Friday, June 26, 2015

Love Wins

To celebrate the huge, huge thing that happened today, I'm doing a giveaway.

To enter you must a) be left-handed (or love someone who is) and b) comment in one of the following places:


That's it! Winners will be announced tomorrow morning (June 27th) before I leave for Toronto (to meet up this lovely lady and see this exhibit) at 8am. Giveaway is open internationally. I will ship the mug to your door.

Got it?

#lovewins #always

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What does your name mean?

If I had an FAQ section, this question would be #1 on the list. It's the question I get asked more than any other question at any given show, and lately I've found myself dreading it.

Which is strange, when you think about it. I mean, this is the name I chose for my business eight years ago. It's been the name of this blog for six years. It's on my business card. It's in my email signature. It's pretty much the first thing a person sees when they interact with my ceramics.

So why on earth would I dread explaining it?

Well. I'll tell you.

The name Two Cent Sparrow originates from the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament. Most specifically, it comes from this verse:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.
Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. - Luke 12:6-7

I’m not religious, but I was at the time that I came up with this name, which is why I squirm and stammer whenever anyone asks me what it means. It no longer represents me. It's something I’ve outgrown. And if I were to answer the question truthfully, the answer would be long and complicated, not one I could sum up in a few sentences.

So I decided that the best thing to do was start over. I began brainstorming new names. I even bought a new domain.

And then I went to see Mad Max. (I promise, this is relevant.) I saw it twice in two days. And at the risk of spoiling the film, there’s a point just past the 2/3 mark where Max says to Furiosa (who has just escaped from a terrible thing) that it’s better to fix what’s broken than to run away. And that’s the theme of the film: reclamation. She has to go back and reclaim what she’s been running from.

I started thinking about what it means to go back. To turn around and claim the thing you want to leave behind.

I decided that that’s what I needed to do with Two Cent Sparrow.

So, I deconstructed it.

two | cent | sparrow

Lets talk about “cents” first:

The word cent means one one hundredth. In Canada, we've abolished the cent. It's so insignificant that we've decided it should no longer exist, so we took it out of circulation. The word translated as “cent” in the verse above would have originally meant the coinage that equaled 1/16 of a denarius, which was the daily wage for a day labourer, who was one of the lowest paid workers in this society.

On to “sparrow”:

At the time that Luke was written, sparrows were so worthless, two of them were sold for a penny (or 1/16 of a denarius) and the only reason you could get five of them for two pennies was because the fifth one was thrown in for free, to get you to buy more. So that fifth sparrow was, you might say, worthless. One more thing: because sparrows were so cheap, they were mainly bought by the very poor and were often the offerings made by the very poor.

So, when Luke is writing, sparrows are associated with poverty. And as I was doing my research, I realized that I had seen this in my own life, growing up. My grandmother has always been a firm believer in "taking care of the poor" and part of this always translated as feeding the creatures outside her window – birds especially, but squirrels and deer and stray dogs too. Anything with a beating heart, really. I think this comes from her own experience with poverty, but also her unshakeable faith in her religion, which tells her that this is her duty: taking care of those who have nothing.

Sparrows have even more personal meaning than this, though. Just before my grandfather died, my mother bought a bird feeder and often brought him over to her house to sit and watch the birds. Now that he's gone, she continues to watch them. Her birdhouses have increased tenfold, and when I visit we watch the birds together. They're a beautiful metaphor. They're a way of keeping Pa close.

I chose the name Two Cent Sparrow eight years ago, when I was twenty years old. At the time I had just dropped out of school - something that took a huge amount of courage. It meant going against the people who cared about me most. I was trusting myself, that I knew what was best for me, and it was this trust that allowed me to step away from what was comfortable and familiar – the approval and security of my family. I was doing what I needed to do. I needed to be free to choose the life I wanted to live and the person I wanted to be. And that’s still completely true today.

So. What does my name mean?

It means trusting myself. It means being brave. It means knowing where my roots are planted. It means seeing the inherent worth in everyone and everything around me.

That’s what Two Cent Sparrow means. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

the importance of space

I was chatting with Jennifer of Cherries in the Sun recently about the importance of space. We were talking about designating a physical place in our homes for writing. I've mentioned my writing desk before. It takes up a significant amount of my living room. It commands attention. And it's not really useful for anything else. Even though I can write anywhere (in a loud cafe, on my mother's kitchen floor, in the middle of the woods) I've designated a specific place for writing as a way to say: hey this is important. In some ways, I'm making up for all those years of believing it wasn't important. That it was something to be ashamed of and left behind.

On Friday, Jennifer came along with Nataschia (best. photographer. ever.) to help document another important space: the studio where I do all my clay work. This is something that's only recently been confined to one space. For the past six months, it's been scattered all over. The kilns were in the garage. The slab roller was in the basement. The pots (in various stages) took up the entire kitchen table, hallway, even the couch. And I lost so many mugs transporting them to and from the kiln, up and down the stairs.

Something had to change. The pots were taking up too much space. So now there's this:

My ceramic work is one of the most important things in my life, but it shouldn't be taking over my whole house. And even though it's confined to one small room now, it's not sharing that room with other things. It has it's own place, just like my writing. Which gives it more weight. More heft.

It's saying: hey look, this is important.

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.