority of the wood, filled one third with my work and spent 24 hours stoking the flames. At that time I was preparing to move back in with my parents, while my partner moved to the West Coast. A lot can change in a year.

In the past year I graduated college and exhibited work in Toronto, Philadelphia, Waterloo, Hamilton and Burlington. I moved to Wiarton and worked for production potter Timothy Smith and spent the summer re-learning how to throw. I moved back in with my parents (again). I had 8 firings in 4 different wood kilns. I ran my first workshop. I went to NCECA 2013 in Houston. I bought my first and second Ron Meyers pots. I made pots in three different studio spaces. My partner moved back to Ontario.

We bought our first house.

On Friday we are joining the "homeowners club" in the quaint village of Jerseyville. Our new home is just outside of Hamilton, far enough from the city to feel like the country, and close enough to take advantage of concerts, show opportunities, and Hamilton's monthly Art Crawl. We will have our own store, studio and garden. We might get chickens. We will have our own kitchen! ... and I will have lots of wall space to display my pot collection.

jesse house

I wonder what next year will bring.

A Philosophical Rant

I finally made it back to the studio today, after a four week hiatus. With the holidays and shows, plus a full-time job and several dates with my mom to sort out the crawlspace, I have had very little time to put towards making pots. It has been a depressing four weeks. Today, I finally had a day off and started the morning throwing mugs. I haven't thrown in what feels like AGES, and, because my studio is temporary, I never got around to setting my wheel up the way I would like. I can't get comfortable - I always feel too high or too low. My legs start to ache (not a good sign) and my back tingles. Once we move and I set up the new studio, I may try throwing while standing up. I have taken a break to drink some tea and while the kettle was boiling I thought "I haven't blogged in a while". So here I am.

Earlier this week I gave a workshop on behalf of the Pottery Supply House to a collection of teachers from the Halton District School Board. They have recently banned silica in all of their schools, and so PSH developed a silica free clay body for them to use. My workshop was to introduce the new clay to the teachers, show them some basic techniques they could use in their classroom, go over common tools, how to glaze and decorate, how to load/unload their kilns, and finally, how to use a kiln sitter and computer control to fire the work. All in under two hours.

This was my first workshop, ever. I spent weeks leading up to it playing with the new clay, putting together sample projects and making sure I had examples of each project in its various stages. I am a comfortable public speaker, but I've never taught anyone about clay before (unless you count Jesse, who mostly listens to me ramble and picks up tidbits of information over time). The idea of teaching 30 teachers was strange, and daunting.

I loved it though. Not only did I get to encourage using clay in elementary/secondary schools, but I also learned  several things that night:

1. How to talk about what my hands are doing  - this sounds much easier than it is. When you become so familiar with a task, you don't always think about exactly where you are putting pressure, or how much, or how thick the wall actually is (because, of course, they wanted a measurement and "thin" won't cut it).

2. How to work and talk at the same time - I've always wondered how Tony could carry on a humorous conversation while throwing giant jugs and intricate mugs. Man, it's hard. I can barely work while people are looking at me, let alone during a  discussion on my philosophy of "visual interest".

3. How to answer questions and entertain

and most importantly

4. YOU ARE NOT AN EXPERT

After having to answer so many questions that I wanted to read up on later, I truly felt like I still had so much to learn. This was a humbling point.

I've never thought that I was an expert (I am a babe in the ceramic industry) but I did think I knew a lot.. I went to school right? That should count for something. But, in reality, I have years and years ahead of me of experiences to be had. I've only taught one workshop, to (virtually) non-ceramic folks. I still have a lot to learn.

However (here's where the philosophical bit comes in), I don't think that anyone can ever be an "expert". The world is a big place, it holds a lot of people, and a lot of stuff. There are books written on EVERYTHING, you can look ANYTHING up on the internet and there is SO MUCH of it. There is just too much, to be an expert.

On countless trips to the West coast I heard discussions about Ontarians (or "Easterners") and how "wrong" their ideals were. Wanting to have a big house and a fancy car was the wrong way to approach life. Those Ontarians were selfish and thought they were the center of the universe. And Toronto?! Who would want to live in that city, where it's too noisy and stinky, and everyone is miserable?

And locally I've heard discussions about "them hippies" and the single moms in the townhouse complexes. Those pot smoking, free-love, long haired freaky people, and the low-income families with "too many children they can't afford". They're lazy, and our tax dollars are only supporting their lack of motivation. They think they can get by in life without a REAL job?

Too many people think that they are an expert. That they know something that everyone else in the world is oblivious to. But really, the only thing we're an expert on is ourselves. We've all had different experiences, we've lived in different homes, encountered different people, and had varying financial situations. We know NOTHING about the people we judge.

Even in a work industry, I don't believe that anybody really "knows it all". Sure, there are people who have mastered certain techniques and are well educated, hell some people even have a PhD in clay. There are people (like my co-worker Jon) who are encyclopedias of ceramic materials and processes. There are excellent throwers and skilled handbuilders, there are wood-firing "gurus" and raku celebrities. But I can't believe that there is nothing left for them to learn. There will always be SOMETHING for all of us to learn.

I think it's about time we face that, and look forward to learning something new. The world is a big place.

Sudur-Tingeyjarsysla, Iceland

Rant of the day, over.