Earlier this year (late 2011, actually), I abandoned my standard clay body because it would no longer behave- any turquoise glaze or underglaze sheared right off in sharp glassy shards.  Disappointing for me, hazardous to anyone who used the pieces.  At first, I thought the problem was the glaze, but after seeing this happen with multiple glazes (and then with certain colors of underglaze), I realized it was a problem with the clay.  Sad, because this ultra-white, smooth, easy to throw, easy to hand-build clay body was one I'd been using for 10 years.  I switched back to one that I knew had some problems (have to baby it as it dries or oops, that mug handle will pop right off *just* before it is bone dry), but oh, those problems.  So I've tried 2 new stonewares, one of which didn't play well with glaze (see my crazing post) and another which is fine, really, except that it isn't white.  See the cup above.  Not white, more of a french vanilla.  And I'm coming to the realization that well, it's just what it is.  Even the porcelains I've tried aren't strictly white.  (the whiter pieces above are porcelain, and they're fine, but a bit speckled with something that doesn't show up unless it's coated in clear glaze).  I've forgotten how to throw large pieces (such as plates and serving bowls) with porcelain and will need to re-learn.  Porcelain also has to dry very very slowly to keep its form and not crack. 

So, unless I can bite the bullet and order new clay bodies from afar (and either drive to get them or pay several hundred dollars for shipping), it seems that french vanilla is my new white.  There is some white-glazed french vanilla stoneware in the kiln, cooling. Test stoneware #1 showed through the white glaze (it looked dirty, not like a thin glaze, just like a dirty cup).  I am in mourning for my ultra-white stoneware, but like any loss, I'm learning to move forward with the new reality.  And the reality is that very few people will care if the base clay is ultra white or french vanilla, and the ones who do care will let me know, quite vocally.  And I'm becoming ok with the fact that it's out of my hands, that pottery is alchemy, and that I'm just not in control of very much.  And with that, I'm going to head to the studio to throw more and re-learn how to make larger forms in porcelain and figure out how to fill my dinner and breakfast ware orders that a few sweet folks have been waiting quite patiently for.

Thanks for reading.

SF, 2- some things I learned

I learned a lot when I was touring pottery studios and galleries- by looking and talking to folks.  Some new techniques- like this, which is very similar to the crayon scratch-art we did as kids- though I don't think I *quite* got it, I'm mostly pleased with the results.  And wondering how I'd like it with another color as the base layer.  It isn't what I anticipated, but I'm not disappointed with the results, either.  I saw some pieces in process like this at Fourth and Clay, so I'm not 100% sure how they were supposed to turn out.  That may be good, because where I take the process from here will be entirely up to me.  It's very painterly, isn't it?

I also learned that I need to take greater care with the bottoms of my pieces.  Sometimes I don't catch things in time to make the bottoms smooth and pleasing, or trim them quite properly.  There might be a rough spot from an air bubble that I let pass because it's on the bottom.  I need to pay more attention to those details.  On the flip side, I saw some very expensive pieces by celebrated potters that had some quirks would have made me scrap the pieces entirely- handles not attached smoothly, some uneven/peely glaze issues.  Potters aren't perfect.  Neither is the work of our hands.  We aren't factories and some things slip by us.  Lesson for me- Melissa Bridgman needs to cut herself some slack.  Point taken.

So- it is Tuesday, the kiln needs loading and firing, and I'm looking forward to a large pot of soup on this first really cold day of fall.  Hope y'all have a good week.

working and sorting

I may have mentioned that I was sorting out my options for the foreseeable future,  what I wanted to do, what I wanted to make more of, what I didn't want to do this year(a holiday home sale) and what I didn't want to make anymore.  This is a process that's been difficult for me, and that I've been wrestling with for the better part of this year.  Difficult because some things have been so so good in the past but don't feel quite right anymore.  Difficult because I'm used to them and changing how I do business or make pottery is scary.  Difficult because I've been in survival mode for so long that I haven't let myself ask big questions since, oh, 2009, when I decided to quit my job, one that I loved but knew I wouldn't want to do forever, and go out on my own.

During this process, I've been off-line from social media sites (that are useful but harmfully addictive for people who need to actually get things done).  The only on-line form I've kept up with has been flickr, and if I weren't committed to taking and posting a photo a day, I would have foresworn that, too.  Surprisingly, I haven't missed it.  Not at all, which leads me to wonder how much of it I'll add back in October, once the heavy part of my current workload is over.  I've also just finished a 30 day vegan course, which was challenging and stretching and good.  There's been a lot of navel-gazing in the midst of a heavy workload, but I'm seeing lots of progress in both the work and clarifying my goals for the future.

These berry bowls, which have happily (but more frequently, frustratingly) paid my mortgage for several months of each year for at least the last four years,  are on the don't want to make anymore list.  Maybe forever, maybe not.  These are the last three berry bowls I made.  Even with new techniques in throwing and piercing the holes, the percentage of breakage (which never shows up until after they've been glazed, leaving me with a functional but non-sellable bowl) is just too too high.  One in every four or five bowls cracks, even when pierced with a sharp tool, a drill, compressed on the edges, etc. etc.  No more.  I have one (not pictured) tucked away in my cupboard in case the one I use most breaks.  Two of these are being sent away.  I haven't decided what to do the last bowl.  It will probably go into my gift closet.  I love to use my berry bowl, but I will not miss making them, nor will I miss explaining that despite its diminutive size, it is a colander.  Not a coffee cup.  Ahem.

Next week I should have lots of pretty pretty work to show you.  I've been throwing and glazing and drawing on pots every day.  There's no more shelf space in my studio.  I have another hour's worth of either glazing or drawing to do tonight (probably glazing, so that I can fire the kiln overnight).  I have conquered the "how to hang it" issues I was having last week, happily.  I'm knocking through long-standing orders.  I'm super-tired, but my goals are clear(er) and I'm moving past the post-stress exhaustion, thank goodness.

Hope your week ends well, friends.

"not-picardie" tumbler

"not-picardie" tumbler
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
I've written before about my love for the duralex picardie tumbler. Many times, I think. I showed a picture of this tumbler just after I'd made it. When I was glazing on Thursday I really debated on its color. Almost all of my white glaze didn't get mixed well enough and/or didn't have enough pigment in the bucket, and half of my yellow had the same problem. I mixed new glaze and redid them yesterday, but old reliable blue turned out just fine. Ish.

I'm not sure what I was striving for - that's not true. I know exactly what I was striving for. A duplicate copy of the picardie. I wasn't really happy with this tumbler when I pulled it out, not really happy with it when I photographed it, but now that my Sunday morning coffee is in it, it may be growing on me. It feels good in my hand, the base is pretty well weighted yet it is lightweight (as lightweight as pottery can be, and the equivalent of my favorite bamboo tumblers).

Whether I'd make more or not is another question. It was fairly labor-intensive (see this post) and I haven't changed my mind about what it would cost ($15 range). I think I might like it better if it were colored inside with a white exterior. I'll have to play around with it a little more.

One possible way to make it more like I want it would be to make another, make a mold, and slip-cast the piece. I got a copy of Andrew Martin's revised slip casting and mold making book this week. It gave me new insight into how I could make some of the pieces that I love but are too tedious for production work.

So, what's the verdict on this? Should I try to make more? Thanks for any and all feedback.

working through an idea

Yesterday I told you that I'd take pictures of my work in the studio, but I'm not sure about how I feel about it. Here is my stoneware version of the venerable Picardie glass. I threw several of these yesterday and cut through all but one. This one was extra thick and I cut the facets as carefully as I could. I wasn't happy that the "shudder" lines were so visible. Even though I love handmade and worn, I'm not crazy about sloppy/choppy, which is how I think this looks. Although that being said, I'm not sure how I can justify my love for my very aged kitchen table. But the shudder marks made me wince:

so I rubbed the facets with slip after they were cut and re-defined the top and bottom curves of each cut with my wet fingertips. This single cup, not including throwing, took about 20 minutes. I did have to re-throw the top to erase the wonky (I left the cup attached to the bat as I was faceting)and I used my nifty metal edging tool to redefine the lip at the base. Yesterday when I was throwing, I did about 4 cups in maybe 30-45 minutes, with minimal finishing. I cut the lip for the base and left a ridge to know where to stop my facets at the top, planning to smooth it out with the top of the lip later.

Here's my dilemma, and I'd like some feedback. If you are reading this blog you either love/like pottery or you know me, so fire away. My feelings won't be hurt. This cup will have to cost well over $15. Even when(if) I get better at making them, I would think that I would still cut through every fourth one after I've spent 10 minutes throwing it and 15 minutes faceting it- the holes always happen on the last two cuts, which is what happens with the cafe au lait bowls, even though I've been making them for a while now. Little faux-picardie cup is only 3-4" tall. I will hold less than 8oz of liquid. This one is mine mine mine and will probably be shiny cobalt blue. I'll show you when it's finished. But if you were my customer, would you want one if it were, say, $17? I found a similar one on etsy that also had a lovely drawing on the bottom, it was not thrown but molded then hand altered. A bargain at $15, and I've decided to be selfish and not share a link because I want it myself!

Tell me true, folks, I need some feedback.

*** Good question about the weight. I took a new bamboo tumbler, dry but unfired. It weighed 11.6 oz. When glazed and fired, they range from 10-12 oz. The faux picardie tumbler weighed 10.1 oz, so I'm guessing that while they will have a substantial heft, they won't feel like handweights. The tumblers was also the same height, will probably hold similar amounts.

throwing and gifts

no photos yet, but I spent some time throwing this morning. I found a ceramic version of my favorite picardie glasses on etsy, which I'll show you when I've heard back from their maker, but I thought that the time had come to attempt my own again. I threw the right shape then tried to immediately cut the facets. Too soon, yes, and yes, it did warp the shape terribly, but I did well going around the entire little tumbler until I got to the last facet and cut through the wall. I threw a few more and will try to facet them again later this afternoon when they've had a chance to stiffen up a bit. I'll bring the camera up with me then, but a camera and wet clay don't do too well together.

I also made a memorial tile for a family who lost their beloved pup a week ago. It will look like this one that I made for our 15 year-old lab, Pete, when I had to put him down last April. Pete's was hurriedly done- I realized that his time had come, rolled out too-small a slab, and pressed his paw into the center just before we left for the vet's office. This time my struggle was getting the print- Luther (still a puppy at a year and a half- labs mature SLOWLY) refused, but thought we were playing a new game wherein dogs bite clay. I tried with him four times before giving up and calling Birdy,our 8 year old lab-airedale mix. She obliged, but was nervous (as I understand airedales are, and she always is about everything) about being in the studio. I think it turned out better than Pete's. I hope that our friends will like it once the heartbreak eases.


I have a hard and fast rule about not letting myself complain on this blog- its purpose is exploring my thoughts about pottery, creativity, and to document how my pottery progresses over time. This week, however, I found that I didn't get in to a juried show that I'd participated in for the past five years. The rejection stung. I wondered if I wasn't accepted because of the change in format from slides to digital images, but after contacting the person who organized the jury pool in hopes of feedback, I realized that I just won't ever find out why, and why doesn't really matter in the end. One door closes, another opens. I am looking for those other doors that may open and reaching for some shows that I'd previously considered out of my league.

This teacup was part of a set I made this summer as a thank-you gift for my son's first preschool teachers. Each cup had a different fern, ginkgo, or japanese maple leaf. I call this design of a single hazle-green leaf floating on a white background my "delta zen" series, and I've been making them since 2001. When I was in graduate school I wrote a paper on Mississippi Abstract Expressionist Dusti Bonge (of Biloxi). During the course of the research I went down to visit her studio three or four times, to look at her work,read through her papers, and play with her ideas*. She was very influenced by eastern thought and the idea of "zen space**," which drew me (I was not yet a potter) to examine the role of negative space in art. I am certain Buddhist scholars would scoff at my interpretation of Zen in my pottery, but I am an Episcopalian who is almost entirely unable to "let go," so I wouldn't make a good Buddhist at all. These pieces feel calming to me, so I'm going to persist in my calling them zen.

*At the time, I painted, and inspired by her materials, I began covering my canvases with Joss paper, purchased at Vietnamese groceries, before roughing out my compositions. I no longer paint, but I did wallpaper my small hallway with hundreds of squares of Joss paper.

**I may be closer aligned to writer and designer Alexandra Stoddard's ideas of Zen than the true Eastern ideals.

not great aunt edna's teapot

This is one of my favorite tea pots- I made it hoping that it would look like a traditional china teapot, but the knob on top is a bit wonky, and the glaze I chose, a deep celadon that reminds me of old Fire King Jadeite, has flashes of bronze verdigris and a drippy character. I use a plastic zipper bag filled with slip to make the dots- I use this glaze a lot with my slip-dotted pieces. I think that this big guy holds about 24 oz, or 3 cups.

When I grow up I want to be Josiah Wedgwood. This teapot, based loosely on his work, shows that I still have quite a ways to go!

When I made the deep celadon pot, it was a stretch for me. My first teapot wasn't so bad, but it wasn't so great, either. I was intimidated by the form but felt that I HAD to make one because my friend Katherine, who was also my student at the time, wanted to make them. I think that she actually made a few before I made my first, a tiny one cup number modeled after a sea urchin. It is still my favorite- even though I put the spout at such an angle that tea leaks out, and the placement of the handle means that it can be difficult to pour the water in from the kettle. It is a milestone of sorts, not a piece to be sold.