Saturday, May 30, 2009

First Flip of the Season

Aurora, Nancy and I like to kayak.

Sounds simple right?

We go out in all sorts of weather. I try to keep it simple. Easy winds, light chop is okay. Sun is nice but it can be rainy too. Anything is generally fine.

Well, we can finally say we have seen a different side of our lake. Cayuga is known for being capricious... now we have first-hand evidence to support this.

We put in at the swimming beach at Taughannock Park on the thursday before the Memorial Day holiday. Nice flat water. Smooth as glass. You could see down about 12 feet perfectly. There are some BIG fish down there too!

Aurora and I usually head south from the launch to take us into some sheltered coves in hopes of doing some bird watching. Not this time. Aurora asked to head north to the North Point part of Taughannock Park. Sounded good at the time. By the time we cleared our little launching area and were past the swimming dock, the waves rose up. Went from glass smooth to hunched up waves about a foot high before we were 200 yards from shore. Hmmm. A sign perhaps?

We persissted and made our way quite swiftly and made our way along the shore. As we looked out across the lake we started noticing the lack of other boats out on the water. We passed one boat trying to fish... they were bobbing like a cork on a string. So were we. The farther we paddled the bigger the waves got. By the time we reached the marina we were hitting waves in excess of 24 inches high. Seen from a kayak, that is monstrous! Those waves lift you right up and toss your stomach and then slam you back down just in time to catch the next wave right over the bow, sending water into your face and into your cockpit. Normally, any sane kayaker going out in waves like this would have on a neoprene spray skirt. Not us. Nope. Bad idea. Duh.

Fast forward to the gory stuff... we rounded the point and became aware that North Point was tem times worse than what we had just paddled through. Starting to get scared I told Aurora we needed to make shore landing. The waves were coming WAY up the shoreline. There wasnt much beach to speak of, and the waves were taking their fair share bite out of it. Aurora landed with only a few gallons of water spilling into her cockpit. I came ashore just after her... not so cleanly though. When I hit shore the wave behind me decided I needed a shove. So it lifted the back end of my boat and tried to help me ashore. It didn't help. I ended up flipped over to the side, head underwater, with the boat totally full of water. I executed a slippery wet exit, caught my boat and paddle as they sought to escape and stood up in less than four feet of water. Ice cream-headache in hand, I waddled to shore. Soaked to the bone and cold like I have never been cold.

That was when I realized we needed to hoof it out to get the van in order to head home. Ugh. A short ten minute hike to the van helped me dry off but not warm up. I was getting seriously cold by the time we finished loading the boats back onto the van. All the while, Aurora was whooping it up exclaiming how fun this was and how she wanted to do it again. Suffice to say, her facial expressions and mine differ a wee bit.

After we had loaded up the last boat and dried me off a bit, we stopped to shoot some pictures of the lakeside. The waves had dropped to less than half their original height. Not nearly so imposing. We probably should have either checked wind before launching or maybe just stayed out in the water longer.... live and learn eh?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rain finally

We have been waiting for rain for weeks. It is very unusual for spring to be this dry. This morning there was a light mist and mega-humidity. Always a good time to try to catch the morning's new blooms!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More Irises

We took a lot of pictures over the long weekend. Most of them were of flowers. Usually Memorial Day is cold and wet... perfect conditions for Cornell's graduation ceremonies. This weekend was just as sunny and warm as one could hope for.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A visit to Schaeffer Irises

This morning, well before I was ready to be awake, Aurora came knocking on my door. "Time to go to Cheryl's, Dad!" So yeah, no shower, no tea, no breakfast... just grab the camera bag and out the door. Light is fickle and fast at this time of the year. Spring light tends to get harsh as we enter Summertime.

Cheryl's irises are reknown locally for every possible superlative. They are beautiful, elegant, profuse, and just plain AWESOME. I have always said I wanted a chance to shoot some of the plants in her garden, but the timing has never worked out. This morning we made our way over there loooong before anyone should have been awake. The only one stirring was her ever-present gardener. With a smile and a nod from her, we were off into the flowerbeds... not to emerge for over an hour. We filled our memory cards and shot to our heart's content. Aurora got some great images, but I will save posting those till later in the week when she's had a chance to edit them. For now, here are a few of mine.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day picnic in the sun

One of our irises from Schaefer Irises. I'm going to really miss Cheryl's iris sales every year.

Aurora and I had a chance to get out and enjoy the sun today. No visitors to the studio so by 2pm we were ready to call it a day and get outta Dodge. We had been invited over to a friend's Memorial Day party/picnic, we brought along a wicked good silken tofu chocolate pudding pie. Won first place in the dessert catagory competition. There's something ironic about having a party centered around Tofu... in Ithaca.

After tossing the Frisbee around for a couple hours and enjoying massive quantities of tofu of every imaginable permutation, it was time to hit the road home. Along the way back we stopped at Robert Treman State Park. I love the way the gorge was cut at this park. Hard to know exactly when the light will be ideal, but sometime we catch a few shots that sing.

Quiet winds, Quiet minds and the kiln is down

Last night I got ready to fire up our kiln, Ursa Arctos... and was, for the first time ever, greeted with the LCD saying FAIL. What? Fail? That's not very optimistic. So I pulled the owner's manual that hasn't seen the light of day in over four years. Guess what? Thermocouple had died. Okay, easy enough. Now we have some on order, but it means this bisque gets to wait till mid-week to be fired off.

In the meantime, way too many flowers are in full bloom or just getting ready to pop!

So after trying to work my way around our kiln delay, I found myself lens-to-bug out in the budding peonies. Caught this ant doing his duty to his colony. Made me sympathize; working around all this beauty, but someone has to collect the sap.

Then I found this allium bloom with a silver maple winged-seed caught in it. Tossed by the almost constant breezes we get this time of year, this maple seed could have ended up just about anywhere.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Makin' plates and revisin' the layout of the gallery

Gallery revision #3. This time we got rid of the shelving supports which really brightened the wall up and also freed up a great deal more vertical space. This layout has also made each shelf independent and much more sturdy. No more wiggly shelves when customers put things down or pick them up.

Everyone was working on plates in the studio this week. What started out as the most frustrating day yet, ended with everyone making no less than four plates... in some cases LOTS more than four. Mind you, this is day one of plates. I would say these potters are on their way to some massive fun!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Catching a moment for myself

Today has been one of those days I seldom see. I have had a few brief moments where I could sit and think. Time could pass, I was allowed to watch and for an instant, nothing was demanded of me. With three apprentices in the studio, we are constantly moving pots into and out of the kiln. The studio is a disaster; clay and glaze are everywhere. Some part of me LOVES this and another part is just aghast at how I have totally abandoned any semblance of control.

This is what was running through my head as I laid down on the grass this morning with camera in hand. This dandelion just seemed to speak volumes of control and letting go. For all of our social taboos admonishing us to abolish weeds from our manicured golf-course lawns... I just cant do it. Some weeds I don't like because they have spiky leaves. Other weeds out-compete our favorite flowers. But dandelions are quiet. They have bright yellow flowers. Their seed heads float on the wind everywhere this time of year. To this end, today I listened to the dandelion.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Early Summer Color

For the past week we have been hip-deep in redoing the layout of the gallery, cleaning pots, glazing pots and trying desperately to be ready for our seconds sale next month. To that end, I haven't posted as often as I would like to.

Today I was up early enough to catch some sweet morning light. Color has been on my mind lately. As much as I love our glazes, I still crave more vibrant color. Ideas anyone?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Making Plates

When I first started out making plates, it was the biggest struggle for me. I was always wrestling with the larger mass of clay (in the case of platters or chargers)... and keeping the lips from either curling UP too much in the drying process or flopping down because of being too wet. It was one thing after another until I started making plates 18-24 at a time. Then the kinks got worked out, a process was born and things just sailed right along.

This week we worked on plate making with our apprentices. Here are a few quick images during the throwing demo.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How We've Changed

That would be me, throwing plate demos, Justin looking on.

Dana cleaning glaze off her pots.

Nancy putting the finishing touches on a new summer dress. We do a lot more in our studio than just make pots!

In the past few months our studio has gone through some pretty wild major changes. We used to be a studio of one, sometime two, now and again three if Aurora was with us that week. Since January we have had Hannah in the studio making plates and mugs two to three days a week. Talk about increasing our energy level and helping us figure out what our capacity is! We have stacks of bisqueware that we had never seen previously.

In the past few months we have added Dana and Justin to our studio family. They're typically three days a week, 2-4 hours at a shot. In that short span of time they have gone from being complete novices on the wheel to being able to throw decent cylinders, bowls, and this week we began work on throwing plates.

I took a look around the studio yesterday and it was amazing. We had three wheels going full tilt, with Dana and Justin and Aurora all throwing plates. Fantastic. It also made me realize we need more room and more kiln space. More storage for pots wouldnt be a bad thing either!

We finally finished adding more shelves to the gallery. It took longer than expected because the shelving system that we're using (Fast-mount by John Sterling Co.) seems to no longer be carried by Lowes... so we had to do some hunting around to find a dealer who could order more for us. Ironically, we found our supplier just around the corner. For folks reading this who have no idea where we live... Trumansburg is a tiny town with a pop. of about 1500 souls. We have two hardware stores. Sort of. One is open banker's hours. The other is more of a lumber yard. Not at all a big box sort of shopping. Prices are considerably higher than say Ithaca, where we have Lowes, Home Depot etc. But Ithaca is a half hour drive away. In good weather.

So after calling every dealer within a 100 mile radius, I checked with our local lumber yard. Sure enough, they could get the shelf supports in a couple days. Wow. And just down the street to boot. Nice.

We rebuilt the gallery last night with help from Dana and Justin. They had missed out on the deconstruction of the gallery space last week when Hannah pulled her whirlwind routine and moved hundreds of pots out of the gallery in no-time flat!

As I was describing earlier, we had a full house yesterday. Hannah here in the morning till the early afternooon. Then Dana and Justin in the afternoon-evening. Aurora joined us between her chores and her french horn lessons. This image was shot of her working on a new dragon head she was making for Dana.

One of the things I love about working with our barn full of apprentices is that they all LOVE being here. We all have a great time and tons of work make their way through the kiln each week. We used to fire a lot. Now we basically never let the kiln cool down. Fire, unload, reload, fire. Rinse. Repeat.

Justin glazing up a storm.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Learning by Teaching

For the last twenty years I have spent most days at the wheel, confident in my ability to take a lump of mud and turn it into the pots I see in my head. Granted, I have had the occasional day off for injury, vacation, etc, but by and large, most days have seen me throwing pots.

When we took on our apprentice Hannah, one of the things we looked forward to was getting to know where she comes from and what she brings to her way of working. She had previously studied under another potter in Ithaca, Margie Martin. One of the most interesting things about watching Hannah work on the wheel was that she centered almost completely opposite the way I did. She spent half the time centering that I did. WHAT? How was this possible? Turns out she was using a similar method to what Robin Hopper suggests.

So I had to try it. Damn if it doesn't spin circles around my previous methods. Here I am, two decades of making pots and still learning the basics! Go figure. I know some potters will say, of course you do it this way. Well, I didn't. Guess it just proves that there are always other ways of working. I love the idea that even at this stage in my learning, there is still LEARNING.

I encourage anyone wanting to throw better, just beginning, or even pros, ... to check this video out. There's a lot to be learned from any potter, but Robin Hopper is a potter's potter. He makes it all look so easy.

Click here for the video from Ceramic Arts Daily

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Gutting the gallery

Piles of glazed pots on our throwing shelves? What?

Stacked pell mell, hither and yon?

Last year we changed our booth design to be more "high-end", in light of getting into more prestigious shows like Craft Boston and State College. The major change was moving from an off white shelving idea to a rich dark espresso brown instead. As soon as we did that, we realized we would eventually need to change the way our gallery looked too.

Mind you, for the last 6 years, the gallery has basically comprised of our travelling booth loaded to the gunwales with pots. On the one hand, it made things cheaper to have one object doing double duty, but it also meant if we were at a show, everything had to be torn down for the show, the gallery closed, and then rebuilt at the show, torn down, and then rebuilt upon returning home. After 6 years we'd had enough.

This year we only plan to do a few small shows. I would much rather encourage folks to come and find us HERE anytime of the week. Easier on my back, my wits and my pocketbook.

After talking things over with my designer,decorator and awesome wife, we decided that things needed to change in the gallery too. We needed something more open, more modern, etc. Meanwhile, we're not in the cash-flush season yet (or even IF there will be a cash flush season this year).... so we waited and waited all through the winter.

I got fed up on Wednesday.

With our apprentice Hannah here, and ready to work, we tore into this project. Moved all the pots into the throwing room, broke down all the shelving and basically made the wall completely open.

That accomplished... a clean slate so to speak.... we started measuring things out, laying out how to reorganize the arrangement of shelves etc. Ten hours later, the new shelving was up...sort of. We ran out of shelf brackets and the brand we're using seems to no longer be carried by Lowe's or any of our local hardware stores. I wanted to use super heavy duty shelf brackets and these will carry 150-300# per bracket. I also wanted space below waist level to store backstock BEHIND our bamboo curtain. So far, we're out of shelf brackets BUT we have them on order.

Here's what it looks like in process.

New, bare and unadulterated... till this weekend!

Friday, May 8, 2009


Our new colors: Robin's Egg and Pear

Leave it to an MFA poet from Cornell to come up with the most awesome names.

Dana Koster is our winner for both names!

There was an amazing array of names suggested, and some of them were as off-the-wall as the folks who suggested them. And yes, Joe, that means you.

The hardest part of choosing names for these glazes was trying to ensure that they worked with the names we already have in use, but more importantly were memorable enough that gallery owners and patrons would REMEMBER these names when ordering more pots!

I think Dana's names of Robin's Egg and Pear definitely fill that tall order.

Thank you Dana.

And thank you to everyone else who made suggestions! We will have another naming event when I finish the next two glazes Nancy has asked for.... WATCH for them!