Blogs ... & Life its own self

“O” as in Ornament



As I took down my Christmas tree this year, I set aside my collection of Ornaments I had made over the years so I could photograph them as a whole. I wanted a record of all my designs. One Ornament that I do not have is the turtle, so it is here in spirit.

Many thousands of these Ornaments were sold across the USA, Canada, the Carribbean, and Hawaii. I have many customers who bought them every year for themselves and as gifts. They cherished them as their own new Christmas tradition.

I have "Thanks" to offer them as well. This is where I learned all about coloring clay, making patterns, executing designs, planning production, tweaking designs, marketing, shipping and bookkeeping.

They challenged me by warping and cracking and just generally making my life miserable by being harder to create than I imagined. How to make a flat object look like it is moving? How to create a grass skirt? What does that beach really look like? How are African patterns different than our own? Why did I decide to drape a lei around that palm tree?

Several were custom designs for specific Galleries so I also learned about collaboration. Sometimes I could be creative but others needed the real thing right down to the smallest detail. My only failure was a mountain resort … the mountain was just a flipped ‘ L' … I could not find any way to make it look better and I really tried!

My favorite thing was the yearly phone call from someone who had broken an Ornament while decorating their tree and needed a replacement before it was noticed. This is likely how my last Turtle disappeared.

The rise of inexpensive imported Holiday Ornaments was one thing I could not conquer. None of my Ornaments lit up or played music. Tough competition.

Naturally, the end of the journey came right after I had ordered another 6,000 custom made boxes! Funny now, but they sure took up a lot of space until I found someone to sell them to.

As I look back on those years I realize that even though it was challenging and fun, I was ready to move on. I began to create the larger, beautiful pieces you see today. 

Because of all the Ornaments taught me, I can push the boundaries of colored clay from a sturdy foundation of experience. Now, as then, failure is always an option.

I also learned there is no such thing as a wasted effort when it comes to Mastering your Craft. Day in and out, for better or worse, they taught me lessons that built my skills and broadened my knowledge … a pretty good deal.

So if you have read down this far … another thing I learned was … do not to tell people you make Ornaments unless you want to see an eye roll. 

It’s just such a girlie thing to do, eh? 


MAY 2016

It is now the end of May and I have approximately 70 bowls thrown for color tests.


As promised, I have tried every way I can think of to throw with color clay and colored clay patterns. I have found ways I believe will achieve predictable patterns and will be repeatable. 


I have been able to place color where and how I wanted it on the surface of a pot. They are all this shape  because I want to study the outside of the pot more than the inside. Obviously I will be able to see both surfaces but I will be working on the inside surface in the next test segment. Wide bowls, plates and platters … maybe by late fall.

As always with colored clay they key factor for success is TIME. Yes, giving the clay time to even out and meld together. Once I got into the rhythm of making the tests one day and throwing them the next it got much easier!


I came across a U Tube video by Tineke van Gils where she demos inserting a band of color into a plain white thrown vessel. I was able to do this fairly well so it was nice to be able to see the patterns after the pot was thrown.


I have also been able to plan and place the designs on the bottom of the pots. This is great because it is always fun to have a surprise waiting on the bottom of a pot!

So right now they are drying and of course they all look perfect … after the firing I expect to see a lot of warping, cracking and skewing so I am just going to enjoy looking at them all nice and perfect for a bit!!

NEXT STEP … sanding. Not exactly the glamour part of the job.


My new ‘2016 To-Do’ List


Right now I have one big goal. 

Taking a pottery throwing class session.

WOW! Huge right? … no?? 

Well yes, I do kind of know how to throw but since I have not seriously thrown a form in fifteen years I am positive it is worth my while to take at least one session of classes.


I want to explore all the ways a person could use colored clay and colored clay patterns and designs in throwing and in thrown vessels. The only way to do this in a productive manner is to throw the work myself. 

I tried throwing experiments this past year and quickly realized I have lost the ability to make anything taller than 4” or to make the form I want rather than what the clay tells me it is going to make.


So the first line of attack is getting back my throwing skills. 

Then I am going to try everything … inside, outside and all around. Lamination, inlay, sgraffito, clay slip layers, textures, carving … I want to see what happens. I am tired of seeing swirly colors being offered as the only way to throw colored clays.

Hopefully by year end I will have put my money where my mouth is and can offer a teaching section devoted to throwing this marvelous colored clay.

Wish me luck.


The pieces are done!!

Yes, it has been a journey … but a great one and I am very happy with the final results of my ‘Stream of Consciousness’ project.

From the humble beginnings of an idea sprung while watching a pottery demo at the North Carolina Potters Conference … to these magical pieces of coral outcroppings … it has been an excellent experience. It was a joy to run with the idea as it grew.


These were originally meant to go in my yard as an outdoor reef installation but I don’t think that will happen! Another change of plans … of course. 



The Saga Continues …..

These are some fish in process … they have been bisque fired to Cone 06 and I am high lighted the fins of the colored clay fish using Amaco underglaze colors.


I thinned out and colored some Amaco clear glaze so I could see where it was going and more importantly as I loaded the kiln I could see where it was.

Loading the fish was very tricky work so this color really helped me avoid glazing them to the shelf!

I just unloaded my kiln and am HAPPY top to bottom with the results … a colorful load of fish and coral reef parts.


Those brown bases are the parts of the large piece I started with that blew up during the bisque firing. 

Since they all had texture and interest I decided to use them as bases for groups of fish. 

The fish with the holes on top will be hanging from tree branches using fishing line.


I still have another load of fish, sponges and coral to fire, along with some regular work that has been waiting to claim a spot. 


Stream of Consciousness Backfires

In early March of 2015, I started working on a sculpture to put outside in the plantings by my front door. It quickly grew larger and larger … then morphed into a tall coral mound as seen in underwater reefs. As it got larger I began to wonder how on earth I would move it from my second floor studio to my kiln in the garage. I began to post on the subject in the Ceramic Arts Daily Forum as my quandary grew.

Needless to say, it got wrangled downstairs and into the kiln. I let it dry for a month then fired it … and of course, it exploded.


During that long month I made a few hundred fish to put around it and in the shrubbery along the walk.

I put holes in a hundred other fish so they could hang from the trees from thin fishing line.

I cut holes ito the bottom of others so they could be held up by sticks … others will be glued onto forms.

Yes, this is all made from colored clay.


Well as long as I was at it, I decided to make more coral mounds. These would be nifty areas to attach fish to or to have the fish swimming around. At this point they are all bisque fired only.



Not one to stop with an idea once I get going … I decided it needed sponges … lots of sponges.


My absolute favorite things in the ocean are anemones. 

There is always something living in them and they the favored habitat of the damsel fish …  also clown fish … the fish that is so aggressive we thank our lucky stars that they are so tiny. Oner quarter inch long and they will attack a diver’s mask trying to get you to leave..

So here I am, months later and I hope about half way through the project.

I will try to find a spot for them in my yard with my other Installations 


July 2015

Workshop in the Woods


Last week I taught a colored clay workshop at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Pennsylvania. This is in the mountains, just southeast of Pittsburgh. 

The clay studio is in the open air, covered by a roof but not enclosed. There is a brook rushing by that we could hear all day long. Here is an image with some pieces drying in the sun.


They have been having an unusually wet summer, so the mossy rocks were flourishing everywhere.

It rained/drizzled for the first couple days but by Wednesday the sun came out and the weather was lovely.

I had a small group of very talented potters.


Here are some of the demo pieces I made during our week ...


… and below are some of the pieces my students made …




At the end of our week, I placed a fish I had made beside the stream in the woods because at one point in the week, she could have survived there just on the rain!!


I took four of the demo pieces home, never expecting them to survive the bumps of the long drive … but surprisingly, they made it.


Beyond "Marbled" is the place to go

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and posting this to give you all a fresh idea to take into 2015 ... and a challenge too!

For the past few months I have been experimenting with pattern and color placement during throwing. 

Let me say right at the outset that I am NOT a great thrower ... I used to be, but since I seldom throw, my skills now are probably somewhere around advanced beginner .... BUT .... I really wanted to try a lot of different ways to use color in throwing and since there was only me around  to do this, I started some testing.

First I made a large sheet of blended color using the Skinnner Blend method, and cut off thin slices to use to create the patterns. I used the colors without adding white areas so I could clearly see what was happening.

Color-sheet Slice

I rolled, stacked and shaped them in many ways. I left some of the stripes thick and others I rolled very thin.


I then threw them in two ways. Either flat as above or on their sides. 

In order to throw them I slammed them onto the wheel after patting them into a roundish shape. I did not have many air holes to deal with.


As I threw I noticed the soft blurring of the colors. 


I expected this and knew that the real results would come with trimming.

Leave your bowls thick enough so you can trim both the inside and outside. 

You might also want to carve through the layers to get some interesting patterns.

Another good trick is to cut off the lip of the bowl with an exacto knife or a very sharp needle tool ... a lovely pattern appears across the top.

As you trim the patterns emerge in various ways as you cut through the layers. You decide on your stopping point when you like it.


I was able to throw fat stripes, narrow stripes and a mix of both.



These pots are the results of this type of clay roll. 


These two pots show the regular stripes on the left and a combination of thin and thick stripes on the right.

Stack-2 Thick-thinMG 0707Thin&thick-stripes

This is the carved pot.



I encourage you all to try some experiments that takes wheel thrown colored clay WAY BEYOND mashing two colors together to get some marbled effect.

You can easily slam layer two colors into thick or thin stripes. You can lay them flat or on the side. Try rolling them up and throwing them.  I think the bowls would be even lovelier with white clay added for contrast.

There is a whole world of possibilities and if a potter with my basic throwing skills can do it, imagine what someone who can throw really well could do!! TRY IT!!


What I did on my Autumn vacation ...

This October we went on a long awaited vacation trip to Spain. The Spanish have a long tradition of creating beautiful pottery and tiles ... and like me, they love to use color. I was looking forward to days and days of color and design and I did indeed find beauty around every corner.


Everywhere, colored tiles on walls, columns, buildings. 

How wonderful that the most useful objects such as benches and railings are covered in the long lasting brilliance of tiles.


What I did not expect was to be inspired by the abundance of patterns, layers and textures everywhere. 

They do not crave 'plain & simple' in Spain! Every surface presents an opportunity for artistic expression. 

SidewalkIMG 0695

I thought I would be the tiles that stayed with me and inspired me but not so. I will be injected some color into these patterns for my new 2015 work!

"Inspired by Nature"

"Inspired by Nature" 

... this is probably the most common theme on Artist's statements ... but really ... how hard would it be NOT to find inspiration in the majesty of this beautiful blue planet of ours?

I have realized that of late, my inspiration is coming from the hardier and less admired parts of Nature ... weeds.


Yes, those stubborn little plants that can latch on to the smallest hint of earth and somehow thrive.


Yes, you could come by with weed killer today but I guarantee another would sprout up in a day or two.

weed 1

Just try winning the battle against a plant with this amount of determination ... no matter how many times you pave over it, plaster around it, brick under it or step on it ... 

no way is it giving up.


So, I think it is a great part of Nature to take inspiration from if you are an artist.

Do any of these weeds have more talent than a rose?

Do they get an advantage from who they know?

How many times do they get a "NO" yet  soldier on?

A discouraging word has yet to faze them.


And ... if you ignore them long enough they will overrun the largest cities humankind has erected because they just do not give up!


Artists with this kind of stubborn persistence in the face of adversity build cathedrals ....

paint masterpieces of Art


and create the fabulous pottery that survives the centuries and the passing of civilizations.

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