Ceramic Work

Sunday, May 17, 2015

glazing day

Here's a secret: I hate glazing.

Wow, I feel so much better getting that out in the open.

Why do I hate it? Because it's all business. Glazing is the most uncreative part of my process. One that goes like this:

Stir. Dip. Wipe. Repeat.

It also makes a huge mess.

But glazing comes right after washing and waxing (both gentle and meditative). It also comes just before loading up the kiln (a fun exercise in geometry) and firing (all about patience and anticipation) and then, the absolute best part, opening the kiln to see how your pots turned out. So I put up with the glazing.

This is what a normal glazing day looks like:

#1. Unload bisque ware from the kiln.
#2. Sand off imperfections.
#3. Wash the bisqued pots.
#4. Wax the bottoms.
#5. While the wax dries, stir buckets of glaze and get tools ready.
#6. Stir buckets again because you're still waiting for the wax to dry.
#7. The wax is dry! Finally.
#8. Glaze the pots. (And be really grouchy about it.)
#9. Load up the kiln.
#10. The kiln is loaded! Put witness cones in front of the peepholes.
#11. Flick the bottom switch and prop the lid up so moisture can escape.
#12. At hourly intervals, continue flicking switches until the kiln reaches temperature and shuts off.*
#13. While waiting for the kiln to cool, go to sleep. It's been a long day.

*I'm one of those few potters crazy enough to fire in a manual kiln, which means I can't punch a program into an electric controller and then go to bed. I have to be attentive. I think this is due in part to the fact that I used to be a professional baker, and in a lot of ways the process of baking bread is very similar to the process of making pottery. I like to see and know what's going on every step of the way.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


In the midst of working on orders, I've been designing a new line of pots. As I've mentioned before, the inspiration behind these actually comes out of a story I started writing about four years ago. The illustrations are based on two secondary characters, Ravi and Sable, who are known as shiftlings - creatures that dwell in the woods. In this world of theirs, shiftlings take two forms and can shift between them. Sable is both a girl and a coyote, Ravi is both a boy and a raven, and they've been friends for as long as either of them can remember.

The problem is that Ravi has a weakness for mischief. He likes things like posing riddles and playing tricks and he especially likes making bets (because he always wins them). One day, though, he bets against the wrong person and loses. The cost? Seven years of servitude. Sable tries to win back those years for Ravi, but the one she's betting against refuses to play unless Sable significantly increases the bet. She does. But Sable's no good at games. She manages to win Ravi's freedom, but in doing so, forfeits her life in servitude.

Ravi can't bet higher than a life and therefore can't free his friend. He never gets over this and spends the years blaming himself as Sable becomes more captive and obedient and less like her true self - a girl who's wild and fierce and free.

That's not the end of their story, though.

(You can see more of the series here.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

this week in the studio

If there's one thing I know about myself it's that I get bored easily. So easily. And when I get bored, I get restless and fidgety and agitated. I actually stopped doing ceramics four years ago simply because I was bored. I made the same products over and over again. I wasn't challenging myself. I wasn't excited. My ceramic process became lifeless and I no longer wanted anything to do with it.

Now, to protect myself, I give myself permission to do new things. Occasionally I allow myself to let go of an old design, no matter how many people keep asking for it. I used to feel guilty for saying no, but somewhere in the past few years that's eroded. I've come to realize that I never signed a contract saying I'm obligated to keep making things that no longer give me life. And if ceramics isn't giving me life, why am I doing it? 

The images below are examples of three new challenges I've taken on lately:

The first image is of a new jewellery line, which is rooted in a new pottery line. It's challenging because so many people make jewellery and I really wanted something that wasn't like what was out there. I wanted something interesting and eye-catching and not cute. I've been trying to move away from cute. As of right now, Craft Arts Market is the only place you can buy my feather and wood grain pendants.

The second image is a bunch of new transfers I made for inlay. As you know, I'm a bookseller and a writer, which means I like stories, and for a long time now, I've wanted to have a more narrative thread running through my pottery. I don't think I'm quite there yet, but I do think I'm further along than I was six months ago, so: progress! These transfers are based on illustrations I did that come out of a novel I've been working on for a few years now. I have yet to put them on pots, so I'll put an update here when I do.

The last image is a very rough draft of a product linesheet. Due to the One of a Kind Show, I now have some wholesale accounts, which all require linesheets to order from. But I didn't even know what a linesheet was until the show, so I first needed to educate myself (and quickly). I now have a linesheet, and honestly, it was ridiculously fun to both research and design. Definitely the perfect challenge.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Potters Market

For those of you finding your way here from the One of a Kind Show, my etsy shop is now stocked, so if you're looking for pottery, head on over there. Or, if you're in Toronto, my pots are now being sold at Susan Harris Design in the distillery district. 

Last but not least, I wanted to let you know that this is where I'll be next:

Hope to see you there!

(P.S. One of my cups is featured on the poster above. Can you guess which one it is??)

Monday, March 30, 2015

the day after

The One of a Kind Show has been a daunting goal of mine for a long time and this year I was incredibly fortunate to have a booth in the Craft Community of Canada section where I was featured among a dozen other emerging artists. By the end of the show, we were a tight-knit little community all our own and I was so honoured to be surrounded by each and every one of them.

The benefits of doing this show (in my experience):

1.    THE EXPOSURE. You get tons of it. Not only did I get featured in the One of a Kind email blast (which went out to thousands of people) my wood grain pieces were showcased in the main display at the front entrance, and my hawthorn mugs were on television! Even more than this, I had retail stores and galleries approaching me wanting to wholesale my work. Which was incredible and something I didn’t expect. Honestly, it was worth it just for that.

2.    THE COMMUNITY. I’ve been working with clay and doing shows for a long time now and one of the best things about being a maker is the community of artists you become a part of once you start showing your work. Artists and artisans are not only some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, they are also some of the most intelligent, funny, kind, and supportive people out there. They are the treasure you didn’t even know you were looking for.

3.    THE FEEDBACK. Feedback is invaluable. One of the most helpful pieces of feedback I received again and again were on my wood grain tumblers. So many people asked about handles, which I’d refrained from putting on because these pieces in particular were designed in such a way that handles would really mess with the design. So now I know that I need to incorporate handles, which is a fun challenge.

4.    THE ACCOMPLISHMENT. At so many points leading up to this show, whether I was sanding the bottoms of hundreds of pots or carefully wrapping and packing each of those pots, I would turn to Joe and say: Can you believe I’m doing this? Well, I did it. At six o’clock last night, when the official closing announcement was made, cheers went up from all down the Direct Energy Centre. Cheers of camaraderie, solidarity and celebration. It felt so good.

And now I need to clean my studio and get back to work to prepare for The Potters Market (which you should totally come out to).

Saturday, March 21, 2015

hawthorns, fresh out of the kiln

In some folklores, hawthorn trees mark the entrance to the otherworld. In others, they can heal a broken heart.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

as if a woman quietly walked away

vision begins to happen in such a life
as if a woman quietly walked away
from the argument and jargon in a room
and sitting down in the kitchen, began turning in her lap
bits of yarn, calico and velvet scraps,
laying them out absently on the scrubbed boards
in the lamplight, with small rainbow-coloured shells…
Such a composition has nothing to do with eternity,
the striving for greatness, brilliance-
only with the musing of a mind
one with her body, experienced fingers quietly pushing
dark against bright, silk against roughness,
pulling the tenets of a life together
with no mere will to mastery,
only care…

-Adrienne Rich

In the past seven months, I’ve been burrowing. Or maybe running. But certainly I’ve retreated.

It began when my grandfather passed away. Just… disappeared. Forever. I didn't realize that the people you loved most could do that to you.

The burrowing intensified as over and over again I was met with rejection and disappointment and failure in the pursuit of my goals. I worked harder than ever only to find myself going in circles. Endless circles of endless failure.

So I ran North. I burrowed up there in a sleepy little town and a school made of windows and bright red doors. I woke up before the sun to write and came home long after it went down at night when my work with clay was done. It was what I needed – to run away. To burrow and mourn and remember which way my compass pointed.

But now that I’m back home, I’m still burrowing. My days look like words and words and words on the page or clay on my hands, my face, my jeans, my hair. This week I completely forgot about a shift at the bookstore and when my colleague called, wondering where I was, I was in the studio, disheveled and covered in mud. Obviously. This is who I am now when I don't have to go meet the world in any official way. Disheveled and covered in mud.

It was worrisome. In burrowing, I haven't been in touch with this or that person. I've been wearing the same clothes for three days straight. Every book I read moves me to tears for days. Going North was supposed to fix me. So why does it look like I'm falling apart?

But then, the poem. The one above that I started this blog with. It arrived and kept arriving. And it's changing my mind. I think maybe I'm not done yet. Burrowing, I mean. Retreating. It's what I still need to do for as long as I need to do it. Because the truth is, I still seek out the people I love most. And being moved so deeply by books means that I'm choosing the right ones. And who cares about what I'm wearing, anyway?

So I'm burrowing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

almost there...

I took a poll on Facebook yesterday, asking which tumbler people preferred:

The one on the left has a shiny black interior and exterior. The one on the right has matte black exterior, white interior, and translucent white lip. Out of the forty or so people who weighed in, it was almost an exact split down the middle. So. I'll be bringing both versions to the show… in exactly two weeks. Yikes! So much still to do!

Booth numbers have been assigned and I'll be in booth K34. So if you're planning on going, come visit!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

new venues

I'm very happy to say that I've just been accepted into this year's Potters Market. This is one of my all-time favourite pottery shows, partially because of the setting (the Goldie Mill ruins in Guelph) and partially because most of my favourite potters are there. I'm so thrilled and honoured!

Second of all, I just dropped off a batch of pottery at a new shop in downtown St. Catharines. Guys. Craft Arts Market is the sweetest, prettiest little shop around and if you live in the Niagara region, you should go check it out.