The Space Between

I struggled for a long time with adding negative space to my work. My approach was the more texture the better, but after awhile I realized that more texture isn’t necessarily better.

Strangely, it was my planters that really got be started on using more negative space. Since these pots tend to have simpler patterns and less complexity in glazing I really got to explore the idea of leaving a place for people’s eye to rest. Then as I started enjoying more and more that quiet space, I began looking for stamps I had made that created interesting spaces that when repeated almost became the focus vs the textured impression.

The best part of including this little bit of space between my textures is that oftentimes those spaces create their own conversation like with this little planter. I love, love this fish scale texture and had no idea how provocative it might become once formed.

Stop by the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix this weekend to check this one and all of my most recent planters in person!

Low Riders

I thought I’d share a peak into my newest planter designs leading up to this weekend’s Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society’s Annual Show.

I love these kind of designs with a zipper-esque approach with all of the texture falling in between two lines. I spend way more time than you probably imagine working out the exact flow of the line before I add any other textures. I especially like how on this particular planter the line reminds me of pants worn low on the hips – the lack of glaze above only emphasizes that impression for me.

My favorite pieces are all, in some way, like this planter. They evoke an unexpected image or two with my texture and glaze choices.

Oh, That Drip

Glazing … it tends to be the bane of most ceramic artist’s existence.

Why? Well, where to start?

I suppose I could begin with sharing that the glazing process is a chemical reaction activated by the heat of the kiln. Before firing glazes all tend to look kind of pinkish, brownish, white-ish, red-ish or sometimes grey-ish, but certainly never the color they will be after firing. Its enough to drive a person batty imagining the “correct” color.

Catch those quotes in my last statement? Chemical reactions also mean that glazes don’t necessarily combine based on the color wheel or logic. My favorite example of this is a beautiful turquoise matte glaze that turns maroon when a clear is applied over it instead of a shiny turquoise color.

I could go on about glaze application thickness and application methods, but I fear I’m digressing from that drip I mentioned. All of that activating heat also means that glaze doesn’t like to stay where you put it. Instead glaze tends to run and pool. This can be extremely helpful as well as frustrating.

You see, glaze that runs can run right off of the pot onto the kiln shelf fusing your pot to the shelf. So, that intriguing little drip when it happens is something that gets ceramic artists very excited. This is especially true when that lovely drip stops just before disaster and instead leaves behind a focal point on your piece.

You can find this bottle and more of my work at Artisans Etc. in Big Bear. See more of my glaze experiments – and seem to be always experiments! – online in my shop!

Is It Bathing Suit Weather Yet?

As you may remember from my tree bark mug post last week, I recently moved to the San Bernardino Mountains. Even if you don’t live in California, you may have heard that this has been the wettest winter in like a decade and has almost wiped out our drought. Although I’m thrilled that California’s water situation has drastically improved – I’ve been a little less thrilled with my part in it – namely, my newly developed arm muscles from shoveling all of that snow!!

So, in the interest of thinking warm weather thoughts, I thought I’d share one of my newer vases inspired by sewing patterns for corsets. This one, in particular, has always made me think of one of those bottom ruffled bathing suits. Now if we can just find some warmer weather to go with it – we’d be set!

Check out this vase and others from my corset-inspired forms online in my Etsy shop!

Do You Believe in Sanding?

When most people think of ceramics sanding is not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, it is really an integral part of the ceramics making process. I have fuzzy memories of the first time I learned about how my work could be smoothed of rough spots, but the first time I ever taught it to my own students is crystal clear.

It all started when one of my students asked about how to prevent the work he was making from scratching his table. I told him I would show him how to correct for that issue in the next class’ demo. I gathered up some of my own work that had recently been glazed fired, wet/dry sandpaper and a big bowl of water. At the time I had three classes back to back and I covered the pros and cons of sanding at each stage of the clay process. Other than making a mental note to include it again in future sessions, I figured that was that.

Boy was I wrong!

Apparently, my innocent little demo on sanding had spread like wildfire throughout the studio. Just like it hadn’t occurred to me before being asked, it hadn’t occurred to any other instructor either to cover with their class. The fact that those of us who sold our work sanded every single piece blew the minds of some of the studio members. Not in my class, these studio peeps didn’t get the benefit of the before sanding and after sanding work I passed around for folks to examine, leading one to ask my student, “Do you believe in sanding?”

It still makes me laugh to this day just thinking about it. The phrasing did and always has struck me as so funny that every time I sand pots I’m reminded of it.

So, why do I (or why should you) sand ceramic pots?

Basically, clay shrinks. My work, which is fired to cone 10 or 2365º, actually shrinks three times. First, during the initial drying process as the water evaporates from the piece before the first firing. Second, during the first firing, otherwise known as bisque, much of the organic materials burn away further condensing the clay. Last, during the glaze firing when the clay vitrifies and any porous aspects of the clay close up. It’s always startling to folks new to the medium how much smaller their work gets.

The shrinkage is important to note because modern clay bodies are typically not a single type of clay, but rather a mixture of various types combined to support easier construction. Oftentimes this mixture includes sand or grog (among other additives) to help provide strength during the forming process. Both sand and grog (which is pre-fired clay ground up) are already shrunk when they are added to the clay mixture. Each successive firing of a piece pulls back and condenses the clay and brings the sand and/or grog to the surface – hence the need to sand what otherwise seemed a smooth surface.

For the ceramic artists out there, here are some tried and true tips for sanding your work.

  • Sanding greenware, or unfired clay, is usually not worth it since the piece is so fragile at this stage. If you feel you must, then the drier the piece the better. Be sure to do it in a well ventilated area, preferably outdoors, wear a dust mask/respirator and use scotch brite pads.
  • Sanding bisque ware is typically only valuable if you notice a previously missed sharp or rough point on your work – remember it’s only going to shrink again in the glaze fire. Wet/dry sandpaper of typically any grit will work and be sure to get the piece and sandpaper thoroughly wet to prevent dust.
  • Another good time to sand bisque ware is if you need to level the bottom of a piece. It is an ideal time since the partially fired work is still soft. Thoroughly wetting the sandpaper and the piece are necessary. Tape the wet sandpaper to a table if you have no one to hold it in place for you and move the piece back and forth to level.
  • After glaze firing, sand the bottom or any raw clay portion of the piece using a rough grit wet/dry sandpaper (the lower the grit number the more rough). Be sure to get the piece and the sandpaper thoroughly wet to prevent dust. I do this even if I’m working outside so I’m not breathing in all of the dust.
  • After glaze firing, sand over a glazed surface using a fine grit wet/dry sandpaper with a grit of 400 or higher. Using such a fine grit sandpaper will allow you to sand the glazed surface without scratching it. Again thoroughly wet both the piece and the sandpaper to prevent dust … did you get that part about preventing dust yet?
  • Technically any kind of sandpaper will work, but wet/dry sandpaper is made to be used when wet and will last longer. Regular sandpaper will fall apart quickly when used wet.

Here’s a little behind the scenes of my own sanding process this week. I use a big five gallon bucket to wet each piece and the sandpaper before sanding and again afterwards to rinse the pots off. I typically let them dry overnight.

See my work all sanded smooth and ready for sale online in my shop!

Unusual Tape

You may know that I recently have gotten really into using custom masking tape stickers to create texture on my mugs and planters. This mug is a little different. The tape I’m using to create the skinny lines of bare clay actually comes exactly this super thin width!

The moment I found this super thin tape at the store I knew I had to have it! I don’t think I even had any idea what I would do with it when I bought it at Daiso.

Weeks past and one day at the studio I was so over cutting out custom sized masking tape stickers. I wanted to stop for the day, but I still have a handful of mugs to sticker. That’s when I remembered this tape. It was so super easy to quickly add vertical lines of varying lengths around my remaining mugs.

I really love how this particular masking tape resist design turned out … which is nice since it’s so easy to do in comparison to other patterns!

Oh, and just what is this super skinny tape supposed to be used for when its not decorating mugs? It creates dividing lines on dry erase boards, pinstriping cars and other paint effects. Check out my other taped work available in my Etsy shop!

Bark vs Snow

It can be so hard to know where an artist gets the inspiration for their work – such is the case with this lovely little bark mug.

I’ve been making fake tree bark, or faux bois if you want to be fancy, in clay for what seems like forever. An artist I met some years back, David Gilbaugh showed me the basics of creating bark and even gifted me a special tool he had made to help create realistic bark.

I’ve never achieved David’s level of expertise – he’s a true master and can accurately re-create the bark of any specific tree with ease. Definitely check out his work if you get a chance as it is stunning.

I can, however, create basic generic tree bark easily. It makes a great parlor trick to show my students and I’ve been pulling it out of my back pocket for years as a fun impromptu demo. In fact this mug was created during one such demo a few weeks back.

I was showing some studio folks not in my class the mug pre-glaze and one of them offered up that I must be getting inspired by all of the tire tracks in the snow now that I live in the mountains.

Sadly, no. Snow has yet to inspire anything, but hard physical labor in me this winter season. Have I mentioned how much I *enjoy* shoveling?

I did, however, love getting the reminder that even in what appears an easily interpreted piece of art can take on so many variations when viewed through another lens.

Check out this mug and more non-snow inspired work in my Etsy shop!

Purple Flowers

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” – Alice Walker

I think about this quote from Alice Walker every single time I see a purple flower whether it’s growing wild by the side of the road or in a garden somewhere. It always makes me smile in gratitude for all of the beauty in the world.

This planter reminds me of the purple wildflowers I see growing by the side of the road in the springtime. It’s so so so purple and definitely floral inspired that it really stands out against the more earth toned planters in my collection. It makes me smile every time I see it in my online shop. Maybe I need to keep it for my personal collection or make more … I can’t quite decide.

Either way be sure to enjoy this little pop of the color purple today!

Thinking About Drainage

Every time I share my planters with plant people I learn new things about drainage. I’m always happy to hear feedback on how to make my planters better homes for the plants that grow in them.

I will admit that sometimes I struggle initially with the feedback and how to incorporate it into my planters in the most effective way. There are lots of factors to consider from maintaining even, consistent wall thickness and other structural considerations to aesthetic considerations like continuing my personal style in the final form.

One such challenge revolved around adding additional drainage in the feet of my signature planter form. As you can sort of see from this angle, the method I use to form my planters’ feet creates low points in the pot where water can collect and cause root rot.

Here is a view of the planter upside down before any drainage holes are added.

The challenge was to decide the best way to avoid the low point.

Do I fill in the inside with additional clay? Well, that adds weight to the pot and the potential for uneven drying which can cause cracks.

Do I put in a thin layer of clay on the inside suspended over the low point? Then I create a hollow section in the pot and trapped air can cause explosions in the kiln during firing.

Do I fill in that part after the planter is completely fired with some non-clay material like caulk or silicone? I tried it on some pots I had already created and it works, but needs a lot more caulk, etc than it would appear. In addition to the added cost of the filler, the end result doesn’t look great.

In the end it was my second idea above that actually gave me the best solution. To release the trapped air in the pot I tried that idea on, I put holes in the bottom of the feet. The minute I did it, I realized, “Duh! Just put holes through the feet.”

It turned out to be the easiest, simplest solution and has the added benefit of being virtually invisible unless you look inside the pot or turn it over. So, now all of my planters from the very smallest to the largest have a minimum of five drainage holes (as pictured below).

At a recent show I learned that all of my drainage holes in my feet are actually helpful if the pot is used to plant bonsai since the initial planting requires the bonsai tree to be wired into the pot for security while it roots. So, there you have it! Two solutions in one – prevents root rot and allows for wire!

Looking for a great planter with absolutely fabulous drainage? Then be sure to check out my Etsy shop!

Its Good to Have Standards

Last fall I worked out and began creating standard sizes for my planters. It makes life so much easier. I no longer have to sit and sort pots by approximate size to figure out the right prices. I no longer willy-nilly cut out slabs of clay and hope that the proportions make sense once I start to form them.

Lots of unexpected things have worked out as a result of this change too. I can easily size up or down my planters with very little effort. Before I would make what I thought were larger and/or smaller sizes only to discover there was not as much variation as I had anticipated. I can also list multiples of the same planter design in my online shop since it has become a no-brainer to re-create the same dimensions.

But the best result of standard sizes? You’ll never guess, but my planters now all nest perfectly inside one another. Isn’t that cool?! I think that’s so cool!