Friday, January 23, 2015

The Insane Artist Complex

I had a conversation with a friend recently that rejuvenated an ongoing debate in my brain.

"Hey [friend], have you ever painted before?" I asked.
"Yeah, a couple of times. Why?" He replied.
"Lately I have been having the itch to paint I guess, and I bought a book to read about it in the meantime. I've always loved painting." I casually told him.
"I have a neighbor that is insane. Don't laugh, actually insane. He sells his paintings for a living, and he's doing it! He's a working artist--demands respect."
"Uh huh," I replied. "And what makes him insane?"
"He gave up everything for it, and I mean everything. Things that you and I consider essential, he just gave them up so that he could be a working artist. But he is doing it, making it, you know?" My friend gestured.

I have always wondered if famous artists all have to sacrifice [just about] everything in order to be able to spend enough time with their medium to start getting it, making a living and possibly entertaining celebrity status. How does someone become famous? Why? What are their sacrifices? Are we all doomed to mediocrity, we who deem spending time with family and completing other normal responsibilities an important part of our daily routine?

This leads me to other questions. Is fame important? Is it important to me? At what point am I "making it" as an artist? Is art important? Is my work important? What makes things important? These are for another time, however.

The conversation above with my friend irked me. He seemingly relished the idea of a working artist, but scoffed at the decisions this man made to get there. I don't blame him, I too feasted my imagination upon this sadistic artistic idillyc lifestyle. As a Christian I immediately think about work and it's importance in life. It's definitely necessary, but important? Solomon said that work is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. "What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?"
I pitied the insane artist neighbor; not right away, as part of me wished I was making it as a working artist too. And part of me was proud of this man for making it, ra ra mister. But to throw all the things away which make life the most beautiful and are the most important, for the misguided hope of elevated public achievement is... foolish. And yet I find it romantic in a struggling way.

As I continued pondering this artist's life and choices, new questions began to form. What if you don't have to throw it all away? Instead, what if having these wonderful things in life, like a wife and children, enhanced my art and made it all the better? What if spending infinite more time learning my art doesn't actually make me better at it? What, then, makes my art better? By experience, we conclude that practice makes perfect. But this can't be the sum total, the IT. Our lives inform our work. Our experiences inform our work. Our surroundings, happenings, coincidences, etc. What if there was a fast track, but it wasn't obvious like sacrifice all and work until you make it or die? I surely hope there is a fast track, one that includes family, friends, necessary distractions.

If this poor artist has it right, give up everything for your art, then art be damned. I can only think of one thing worth that, and it's to establish and deepen a relationship with the world's savior, the messiah, Jesus the Christ. In Him is my worth, my character, my purpose. All other things in life are simply frosting.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

2014 Christmas Pottery Sale!

Heyo!! It's that time of year folks! 

Potters Micah Schedler, Joel Willson, and Peter Paul will be joining me again this year. We have all been working hard to make the best pots for you! And as always, there will be tasty food and thought-provoking conversation. Bring your friends, we're going to have a smashing time!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mugs for Calvary

Well it's been too long! I took some pictures of mugs I lugged over to Calvary Baptist Church. These were made at the beginning of summer. I had a ton of fun with handles and really felt free to do some different things I haven't normally done. Some turned out better than others, but all in all I am happy with them. The Shino-glazed pieces were also a line of creativity...pardon the pun. Every piece is kind of an experiment, but that tends to be how I do things. Always testing, always experimenting! Enjoy the photos!

Shino Mug with funky handle

Oops! Over-edited photo. Oh well.
Yellow Salt glaze.

Shino Mug with newer style handle and sexy line.

Small tea mugs.
Shino glaze with finger swipe (left) and iron brushwork (right).

Funky handle and Parisian mug. Temmoku glaze.

Personal fave. Shino mug with bear-claw finger swipes. Simple shape.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Favorite Glaze Recipes

Older test tiles for different soda fired glazes.
I am quite happy with the glazes I use. Of course, if you know any artist, anything we might be happy with tends to change quite frequently and dramatically. But for now these glazes are very satisfactory to me and their visual quality seems long-lived.
Keep in mind I fire in a hot cone 10 reduction atmosphere with iron-bearing clay...usually with lots of grog.

American Shino:
50 Nepheline Syenite
25 Ball Clay
25 Spodumene
0-2 Soda Ash

I formulated this glaze by studying quite a few American potters' shino recipes. I began by testing many recipes and noting both likes and dislikes of each glaze test. Noticing patterns, it became obvious to me that I really enjoyed a shino that included the ingredient Spodumene. BINGO! I also enjoy simple recipes with few ingredients the most, so the recipe came quite easily after the testing. Enjoy!

  • This is a cone 10 glaze that likes a hot firing.
  • What I love about it: it fires from creamy white to dark orange, thick to thin; it pinholes beautifully where you trim; it has a wonderful feel; it doesn't crawl.
  • What I am unsatisfied with: It crazes a bit too much; it is too shiny; it doesn't crawl :).
American Shino - One of my favorite bowls. 

American Shino - The variety of colors with this glaze are fantastic!
Creamy whites, dark oranges. Mmmmm!

American Shino - Notice the pinholes on the trimmed foot! Wowza!

American Shino - Finger swipes. Mountains and valleys. 

American Shino - More sexy pinholes!

Yellow Matte:
50 Nepheline Syenite
25 Epk
25 Whiting

As you can see, this is another simple recipe. It came from my love of Warren Mackenzie's Mackenzie Grey Matte that is so prevalent. I simply substituted ingredients and it came out so very differently it is another glaze entirely. 

  • This is a cone 10 reduction glaze
  • What I love about it: The matte quality in this glaze is fantastic (if it works); the yellow color is also a very gorgeous soft earthy yellow; it fades to a black rocky color when thin.
  • What I hate about it: The glaze settles VERY fast; the yellow color comes only if you're lucky; it tends to have a greenish hue; if you dip too thin it comes out a washed out stony black color that is very rough to the touch (but I sand it down and it is actually really nice after being sanded!); it is inconsistent as of yet...needs some tweaking.
Yellow Matte: The variety of colors with this cup are wonderful, albeit
difficult to see in this lighting.

Yellow Matte - The underside of the cup. I love feet :)
Yellow Matte - Notice how much drier this cup is compared to the top one.
I had to sand this cup heavily inside and out to make it good for use.

Mackenzie Grey:
50 Custer Feldspar
25 Whiting
25 EPK Kaolin

This is Warren Mackenzie's famous matte grey glaze. An excellent, simple, and beautiful recipe that I formulated my Matte Yellow glaze from.

  • Cone 10 reduction glaze
  • What I love about it: The grey is variable from thick to thin, going from brown to red to greenish to grey and sometimes even a wonderful sea blue; it's a beautiful matte glaze that feels wonderful too; great for pouring over large pieces.
  • What I don't like about it: Not very durable--metal marks from silverware, acidic drinks left inside overnight will etch the glaze; crazes
Mackenzie Grey - A thicker application with finger marks.

Mackenzie Grey - Very thinly applied with finger dipping marks. Notice the reds coming through!

Mackenzie Grey - This jar shows the glaze off really well. It has blues, greys, reds, browns and greens! 

48.38 Custer Feldspar
20.14 Flint/Silica
11.64 Whiting
8.05 Red Iron Oxide
5.40 EPK Kaolin
2.24 Barium Carbonate
2.24 Zinc Oxide

This is a Bethel University classroom glaze graciously given to me by professor Kirk Freeman. Thanks Kirk! This temmoku is shiny and true black, and breaks to a beautiful coppery red/brown on edges and around handles. 

  • This is a cone 10 reduction glaze.
  • I dip my mugs one time only but for 20 seconds each. This ensures a nice thick coating that is not globby and gives a fantastic color.
  • What I love: The temmoku has a beautiful black color and the copper breaks are AMAZING; it doesn't run when you dip for 20 seconds, even at cone 10.5; it looks amazing with coffee inside a temmoku glazed mug.
  • What I don't like: the dried raw glaze can easily transfer from your fingertips to a white glazed pot without you noticing, and then you have red fingerprints on white pieces. But that's about it!
Temmoku - Notice the wonderful coppery reds? Mmmmmm

Temmoku - Notice it outlines my signature stamp VERY well.

Temmoku - The blacks are deep with this glaze, my young padawan.

Chun Clear:
42.50 Custer Feldspar
26.55 Flint
8.85 Gerstley Borate
8.85 Dolomite
4.45 Barium Carbonate
2.65 Tin Oxide
1.75 EPK Kaolin
1.75 Zinc Oxide

This is a Bethel University class glaze graciously given to me by Kirk Freeman. Thanks Kirk!

A clear glaze with a slight blueish hue. Beautiful on porcelain and stoneware, but very different on both.

  • Cone 10 glaze reduction
  • What I like: a beautiful glaze I love for porcelain mostly but can be really great with iron-rich clays too; crazes beautifully; very subtle and a lifetime of visual pleasure.
  • What I don't like: sometimes it scums a little bit on the inside of cups or bowls. 
Chun Clear - Over a buff stoneware, works beautifully
with light surface decoration, in this case combing. 

Chun Clear - A slightly oxidized firing, this chun turned a
milky white on the right side. Over fireclay stoneware.

Chun Clear - Over a buff stoneware, notice the fine crazing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sorrowful News

My baby niece Isla Paige Oira died in her mother's arms yesterday. These times are hard, and the Lord is good. Pray for Mark and Melissa Oira. For more information please visit Isla's Caringbridge Website.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Can you throw 200 pots a day?

I never thought I could. But I see other potters doing it every day! Where might this strange phenomenon be happening every day? At a production studio of course! I was recently hired on as a potter throwing for a family-run production pottery company called Deneen Pottery!

At first, things didn't go so well. I felt like I could hardly throw. Pots were falling over and ripping to pieces. It was like being in beginning ceramics all over again.

But with some dedication and hard work, some pots began making it out alive. These pots were not great by any means, but were encouraging for me to see as they were at least still standing.

 This picture was taken just a few days ago. Finally I am feeling like there is some REAL progress being made. I can throw faster, better, and I am learning about how to listen to my body with posture, proper leg height, and other things I hadn't normally thought too much about.

Some nice rolled mugs. Kind of sculptural, right? At least all the clay I am practicing with is recycled and mixed up to be used again later. 

It has been a great learning experience thus far! I am hopeful that someday I will be able to throw a massive amount of pots like the other potters at Deneen do. It is incredible watching them throw 200+ pots every day. And inspiring. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Make your own Trimming Tools!

Have you ever wanted to fashion your own trimming tools for trimming your pots? There are many different things you can use to trim clay, but the loop tool design is one of my favorites. This post will show you how I made my own loop tools using some found steel strapping and some wood.


  • Steel strapping (I found mine in construction garbage from wood packing crates...keep your eyes peeled and you'll find some somewhere)
  • Wood dowel for handle - diameter as thick or slightly thicker than the strapping width
  • Wood dowel for in-handle anchors - get it the size of a drill bit you will use
  • Saw
  • Wood glue
  • Drill and bit
  • Pliers or something to help bend strapping

Let's do this!

Step 1: Bend your strapping to the shape you please.
  • I used a pliers to help bend my strap into different shapes. 
  • The simpler the better. I prefer triangular trimming tools.
  • Make sure you leave enough metal at the bottom of the strap shape so you can sandwich them together and fit them into the wood handle and drill two holes in to anchor the strap in place. 

Step 2: Saw a line down the top of the dowel and sandwich the two ends of the strapping into the cut mark. 
  • Cut deep enough to fully seat the strapping
  • Remember to leave enough metal and cut deep enough so you can drill two holes for the anchors

Step 3: Drill two holes through the wood handle and strapping
  • I found it was easier if you bound the handle with something like rope or a clamp. This makes it move less when drilling
  • Drill all the way through both the handle and the strapping inside.
  • I drilled my holes on top and below one another. If you have enough strapping, I bet three holes would anchor the trimming tool even better than two. Just sayin.

Step 4: Glue small dowel anchors into place
  • I found this easiest if the smaller anchor dowels were pre-cut to an already small length
  • I used Gorilla glue as that is what I had. Feel free to use any wood glue or epoxy, whatever you have on hand. Better make sure it is waterproof though.
  • If using Gorilla glue, don't forget the part about adding water to the surfaces for optimal bonding!

Step 5: Set time, sanding, and finishing
  • Allow the glue to set up and harden according to the package instructions
  • Cut off any large anchor dowels hanging out and sand the whole handle smooth to your liking.
  • If you want, apply a finish to your piece. I used a spray polyurethane, but you could use anything from mineral oil to paint. I happened to have poly on hand which made my choice easy. You can leave it raw if you want too, it will just get stained from clay and not look as nice. 
  • If you have a grinder or stone sharpener, feel free to grind away a bevel on the outside of the strapping on both edges. It's okay if you don't though, it will still trim clay, and will trim wetter clay better than drier clay. 

  • Easy to make and a lot of fun!
  • Leave enough space for cleaning the tool out with your fingers in the corners...
  • While you can make a bunch for around $15 total in glue, wood, and finish costs, these tools are not nearly as well made as something like a Dolan Tool which happens to be my favorite and they are only $10 each. 
  • The metal doesn't stay sharp for very long
  • The wide width of the metal strapping is annoying with clay build-up
  • Apart from these caveats, it is fun to make your own tools and I believe that the tools you make yourself can help add even more "you" flavor to your work.
  • I found a tree branch the thickness of the metal and made some gorgeous handles by carving them with a knife. Get creative! 

Good luck everyone and have a blast!

PS - I posted this a while back but lost the old blog due to moving my website around. I am reposting this to fulfill a request from a viewer.