Monday, June 29, 2009

Light at the end of the tunnel

As this week begins, I am still thinking about the time we spent lakeside over the past few days.

With light like this (no photoshop here!)... how can one NOT want to make colors like this on pots! All my life, I have loved super rich saturated colors. I think one of my frustrations is that there is simply so little time to come up with new ideas for glazes!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Makes You Tick

Justin, trimming a sorbet bowl.

Hannah, helping dust the pots before the busy weekend!

Dana, looking through our orders for the month.

For the past six months we have had apprentices here. In the past, we've tried having folks work with us, but have generally been less than thrilled. Time and time again, I would go back and read articles from potters like John Glick, Mark Hewitt or Mike Cohen, where they talked about the importance of the apprentice system. As a product of that system myself, I always figured someday, somehow we would incorporate apprentices into our shop. This was the year!

Since January, we have had Hannah working with us, making plates left and right. Now she has started becoming more involved in making mugs. In addition, she makes her own line of mugs which are bi-colored and often have additional decoration. These mugs we sell separately from our studio line, but since the glazes match our monochrome pots, they work very well together. The end result is that Hannah brings in a little extra cash each week as we sell her mugs, and in return she also makes a pile of mugs for the studio.

In March, Dana and Justin began working here. Neither had ever worked in clay before so this was a completely new experience. I cannot begin to express the fun we've had, the things we've learned, and just the sheer volume of pots that have been made here since January.

Now we're looking at a little over two weeks until Dana and Justin leave for Modesto, CA. Such a terribly short span of time and yet there is still SO much more they want to try before they leave the East Coast.

Things I never took into account:
1. Time. Apprentices NEED a lot of time and attention. It pays you back in spades, but they need that time with your help and supervision and care.

2. Space. I thought our studio was pretty small (comfy) to begin with.... but having up to four of us working in there at once... it was tight! If you aren't thrilled with bopping butts with your fellow potters, a bigger studio might be a better choice than adding apprentices to your cramped space. For us, this has made us work smarter, harder and faster. Now we fire ALL the time, keeping pots flowing out the door instead of log-jamming as greenware or bisqueware on shelves.

3. Patience. I think between having apprentices and having a pre-teen, I am learning about patience. Luckily Nancy is kind and helpful in pointing out when my patience is gone. She always seems to step in RIGHT at the moment when I need help.

4. Direction. I guess it isn't really fair to assume that everyone has direction. Some people aren't goal oriented. I have always had pretty clear cut goals and known how to get there.... till I met clay. Since then, I have wandered, wondered and just plain said hmmm. Apprentices though, expect you to help them find direction. They need to know that the work they're doing will help them down that path. While as the potter/instructor/whatever-you-might-call-yourself... you might not know what the path is for every student/apprentice, at the very least you can shine a path farther down the way.

All in all, this has been the most awesome experience for Nancy and I. We both feel so incredibly lucky to have had this time with our apprentices. As crucial as they have become to our workshop and our life, I am at a loss as to how to approach the next apprentice-applicants. We certainly can't replace Dana and Justin, but the work they've been doing has been so helpful. On top of that, the educational component has really motivated me to begin work on a book project that has been percolating for a few years now. The reciprocity relationship involved in this level of apprenticeship has really reshaped my perceptions of what our studio needs. It's both exciting and rewarding! Thank you Dana, Justin and Hannah.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Three at a time - plus me

Our three apprentices: Hannah, Dana, and Justin.

Today all three of our apprentices were working in the studio. At the same time. We have a tiny studio. Folks who haven't visited our humble workspace are always under the illusion that we work in a spacious open studio with ample sunlight and great views and breezes.... and it just aint so. We (all six of us!) share a space 14x30... for throwing, handbuilding, trimming, glazing, and drying.

Other parts of the studio house our kilns, slab roller, and gallery... but the making space, is not large. For one potter, it is a great space. For two potters, it works just fine. Having four of us in there today was a hoot. Somewhere between herding cats and juggling jello. Every board that was moved needed backup warning beeps and permission from air traffic control. By the time the afternoon was here and it was time to call it a day, I was sure everyone would be at eachother's throats. The opposite was true. It was all smiles. Everyone found their place, work got made, and fun was had.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Weekly Update

This week has seen a lot of pots fly through the studio... and yet I feel like I haven't had time to do much of anything. Here's a quick look through the studio and the gallery. More when I feel "more caught up"

One of the projects I started this week was adding feet to our oval vase forms. I wish the feet were visible in this image... suffice to say they look like the feet on our footed mugs. I think though, that they need something more. Not sure yet how to integrate it, but we'll see what the next batch offers.

I always enjoy waxing. I love the rhythm of re-centering. I love seeing them lined up, covered in bubblegum colored wax. Some potters ask why I bother adding dye to our wax... I guess I like knowing exactly where I have goofed with the wax, rather than being surprised after the firing. We also add alumina hydrate to our wax to help avoid plucking of our claybody on our kiln shelves.

Hannah finally has her own display of her multi-colored mugs. And they are FLYING off the shelves. Of our last four customers, three of them went home with at least one of Hannah's mugs.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Reason 2: Why I love having a sister -Going Places

Aurora and Maggie at the Ithaca Farmer's Market on Saturday

Are we having fun yet?

Maggie, Aurora, Justin and Dana.
Maggie had made coconut macaroons, so we had to share some with Dana and Justin.
That meant a meet-up at Farmer's Market.

Big Andrew and Aurora
Last time he saw her (last summer) she was eight inches shorter.

Today is my sister's last full day in NY state. We did so many things this weekend that I had zero time to add stuff to the blog. For that matter, I lacked the time/energy to glaze and fire the next load of pots too. So, today is a work day. Tons to do, pots to pack up and ship, more pots to glaze and get ready for another firing. Yesterday's glaze firing finally finished off this morning before we went for our walk around the gorge at Taughannock Falls today. Pics from that maybe tomorrow.

Where did we go? We started off at the Treman Marina in Ithaca for a photoshoot, then off to Farmers Market for some perusing and shopping. Found some old friends, some new friends and ran into our apprentices Dana and Justin. Mag had promised to bring them some of her killer macaroons! Then we went to Borders for a bit, so Aurora could begin her weekly intake of comic books. After that we headed out to Lansing so Maggie could attend a spinning workshop/gathering. One thunderstorm and 4 hours later we picked her up and headed home to make more fun foods!

Sunday was a little less eventful with us taking a trip to the Cayuga Creamery after lunch, then heading over to Lodi Point for a photoshoot and beach walk. Then we travelled north to Geneva, had a quick dinner and then home along the lake through Amish country. Stopped along the way at Schaeffer Irises again. I had to see what new flowers were in bloom. Definitely wasn't let down. Cheryl always has tons of things in bloom. Yesterday was no exception. Everyone else's gardens were looking beat and hammered from the thunderstorm... not her's. It looked fresh, perky and ready to go. Pics from that tomorrow or Wed.

All in all, it has been a fantastic weekend. I'll post some stuff from the studio-side of things mid week.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reason 1: why having a sister is cool

My sister is SO cool!

My sister is here from London. We haven't seen one another for over 7 years. This is what I woke up to today: chocolate chip macaroons and key lime pie!

Gotta love it!!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

ExpoDisc testing and Aurora's Flowers

For my birthday, my wife and daughter bought me an ExpoDisc. You need to bear in mind, we've been on rationed-spending for months now. This is our dry season in the studio. Summer is still just out of earshot. So spending money on un-necessaries is verboten. Well, they did it anyways. I have complained about my frustrations at getting tight color with my Nikon D80. I just think that the sensor tends to be a bit on the blue-heavy side of things generally. Even with custom white balance it still seemed off.

Here's the proof ... (where's the pudding?)

My results: this little gadget couldn't be more awesome. You put it in front of the lens, aim at the light source you're working from, hit your white balance, and done. Shoot, rinse, repeat.
I LOVE IT. I think the image above demonstrates how significant the difference is. Mind you, I dont think that the left hand image is "bad" but the right hand image is definitely as close to dead-on color fidelity as I have ever seen with this camera.

Ironically, my 8 yr old Olympus that Aurora has recently taken ownership of... has the best color fidelity of any of our family's collection of digital cameras. It may have ultra-sluggish shutter response, weird lens range, annoying quirks.. but the color out of that camera rocks!

Having toyed briefly with a D90 at Christmas, I think Nikon has definitely upgraded their processor engine. I think I'll hold out for an upgrade till the economy takes a bit of an upswing though. Heck, I am still finding out what some of the features buried in my camera do!

Here are a few images Aurora shot over at Schaeffer Yarns (and IRISES!) a couple weeks back.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts on the day

The last of our gigantic allium, shot early enough in the morning that no neighbors wondered what I was doing,
for half an hour...waiting over this flower for the light to get right where I wanted it!

In the morning, I usually have most of my creative action. That isn't to say the rest of the day is devoid of creativity, but in the morning, with the juices moving,... I can get things to happen. By the time the heat of the day is upon me, I lean toward the sluggish side. Nightfall can bring on creative ideas, but action always seems best saved for the following morning. I don't know if I have always been this way... it would seem so though.

While most everyone is asleep or slowly answering the call of work or school, I am zooming through six or even more things at once. By noon, it starts to slow. Why? Where does this flurry come from? My nutritionist would have me believe it all boils down to blood sugar levels, but I dont see how that could influence creativity. I am talking about the muse. The river that surges.

I just don't know. Perhaps that's as good as I can hope for.

Understanding Water

Golden dreams,
flow like water, 

And the water always wins for good or bad,
once you let it in

- Miss Hollywood, Carbon Leaf from their album Nothing Rhymes with Woman

Everytime this songs comes around on my playlist, in the house, van or studio,... Aurora always points out how this relates precisely to my recent capsize in Cayuga Lake.

Like I need a reminder.

The rest of the song deals with this guy's obsession with a Hollywood actress. Not really relevant to my life, for sure. But this stanza... it strikes a chord in me. Something about the effort of resistance being futile beyond some unforeseen point.

I think that describes my life in clay pretty succinctly. I never intended to be where I am today. I really thought I would make my living making movies, taking pictures, somehow changing the world through what my eyes saw/envisioned.

But when the tipping point came with clay, there was no point of turning back, no resistance. It has always been all-or-nothing. I don't wish for that to sound dramatic. Yet, when I think back to what an old ex-girlfriend said in college, that clay was my mistress, ... after all this time, I think she was the first to see that I had already capsized. The boat wasn't taking on water, it was sunk.

So what's the view like once you know that you're going over? It helps if you aren't afraid of being under the water. It helps if you have a partner to right your boat when you need a hand. Best of all is having someone there to drag your sorry butt back onto shore, empty your boat and laugh as you shake your head.

When I have students or apprentices ask me why I do this, why I struggle to pay my bills, why I suffer through annoying tourists sucking up my time while not buying pots... I try to remind them that that's just the water. So is opening a perfect kiln-load of pots. So is having a young newlywed couple ask you to make their first set of dishes. So is seeing the look on your daughter's face the first time she pulled a plate off the wheel and it looked just like her dad's.

The water always wins, once you let it in.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Day One of our Seconds Sale

Today was a fantastic day in the studio. Our first day of our seconds sale started with a flurry of people and finished just as strong. There was never a lull in the crowds! So now I'm tired, ready to wrap it up and call it a day. We'll do it again tomorrow. (and Aurora's making muffins or cupcakes!!!)

Dana diligently writing up sale after sale!

Choices, choices!

The potter.... and his hat

Our Seconds Sale is About to Begin!

And I am so, so, soooo not ready! We had our kiln down for over two weeks. I've had a nasty go-round with diverticulitis for the past three weeks. All in all, that's not a good combination... and yet....

And yet, we have TABLES and TABLES of pots, loaded with gorgeous pots that just didn't make the cut. Pots that are ever-so-not-quite-perfect. LOTS of them.

Doors open at 10am. Better get my butt into high gear! Always more to do before guests and patrons start arriving!!!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Color correction and learning what it means to be grey

After reading Danny Jauregui's post today in DPS (Digital Photography School)... I just had to throw my two penny's worth in. This post is just phenominal in both its simplicity and the enormity of what it fixes. Granted, there are lots of ways to color correct images, but this is just about perfect. I am wondering next if there is a way to apply these white/grey balance settings to further images shot at the same time!

One of the tools I have been wanting since it first came on the scene is the ExpoImaging Disk. I love the way this works! I looked at a lot of the other white balancing lens caps and other target disks that "guarantee" a perfect white balance everytime. I guess I would have to test them all to find out for sure, but my bet is on the Expo Disk.

Kiln Repair and Weddings in the Air

This weekend we had a visit from newlyweds from PA. The Carmeli/Levine registry went up less than a month before the wedding, but that didn't deter these newlyweds from stopping by the studio this past weekend to pick out pots for their new life. This set of dinner plates, salad plates and ice cream bowls are now on their way home to Pittsburgh!

For folks following the kiln saga, we have now spent nearly two weeks without a single firing. In the five years I have owned this kiln, it has never been cold for more than four days in a row....ever. Stuff has been piling up all over the studio. We have work on boards, in piles, everywhere.

So what was broken? We had our first thermocouple failure on this kiln. Loaded a bisque just before the Memorial Day holiday, sparked up the computer controller, then stepped back to program it. As I went through the motions it kept saying "FAIL". Disheartening, no?

I pulled the offending thermocouple out of its sheath, and then at John Tilton's suggestion, pulled the protective sheath from the kiln wall. I tamped the protective tube on the table and out poured about 2tablespoons of metal filings. The thermocouple looked like someone took a blow torch to it. I guess we sort of did... day in-day out with all of our firings.

Thankfully, the thermocouples arrived today. Here's a comparison of two new ones beside the five year old beastie. Showing it's age for sure.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ithaca Festival Parade

Nancy, Justin and Dana, on our way to the Festival Parade

This was for me, the coolest bike I have ever laid eyes on!

This though, is the tandem Aurora and I would most likely ride: the Reeses Tandem!

I think this weekend whooshed by faster than I could keep up.

On Thursday afternoon the Ithaca Festival Parade made its way through Ithaca under the ever present dark and foreboding sky. We were sure it was going to just dump on us. So much so that we made sure to bring umbrellas. I never carry one.

It didnt rain though.

Instead, for the first year in at least 3 years, we didnt get wet at the parade. We saw lots of folks we know. Saw lots of fun floats too.

So here are my few edited images from the parade.