At this year's Smithsonian Craft Show, I was interviewed by Voice of America's Korean TV station. There were quite a few Korean artists in the show, so I am thrilled that they picked me. The program is in Korean but they let me do my part in English with subtitles. Here's a link to watch. The segment is the first 1:30 of the program.
The whole show itself was another life-defining experience. This is the apex of the craft world, and it is a real honor to be so well-received here. Both by the attendees of the show, and the committee of gracious and tireless people who organize it every year. On the last afternoon as things were winding down, I wanted to lie down on my back in the middle of the aisle, with my ankles crossed and my hands behind my head, and just gaze up into the soaring architecture of the National Building Museum. And to contemplate "what's next?" Don't worry I didn't do it.
I mentioned in my last blog post that I've been studying hand bookbinding since last summer. This is a serious option for me, in terms of what I'm going to do with myself after I retire from pottery. I don't want to sit around with nothing to do. I also don't want to do any more heavy lifting, or to be tied to a bunch of heavy equipment. A bookbinding operation fits on a desk, and can easily be moved from place to place. It seems like a good fit for how I want to live.
Even though my retirement is several years away, I think it's important to start learning this now. I need to figure out two things: 1) Do I like doing it enough that I would be happy doing it a lot? 2) Can I make a decent "beer money" income with handmade books?
And there's another reason why I'm starting this now. Some people think that being a professional artist means you get to do fun things every day. Total fallacy! If you achieve full-time professional status as a creative person, your life involves doing the same things every day, over and over, day after day. It's important to get off your hamster wheel once in a while, before you forget how. If you depend on your creative work for your income, falling into a rut is deadly. I've seen it happen too many times, when a very talented person grows to hate their own work. It's sad. Shifting your brain into "learn mode" can do wonders for the way you feel about your daily work.
There's nothing like cutting off all the stitches of your hand-bound book, because you realized you made a crucial mistake at the beginning, to remind you what it feels like to be a beginner again. Which then forces you to see how far you've come in your own area of expertise, and to contemplate all the years of practice it took. It makes you feel pretty good, not bored or burnt out.
Bookbinding brings me back to all of my favorites aspects of my previous career as a print graphic designer (an almost extinct breed nowadays). Such as pawing through pretty paper samples, cutting and folding, knowing how to make tiny adjustments to accommodate paper's third dimension, among others things. And of course ... measuring! My favorite verb. And I get to say hello to my old measuring friends, Pica and Point.
Since last summer, I've taken two workshops at Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center in Hyattsville, MD (which I highly recommend). And I've started reading a series of books by Keith Smith, which were recommended by my instructor. These are the first projects I've made by myself at home, without the guidance of an instructor.
I'm calling this first design the "List Book." I am a zealous list maker and note taker, and go through lots of these little notebooks. From now on, I'm going to make them instead of buying them. The first one took me over five hours, as I figured out the design from scratch. You can see how many times I changed my mind about the details. And like I mentioned, I made sewing mistakes that forced me to start over.
Here are the text signatures. I printed the rules with my laser printer, and was able to space them for the size of my own handwriting. And once again my previous career training helped, because I already knew the definitions of signatures/sections, sheets, and pages, and how to count them.
Here is the book's cover mapped out. The back cover has an extended tab. It can be folded inside the back cover out of the way, or slotted into the front cover to keep the book closed, or used as a bookmark.
After spending five hours on the first one, the second one took only thirty minutes.
Here's a closer look at the stitching on the spine.
I have already begun using one of them. The size is just right, the cover and pages hinge very easily, and I like the way it holds itself open in a relaxed stance when you put it down. Overall, it's very comfortable to use, kind-of like a handmade mug or bowl.
After finishing these small books, I decided to try something more ambitious. I also use a lot of 8.5 x 11 spiral notebooks. I call them "Show Books" because it's where I record my before + after inventory lists for every show, and where I add up my sales. This book has fabric-wrapped hard covers, and is stitched together with a form of "coptic stitching." This stitching allows a thick book to lie open by itself, and even to flip the front cover around to the back. I'm a little skeptical that the linen threads will hold up to abuse, because this book gets carried with me to every show inside a messenger bag. But so far it feels nice and sturdy. And just like the List Book, the covers and pages hinge very comfortably. I guess time will tell how well it holds up.
I've already started using this book too. I have a growing list of reservations for my upcoming 2019 shows. I like that this is on the very first page of the book, which means it will be easy to find and edit this list.
I would also like to develop a journal-sized notebook, and possibly a calendar/planner. My plan is to have a few prototypes of these available for sale at my next Open Studio in December.
When I decided to do pottery full-time, I was okay with the idea that vacations might not be in the budget. Just one of many sacrifices I was willing to make in order to pursue something that was more important to me. An artist's income is unpredictable. We can't control when the next recession will arrive. We might get sick or injured and unable to work for a while. Cultivating a sense of security is a top priority. The way my pottery business has developed has been worth every sacrifice. In recent years, I am becoming more comfortable, eager even, to plan nice vacations for myself. And sometimes life sends reminders to appreciate what I have achieved, including my hard-earned financial health.
This is a trip I've made before, and will be repeating again for sure. I went to Sarasota, Florida, to watch the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, and to watch the Orioles play some spring training games. It was so nice to get away from winter for a few days!
A friend of mine saw this photo on Facebook, and teased me for reading what appears to be a work-related book. I have been studying bookbinding since last summer, and I swear the subject is geeky fun for me! It combines all of the best parts of being a print graphic designer, my previous career, with all of the handmade craftsmanship principles of my current career. It's possible I spent my break from the pottery studio setting up my life after pottery.
Karen Grossman was my middle school art teacher. One of the first people to express to me "hey, you're good at art." As an adult, I reconnected with her in a pottery workshop! Yes, she is now an accomplished potter too. I see her at many craft shows and she has purchased a lot of my work.
Sharon Thorpe was my college design professor. She helped to transform me from a teenager into an adult who can navigate the professional world. These days I see her at craft shows too, because she helps out a friend of hers who is an emerging jewelry artist. She lets me know how fascinated and impressed she is with my pottery business and the craft world.
This type of feedback and support, from people whose opinions matter, means a lot.
Since the day I began learning how to use a video camera, I've been building the Good Elephant Pottery Online School for 2.5 years now. As of today, there are 22 videos. I'd say I'm about half way to finishing everything that I was envisioning from the start. And I'm really pleased with the way it's turning out, including the feedback I'm getting from students.
Looking forward, I will start spinning off the Online School from Good Elephant Pottery. I plan to retire from making pots full-time at some point, but I want the Online School to keep running. So it's time for the school to get its own domain name!
As you can see, the names "learnpottery.com" and "Good Elephant Pottery Online School" are both being used. I figure anyone who learned about the school because you know me, or my pots, will continue to associate it with Good Elephant Pottery. Anyone who learns about the school from now on will probably identify it with the new domain name, because it's shorter and easier to remember. Either is fine with me!
Along with the launch of the new website, I have just released new videos on the subject of glazing. Glazing Basics is free to watch. Glaze Like a Pro ($39) reveals all of my techniques and attitudes about cone 6 oxidation glazing, and subject that sorely needs more nuanced and in-depth instruction.
I had a monster online sale this year, selling out in less than two hours. That's the fun part, but then comes the hard part, where I have to pack all of those pots safely into shipping cartons. It took two whole days! I know the UPS guys are severely overworked at this time of year, and probably don't want to make a pickup of 25 large boxes. I tried to ease the pain with some cookies. And I think it may have helped. The boxes were picked up around 8pm on a Thursday, and I had one box destined for Raleigh, NC, that was delivered the very next day. I still don't understand how that's logistically possible. And I had several boxes headed for the Boston area, and one to the Chicago area, that were delivered on Saturday. Now it has been over two weeks since everything was delivered, with no reports of breakage!
This has been a productive year in terms of exploring some new ideas. If you are coming to the Open Studio this weekend, you'll be the first to see them.
I recently blogged about these new glazes, Snow and Cloud, with hakeme background textures. I plan to use this combination on minimalist, down-to-earth, functional forms. The cups are part of the Whiskey Sipper line (introduced last year) and are $35 each. The medium sized serving bowls range from $65 to $75. The larger bowl is 9 1/4" across.
These rectangular trays are also part of the new Snow/Cloud line, with the addition of fine-line illustrations carved into the hakeme. 4 3/8" x 10 1/4". For serving sushi or snacks, or for displaying treasured items. I'm still figuring out how best to glaze them, so for now they will be sold at the "prototype" price of $22 each.
I've always been fascinated by clock face designs. I made clocks many years ago when I was a beginner potter. (they were pretty cheesy.) I am coming back to the idea now, with much better craftsmanship and design, and with silent continuous-sweep clock movements. Some are meant for wall hanging, and some are meant to sit on a desk or shelf. The white one in the middle is 6 1/2" across. Introductory priced this weekend at $65 each. My plan for these going forward is to make these occasionally in low volumes, with a wide variation of designs.
The Boat and the Mini Boat. The Boat is 15" long, and can serve bread or salads. Or it can be used in your entry way to hold your mail, wallet, and keys. Introductory priced at $55. The Mini Boat is 10 1/4" long. Perfect for olives or other finger snacks, or filled with pencils on your desk. Introductory priced at $20.
I'm now offering a second version of the Maryland Platter. I'm still making the one with the silhouette of the state of Maryland, but now there is a second one featuring a blue crab. 8 1/4" x 11 1/2", $75 each. Can I take a moment to rant about people who try to sell crab-themed artwork to Marylanders that features a dungeness crab instead of a blue crab? Those people should be deported to a different state.
Here is this year's lineup of School Pots. These are the pots made during the filming of my Online School videos. Prices range from $24 to $75.
Of course I will be fully stocked with all of my usual line of work. There will also be a "scratch and dent" table full of steep bargains, and a table full of snacks. Hope to see you this weekend!
Good Elephant Pottery's 12th Annual Holiday Open Studio December 8-9, 2018 10am to 5pm both days 815 Bonifant Street, Silver Spring MD 20910 entrance is behind the house and down the stairs to the basement door, follow the signs plentiful street parking
I am introducing two new glazes at my upcoming Open Studio.
Snow is a white, semi-matte, semi-opaque glaze. I’ve been using Snow occasionally for over a year, but haven’t given it a name until now, and haven’t officially announced it’s arrival. Don’t let the soft-looking surface fool you. This glaze has the same recipe basis as Flannel, my light gray semi-matte glaze, and the surface is incredibly durable.
Cloud is light gray, glossy, and semi-opaque. It is brand new. I developed it for use in combination with Snow.
There is a third element that goes along with Snow and Cloud, the use of hakeme to create a surface texture underneath the glazes. Hakeme is the brushing of thin, white slip on top of forms made of dark stoneware, using a coarse brush to create fluid and spontaneous patterns. I have dabbled in hakeme for years but recently took on a greater interest in pursuing it more seriously, sparked by a pure accident. The porcelain I had been buying to make white slip was out of stock, and my supplier recommended a different one to try. This new porcelain is far better suited for hakeme! It flows better off a brush even when mixed thicker, which means it holds onto the brushstroke patterns more clearly. It also fires to a brighter white color. Once I recognized the greater potential provided by this new porcelain, I started developing Cloud to go with it.
Hakeme is hard. I still need a lot more practice at it. The slip must be the right consistency, the brush must be loaded correctly, then you basically have a few seconds to apply the slip and leave behind an interesting pattern. No do overs. So I shake out my arms and wrists, loosen my neck, try to clear my head, and go for it. I’m often not happy with the results, but trust that I’ll get better over time.
Aesthetically speaking, this is not a big departure from my current work. I’m still making gray and white pots. These pieces will play a minor role in my line for now. They fit right in with my current work, which I am not abandoning.
And there is one more conceptual step I’m taking with these glazes, which is to combine hakeme backgrounds with a new approach to carving illustrations, using a pointy tool to carve finer lines with a looser, sketcherly attitude. These rectangular trays are still works-in-progress, and will be sold at low “protoype” prices at the Open Studio. But I can visualize lots of new directions with these ideas going forward.
It’s time to mark your calendars for Good Elephant Pottery’s 12th Annual Open Studio, December 8-9, 10am to 5pm both days. Complete details will be posted on this website, sent via email, and on facebook and instagram. Hope you can make it!
I wrote an article about my efficient approach to reclaiming clay, which has been published in the December 2018 issue of Ceramics Monthly. My method boils down to making small batches, and keeping an eye on the slop bucket everyday. It's not that much work, and I gain about 20% more clay for free. Better still, incorporating reclaimed clay into my workflow allows me to manage the softness of my throwing clay, which is much easier on my body. If you don't subscribe to Ceramics Monthly, you can download a high-res PDF of the article here.
Originally published in the December 2018 issue of Ceramics Monthly, page 58. http://www.ceramicsmonthly.org. Copyright, The American Ceramic Society. Reprinted with permission.
When applying for art festivals, many shows ask for a photograph of your booth. It's not that hard to photograph an indoor booth, with controlled lighting and no weather. But shooting an outdoor booth is kind of like nature photography! It's hard to get the conditions just right, and it takes a lot of patience. You really can't use an indoor photo to apply for an outdoor show. Some shows state specifically "white canopies only" and some shows will even get picky about which brands of canopies are acceptable or not. Therefore, your booth photo must show that you can handle outdoor logistics, and that you have a decent canopy.
I hadn't taken an outdoor booth shot in at least five years. I changed my display a lot since then, so it was time. Earlier this year, I realized there was only one show this entire year where I would have a chance to take photos during daylight hours, without any customers around. This was at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, where setup takes place starting at 6pm on the day before the show. It's the middle of summer, so the sun stays out past 8pm. All of my other outdoor shows this year had setup hours in the early morning or after dark.
I once paid a professional to photograph my booth, but I wasn't happy with the result (he might want to ease up on the sharpening filter). However, I did learn a neat trick from him while he was shooting. He took a bracketed range of photos, from underexposed to overexposed. The final photograph was a composite of different exposures, choosing areas of each shot where the lighting was ideal. I had to shoot these photos around 8pm, with the sun starting to sink. I took a bracketed range of photos. Here is a darker one. Everything here is too dark, but I like that the canopy is not glaring white, and the bright ray of sunlight on the right wall is not too glaring either.
Here is the lightest photo that I took. The pots along the back wall of the display are now correctly exposed. But everything else looks obviously blown out. The canopy is still brighter than the display, and it is closer to your eye than the display, which means it draws more attention that it should.
Here are the two photos combined. In Photoshop, I layered the darker photo on top of the lighter photo. I added a Layer Mask to the darker layer. Then I selectively erased areas of the darker layer, using a soft-edged brush on the Layer Mask, to reveal areas of the lighter photo. This is mostly the dark photo. The light photo is only used for the pots and the logo curtain.
I also straightened and cropped the photo, leaving just enough details of my canopy for a knowledgeable juror to recognize it as a Light Dome, which is a well-known brand. And I applied the right amount of sharpening. You might be wondering why I didn't just take a medium exposed photo, and lighten and darken areas using Photoshop tools. That's because making those types of edits results in data being thrown away from your original file. In some publishing situations, that loss of data can come back to bite you. In terms of good Photoshop habits, you should avoid throwing away data whenever possible. Also, if you don't have a good touch, inventing your own shadows and highlights can look very fake. Your camera does a much better job of calculating these things than Photoshop ever can. It's not a fair fight, your camera has the actual subject to work with. By combining two original photographs, you are not throwing away any data. And it's almost impossible to make it look fake.
So glad it wasn't raining that day! I would have had to wait for another year.