This semester, my Ceramics instructor challenged us to make a set of small bowls that fit together around a center, chalice-shaped bowl, all resting on a plate. It really was a challenge! It took almost the whole ten classes to make, with a lot of mess-ups. My instructor said, “It’s all about the process.” When we’d had a particularly frustrating throwing day, the other students and I would remind each other to slow down and concentrate.
Hon, doesn’t “It’s all about the process” apply to so many things? That’s why I love my wise instructor and the patience Pottery teaches.
This summer, I took a Raku class taught by master ceramicist, excellent teacher, and all-around wonderful guy, Peter Syak. Not only did the hours fly by, the women I took the class with were great company. I was inspired by them, and by the talented students I take ceramics class with year-round. We learn from each other.
Pottery has given me a way to turn off stress, even if it’s just for a few hours a week. And I don’t mind getting my hands dirty.
Since I took this class last summer and know how beautiful the glazes are, this spring I threw a bunch of clay pots with Raku clay at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey.
Do you know what we potters call ourselves? ADDICTED! I’m pretty sure someone in our class wears a T-shirt that reads, “I’m a POT-head.”
To find out more about the Raku process, click on these links:
Technically, I play in clay, but I mush and squush, pat and pound, and get lots of dirt under my fingernails in ceramics class. What was great about a rain like the 40 day flood? Shampooing your hair outside. A muddy stream meant tadpoles to inspect. Wet sand on the beach? I still like the feeling of the gritty sand surrounding my sinking feet. Do I sound like a big kid? Hmmm, maybe that’s why no matter what else I’m doing, I’m thinking about children’s books.
Each of my latest ceramics pieces has elements that can relate to children’s books. “How can you relate pottery to books?” you might ask. Hon, if you talk to me for a few minutes, you’ll find out that I often connect seemingly random things. Is that kid-like, too?
I’ve mentioned this before (My Writing Process (Bunny Hop) Blog Hop)–I find children’s books magical. There’s something lovely about words on a page that bring you to another world, make you laugh, let you to believe the unbelievable, teach you something, allow silliness to surface, relate to your own life, can be read dozens (hundreds) of times and always feel fresh. I strive to create magic in my children’s books.
I made the lantern boxes above with Hubby in mind, inscribing them with our wedding date. I love the Little Bear books. In the scene below, “The skunks decided to get married. They had a lovely wedding.” What’s timeless about them? The characters are sweet yet wise, proper yet loving. Friendships and family, the underlying themes, are set in a world seemingly simple, but filled with depth of emotion. Little Bear stories expand my heart.
I make lots of ceramic bowls! I’m not at the point where I can tell the clay what I want it to be. The clay tells me what it wants to be. Boy, is that clay bossy! And a bossy character is part of what makes the Max and Ruby books funny. My kids and I never got tired of reading Bunny Cakes. The scene below sums up the whole book. “Max wanted to help. ‘Dont’ touch anything, Max,’ said Ruby.” You know I have triplets, right? My kids could relate to the sibling rivalry. Guess what theme I explore in some of my books?
Forests are infinitely fascinating to me. I made the plate above with a forest theme: wood grain, foliage and a brick path. I even pressed a piece of wood along the edges. Owl Moon teaches readers about owling, or looking for owls in a forest at night. Not only does the text make you feel the hush of winter snow, the anticipation of calling the owl and the wonder when you see it, the illustrations beg to be studied and explored (look for other night creatures hiding in the branches).
Water is the theme of this handbuilt plate. I glazed the pebble impressions, wavy, watery and slim, rope patterns green and blue. I was thinking of the beach when I made this plate. The Pig in the Pond isn’t set at the beach–its set on a farm–but a hot day, farm animals, Neligan the farmer and a pond are all key elements in this funny picture book. My kids and I laughed every time we read it, especially since Neligan gets naked!
Picking out the red in this plate and accenting it with green and blue took concentration. Loving Mouse Paint did not. Just because this is a board book and it’s about white mice doesn’t mean it isn’t huge in excellence. The mice jump in jars of paint, hop around and mix colors to make other colors, wash themselves off in the cat’s bowl, then paint paper instead. But they leave some paper white “because of the cat.” Genius!
I also make lots of mugs. What’s better in mugs than tea (or coffee or hot chocolate)? A constant source of my childhood imagination was tea parties, whether it was with my stuffed animals, friends, or underwater at the town pool. Mommy Badger carries a tea set in the scene below. The Frances books were written when picture book word counts were longer. They’re perfect for children ages 4-8 who want to sit and explore a story. Frances sings silly songs, likes to rhyme, is a picky eater, gets jealous of her baby sister and has to learn how to share (she reminds me of me!). Her parents get annoyed and frustrated with her, but Frances learns about the world around her with their guidance and, of course, love.
Hon, do you relate things in your life to books, children’s or otherwise? I’d love to compare notes!
There’s an extremely hot kiln, orange-glowing earthenware, combustible sawdust and straw and surprise results. The process is illustrated in my two previous posts, Red Hot Raku and Raku Reaction.
Peter Syak, our amazing instructor, mixes his own glazes. He knows how much exposure to air–or not, how much sawdust to add–or not, and how long to keep pots covered–or not, is required to get the amount of crackling, luster and intense color desired. Still, oxygen, heat, or a pause in placement of buckets all contribute to the outcome.
The earthenware’s temperature drops as it sits under the metal buckets. The reaction process stops when each piece is quenched in a trashcan filled with water. Soot is scrubbed off, pieces are cleaned, and we “ooh and ahh” at the results.
Have you heard of Horse-Hair Raku? I hadn’t either. Instead of placing a red-hot pot in a reduction chamber (ie. metal buckets with combustible material), its decorated by touching horse hairs to the the 1800 degree clay surface. The hair ignites, creating dark grey lines and smudges. Similarly, sugar sprinkled on the burning surface reacts with the clay. Take a look!
Hon, have you every tried raku? What did you create?
In my previous post, Red Hot Raku (Raku Workshop, Part 1), the kiln was king. You can bet we listened carefully when our amazing instructor, Peter Syak, guided us through the reduction process! Even so, when we were on “bucket brigade” and handled our pieces just transferred from the kiln, the heat seeped right through our extra-thick, fire-retardent gloves. I had to rip the gloves off and fan my fingers!
Guess what happens when ANYTHING touches a surface that’s 1800 degrees F? It bursts into flames!
Here are some pictures of the process. Hon, stand back from the fire…unless you’re on “bucket brigade.”
Our earthenware is set in the sawdust bed and covered with metal buckets filled part-way with straw.
“Aluminum containers act as reduction tubes. Reduction is a decrease in oxidation number. Closing the can reduces the oxygen content after the combustible materials such as sawdust catch fire and forces the reaction to pull oxygen from the glazes and clay minerals. Luster gets its color from deprivation of oxygen. The reaction between the oxygen and clay minerals affects the color of the clay and the metal elements of the glaze.” (Wikipedia)
It’s time for Show-n-Tell and I’m sharing my latest ceramics. Have I mentioned why I love pottery? Because every step of the process takes so much concentration that I think of nothing else while I’m working. Also, any bowl with a cracked bottom can be used…as a planter!
These Pottery Barn inspired wheel thrown cachepots are my latest creations. Webster’s dictionary (yes, I still use one of those) defines cachepots as “ornamental containers for holding or concealing flowerpots.” I’m not sure if I’ll put flowers in them, but these pots are keepers (as opposed to a bunch of bowls I won’t admit to making). Hon, if you don’t mind getting messy, there’s nothing like working with clay to release stress.