Monday, December 21, 2009

The Snowy View from Our Place

This first day of Winter finds us still snowed in at the house. The sun is out, but I expect the piles of snow will take a while to melt away. Once it warms up a bit, we are headed to the bottom of the driveway to see if we can shovel a path for the truck to get out. The picture below shows the gravel part down to Highway 80 which has been clear since Saturday afternoon. We'll have to clear away the ice and snow that the snow plows left at the edge of the road.

Turn around and starting at the bottom of the driveway, we're going to have to clear much of the area in the foreground down to the gravel section. Unfortunately, this is where the wind whips through, and the drifts tend to deepen. The snow is nearly covering my "Parking Up Hill At Gallery" sign. There is no parking up the hill today.

Around the bend the truck awaits rescue from its snowy hell.

It's a long, moderately steep driveway covered by trees. It's way too much to shovel, and we're not sure how long it will take to melt enough for me to get the car out. Jay has to work, so I might be stuck at home until later in the week.

This little magnolia in the side yard seems to be the only casualty. It just couldn't bear the weight of the snow. I love magnolias, but this one was scrawny and had only a couple of blossoms each year. Perhaps this is not the climate for them. We found a bunny hole with some tracks, the only tracks we found besides Tinkerbell's. She hasn't found the bunnies yet, although she did catch a cardinal yesterday.

"I'm gonna put a bell around that cats neck. So when you hear him comin' you can grab all of your loved ones and get your lil' bunny asses runnin." from "Warning" by Keller Williams

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Who Needs Chains or Snow Tires?

I know our friends in Northern Virginia are not impressed with the foot of snow we got here in the mountains of Western North Carolina, but this has been our first big snow since moving here last year. I got my holiday packages mailed off and the fridge stocked Thursday afternoon before the storm hit. I was prepared at the house, but Jay's project in Marshall necessitated him getting to work Friday and Sunday. Not to worry, snow travel is not my area of expertise.

Friday travel was impossible, but we got our 4WD truck down the hill Saturday, only to have Jay bring it nearly back to the top that afternoon. He was concerned that the snow would drift over it overnight. It was backing up nicely, and then he hit a slick, pitched part of the driveway and slid the passenger wheels right off and into a brick lightpost, which thankfully kept the sucker from rolling down the mountain. Jay is unimpressed with the 4WD capabilities of this truck and is dearly missing his Trooper.
After a fair amount of shovelling over the past 2 days and a great tug from the van (she still has a little life left in her), we unstuck the truck. The truck has a dent in the side and is completely blocking the driveway, but it's not like we're going to take the Prius of the motorcycle anywhere. Job well done, now where is my Advil and beer?

The learning curve has been pretty steep this weekend, but we're stocked with food, propane and beer. We're only missing some good friends and a good round of Hand and Foot.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Which One of These is Not Like the Others?

What makes these vehicles alike is that they all belong to us. Their differences are many however...

The black car is our newly purchased '07 Prius to replace the ailing van which has not moved since returning from a slow trip home early last week after the transmission got stuck in third. The pick-up (our 4WD) blew a rear brake seal and dumped a bunch of brake fluid on the driveway last night, hence it's rear-end in the garage (note the blue tarp across the opening so Jay doesn't get snowed on).

The van will be leaving us soon enough, and for the rest of the winter, I'm the proud driver of "Big Bertha". Next time I want to pick my own car.

Etsy Sale in time for Christmas

I have added even more pottery to my Etsy site, and everything is still 10% off until December 24. I ship USPO Priority daily, so you can still get items for Christmas. If you want something shipped faster please "convo" me on Etsy. The Post Office is 2 miles down the road, so I can ship nearly anytime.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Updating Etsy

After a long hiatus, I am loading up my Etsy Gallery with pottery. Everything is 10% off until December 24. So far, I have only heart bowls, but vases and wine coasters will go on today, then my cut up pots. I really need a creative name for them.

In other news, my van breathed its last sigh yesterday. The transmission got stuck in third while we were on our way to Ben's eye appointment in Asheville. Jay met me in Mars Hill, and we got it home, slowly, but alas, I must car shop this week. He's nearly certain that it's not worth fixing. Before he could look at the van though, he had to put his worn out chain back on the motorcycle and replace the belt tensioner in the truck.

So now, the van occupies the same spot that the Trooper vacated only last week after we had it towed away. It had been sitting since March when it blew a head gasket. I think Jay's daily 100+ mile round-trip commute is taking its toll on the vehicles.
So my job today (along with posting more pots on Etsy), is to procure financing and visit local car dealers. Jay would never agree to a brand new vehicle, but, as much as he hates a car payment, I think he'll go for something that he can spend more time driving than climbing underneath. I'll bet he wouldn't mind something that is more of a babe magnet than a gold minivan. And afterall, it is December. A little cold for even Jay to truly enjoy motorcycle commuting.

Friday, December 4, 2009

TRAC Studio Tour this weekend

Don't let snow warnings scare you! Us mountainfolk are so nice, we'll help tow your car out or just put you up for the night! Over 100 artists in Yancey and Mitchell counties in Western North Carolina are opening their studios for you to visit. The Tour runs Friday 12-4, Saturday and Sunday 10-5. It's a terrific opportunity to buy local, handmade artwork and meet the artists who create that work. Read more about the Studio Tour at and come to the Artists' Reception tonight from 5-8 at the TRAC Gallery in Spruce Pine.

I've got lots of new baskets, several that I just unloaded this morning. I've also got hot mulled apple cider or pinot noir that you can sip from my handmade cups. Snack on crackers with basil and red pepper dip or cookies. I'm headed into the kitchen to whip up some hot artichoke dip. Come on out! The fun contunues all weekend!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Back from Vacation and ready for the Studio Tour

After the rain has fallen...we were graced with a double rainbow yesterday afternoon. Glorious.

Cone 7 finally fell last night around 11:00. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I chose to candle in the morning and fire in the afternoon into the evening. It worked out as planned. I even timed taking my nighttime cold meds as cone 5 fell knowing I had only another hour or so before shutting the kiln off. How's that for planning?

I'm usually a sneaky peeker, but I'm just going to wait until Friday morning to unload. Did I mention that I am an early riser?

We spent Thanksgiving week with good friends in Nag's Head, our yearly tradition including the delectable grilled turkey. The ocean breezes helped the grill work like a convection oven and the 21 pounder was done in 3 hours. I think my pumpkin cheesecake took longer to cook. If you've never tried turkey on the grill, this one is awesome. We make it again for Christmas so I'll post a recipe next week. It is so yummy.

This year's storm hit a week prior so while we didn't have to live through the terror (like in 2006), we got to walk the beach and gawk at the decks, overwalks and even a pool or 2 destroyed by Nor'Ida. I don't think I would want the stress of owning a beachfront property.

The weather was so great that the kids spent the first few days on the beach making a fort of various debris they collected. The van was packed so full of food and beer that there was no room for toys.

Little did I know that less than a mile up the road was Clay Club's John Britt, staying at the Comfort Inn. He would have been a welcome addition to Happy Hour, doo-rags were optional.

So, I'm nearly done prepping for the TRAC Studio Tour this weekend. I'm off to ship a pot to a show in Knoxville, get change and new coats for the kids. 70% chance of heavy accumulation Saturday might dampen visitors, but I love to see how happy snow makes my kids.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Winding Down

As the Toe River Arts Council's Fall Studio Tour draws near, December 4-6, the work starts to slow down. I thought I was finished after 3 firings over the past few weeks. However, with 5 or 6 shelves of pieces (including the third of the large baskets) that did not fit into a glaze load, I feel compelled to keep making new pots.

I'm also making cups for the wine and cider I serve at the Tour. I cannot stand the idea of throw-away cups. As you know, I am not a disciplined thrower, so the cups present a little challenge for me. I often throw them too thin, too small and no two alike. It's ridiculous to throw them on bats, but I screw them up if I try to move them wet.
I do love to trim pots, so even though cups should not need trimming, I do it anyway. It also gives me the opportunity to use my Giffen Grip which I bought in college. At least all the feet end up looking alike. Once glazed, the cups are pretty sweet.

So wet work will grind to a halt this week as we prepare for our annual Thanksgiving trip to Nags Head. When I return, I'll bisque fire the last of the pieces and fire a cone 6 load mid-week before the Tour. More photos and updating my Etsy site will follow.

Monday, November 9, 2009

New Pots and Gallery Makeover

As predicted, last week was indeed a busy one. I fired a cone 6/7 load on Monday and a cone 10 on Wednesday. My last cone 10 load took over 14 hours to fire, so I woke up at 2 am to start firing. As luck would have it, I was so tired that I neglected to cut back the air at the start of body reduction (although I am uncertain why I was doing that). The result was a slow down in rise, but not the usual drop that takes an additional 2 hours to make up. That should have been my first clue, eh?

I looked back over my notes as well as John Britt's and Val Cushing's firing schedules and realized that what I thought was a mistake was probably the correct course of action. In the end, the firing took only 9 1/2 hours with good reduction. I guess that means I can cut 2 hours off my cone 6 firings also.

Once again I was very impressed with the cone 6/7 glazes in reduction. Chris Wolff's Plum (above) came out very nice (although my photo makes it look more red than it truly is) and a couple more of my cone 10 glazes are nearly identical at cone 6/7. Considering I ended up with at least 5-6 shelves of Zella Stone (cone 7-10) work that did not fit, I have the option of firing at either temperture. I thought I was done firing for the year, but as long as I am halfway there, I may as well fill 'er up and squeeze one more firing in!

While I was firing, Brenda helped me paint the gallery. Before it was a sort of Colonial blue and the faux ceiling beams were painted as white as the ceiling. We painted the walls a muted yellow and white washed them. Then we painted the beams brown and added some darker stain on top. The result is a room that appears much larger and taller.
I feel good about so many pots coming out well. In the photo they are just piled all over the tables. I have quite an inventory and am considering approaching some galleries about carrying my work. I've never done this before, and I'll admit to being a little nervous. Hopefully I'll have some good news to report soon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Busy Week Ahead

I am getting ready to fire the glaze kiln twice next week, cone 6/7 on Monday and cone 10 on Wednesday. With Jay out of town, Brenda is going to come up and help out. I can fire by myself, but I have to leave the house twice a day to deliver and retrieve the kids from school. There are just not enough hours between drop off and pick up to fire even a shortened cone 6/7 load.

And as sometimes happens, I stumble upon a really nice form towards the end of my "making" cycle. I was going to try to make some wall pockets, but the cylinders were the wrong shape. Instead I made some bud vases and these sweet baskets from the leftover pieces.

I really like when I can combine the creation of two different forms from the same cylinders without having to recycle too much clay.

What is pathetic is that I only have 15 bats to throw on, so I was only able to make 7 little baskets (2 cut cylinders for each basket). I am hoping they will dry in time to make it into a bisque on Sunday. Otherwise they must wait for the next cone 10 firing, and I don't know when that will be. With all the prep work I need to do for firing and the subsequent photo-taking, I have had to stop all my wet work, but all I want to do is make these little baskets. It's just not fair.

So, rather than accepting the hand fate has dealt me and use the time to tackle a couple of home projects, I have decided to squeeze in another cone 6/7 firing before the TRAC Studio Tour. I have two weeks to make more work. I'll be gone the week of Thanksgiving so everything will have plenty of time to dry. I can bisque the day I get back and if I glaze fire by Tuesday, the pots will be out in time for Friday.

Sounds like a fool-proof plan. Doesn't it?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some Things Are Just Not Meant To Be

Over the years, I have developed a positive outlook on life. This came in handy this week when I inadvertently destroyed one of the biggest pieces I've made (the basket on the left). I was covering up some adjacent damp pots and knocked one of the handles. It broke into too many pieces to be repaired. Oops.

I didn't spend much time mourning the lost work hours nor the wasted potential. I had made three large vessels out of Brownstone, a clay I had never before worked with. The handles of the one I fired slumped into the basket (see the post below for a picture). Mysteriously, a handle on a second one turned up broken. That break was clean, and I was going to try to fix it. Then came my klutzy studio performance.

I decided the universe was telling me, in no uncertain terms that Brownstone is not the ideal clay body for vessels of this size, not to waste any more kiln space or time on these baskets. I proceeded to cut my losses, bust the pieces up to be reclaimed and move on. Unfired clay can be reused indefinitely.
Although, with all the Ellen Buff I got from Henry Pope, I have more than enough clay to slake down. I guess the Brownstone will be relegated to a corner of the studio, along with a bag of bone dry Little Loafers to be dealt with at a later date if at all.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cone 6 Reduction Rocks!

I don't think I've ever been as happy with a kiln load of pots than I am today. I fired my third cone 6 glaze load yesterday and couldn't be more pleased after unloading it a short while ago.

Even with the handles of the sole large basket slumping into the pot. I had attached the top handle at a funky angle and during the firing, it slumped down and on top of the other handle. The look like noodles. Right now, it's hard not to see the flaw, but I'm starting to see it as a happy accident.

I tested a couple of Ceramics Monthly's cone 6 glazes with mixed results, and Brenda brought a few test glazes with her. She is bolder than I am. She'll pour a test glaze all over a pot, while I refuse until I've seen a test tile. And while there are a couple of glazes I'm going to add to my palette, I'm giving up on one that had shown me so much promise in John Britt's class. It's not just that I cannot get the same results, it's that the results I am getting with this particular glaze are uninspiring at best.

I am most thrilled with my new baskets. I had virtually no cracking, and the glazes I chose are really complimenting the forms. I've been struggling with how best to approach my surfaces, but that's a topic for another blog post.

So tonight I go to bed delighted and can wake up with a clear sense of where I am going. I can't ask for anything more.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Can we stop this ride, please?

I'd like to get off now! Somehow this week, I managed to overload myself with pots to be worked on. I usually work on baskets in batches of 6 to 8. That's about all I can keep up with and still take care of the rest of my busy life. This week, the laundry is piling up, the bills haven't been paid and it's all because I am trying to work on 15 baskets at the same time. I've got the first of two handles on only 3 of them.

These baskets are waiting handles.

New cone 6 work awaiting their turn in the bisque. The large basket second from the right is too large to fit in my electric kiln. I guess I could have worse problems.

I have started bisquing some work. I work in two different temperatures and have been fastidious about keeping them separate. My current bisque has both, but it's tough to find what can fit in with the baskets, especially the larger ones.

Above is new cone 10 work. Several of the flat pieces have jsut been loaded into the bisque. Even though I might have to bisque the larger baskets individually, I still have hopes of firing a cone 6 glaze kiln next weekend. I'm very excited about my new work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Autumn plans

Today, I demonstrated my pottery making techniques for 3 groups of middle schoolers. They are having a bowl fundraiser for the Yancey County Humane Society and the United Fund of Yancey County. The groups rotated between making bowls at Arts Centered, my demonstration in the Bakersville Library and some other speakers. My last demo was down on the Creek Walk. I can't say that the kids were overly enthusiastic watching me. However, when I sneaked up to Arts Centered, they were definitely engaged handbuilding bowls.

During a break, I had a delicious coffee at Dot's, served in what I'm 99% sure was a Shane Mickey mug. I think I'm going to have to buy one of his mugs. It had a nice feel in my hands. I also went to the Crimson Laurel Gallery and checked out the "Sharing" show as well as the "Connecting" exhibit featuring photographs from the book "Lost Crossings" about Western North Carolina's Historic Footbridges.

On the home front, Jay attempted to top the white pines in front of the house. I admit that it does not appear very environmentally friendly to remove trees for the sole purpose of gaining a gorgeous view. Anyone who knows me knows how many trees I have planted in my lifetime. Many more than the 3 or 4 we're cutting down. It works for me. Doesn't eveyone need a good rationalization every now and again?

Anyway, Jay quickly realized the job was a bit too big for him, but he managed to cut through the 3 large upward-growing branches, only to have them get caught on other branches rather than falling to the ground. At this point, he conceded that it would be much easier to cut the whole tree down rather than topping it.

Then today, we had wind gusts of 30 mph or so and down they came...only to reveal a small scrubby hardwood tree right behind it. I guess we'll have to cut that one down, too. The pile of branches is ugly and going to be a mess to clean up, but I can't see it from the house. And it doesn't cost any money unlike our neverending list of home improvements.

I'm back in the studio tomorrow. I've finished most of the cone 6 work and finally decided to fire a bisque. I hope to glaze fire in a couple of weeks. I'm still working wet in cone 10. I really like the direction my new work is going and have found myself incapable of stopping. I have literally run out of ware boards and shelf space. Sometimes the shift from creating to glazing is tough. Stay tuned for some pictures of new work, at least in greenware.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I'm published!

I got a nice surprise when I opened yesterday's edition of the Yancey Common Times Journal and saw this:

Does this mean fame and fortune for me here in Yancey County?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Clemson Art Faculty Show

I was so excited to return to my alma mater for Friday evening's reception for the Art Faculty Show. I have only been back to Clemson a few times since I graduated in 1996, and it was so good to see some of the folks who influenced me during those formative BFA years.

First and foremost is my Ceramics professor and mentor Mike Vatalaro. Fortunately for me and my fellow BFA classmates, Mike had no Ceramics MFA students at the time, so he felt compelled to try out those Alfred glaze chemistry and kiln building lectures on us. He just needed to share his vast knowledge with someone, and we were his captive audience. I was rapt. Jay would come to the studio and discuss thermodynamics with Mike. Frankly, I liked it better when Mike explained it. When I took John Britt's cone 6 reduction class last May, I brought along Mike's notes on glaze technology. Besides being a glaze nerd's trip down memory lane, Mike's notes were eerily similar to John's. Gentlemen, I think I actually get it. For the most part.

I also saw my Sculpture professor Dave Detrich who taught me to arc weld, current Ceramics professor Sue Grier, and Lee Gallery Director Denise Woodward-Detrich whose work is above. Their work was inspiring and the conversation enlightening.

The Ceramics studio has changed considerably since I was there. The MFA studio spaces are ample, and the ventilation has been given a much needed upgrade. All but one of the electric kilns are computer controlled, a feature I do not completely trust (probably because I don't have one). Ironically, the only switch-controlled kiln (in the corner) is an EvenHeat nearly identical to my Runt. One BFA student commented on how he had never seen the Alpine updraft fired since he had been there. It was a royal pain in the ass to fire, but it was my kiln of choice and I had mastered firing it.

I am truly envious of the soda kiln they have built. In school, I really wanted to do a soda firing. When I figure out how to scan photos, I'll post photos of the kiln I used as a soda kiln. It was a hand-me-down from the Ceramic Engineering Department, and Jay had serious reservations about the safety of my firing it. You'll have to wait to see the photos to see what I mean. Stay tuned.
Marty Bynum (1997 Ceramics BFA), me, Fleming Markel (Sculpture MFA) and Brenda Shotwell (1996 Ceramics BFA)

We were missing our classmate Ceramics BFA Deborah Sorenson who lives in California. Marty and I met my first semester at Clemson, and I didn't get enough time to talk with her on Friday. She stopped by my booth at Bele Chere this summer. She teaches Art History at Tri-County Tech and is working on her Master's in History. I hope I'll have a chance to catch up with her in the near future as I've been tempted to come back to Clemson and bring some work to fire in their Anagama. Mike had just started building one in 2001, and they are starting a second wood kiln. I suppose I'll have to visit some of the wood-firers up here to see what that's all about.

I had a great time, but was disappointed to have missed seeing my Printmaking professor Syd Cross and retired Painting professor and Senior Advisor Tom Dimond. I was a budding printmaker before I was lured into the Ceramics department. Syd doesn't know this, but I made it through 3 (maybe 4) semesters of printmaking without ever making a lithograph. It just sort of fell through the cracks, my being a transfer student...I feel so much better getting that off my chest, but I've always felt like I've been missing something. Syd, are you teaching any workshops? How could I learn from anyone else?

One of Mike's pieces from his sabbatical semester in Taiwan

I'll be back in the studio this week and will have pictures of my new work. We haven't retrieved the SD card from the interior of the computer but Allison's camera works just fine.
I am flying high after seeing where it all started for me.