Monthly Archives: January 2013

Day 3: Finishing What I Started; or, There and Back Again

“I want to go back to my normal house!” – Maggie Pixel

“Water all around, never learn how to swim now.” – The Replacements

Dear Carter,

It rained like a crying toddler all day, which was good for my discipline in the studio; I turned the crank pretty good, and logged a solid 8-5 with just a couple short breaks. All of which was unlike the last two days, which were such a freakishly warm leap into spring that I kept wandering outside to assure myself it was real.

First: some musical inspiration while getting my thoughts about mugs together in my sketchbook. [You guessed it: Coldplay. Green Eyes, Warning Sign, In My Place — all legitimately good songs. Deal with it, people.]

I jotted down a few things to aim for with two mug ideas, starting with my memory of a couple examples on the Save shelf back at home. Letting the rims ripple a bit; getting that gesture in there with a last all-or-nothing pass with a wooden rib; leaving that little extra line of clay at the foot, so I can come back and make some little thumb impressions there later; thinking of the lifting off as an important part of the making, not just an obligatory task. [Yes, your channeling of the Ron Meyers influence is gradually working on me. Yes, it helps that my wheel is sitting about five feet from some of his bisked demo pots. Yes, this is exactly how I keep finding ways to go slower. This.]

I threw two short runs of mugs, four each. In my sketchbook, I decided that these forms (or “styles”) needed names — and, I swear, this was before I’d read your George the Mug post, so I was seriously channeling you today — so I labelled them Ninna’s and Non’s; which are an homage to Maggie’s go-to names for her imaginary siblings/friends. I think they turned out okay. Handles, as always, will be key.

[Also: I think Channeling Gillies would be a good name for my punk-folk group, once I make my feebleminded way to the nursing home someday.]


I love getting to the studio early enough to be the first one there. It reminds me of my routine at Edwardsville; how I was usually the first to leave in the evening, but could almost always sneak in a solo hour or two in the mornings, the sun gradually creeping through that wall of easterly-facing glass block. Just me and the quiet and the coffee pot. Those were good hours at the wheel.

In many ways, as occurred to me during my involuntary middle-of-the-night brainstorming process last night [only an hour this time; huzzah!]; in many ways, this experience is like a return to that year in grad school; a revisiting of similar variables, a challenge to my comfort zone, preferences and assumptions. That’s the last time I worked in a group studio space, with all the crazy, mostly-unspoken interpersonal dynamics; they run non-stop, like background radiation… some for the good, some bad. As a change-up, a part of this adventuring party on their way to visit the dragon, it’s fine; interesting and challenging and informative. But all the time, it would slowly and inexorably drive me batshit crazy, I’m certain. My Precious

Anyways, other than my time teaching at the U — which doesn’t really count as my studio time; just demos of pots I didn’t keep — it’s been entirely my personal space for something like 13 years. A fellow could get used to such a thing; like an after supper pipe to a hobbit, solitude has a way of becoming a necessity. So I realize only now, with that fundamental variable flipped, just how often I crank the music, or mutter to myself out loud, or leap into the air in a bad Pete Townsend air guitar swoop for no particular reason, at home alone. Or sit staring into space, or doing things completely wrong because I’m too lazy/stubborn to walk across the room to retrieve the correct tool for the job, or any number of equally or more embarrassing things that I’m unaware of. These are things I allow myself to do in private, but try — I hope, mostly successfully — to cull here, in a room of five other people all working away at their clay.

E’ville was also the last time I dove into the local culture’s preferences for clays, gear, glazes, kilns, etc. Which is its own strange acquiescence: “I used to do it like this, now I’ll do it like that.” Perhaps in a significantly related fashion, this journey here to the NC is exactly the kind of thing I promised myself that I’d do when I quit school with only an M (eg. sans F & A). I was planning to fill in the missed experiences, education and exposure through many more things like this, back in ’99, but… well, things just have a way of getting away from our better intentions, now don’t they?

In between there and here I’ve bought two houses and spent uncountable days chipping away at their deficiencies. I’ve gotten a steady job and worked it five days per for a lot more years than I’d ever planned or hoped for. I’ve quit it, restarted it, and finagled a way to chop it in half. Semi-salvaged a barn, and seen it fall on a late, warm-to-cold, superstorm kind of late January day just like today. (In fact, it was a Tuesday, January 28th or -9th, five years ago exactly. I’ve got a link around here somewhere to prove it.) [Insert sad link to collapsed 100-year-old barn.] {Aw, screw it. You know where to find it if you want to. } I’ve built a kiln and had a daughter and been to Maine and New York, Italy and NM, SoCal and Chicago (three times) and places in between… and made — shoot, I don’t know — 7500 pots since then? 10,000?

That’s a lot of blood under the bridge.

Other than that really great workshop I did in ’03 with the aforementioned Mr. Meyers, a quick trip to NCECA when it was in Indianapolis, and visiting (or visits from) a few other potters here and there, I think this is the only thing I’ve done in all that time along the lines of leaving hearth and home to go out and seek adventure. (The giants of new experience; the wargs and goblins of social  interaction; the potential salvation, like eagles swooping to the treetops, of a sincere, meaningful connection.)

To belabor that comparison — and to contradict what I wrote above about lack of solitude turning me into Gollum — it occurs to me that the hermit-like path I’ve taken, diving ever deeper into the very local and my own stubborn way of wanting to work things out for myself, even when it means reinventing the wheel many times over; it occurs to me that that path needs occasional branching back to alternative approaches to find it’s optimal levels. Sitting around trying to write my memoirs without having the adventures first is like watching the hair grow on one’s toes and declaring it progress. Sure, if you want to move the goalposts like that, then we can count them as points. But damn if that’s not really lowering the stakes.

For all the wonders and treasures to be found at home — and by Frodo’s missing tenth finger, I swear they are many and lustrous — there’s so much more out here, On The Road, in the messy space of other people’s real lives and experiences, and not just in the weak reflections of them that appear as pixels on a screen.

But you already knew that, because you’re only dumb enough to have read this whole thing, when you could have been doing just about anything else instead. You’re certainly not dumb enough to fall into all the ridiculous traps I have. Certainly not. Certainly. Not.


Comments Off on Day 3: Finishing What I Started; or, There and Back Again

Filed under Water

Day 2: a target

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” – Steve Miller Band

Hey Carter,

God, I hate that stupid song. Fly like an eagle… glurb. But it’s such a good fit, today, that I’m going with it.

“I feel like one third of a Brandon Phillips.” Ha! That was a good one. I was still chuckling to myself about that at lunchtime. I hope he reads this and doesn’t see that coming, and has to do a double take on a bite of burrito or something.

So, here’s what I learned today: the problem with 24×3 is that it consigns the next day to chasing plastic, and boy was I chasing it today. I have so little recent experience with making that kind of volume in a day that I totally underestimated how long they would take to finish. I was also surprised at how quickly things are drying here, so I accidentally got them all to trimming/feet cutting consistency at the same time. Duh.

I also wanted to get caught up to “real” time on the blog posts here before I headed to the studio this morning. Computer stuff is always such a time sink. Then I had to at least start a few new pots. A day without throwing seems like kind of a waste. (I made a half dozen medium-sized plates with  chunky rims). Then I realized I should make some draw rings for the salt kiln, and some test tiles with this new clay body, and that while I was at it that I should try both the white slip and black underglaze that I’ve been using at home… so that got pretty elaborate. And then — it was after lunch and I still hadn’t broken out the trimming tools. Clearly, some better planning and discipline are in order.

Where does all that time go? It just zips right on past like I’m a bystander, even when I’m trying to keep my nose skinning-distance from the grindstone. Crazy.

On the plus side, though, I have something approaching a half kiln load of wares started now, which ain’t nothing on Tuesday. And I’m glad I thought of testing this clay to see how it (and these kilns) respond to some of my typical tricks. That seems like some Old Bilbo wisdom; none of this impetuous, nine-fingered rolling the dice and thinking about keeping the Ring for myself.

I’m pleasantly surprised so far at how little rust was on my machinery. I was a little worried at first. Especially given how… let’s say “quirky”… the wheel I’m using is. The wheelhead’s placed a bit off center, and the whole frame sways sideways if I crank the treadle bar like I’m accustomed to on mine. I think the tail end of one frame piece, where it attaches to the rear post, is stripped out — the bolt there just spins, and it’s one of the few that doesn’t have a nut on the other end. Bummer. Looks like this baby has seen some wear and tear.

It’s also a little undersized for me — I swear it’s a bit smaller than mine, although I thought I’d heard at some point that both Gates and Polglase built them to careful measurements of original Leach wheels — so I’m not in the best posture at it, either. But I like that those imperfections are forcing me to spin even a little slower than usual, and that it’s making me rethink these things that I’ve long come to take for granted, like breathing. And television.

“Sloooooooooooooooooooooooow it down.” (That’s right; I’ll quote Coldplay if I damn well feel like it. I’m 41, which means I’ve heard enough pop music by now to know the truly awful crap from the actually pretty good crap, and most of what I’ve heard by Coldplay falls comfortably in the latter category for me.)

The studio here continues to impress. I mixed a small batch of white slip and found everything amazingly well thought-out: all the materials you could want, clearly labeled and alphabetized; spare plastic buckets for the taking; a vent system that works so well you can feel a stiff breeze go past with only one blower on. Compared to my morass of clutter and distractions and crazymaking junk at home, it’s like the pottery equivalent of a distraction-free writing environment.

Penland: A Distraction-Free Potting Environment.

“Calmer than you are.”


Here’s a sketch I did some time ago with a drawing app on the iPad. Because I’m working with white slip and black underglaze, it’s got me thinking about how to do something like this in clay:


Maybe that’s not feasible — probably not — but it’s at least a reference point. A target. Something to aim for.

Comments Off on Day 2: a target

January 30, 2013 · 6:44 pm

thirdsies; in which I attempt to break the title field character limit in WordPress, and start explaining what the hell is going on here.

“I’ve seen you lower the stakes again.” – Indigo Girls

Dear Carter,

So as you know, I’m at this rather famous craft school in NC for a while. (“Don’t be creepy.”) It’s… well, I hate to grasp at the cliche, but it’s pretty amazing.

After getting my stuff moved into the studio, I kind of slept like crap the first night; my subconscious acclimating to a new environment, multiplied by my anxious anticipation about charging into the clay on overdrive. You know how it is.

From the New Yorker’s review of The Hobbit, which I read in the middle of the night, trying to quiet my squirrel brain:

“… our hero is faced with an elemental choice: stay or go? Rest in the consolatory rhythms of hearth and home, marked out by meals and seasons, or break the pattern and take the unknowable risk?”

In other words, the choice between continuing the existing < loop > and starting a new one.

(Note: WP doesn’t like left and right brackets, so I have to label them as “code” for my conventional loop nomenclature to work. Bummer.)

{Day One}

Up; packed, provisions, gear. Out the door to test the overnight forecast of “Ice Pellets”, whatever the hell those are. Fortunately, none seem to have stuck. Brisk walk to the studio, perhaps all of five minutes away. Also amazing. A fine way to start the day, and probably a good primer for my feeble spine. Warm up, dummy.

There’s this wide open — I dunno — “meadow” space here, enclosed on three sides by the campus. Later, sitting on a stone bench, looking out over it, on a mid-morning that would qualify as Spring in Indiana, I’m impressed by the stark, contrasting frame that swath of dead grass makes around the dense trees and worn old mountains beyond. But I ramble.

Studio, 8am. Not bad.

Unpacked, tools ready, wareboards claimed. The taps on the sink are reverse labelled — no self-respecting plumber would ever really put the hot on the right — so, thankfully, warm water for my throwing bucket.

New wheel, new clay, new place, new… almost everything. Except the same old me and a few primary tools I brought form home. New is good. Ten teabowls-yunomis-clay things I can make to warm up my cold chops and leak test my assumed variables and required algorithms. Pottery AI. Not terrible; lifting them off. (Holding off on installing bat pins as long as I can; I knew you’d be proud.)

Coffee shop = perfect. Studio tour = excellent, with just the right overlay of sardonic “now we’re doing a required studio tour” humor. They have everything here I need, and in several cases more than I could have asked for. It’s one well thought out and maintained workspace. Exciting kilns, too; beautiful salt/soda kilns that are going to take about 60 pots to fill. So now I know what I’m shooting for. Let’s go!

Then, small bowls; loose; 1 1/4# or so. (NOT weighing out my clay. I knew you’d be proud.) Medium bowls, even slightly larger, mediumer bowls, and that’s 24 pots before 3pm. 24×3 is more than I’ve done in any recent, reliable memory. Me with motivation, an implied audience, and almost zero distractions. I feel like one third of a Brandon Phillips. That’s going to be a lot of trimming. And decorating; unless I can somehow keep myself from decorating them all. Hmm. Bulk Bag.

I should take some photos.

Comments Off on thirdsies; in which I attempt to break the title field character limit in WordPress, and start explaining what the hell is going on here.

Filed under Water


“I’m rollin’ down a well-worn road, I’m wonderin’ if I’ll ever know, if I’ll be better than I was before, when I surface through the service door.” – Grandaddy

Dear Carter,

So — roadtrip: Indy, Louisville, Lexington, Knoxville, Asheville. Snow on the way out, ice on arrival; I had never seen a Jeep attached to the front of a semi in a perpendicular orientation before, but now I guess I can check that off the list. Never know what you’ll see (or what might happen to you) when you leave the relative safety of the known, I guess.

Other than that, the trip was pretty typical: coffee, food, gas, repeat; extra stops to keep the four year old on our team; and here we are at last. At last! That’s a whole mess of anticipation — what, 15+ months of hoping and waiting, followed by two and a half days of traveling? That’s more than my tired old routine-loving brain is comfortable with. But now I’ve got a wheel and a corner and some clay and my tools and once I get another pesky night’s sleep out of the way, I’m ready to rock.

Day Zero in the hopper. It’s finally starting to seem real.

Comments Off on second(s)

Filed under Water


“Rewrite the book and rule the pages, saving face, secured in faith. Bury, burn the waste behind you.” – REM

Dear Carter,

So… here goes nothing.

Did I mention I can do this on the iPad? And that there’s WiFi here? So much for going off the grid! And, honestly, pretty great. Post anywhere almost anywhere.

Did I also mention that I think I’m going to imitate our mutual potter/blogger friend Ron P. and address each post here to a specific person? And, furthermore, as should by now be fairly obvious, that I’m leaning towards calling that person “Carter”? (Any resemblance is purely coincidental, of course.) I think that might be good; I think that might work.

And while I’m hesitant to borrow from Ron too much (“great artists steal”), and that this might embarrass the real you — e.g. the version of you that doesn’t live solely in my head — I figure I can always change it to Peter Voulkos or Margaret Thatcher later. And I’m intrigued by the format, the gimmick, the framework. I like the implication that, as a change up from my regular gig, I can address this type of writing as if it’s a private/personal communication. Even though it isn’t, of course, that cuts into the usual feeling that I have to consider almost any potential reader as audience, and — hopefully — removes some of the weirdness and opacity that often transpires as a result.

So, as I said, so far — nothing. But I’ve got ideas. I’ve got plans, dude. I’m thinking I might even let myself swear on occasion. I’m here in a new place for a while, with lots of [exciting] possibilities, and I think it’s [fairly] reasonable to expect that more than a few of them are going to end up reflected here. I hope they do, and in ways that are interesting to you. More soon.

“Things are gonna change, I can feel it.”

Comments Off on first!

Filed under Water