January recap

This month has been a busy one.  Typically, I try to take January slow and easy, but I've been chasing my tail all month.  Between teaching, civic engagement, working to fill orders, prepare for events, and planning ahead, this month passed swiftly.  There was a lot of good this month- my blue and white designs have taken a great leap forward, school projects worked well, friendships strengthened. I've learned new skills related to teaching (and some lessons, as well).  Last weekend's Fancy Little Flea was my best single day's sales in years (some of these pieces will be headed to my shop this week), and I'm hopeful for this event's future.

I'm planning an online Valentine's sale beginning next week- small happiness for giving or keeping- and an at-home evening the week before Valentine's.  Details will be on Instagram and on my newsletter email.

February.  The shortest month. Onward we go.

 

january, 2017

Writing 2017 feels amazing.  Only yesterday it was January 1997 and I spent the month painting in a quiet studio in Winston Salem, spending evenings drinking bottles of wine with my roommate while she studied French and I tried to render glowing stained glass panels with oil paints.  I would not have guessed then that I'd be spending all day, every day in a pottery studio.  My sketchbook practice remains nearly the same, though.  After the holiday sales were over I did a studio cleanup and rearrange and uncovered sketchbooks from college, grad school, and early married life.  While I've pitched all of my written journals and yearbooks, I'm happy I held on to the sketchbooks. They tell me more about where I was and what I was working through, as well as providing threads that connect all of the past Melissas with who I am now.

I have been thinking about changes in my current roster of work, running them through my head for some time, only just now beginning to rough out the ideas.  I spent a morning last week playing with text placement for my Emily Dickinson cup.  I believe I've made my last two in the old style, with large text and feather inlaid in the cup. I've been dissatisfied with it for a while, ready for a change.  The facebook "on this day" feature recently popped up with the first iteration of this design, from 2012.  Five years is a long time to make the same thing the same way, so I'm playing with changes.  I feel like my lettering has changed a great deal, and I rarely use inlay anymore.  I have not abandoned it entirely, but I've come to like my brush script more than my inlay lettering.

This first round of modified design cups are ready to go into the kiln.  I'll have more on etsy and my website in February.  I'm planning to offer these in blue and iron oxide rusty-brown.  The black was perfect for inlay but is too harsh for brush lettering.  Excited to see how these fire out.

This is going to be a busy month.  I begin teaching again next week, and on the 28th I'm participating in A Fancy Little Flea, a one-day market featuring Miss Mustardseed Milk Paints and sponsored by my dear friend (and fairy godmother) Stephanie Jones.  I've got lots of goodies headed that way- hope to see you if you're local!

Finally, slots are open for my subscription club!  Find out more about it here.  I begin shipping in February- one box a month through April. 

Happy New Year!

 

Maine

It does not seem like it's been a week since I returned from my Maine trip.  In all honesty, it feels like it's been much much longer (because life is full, isn't it, and fast) and the holidays are right around the corner.

I stayed with my friend Sarah (it is wonderful to be in her serene space- full of light, beauty, texture, and simple, thoughtful details) and had myself a self-styled art retreat.  Every day I woke at dawn and got myself down to the water where I drew, painted, thought, collected tiny shells, striped rocks, saw love everywhere, gazed at clouds, marveled at the changing colors and cool breezes (lo, it is still 90 degrees in Memphis on Nov 1). There was much eating, knitting, visiting friends, and driving around midcoast and downeast, getting my fill of Maine and the sea for another year.

I have so many ideas to explore, but they will wait until after the holidays. 

Later this week I'll be back with a holiday preview and my sale dates for November and December.  I have some family obligations that mean I have canceled my studio sale, but there are plenty of other events around Memphis to make up for this cancellation.

October CSA

Good morning!  Today is the last weekday of our fall break- we've been kayaking, working in the studio and in preparation for teaching in November, resting, working on expanding a treehouse, and shipping out this month's CSA subscription.  Next week I head out for *my* fall break/art retreat and I've tried to pack in as much as possible before heading out.  I thought I'd give you a little preview of this month's work:

While I generally have a bit of a game plan before the CSA is introduced, the real work begins in my sketchbook.  In the past few years I've played around with sashiko embroidery/mending and dying textiles and yarn (and my own clothing) to refresh and transform pieces that had lost their sparkle, were damaged (ripped jeans and a beautiful skein of cashmere that was sadly moth-infested), or were perfectly serviceable but I just didn't like anymore.  These all became canvas for creative embroidery, darning, or transformation by bright ultramarine synthetic dyes and natural indigo vats.  Both the sashiko and dye processes can be unpredictable, slightly messy, and definitely show the hand of the maker.  I've watched my good friends Sarah and Melissa begin their own dye studios (Sarah works with a range of bright colors and Melissa uses natural plant dyes, including my recently transformed indigo yarn, which began its life with me as a bag of insipidly baby blue cashmerino that sat in storage for two years) and admired the range of color and intensity in their work.

And so: this month's work

I threw large noodle/ramen bowls and mugs out of my regular porcelain right as September turned into October and used my pattern tracing wheel on the pieces once they were leather hard (I learned the hard way not to use it on wet clay- the wheel gets "boogered up" and won't turn, but makes a single line rather than ticking marks) making a slow spiral around each piece.  The ticking marks the wheel leaves have always reminded me of a running sitch, which is the first stitch anyone learns when sewing.  It is also the basis of sashiko.  Once the bowls and cups (I attached the cup handles after making the ticking design) were decorated with ticking marks and were on the firm side of leather hard, I painted on my cobalt wash and set them aside to dry a bit longer before carrying them down to the sink to rinse off the excess cobalt.  This is where things get interesting.  Cobalt oxide is such a powerful colorant that even if it looks like all traces of the wash has been removed, it hasn't.  I rinse the pieces under running water, gently rubbing (in one direction) with a sea sponge to remove the wash from the outside of the piece, knowing that the colorant stays in the incised lines, creating an inlay design.  I also know that I never, not ever, remove 100% of it.  After the bisque firing, whatever I didn't remove shows up.  If I'm feeling really ticky, I will put on a mask and sand off the extra cobalt.  This month I decided to leave the excess deposits where they were, much in the same way indigo leaves its mark in varying intensities on textiles.  Some bowls and cups have bright patches of cobalt showing through the clear glaze, and others have fainter blooms left from their rinse.  These didn't show up after the bisque fire but only made themselves known after the glaze firing.

I found this whole (truly) wabi-sabi process interesting and unsettling.  I generally like precision in my work and the process of using materials like cobalt oxide, glazes, and kilns challenges my notions of what my work should be.  Porcelain reshapes itself during the heat, glazes run or don't run contrary to my expectations, oxides show up where they aren't expected.  Part of a CSA program is accepting what comes, whether as a farm share or in this work, both for the recipients and the creators, and I have to fight the urge to make the work I'm sending out as close to perfect as I can get.  So it's appropriate, this month, that the make-do make-art influences of hand-dyeing and sashiko mending should be my inspiration.  .

 

St. Francis

I have always felt an affinity for St. Francis- his love for animals and mankind, focus on simplicity, kindness, and letting one's actions speak instead of words.  When my friend Tiffany asked me to come up with a workshop for her Theology and the Arts Institute, I knew I wanted to focus on my favorite saint.

Last week I got my first three samples fired, and all of the bird stamps to finish the fourth sample.  After researching a visual treasure trove of traditional icons and Italian ceramic renditions of St. Francis, I made four stencils to work from so that workshop participants will have a basis to start with for their own tiles.  I finished them simply, with washes of cobalt and iron oxide under clear gloss glazeand with a coating of my flowing celadon glaze.  I watered underglazes down to a watercolor wash consistency for the fourth sample to highlight the birds and St. Francis's outline.  I wanted color for this tile, but not so that it knocked you over. The tile will be bright white, with pops of color.

The class is next Tueday, October 4 (St. Francis feast day) from 5:30- 8.  Signup here

More to share later in the week.  I've been working steadily for some custom orders and inventory for the holidays.  Have a good one, friends!

 

September CSA

Good morning and happy Friday! My week has flown by.  A special long-time "flickr friend" was in town this week, visiting from Madison, WI, and we had a great time doing some of my favorite "hidden Memphis" activities- from hole in the wall bbq to taking a Mississippi River kayak trip (we were so lucky- the water was just like glass so it was safe to venture out in*) where I showed her my secret clay source, and plenty of down time for her to explore and for me to work like crazy. 

I shipped off my SCA packages on Wednesday- I know I say this every time, but I think this was my favorite yet.  I knew the shape I wanted from the beginning, knew I wanted to have a river theme, knew I wanted to work with inlay.  I couldn't be more pleased with the end result.

These cups and bowls are my favorite English Porcelain.  One day in late August I sat down and threw the whole batch and the clay just SANG to me.  I have been thinking about yunomi, or tea bowls, a lot lately, and I'm sure that I've told you that I prefer cups with no handle so that I can wrap my hands around them and feel enveloped in their warmth.  These little cups are like that, with a flared bowl and gently curved, nearly straight sides, and the bowls are similarly shaped, just larger.  After trimming and smoothing the surface of the clay, I added ticking with my pattern wheel tracer on both the exterior and interior of each piece, and I drew mussel shells, inspired by the shells I collected on the Spring River in Hardy this summer, and some of the large (as big as my hand!) mussels I occasionally find on the Mississippi River. 

Every so often, I go out to my secret clay spot and scoop up a chunk with my paddle.  This chocolate-dark, iron-rich clay is pretty pure in some sections on the banks of the Mississippi.  I discovered that this clay was delightful to work with about six years ago, after acamping trip which included some river play, and brought a bag home to play with.  It's not the best for throwing (though not impossible, but I don't have to skills-or patience- to clean the grit out of it) but it is WONDERFUL for inlay.  I usually float along the harvesting spot until I see a place with deep cracks and flaking between the clay layers.  That's best to work with, and I scoop it up with my paddle and put it into a zip plastic bag with me.  I don't need much, just a handful a month.  I am not generally a brown fan, but there's something so compelling about using such raw materials, collected locally, to tell a story in my work.  On an early iteration of this series I tried painting with the Mississippi slip, but too much detail disappeared under the glaze, so I went back to inlay.

When I use cobalt for inlay, the solution is very watery and I try to only apply it in the incised lines because cobalt is expensive and it gets EVERYWHERE and doesn't show up until it's fired.  I really slopped the Mississippi slip on, though, to make sure I got good dark lines.  After it dried, I scraped it off and then bisque fired the bone dry pieces.

I'm quite pleased with how these turned out- even more so when my visiting friend commented that the glossy clear glaze on the white porcelain looked pearlescent, like the nacre on the inside of the shells.  I'm quite sure that I will continue to play with this shape and the Mississippi slip inlay, and I still have some ideas bumping around in my head about the mussel shells, which I've loved ever since I was a child, spending vacations floating on Arkansas rivers with my family.

gouache on paper, from my sketchbook

gouache on paper, from my sketchbook

There are still several cup slots open for this CSA and one bowl remaining, which I opened back up after several requests, but I'll close that again after the end of this weekend. 

Have a lovely weekend friends.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

*note- it is NEVER safe to go out in the Mississippi River without a life jacket, without a boat, without at least one other person.  I am adventuresome but extremely cautious and I never venture out into the main current and if there is a lot of barge traffic, I don't go out at all.  My husband is has 25 years paddling experience, my friend Martha, who was with us Wednesday has 16 years experience paddling in the big river, and I have been a canoe-lover for the past 18. I wouldn't kayak in the Mississippi by myself.  This was your recreational kayaking PSA

playing in the studio

The school year has begun, and with this beginning, I'm getting back into my regular work routine.  The studio is getting a big clean out/clear out/rearrange.  I'm discovering stashes of unfinished work, hidden bags of clay, sketches that were abandoned in the flurry that is summer. I'm looking back at old work, flipping through sketchbooks, tweaking glazes and shapes I've loved (or not).

Last year, before my sweet assistant had her baby, several bags of dark, speckled clay arrived in my studio and have been sitting, waiting.  In all my years of throwing, I've never used a dark clay body.  I started out with a white stoneware and quickly moved to porcelain-like bodies, then quickly onto porcelain itself.  My early clumsy pots, thrown and fired in a community center,  were thick, uneven, and white, covered in bright primary glazes.  I didn't like the idea of staining my clothes with darker clays, and once I brought my pottery practice into my home studio, I REALLY didn't like the idea of having to completely clean up or switch out my tools when I changed clay bodies.  I craved the pop of color against the white clay (and still do).  A few weeks ago, while cleaning up the studio, I spied those two lonely bags of clay and grabbed them, wondering about another iteration of my speckled egg work.

One thing I'll say about this stoneware is that it's FAST.  Work flies off the wheel. No coaxing, no slumped walls from using too much water or throwing too thin, no finicky gauging if the clay is right for trimming.  I'm not entirely won over, but there may be some potential. Here are the first four pieces I tested, coated in white and aqua porcelain slip:

None of these pieces feel like me yet, but I do like how the magnesium speckles show through the slip and glazes.  Here's a contrast between the porcelain speckled egg slip, made with granular rutile (on the bottom) and the slip-coated speckled stoneware.  It's worth exploring a bit longer, I think.

In other news, I'm closing my fall CSA tomorrow.  There are a few bowl subscriptions left, and several cup subscriptions. 10% of all sales go to support Louisiana flood relief and recovery. 

In September I'm participating in the Cooper Young festival for the first time in over ten years.  I'll debut a new line of small giftware then- more about in the next week or so. I'll be on the east leg of Young Ave, across from the yoga studio and right in front of Java Cabana.  Come start your holiday shopping early!  I'm also planning my pre-holiday open studio sale- Nov 11-13.

Finally, I'm leading a workshop on Oct 4 at Memphis Theological Seminary as part of their Theology and the Arts Institute.  We'll be celebrating St. Francis' feast day, making a bas-relief tile icon.  It's a one-afternoon workshop, and I'll have templates available so everyone will be able to participate regardless of their experience with clay, sculpture, or art-making.

Have a good rest of your week, friends!