Sunday, June 16, 2013

Intro to the Women Working with Clay Symposium 2013

Tinker Mountain Arts Women Working with Clay Symposium at Hollins University, Roanoke, Virginia, June 10-13, 2013. (Donna Polseno, originator and coordinator. Moira Vincentelli, Wales, keynote)

My head is still spinning and the experiences are going to take some processing. Because we were only 38 attendees at this intense symposium, up close and personal to the activity, absorbing and sharing sights, ideas, techniques, discussions, images and insights at an astounding rate, here is the broadest overview, in intro.

Five women artists creating with clay worked through the days (Monday afternoon through Thursday morning) of the symposium, interacting in ways that allowed the attendees to watch, talk, photograph, ask, think, speculate. Yowza. I may be temporarily losing my marbles, because there was so much to gather.  I will give you some words and photos, and hope you will connect the dots...and remember, click on any photo for a larger image.

(Below) Sandy Simon (Trax Gallery, Berkeley). Spontaneity laced with practical experience. Red earthenware, white slip, nichrome wire, potter's wheel. Vessels nearly complete right on the wheel. Marketing. Advice. No fear. Adventure.

Sandy adding a wire & button handle right on the damp pot
A tray of Sandy Simon's pots

(Below) Stacy Snyder: Architecture and textured clay. Potter's wheel. Altering, squaring off. Added surface images. Discussion of the balance of motherhood and making art. Purposeful.
Stacy throwing a form she will dramatically alter

Stacy Snyder house jar with decals applied

(Below) Charity Woodard-Davis: Wood-fire. Porcelain. Slip that flashes orange in the kiln. Contradictions: Formality/organic shapes. Meticulously made vessels/entrusted to the  prolonged vagaries of the wood-fired kiln environment. Fiercely magnificent work. (I bought a marvelous cup, not shown.)
Charity Davis-Woodard assembling a ewer

Charity's cup, just assembled

(Below) Cheryl Ann Thomas: Teeny tiny coils pinched from porcelain clay. Non-vessels with vessel-like conical structures when first crafted. So thin, so textured with tiny undulations. Delicate walls folding and falling into sculpture in the deforming heat of the kiln. Slow, patient construction then ceding to the kiln the right to distort quickly and capriciously. Elegant and so crazy it made sense. Sheer outrageous simplicity. Rules + breaking rules = half-controlled half-uncontrolled.  Surprise!
Cheryl Ann Thomas begins constructing her  sculpture

Cheryl Ann's sculpture rises slowly from tiny coils

(Below) Adrian Arleo: Woman figure pinched out of big, fat coils over two days. Groggy, nylon-fiber-reinforced clay. No blueprints, no rulers, figure constructed from the bottom up to the head. Deftness. Strength. That certain unseen something in an artist's head that emerges through the medium.
Adrian working on a figure, starting at the bottom & working upward
The seated figure begins to get legs

All five differed from one another so much.  Clay is servant to individual goals. The artists, well-versed and exceptionally connected to the medium and techniques they were using, each took us into their own clay stories. We attendees each had our own stories and some of this we shared with each other as well over the 3 days. It was a seizure of so much muchness I will have to parse it over time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Glaze Tests Unloaded From the Kiln

New: Porcelain 213 from Standard Clay, Cone 6 white clay ("Cone" is essentially a temperature indicator; Cone 6 means the kiln will heat to about 2235 degrees F to bring this particular clay to maturity)

Old: Cone 6 stoneware glazes I've been using for a long time

Hypothesis: These stoneware glazes will work just as well on the porcelain as they did on the stoneware, since the temp is the same, except run a little more and be brighter on the denser, whiter porcelain body. Unknown: whether the glazes will craze (form little crackles) on the porcelain where they didn't on the stoneware; opposite might also be true- where the glazes crazed on the stoneware, they might not on porcelain.

Conclusion: Very slightly more running where two glazes meet. Colors brighter as expected. (Time to discard the Licorice Black which doesn't like the porcelain.) Underglazes have great potential for added color under Elaine's Clear. So far Elaine's looks like it isn't crazing on the did on the stoneware.
Gut reaction: Good!

an array of color

Dragon Lady was still at 255 degrees Fahrenheit when I unloaded the ware. Hence the gloves.
Except for the bigger blue bowl, these test pieces were all thrown from 1-lb to 1-lb 2-oz balls of clay. I gave the pots free-and-easy ridges and bulges for the glazes to find their way into higher and lower areas. Randy's Red got busy in the ups and downs and ins and outs of this bowl:

Randy's Red went all groovy

and Price Green had a nice time with this one:
Price Green with Randy's Red at the rim

Chinese Blue-Green and Nutmeg were quiet and soft on this mug:
Come upstairs to my kitchen, you muggy thang

I played with Shelley's Blue speckles (used a mouth atomizer) on the Chinese Blue-Green bowl. Shelley's Blue, as you can see from the topmost photo in this post, will knock your eyes out because the cobalt blue is so strong. Some love it, but I prefer just a touch of Shelley's instead. This looks like old-time spatterware:
Chinese Blue-Green with speckles of Shelley's Blue

This is the first of a group of tiny hand pleasers that I've glazed, with Randy's Red. Hello, hedgehog.
Little Hedgehog

I had 10 stripey test pots, which were cylinders thrown without bottoms and brushed with stripes of underglaze in various colors. Bright commercial underglazes used to be able to stand only several hundred degrees of temperature below Cone 6, but they are now being formulated to hold up to higher temps than they used to. Two that were especially good were a strong red and a strong orange that are true and glossy under the clear glaze. Several more, like chartreuse and salmon, stayed very slightly matte but I think they will be workable.

The purpose of these underglazes is to add otherwise hard-to-get bright colors to my palette. I am going to experiment with underglaze designs next, using paper templates and freehand brushwork. Stay tuned!

It's already been a very interesting morning in the studio.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Poetry Pottery


Purring like a cat, the heat pipes
gurgle on-and-off rhythm, a
breathing rhythm overhead
rumbling like a living pet
and music's on in the studio
while clay shavings peel away beneath
my trimming tool like
skin off an apple, and
the bottom of a cereal bowl
is shaped and smoothed.
Phone rings and I don't answer.
Rather hear the purring
of the pipes, my potter's wheel turning,
these blues thumping and wailing
than break it with nowhere chatter.
I love this dusty vault
this cluttered order
these spinning bowls one then
another. Conversations
between the senses.

(copyright Mimi Stadler 2012)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Waxing and Waiting...or, Little Pot Feet

The last thing I did in the studio was this past Tuesday...Just half an hour spent, to get these porcelain test-pot feet brushed with a thin coat of wax in preparation for glazing. That's all. This time of year, I'm all about prepping for a holiday instead. I'll be able to get back to the pots in a little over a week from now. ...They're so patient. Much more patient than I am!
1-lb porcelain test pieces

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Seder Plate

Busy cooking for the Passover holiday! There's nothing like a clean house and wonderful meals as the accompaniment to spiritual events.

Double-rim Seder plate, underglaze brushwork, cone 6 white stoneware, oxidation fired, 2012.

Here is a Seder plate of recent vintage. If you have patience to wait a whole 30 seconds (slow load) it's there in the Gallery>Judaica section of my website along with others, at (If you want this one, or any other works from my site, email me; my site is due for an overhaul.)

Working on a new plate design for next year, because ideas have to stay fresh to make the work most fulfilling!

Have a wonderful, spiritual season.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Roadside Seating

Taking a walk with my husband this evening, we came upon this little item, set out by the roadside for tomorrow's trash pickup.
roadside find!
It was in perfect shape. I rang the doorbell, told the woman of the house that I could use it in my studio, and confirmed it was free for the taking. It had lived in her attic, she said. She had sat on it maybe once.

H carried it home for me. It inspired him to tease about how he's lugged rocks for me (in my own defense, gorgeous rocks) down a few mountain hikes over the years, and boxes and boxes of clay down the steps to my studio.

It's an inch or so taller than I like- the cheapazoid, beat up wood ones I've had for a couple of decades are the perfect height- but this one's better looking. H might tease me about hauling home random stuff I find, but this one is really is more long-term useful than, say, the "texture objects" I bring home like tree bark and woven fabric and pieces of corrugated cardboard that get used only once or twice. (I tossed out four big bags full of "texture stuff" during the studio remodel.) This one promises to be useful for a long time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Where Does the Form Come From?

Where in the potter- in the artist- is the source for what forms on the wheel?
I am not sure.

In the last 5 days of potting, I have been throwing 1-lb. balls of a clay that is new to me.
kitchen scale- indispensible
(As always, click on any picture for a bigger view.)

The clay is Standard 213, a cone-6 porcelain. I have only tried porcelain a couple of times. Yes, porcelain is clay like stoneware and earthenware are clay, but it is made up of finer particles, and it will fire white. I'm surprised to find that it works great on the wheel. It stands up to throwing and behaves as asked. It doesn't live up to its reputation for throwing like soft cream cheese.

I am going to experiment with porcelain for weeks. I think the source of the forms is going to have to be play!

Before I started with 213, the wheel and tools and boards had to be washed in preparation. to prevent the porcelain being contaminated with chips and bits of darker clay.
cleanest my kickwheel has been in ages
At first the forms were focused on an idea I had sketched a couple of months ago. The pieces would have a raised foot and an irregular edge. I started with crazy little cut-edged saucers that each stand up on a 2" foot.  (Will  make cups to go on these.)
top view of tall saucers
I wanted to run with this general idea. So I made some bowls with funky feet, with the feet cut as the rims on the tall saucers were cut.
I had an idea- but the result isn't graceful
The feet were funky, but the bowls were clunky.

So I went to 1-lb. 2-oz. balls of clay. I threw a more flaring sort of bowl, indented the sides, and funked up the feet. This clay dries FAST and can be altered and worked very soon after throwing.
So far, lots of fun.
But the next vases were a bit formal, because I didn't know what to make next and they are a sort of fall-back form.
They do actually stand upright. The camera distorts the angle.
I envisioned a row of these with daisies in them all down the center of a long table. I had more balls of clay to throw and I did plan to make more of these. (I still will.) But the clay was being so responsive that I let the forms loosen themselves up, and made mugs instead. (Handles, tomorrow.)
The first one is on the right. After that I decided to just loosen up.
Then I thought, I will just "feel" the clay, and make my favorite and most natural form, bowls. Though the balls of clay to start with are small and won't lend the forms much size, if I stretch the clay to its maximum...let's see what happens.

I closed my eyes and threw these blind. I knew I wanted lightness and roundness, and the rest was open. I sensed them. I just wanted to listen to Tedeschi and Trucks on the CD player and feel the clay move itself in my hands. When I opened my eyes, I gave each one just one more spiral in my hands, letting it find its own path. I didn't care at all about symmetry. These are the freest bowls I've thrown since maybe ever. I may or may not keep the one on the right- but it doesn't matter! They are more than bowls, they are experience combined with intuition and experimentation.
The source of these is certainly inside somewhere. I'm not going to analyze it, though. Not till I've made a lot of pots from this beautiful clay.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Momentum. Is. Hard. To. Get.

In the past week, I glazed pots that were made a couple of months ago and bisqued* three weeks ago.

This lapse in time between each phase of 1) Making the pots, 2) Letting them dry, 3) Bisque-firing them, before finally 4) Glazing them...

Disconnects me from them. It is ceramicus interruptus.

What we need here is momentum!

Here are unfired "oatmeal bowls"- remember these from a recent post?- as they were drying.
Before the bisque fire.

Below are those bowls, as well as some creamers (negative space experiments you also may recall), plus a few pots made by a visiting family (who had a Sunday activity in my studio). These pots have been bisque fired, heated to about 1830 F.
Bisqueware: dry, rough-textured and plain ol' nekkit.

Here are some of the pots, glazed and ready to load in the kiln for the glaze fire.
Bisqued pottery with raw glaze on it.
Lady Dragon, my kiln, heated up to around 2230 F over the course of 10.5 hours, and the dull raw glazes melted, fused and changed almost magically into colorful finishes. The glaze-fired pottery- now that I like.
Some glaze-fired pots, (Cone 6 stoneware)
 The visiting family made some nice things (below)!
Nice job, J family!

* (FAQ: Bisquing is where the pots are heated in the kiln, reaching a point of hardness where the pottery is still absorbent, but will no longer dissolve in liquid.)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

I (Heart) Curtis Benzle's Message

Tuesday and Wednesday I went to a workshop taught by porcelain artist Curtis Benzle (BENZ-lee) at the 92nd St Y in NYC.

Right now I hold in my hand a little porcelain heart that Curtis made and signed.

He gave each of the 17 of us a small velvet drawstring pouch at close of the last day. A surprise! I have been to workshops led by other wonderful potter-teachers, and always come away with the gift of their teaching, but I have never come away with a physical gift from teacher to students to thank us for our contribution to the experience. We found a beautiful nerikomi-patterned heart inside each pouch, with a small card that read “Follow your heart.”

Half a second later, I realized that sticking out of the side of the heart was a tiny scroll of paper. It was like a suddenly-realized secret, -a gift experience with still further discovery! Curtis had stuck a note into a passage bored through each heart. Mine read, "Make something wonderful-" and was signed.  Oh, the possibility of wonder! It is always there when you work with your hands, head and heart in unison.

 Curtis said to us, "Do not turn it into a necklace! It is not a necklace!" and told us to note that in the velvet pouch was another, blank bit of paper, so that we can write a note of our own if we desire, and give it to someone else in turn. I might.

The workshop was mostly about nerikomi. Nerikomi is a technique that uses colored clays to create patterns. The colored clay patterns are formed in rolls or loaves, that you then slice to reveal the same pattern throughout. 

A very simple, non-clay analogy to explain nerikomi is pinwheel cookies. 
image from

You make basic brown-and-white pinwheel cookies from two rolled-out sheets of dough, one plain and one chocolate. You stack the sheet of chocolate dough on top of the sheet of plain dough, roll up the stacked sheets of dough into a log, and then you can slice many identical cookies one by one off the end of the log, lay them on a cookie sheet and bake them. 

 If, before you started, you were to add food colors to the dough, you could make much more colorful cookies. 
image from

Now- stay with me!- if you were to take those patterned cookie dough slices you've just sliced off the roll of raw dough, and placed them together touching end to end on one cookie sheet, you could make a whole patterned cookie–slab full of colorful circles. If you had laid out some chocolate-and-white and some colorful ones in a design, your pattern would be that much more complex.

Well, you can do the same with clay and call it, as the Japanese do, "nerikomi".  You can be more inventive, and press the colored and patterned clay slab into a form to support it (say, a bowl form), and fire it in the kiln to get a  complexly patterned and vividly colored vessel. And you can get ever so complicated with the design!

In glass and in polymer clay, this technique is called millefiori. This pendant is found on the Wikipedia page for millefiori: 
It is just one slice of patterned glass off a glass cane, but the cane itself was made from many smaller canes that were fused together. (This is a perfect example, because millefiori means "a thousand flowers" in Italian.)  
This much more complicated vase is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London: 

You can see many millefiori slices that have been fused together very beautifully at high heat. I don't know how this piece was made exactly, but I feel very safe in assuming it was a combination of the latest molds, heat source and hand tools available to glassblowers in 1872. Forming this piece would still be an excellent technical coup for a glass artist today.

Curtis Benzle's work, originally influenced by the color and pattern qualities available in glass, is made with pure porcelain instead, infused with colors and utilizing nerikomi and other techniques in a very beautiful way quite personal to Curtis.

You can see Curtis’s work and some of his influences in this terrific short video:

As for me- I have to think about how to incorporate not just the methods but especially the feeling behind this technique into my own work. I have been glazing pots for the last 28 years or so, and I still don't much like that part of the job. And I am not satisfied with the glaze results I usually get in my electric kiln. But I am looking ahead as ever, embarking on a long-planned course of spraying my glazes (in layers) for the first time in order to achieve more surface complexity. And now, I have learned the rudiments of something special from a master; how to incorporate color right into my clay vessels- and how to consider wonder while doing so. Who knows where it will lead? An artisan’s life is very interesting. The years to live and work are short, but the ideas are long.

"Make something wonderful!"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Germ of an Idea

Germs. One sort brings you colds. I was visited by this sort quite a lot this winter, and been kept out of the studio far more than I've been in it. But things are on the upswing for a healthy spring. And I may have been down, but not out. I have some new ideas of where to go next.

 So I'll share some of those efforts involving a different germ; the germ of an idea, and how it grows.

This is a bowl on a stand, Korean, 900 years old.  (It is celadon-glazed, Ru-style ware from the Ganjin kilns of the Goryeo period. I saw it at the Freer Gallery last week.)
Korean Ru-style bowl and stand, 12th century, at the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

What I like most about this piece is the raised foot on the stand. A simple in-curving bowl, functional but not assertive, is nonetheless "presented" on the flowerlike stand. The effect is to make you pause just a beat extra to consider it. I find the subtle presentation of this piece harmonic. 'Shy?' it asks. 'A bowl among other bowls? Dare to lift yourself.'

You may remember that I've been pondering havdalah sets, the practicality of making them in the first place, who the heck (if anyone) buys a whole havdalah set, and what wonderful design would justify going to the trouble and expense at all. I put a drawing or two on my Facebook pottery page.  (Please feel free to click that link, and Like my pottery FB page, a very easy way to stay in the loop of a basement potter's life in very short bursts.)

It all started (but really, I ask you, who knows when it really, really starts??) with a rudimentary sketch before I went to Washington D.C. early last week.
A candleholder, spice jar and goblet- aka havdalah set.

The three components were there, but no tray to hold them. So I redrew, still keeping those funky little brass-stud-like things, and adding a tray.
Playing with width of candleholder base; also, giving tray a shape relationship with the parts.
Still, there is nothing I loved about the design.
Then we went to D.C. and looked at Korean ceramics from the 12th century. The bowl on a stand-!
Home again, I drew this.
Presenting...drumroll...Havdalah! (Brass-studlike things & goblet stem are history.)

The son of a gun needed to be presented. Introduced. Harmonized. Asserted.

This design is also beginning to put out roots...

It is spreading to tableware. Love that "presentation" raised foot, and trying it on other designs.
Beating back bronchitis and raising the presentation level on the pottery.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking at Clay Art- So Much to Absorb!

A family wedding took us to Virginia. On our way back up north toward home, we took part of a day in Washington D.C. to visit the Sackler and Greer Galleries of the Smithsonian Museum. With so little time to spend, I wanted to see as much ceramics as possible, particularly Asian.

Struck as ever by the wonderful freshness from the hands of long-gone craftspeople, the artists of their times, I was also struck by a particular dichotomy. Ornate and expensively colored objects were for the rich, of course, yet these things tended toward utility for milennia. In the medium of clay, only religious objects, and objects reflecting long held traditions or recounting daily activities, or deeply functional objects were made. Today, objects made of clay can be pure decoration or pure self expression. Yet these older things resonated within my imagination, with their brilliant craftsmanship and assertiveness.

Within the framework of functional clay, imagination lent sway. Spouts of pouring vessels became, say, the beaks of birds. Bowls and drinking vessels might be incised with flowers, birds and vines, and inlaid with colors before firing. Workmanship was breathtaking and at its freshest, representing a range of influences from the natural world in form and decoration.

Forms sparked my imagination. A small bowl atop a high-footed saucer was like a simple lotus center on a many-lobed open leaf. One small thing like that- moved me!

In an tiny exhibition of Japanese ceramics 1930-2000, I saw a Shoji Hamada tall teapot, potted thinly from fairly coarse clay, not like the pieces on somewhat smoother clay with his strong, famous brushwork that I am used to seeing in books, but rather a soft and a little droopy shape. Very pleasingly showing the marks of the master (Japanese National Treasure) that Hamada was, this teapot was like a very fine, upright shar-pei dog, ever so friendly and a bit slumpy looking. I could see that Hamada had been happy with it! Like the older vessels, this modern one was all about usefulness, and also like them, encapsulated the obvious vitality of the hands of the maker.

Works in clay! How varied they can be! The day before, we had stopped at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Among the noteworthy and large collection of American folk art at The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum there, we found surprising exhibition notes along the railings that were porcelain pages of children's book drawings. What a wonderful idea! There are so many ways to set up notes for a display. These got me thinking about my children's book illustrations from a decade ago (for a book that did not get picked up by a publisher), and I wonder whether I should make wall art out of them instead of written narration on paper or e-book!
porcelain children's book pages as exhibition notes
I can see a "wall bookpage" of the rabbit on the backhoe loader in the clay pit in Bunville!