I have a goal. I’m going to make 500 cups.
This isn’t just a numbers game like repetitions of chin-ups or laps in the pool. I have an idea.
The idea started with this video. Pete Pinnell: Thoughts on cups.
I listened to what he has to say about cups as an intimate object. Yes. I get it. Held in your hand. Then touching your lips. Yes. Intimate object.
Throughout this process I’m questioning. Like: What is functional? What am was I trying to say with these cups? Is it important that they are functional? Do I want them to have a narrative? How obvious should that narrative be? And then: What do I want to say with the forms? Should they be generous with larger, more bellied mug shapes? Or simple, straightforward shapes with the decoration carrying the day? What am I trying to do here?
I keep practicing. At this point (mid-November) I’ve made 67 cups.
Then the thought occurs, “I need to make 500 cups.” So I think about that idea for awhile. Is this really something that I want to do?
I make more cups.
I’ve been documenting them as I go. Here is cup #1.
This tiny cup was somewhere around #20. Espresso size – struggling with wet size vs. fired size.
Mid-30s. Handles are getting better. Working on decoration and glaze, but still challenged by size.
Around 100 begin to feel like I’m getting somewhere. This one has a flaw in the glaze – I cannot use city tap water in the glaze.
#110. Using stamps for a different effect.
Then sgraffito leaves and paper resist to create the surfaces.
Now playing with shapes. Trying to increase the capacity.
Or make them tall and skinny like a Greyhound.
From the last firing. Simple shape with leaf decoration and glaze.
Still have a ways to go to get to where I want them. The question now is when are they going to be ready to sell? Do I feel comfortable doing that? Maybe I want to reach the 500 mark before I do that?
An artist practice requires a commitment to time in the studio. If that studio is a private studio, like mine is, that time is spent alone and at work. In my case, the greyhounds are my company. Mostly I enjoy it. I’m not afraid to be alone. I enjoy quiet and find human activity distracting and, somewhat, emotionally draining when I’m trying to make artistic decisions. I listen to audiobooks, music or podcasts. The hounds play or sleep. It’s okay.
I blame them all, but I know they aren’t the root of the problem. Something about February gives me a bad case of “What If…” Add one part discontent to two parts boredom and you’ll get the “What If…” blues too.
What if I had someone to talk to? Without the Internet. What about if we could talk about art ideas, marketing work, working around the blocks and challenges and the big plan over cups of coffee. Like humans. Without the Internet.
Because the Internet is good. But it is a supplement, not the meal.
New cards arrived from Moo.com the other day. Super pleased.
Back to blogging, eh? No apologies, let’s get on with it. Still making mugs. Hovering around 200 made so far. Shooting for deep practice and comfortable handles. Here are some photos of the results of the last glaze firing. Tests.
After watching me throw in the classroom studio, my pottery class instructor encouraged me to be okay with the messiness that comes from throwing a pot. “At home you don’t have to clean up every time!” she said. She’s right. I like a big bucket of clean water, a coffee can of throwing water and lots of sponges. While throwing, I clean my hands often.
So I tried. I tried leaving clay slurry in my wheel pan, not scrubbing each bucket before I filled it with fresh water, not mopping at the end of each day and the beginning of the next.
Didn’t work. I’m compelled to clean.
One reason is the minor compulsion to keep dust down. Dust is not good for lungs, especially long-term lung function. There are some nasty things in powdered clay (mostly silica). I don’t want to breathe it and I don’t want the dogs to breathe it.
But the big reason is…
Winchester. Clay monster. Scouring the floor for bits of clay and waiting for me to leave the wheel so he can mush his nose between the wheel head and pan to sneak tasty(?) bit of dried clay. Yum.
The saga of mug creation is ongoing. This is the way clay is – one never really arrives – and why would you want to? Problem solved. Boring. I’ll stop writing about mugs and move onto other stuff… really. It’s just that currently mugs are my obsession.
The last batch shrunk. A lot. I put in normal, on the smallish side of things, mugs into the kiln. Pulled out tiny little grandma sized coffee cups. Because clay shrinks. It shrinks as it drys, as it is bisque fired and as it is glaze fired. This whole throwing on the wheel thing is still so new, I haven’t developed the ability to judge what 13% shrinkage looks like when seeing a piece fresh off the potter’s wheel.
What’s a girl to do but try and throw larger mugs?
That’s what I did. Ten equally sized balls of wedged clay ready to made into average sized drinking vessels. After I thew those ten mug bodies I stood back and looked at what I’d done. They all looked ogre sized, gluttonous, and grotesque. So disappointing. Too big. An overcorrection.
Still I added their handles, decorated their sides, and left them under plastic to slowly dry. During the week I turned them and watched their drying process, still dejected. I’ll never “get” mugs.
Pulled them out today in their nearly bone-dry state…. They look on the largish size of normal. Shrinkage.
Maybe I’m getting somewhere after all.
Repetition is the mother of knowledge, right? I keep practicing the making of mugs. Here are some the results from this past week.
In various stages of dryness. They’ve been under plastic. With the boxes the drying out process cannot be too slow and even. I’m assuming this is the same for mugs – the thin handles and lips want to dry quickly, while the bases are slowly releasing their moisture.
I’m shooting for balance – both in the physical sense and the visual sense. The body of the mug is still too thick but one has to start somewhere, right? I want the thickness to be uniform. I’m getting better. Practice, practice.
Better visual balance on this one. I don’t know about the shape of the body of the mug… How would I decorate this one? Maybe they don’t all have to be decorated with pattern and instead the glaze can tell some of the story? I do feel like I want them to have a narrative and not be a story strictly about glaze/color/shape but maybe I’m not there yet. Am I trying to do too much? First learn form, muscle memory and process then work on the content?
I prefer the simple shape of this mug’s body. Better to decorate. This one has running sighthounds stamped and sgraffitoed around it. Simple design. Simple mug.
Tiny mug. Think the handle is better on this one. I like how the base of the handle joins the mug.
One of the most successful I think. Balance is good. Bit too thick overall but balanced. Lots of room to draw Greyhounds or Coneflowers or Rabbits on the outside.
And my hitchhiker’s thumb… always present in these photos.
Ah there it is, my funky thumb. With a funky mug. Interested to see how this one with fire/glaze/drink…
And another of the short stubby mug shapes. Boy this one looks all sorts of bad in this photo. Handle has a thin spot. Lip is not level. Ummm… this one might end up in the bucket not the kiln.
Finally getting somewhere? The handle is the most successful on this one I think.
What will they look like when they are fired and glazed? The bowls from the last few weeks are in the kiln now. I’ll share them next.
This year was the first of many that I have not attended the Greyhound Reach the Beach event in Dewey Beach, Delaware. It is one of those “not to miss” Greyhound events. It’s like a pilgrimage for Greyhound lovers worldwide. The mark on the calendar each October, the weekend before Columbus Day.
I think I’ve been every year since 2003 minus 2007. I think. But this year there was no 2.5 day drive across the upper midwest, no flurry and hurry to get ready for the event. I missed seeing all the friends, people and hounds that I only see once a year. All the people that share the passion of Retired Racing Greyhound.
Instead I went to Minot, North Dakota. I was gone four nights instead of the nine to ten nights for Dewey Beach. Here’s the problem with going to Dewey Beach: four nights is pushing maximum on the dog care front. Currently my Dad checks in on them. But the nights are a problem for Winchester.
And that is the worst of it: My Winchester is getting old. He can’t “hold it” like he used to – needs that 4 AM backyard break.
I need to find someone who can stay overnight if I’m going to go to far events. Everything is far away from here.
After spending the last few weeks learning to throw a bowl on the potter’s wheel, my pottery class is tackling mugs. I love handmade mugs. They are the number one thing I wanted to learn to make on the wheel.
Didn’t realize they would be so difficult…
First I had to remember how to throw a cylinder again. After a couple of weeks of nothing but bowls, I remember few skills from the struggle to attain that 8″ tall cylinder last month. I move my hands how? Lots of practice jogged the muscle memory. How fragile and fresh new skills are… eek.
What finally made the difference was preparing a dozen 3/4 pound balls of clay, then attempting to throw the basic mug shape on the wheel. One ball of clay after another until I remembered how to throw the shape again. I’m shooting for basic mug shapes with basic handles – trying to learn the skills first and deal with design decisions later.
After the body of the mug is thrown, the thing still needs a handle. I’ve been watching all the youtube videos I can – handles are hard! Must fit the cup, be comfortable, be functional and be attached at just the right time so they don’t crack off.
New appreciation for my cupboard of handmade mugs…
Finally come Friday of last week I could put on my favorite pair of jeans. They are worn in all the right places like good worn out denim is. Soft. Not something I’d want to leave the house/studio in however. Maybe sneak in a trip to the grocery store. That would be toeing the line of acceptable however. They are stay-home-and-relax or get-things-done-in-the-studio wear. Not run-the-library acceptable. Not be-presentable. These are inner cocoon wear. It was wonderful…
I practiced more bowls. One comment on Facebook said 160 hours of deep practice to attain a good bowl. I’m trying it. In the meantime I used the practice bowls as practice for decoration ideas. The pinkish/tan color will be brown when fired and clay will be more cream-toned rather than grey.
This was my first attempt. Just freehand drawing using a tool to cut through the color layer. The curve of the bowl makes the process a little funky. If I work it right this might play to my advantage. One must be willing to go with the curve – not fight it. Once I figured that out the process smoothed along.
You can see that this bowl is a smaller and more shallow. That worked a little better as an object on which to drawn. Which is more useful though? I’m not sure. Now I’m looking at every bowl I see – thinking about it’s use and design.
Another shallow bowl with rabbits and Whippet. I like the hand-drawn quality of the rabbits. Alike, but not identical.
Then this was the last one of the day. Three running Greyhounds. Another deeper and larger bowl. Challenging. I can’t wait to fire them. How much will they shrink? What will be the best glaze for the design? Will the color be too intense? Not intense enough?
The kiln is about half full. Must fill it.