Cups and Saucers in the Process

A good customer asked asked me to make a dozen mugs and saucers. I wonder which of my glaze colors she'll choose? I gave each one the handle it seemed to want. As for overall form, these mugs are lightweight yet sturdy, with a simple shape. I own so many mugs, from very fine potters, yet I am surprised to find that the mug I use to most is a very simple one of my own making, something like these. Mine is a luscious blue with green speckles. With a shape this simple, the glaze will need to be at least a little special.

As always with a set, I made some spares in case of breakage or different handle preferences. Everybody likes a choice! I never know what cup and handle will feel best in another person's hand.

Looking forward to firing and decorating them.

Posted on October 22, 2015 .

Decades in Clay


One Sunday evening in the late '70s, early in our marriage, H and I were strolling in Greenwich Village and caught the tail end of a street fair. I stopped and talked to a potter, and I bought the last four mugs she had. They were blue and gray and could be nested into a stack. I found myself thinking, "I'll bet I can learn to do this." After all, I could draw passably, and write reasonably well. Why not make mugs and bowls? But when kids came, the journey became very busy in other ways.

Seven years after the street fair, H was building his career. We were building a family together; two small children, one in the stroller and one alongside, and another to come in a few years. I was a full time mother and cook-and-bottle-washer. I did not want to fold another piece of laundry or cook another thing till I at least looked for my groove, as they used to say in my childhood back in a different day. 

I found a private teacher, who was a grad student at the nearby college. (I couldn't get into Ceramics I at the college without being a full-time matriculated student.) One evening a week for three months, I went to her studio in East Rutherford, NJ and Wendy taught me how to "throw" on the potter's wheel. The next semester I matriculated as an English major, and enrolled in Ceramics I class at the college. Within a year I bought my first kickwheel, followed it with my first electric kiln, and a single metal shelf unit to hold wares in progress. I set up in a different corner of the basement from the sump pump or the washer and dryer. Even if I couldn't give it enough time, clay became my new best friend. Sometimes when I was too busy to work with clay I just went down and sat on a lower step to the basement and looked at what had been made so far and thought about what I would do next.

I wish I could tell you I became a potter right away, but it took a really long time. I continued at the ceramics studio at the college for six semesters, always taking classes in the the evening so I could still do most everything else at home. I went through Ceramics I, Ceramics II, Advanced Ceramics, and Whitewares- white earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. Between semesters I once took a two-credit class where we students built a brick gas kiln for the studio. At the end of my sixth semester, all us long-timers (by then we had a group of probably six enthusiasts) got tossed out of the Ceramics department for using too much clay and glaze materials, and taking up wheel and table spaces new students could use. I was 30 years old by then, with three little ones, and no sense of who I was in clay... except that I really liked to make bowls and loved working on the wheel. 

Potter, ca perhaps 2002. (Photo credit: David Stadler)

I was a young, energetic, fired-up 27 years old when I starting honing my pottery skills. I returned and finished my BA in English at age 39 (cum laude, yo!), but seemed to have no time to sustain a couple of hours in my basement studio most days till the tired haze of evening. I began writing children's picture books (still unpublished- priority someday??), and got communally involved.  

At very long last, when the kids got into their teens, I made clay into my day job. By the time I got my BA, I had belonged to the Potters Guild of NJ for a dozen years, gone to good clay workshops, accumulated a decent library of ceramics information, and watched many how-to videos. I had drawn hundreds of sketches, thought through many design ideas, and logged hundreds of hours at the wheel and glaze table. I had met some wise people along the way who said or did something to make me stretch further as a maker of objects. It all took some time to settle into my full time work.

Half a lifetime after first touching clay, I finally built my gallery and website.

I had lots of physical strength when I had little ones in my arms. All these years later, I teach private students, work to market my pottery to stores, and maintain my own display space. Marketing the work is probably my biggest challenge, although the physical labor is not simple either. Because I am middle aged, I have to work smarter. Working on new designs has to come after I've done what is on the already-proven design list, but I also keep planning new work. In a bigger picture, one must keep to a seasonal production schedule, driven by sales patterns, holidays, and trends (tureens in October, ice cream bowls in May). It isn't simple. But most of the time I am working towards a goal I love, like the many other potters I know. It is deeply habit forming.

Posted on October 16, 2015 .

Found a Good Little Vase

Found this oval vase at Maine Potters Market (on Fore Street in the Old Port) in Portland.

It was made by David Orser, a Maine potter. This is salt-kiln-fired, and although it has bigger presence, it is 7" tall. It's got great texture, a nice juxtaposition of silky and gritty. I like the earthy, toasty colors and the one greenish side- the side in the path of the flame and salt in the kiln.

I love buying a really good pot.

Posted on July 3, 2015 .

Women Working With Clay Symposium, 2015

June 8-11, I was back  for the fourth year in a row in Roanoke, Virginia for the Women Working with Clay symposium at Hollins University. 

I compare this 4-day event to the enormous annual NCECA (National Conference for Education in the Ceramic Arts) gathering, which this year had around 5,000 attendees in Rhode Island. My second time at NCECA (after 14 years), I found it overwhelming, though fascinating. By contrast, the also-fascinating, small Hollins symposium has an intimacy in which people can connect, both in the symposium environs and at meals in the university cafeteria. Donna Polseno, who created WWWC and has kept it going in for four days in early June for the last five years, intends to maintain the cap number at 50 attendees, at least for the two more years she intends to run it. Fifty suits the size of the studio rooms to be used at Hollins and, I'm sure, keeps costs manageable. The presenters at the symposium (four presenters this year) can see and interact with everyone attending if they want to, without it getting overwhelming.

One note: The scope of this article does not cover an impressive opening lecture by Leila Philip, concerning her yearlong apprenticeship in a pottery workshop in Japan as a woman of 21 some years ago. With apologies to Leila for giving her short shrift, because she comes from both an artist's and a writer's perspective (and I relate to that,) I recommend her book about this engrossing experience, The Road Through Miyama (Random House). Her second book is coming out shortly, Apprenticeship in Two Cultures: Writing and Ceramics. (I will be getting them both for summer reading.)

Linda Christianson was the only wheel thrower, making the type of wood-fired functional wares she is known for.

(LInda Christianson;

A lot of the current ceramics I see have a great deal of surface decoration, sometimes quite slick and perfect looking, now that laser decals can be fairly easily made, or commercially pre-made decal patterns bought, and all sorts of glaze colors and enamels easily acquired. This sort of work can be really beautiful, or border on slick shtick. Some of it is pre-cast, repeat ware that is decorated with decal sayings or sometimes-kitschy images, and it is quite popular to judge by Etsy sites.

Well, Linda is the living embodiment of the anti-slick-shtick. She works on a treadle wheel, not an electric one, and fires her work in a labor-intensive wood kiln. She uses clay slips as decoration, and a little glaze, for the most part letting the ash in the wood kiln paint the exterior surfaces of her pottery  as it fires very, very hot- perhaps cone 12 or 13 {something like 2400 degrees Fahrenheit, around 1325 C).  

(Linda Christianson, Large Oval Baker, ca. 2015)

(Some good handlemaking discussion ensued...)

(More work on the handle, which will be a bit further blended into the body of the "mango chutney dish")

(More work on the handle, which will be a bit further blended into the body of the "mango chutney dish")

Linda also formed a loaf of clay into a shape she found pleasing (I did, too), then sliced it with a textured wire into these plates. A discussion of these simple, perfectly suited feet followed.  

(Linda Christianson, Plates, ca. 2015)

Linda talked about seeing inspiration in all sort of forms, as in a striped paper fast food container, for example, that when pulled open into its basic template made her think of other vessel possibilities; or a sculptural bit of wire attached to a clump of leaves and grass, like the one above on the wall behind Linda at her wheel (scroll up to the first photo), which she foraged early on the morning that she began her first demo for us. Her perspective is uniquely personal, fresh and funny, and so outside the box that I found it hard to step away. It's very freeing to listen to someone who makes and revels in a bit of art from a clod and a cord. (It took me back to a picture I made on a pane of glass found in an empty lot, in my childhood, and painted with nearby mud "glue" and wildflower petals.)

I did step away often, though, to see all four presenters over the three days they worked. They have in common that they think all the time about their work, and have developed very strong ideas. The artists demonstrating in this symposium every years so far are all about ideas, and ways of working.

(Shoko Teruyama;

(Shoko Teruyama, flower-shaped vessel in progress, June 2015. You can see where Shoko removed clay to refine the interior of the "petals", and also where she pinched the edges thinner and left undulating pinch marks. Complex surface decoration will come next.)

(Bird shaped vessel and flower shaped vessel, complete with raised feet and added, pinched rims.)

I was very interested in watching Shoko Teruyama construct vessels from slabs of clay. She shapes the basic origins of some of her forms using bisqued hump molds she and her husband make themselves. (Others she build free-hand.)

We passed around one of those bisqued hump molds. It had been formed as a solid shape then hollowed out, and the surface both inside and out had been finished carefully and beautifully. Of these molds, Shoko said, "This is also our work." Imagine that: the infrastructure (the mold) should be beautiful as well. It is part of the building of the pieces. 

The slab for each basic vessel form is very thick, just under 1/2". Shoko adds coils to the essential form to enlarge it. The handmade mold has been a starting point, but each piece will become different as Shoko works it, somehow different from its predecessors formed in that same mold. Set-up time for the clay, in which it firms up somewhat, is necessary at every juncture. Timing is extremely important because it determines moisture  content (and therefore workability) of the clay vessel. Shoko removes material from the thick form with a Surform scraper, and this must wait to be done on the second day when the clay is not too malleable. It's a very meditative process, much slower than my own, although what she does is, considering that it is hand-building, fairly rapid. At a certain point Shoko pinches the clay from the bottom of the piece out to the rim line. Pinching gives her work a gently complex texture.

(Shoko Teruyama, ca. 2014-2015. Hand built, pinched, sgraffito through slip, glaze and glaze runs)

Ms. Teruyama was born and raised in Japan, but received her higher education in the United States. She does not relate very well to what she sees in contemporary Japanese ceramics, although she admits not knowing enough about it. She considers what she has seen as too finished, too interested in perfection, so it loses its human connectivity. She is, however, interested in learning more about it. 

Of the slow forming process, she said, "some people call it disease."  She added, "Whatever I do, I overwork. ...I just have to learn to accept that." Although it was not possible for Shoko to complete all the pieces in the three working days of the symposium, we were able to see her form the clay a good part of the way through to completion in the raw stage, at least. Here is partial sgraffito through white slip, on a plate in the cat series she is working on currently.

(Shoko Teruyama. A view into the creative process. Red earthenware and white slip, June 2015)

(Shoko Teruyama. Sheep plate, earthenware, slip and glazes, ca. 2014- 2015)

(Flower shaped vessel with hollow petal-like handles, decorated with slip, sgraffito and glazes, ca. 2014-2015)

Donna Polseno, who is the heart of this symposium, built hollow vessels as well as sculptural female figures. She pointed out that the female form in art is often made to represent beauty, or sex; but she wants her figures to say something else. 

(Donna Polseno; The beginning of a female figure, with the beginning of two more sculptural figures beside it.)

(Base of Donna Polseno figure that is like the patchwork decorated figure several images below.)

(Donna Polseno figure on its armature; it gets a skirt and the very rough beginning of an arm.)

Sometimes a figure may represent a journey, as in this figure below on its boat, with energetic, pushing-up stance indicating balance;

(Donna Polseno, figure, ca. 2015)

or her own version of a caryatid, with the figure more self-enclosed or self-sustaining, and the vessel she holds more about the thing itself than what it contains; ("I present not just the water inside but the vessel itself"), and her figure is generous yet contained;

(Donna Polseno, sculptural form ca. 2015-2015)

or (below) wearing a patchwork that seems to hint at full and complex life of many parts. (If you look at the photo four images above this, you can see the beginning of the construction of a base of another sculpture like the base of this patchwork woman.)

(Donna Polseno, sculptural work ca. 2015)

Two of Donna's vessels at the museum show accompanying the symposium were hollow, volumetric sculptural forms, using similar surface glaze and textural designs to that on her sculptures. 

(Donna Polseno; one hollow vessel begins like this one, with slip-molded squared bowl shape, attached to a slab, and built up with large coils.)

(Donna Polseno, red earthenware, glazes, ca. 2014-2015)

When her sculpture and vessel forms merge, they are more mysterious yet, like sky constellations with their own order.

(Donna Polseno, red earthenware, glazes, ca. 2014-2015)

The most monumental sculpture of the symposium, a head and torso, was built over three days of the symposium by Cristina Cordova:

(Cristina Cordova;

(Cristina Cordova;

We were able to watch Cristina build this sculpture, a bust perhaps two-thirds or more as tall as herself, from the drawing idea to the partly finished form.

She builds from the bottom up, using paper clay, and fires the pieces in an electric kiln. She makes multiple drawings first to make sure the 3-D is accurate. She just "goes for it", knowing she has plenty of information to work with, and usually with lifting help from an assistant in her studio. The pieces, Cristina says, are made in "little cumulative steps that bring a piece to where it needs to be." Timing of drying is what clay is all about, she adds.

Influenced by memories of the shape and flavor of a disappearing neighborhood and life she once knew in Puerto Rico, where she grew up, her figures have an emotional richness partly about connection, partly celebration, and partly loss. Over time, her working life involved some intensive years of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. plus evenings and additional hours where necessary to complete her works, but eventually she created a shift in her work habits to make room and balance for family life. 

This was not a hands-on workshop for attendees, in that we did not touch clay as we would in our own studio practices, or might in a typical one-person demo over two days. But the volume and quality of first-person demonstration and powerful trains of thought, especially if attended over consecutive years, makes this a great happening that is all about the diversity and accomplishment of contemporary women working in clay. 



Posted on June 23, 2015 .

Explorations in Dinnerware

I've been thinking for some time about offering dinnerware on my website and through my gallery. A couple of months ago I bought these pottery hump forms at NCECA (National Conference for Education in the Ceramic Arts) to help along the project. These are made to drape slabs over to make dinner and salad plates.

(The "corn-ear holder" is to make a foot profile.)

With my stoneware clay's 12% shrinkage, these proved to make vessel sizes that are just a little smaller than I wanted, but the shape is really good, and decoration possibilities are endless: 

(First effort at dinner and salad plates.)

I have since ordered a larger dinner plate hump form so that the next dinner plates will be closer to 10" than the 8.75" they end up being when using the current hump form. But I found a different solution to fixing the hump forms for salad plates, using an unpainted wooden frame I bought a while back at Michael's Crafts. This way the salad plates have bigger rims:

The first prototypes, with vegetable dish and serving platter (these items made over other GR Pottery Form humps), mug, bowl and a few serving pieces of my own design (mugs made on the wheel and bowls and olive boats from my own handmade template):

Exploration continues. Nothing is "etched in stone(ware)" for sure yet, but there are some nice lights I can visualize at the end of a shortish tunnel.

Posted on June 3, 2015 .

An Intimate and Sociable Art: Pottery

Vessels, or sculptures, or objects that straddle and erase that line; that's what potters make. But whatever the end result, the circuit always begins with the lump of clay and the artist's idea of the object-to-be. But that's just the beginning of a circuit. The circuit is not complete until another person looks at, thinks about, and perhaps touches and/or uses the finished object. Objects can be "stuff", or they be more. I aim for "more".

As a maker, I look for that sense of completion. I think about texture, shape, function, color and portability. I look to share the object with someone else in the end. I know it comes at an initial cost to the user- after all, the object must be located, paid for, and somehow received. I note that it comes at a cost to me, too- not just the layout for clay, glaze, kiln firings, and expenditure of effort, but also the strength of will to start the object and see it through from idea to fruition. But as a maker all my life, the will is second nature.

Makers need to make objects.

(Click on the photo to get the next photo in the slideshow)

My various costs have great meaning to me. I embrace them knowingly. My heart is in the process. Still, I do not come full circle until someone has willingly accepted the created object as his or her own. 

Creating pottery is so often a solitary occupation. But in the end it has to become an interaction, or it is an incomplete thing. It really needs to be defined as an intimate and sociable art. 

Posted on May 27, 2015 .

On Not Being Blocked

Maybe there's a bit of a writing block. So it's hard to blog just now. But the rest of the work is not blocked. My creative focus is diverted into all of the other work- the art of making and the business of promoting and selling. 

Here is the kiln I opened this morning. The first glimpse is a blank of beige fire brick and beige shelves. It's like when you start a new book; it's the no-frills front paper before a story begins.

After lifting the cap shelves off and unloading the first pieces of student work (that's for a different blog post), I found that the red bowls had come out well:

(The red is bluish where it pools)

both inside and out-

(Interesting...the green glaze on bare rim, vs the green glaze over the red glaze)

and the greeny-blue pieces were good, too.

(Hellooooo Beautiful)

A platter further down was softer red than expected. I think it's a winner:

(underglaze on the bird made some necessary contrast)

(underglaze on the bird made some necessary contrast)

Altogether, the reds were a nice group. These bowls were the textured ones (chattered, grooved with a lemon zester) you saw before today in these pages, in their various stages of development.

(Got a bird motif going on)

The next glazed pots are on the cart waiting to go into the kiln next week. Different color group. That's a bit of a different adventure from these.

In the fresh clay section of the studio, more dinnerware will be in the works on Tuesday of next week. (I will have a few days off before then for family graduations.) Back to you next week!


After years of mostly creating my pottery by throwing the pieces on the potter's wheel, in recent times I've also been doing lots of hand-building as well, making platters, plates and other vessels from slabs. Nowadays my workshop has a few varied techniques going on at once.

Here's an effort much like I've been doing for years- these bisqued bowls, awaiting glazing.

And below is my newest effort, dinnerware. Square dinnerware, in fact. So far I've worked on dinner plates, salad plates and bowls. I still have to sand these a little, and glaze and fire them to completion, so you are not seeing them in their final, ivory color, with glossy finish. But what you ARE seeing is the first prototype of these shapes, and a look at the first decoration option. I plan to have dinnerware available in limited quantities, by order, and I will have a registry for sets by late September.

This one has some simple carving and inlaid underglaze color. You get the gist:

(Dinner plates, salad plates, bowls and one vegetable server, plus a few oval incidental bowls)

Still to come: cups for this shape set, and serving pieces- a serving platter to add to the vegetable serving dish (veg dish can be seen under the single bowl) shown here. Also, I will be developing other color choices, which will make each set look different from each other while retaining the same shapes. 

Before cup designs and color choices and the creation of platters, though, I've got to carry on with the regularly scheduled program. This week, the calendar just reads: glazing. 

If you're in the market for a salad and serving bowl, I'll have really good new ones when the glaze fire is finished late in the week! Prices around $45.

Posted on April 28, 2015 .

Spring, Bisque, Glaze, Potters Guild of NJ show

Spring is springing very quirkily this year. There's no placid progression. We get blossoms...and pounding rain that knocks them off the trees. A warm day, then three chilly ones. First thing this morning I needed gloves on my brisk walk, the air felt like late fall. That's what we get for living where the seasons change. We get...change.

In the studio, that alternate reality space, I put the bisque kiln through its motions twice this week, bringing me a pretty big load of pieces to glaze over the next week and fire over the next two weeks. Because bisqued pots can touch each other or even be stacked in the kiln, but glazed pots can't, I will have three kilns full to glaze fire. 

This part of the job- glazing- is a big slog. I just bite the bullet and do it, because the results are usually worth it. It beats the heck out of my hands, which will be like sandpaper even with judicious use of Working Hands, my recent healing balm purchase to help with the rough mitts. You just can't have lotion on your hands when you glaze. If you handle the bisqued ware with it on your hands, you make spots where the glaze says, "Nuh uh, not sticking here." And though I may wear disposable gloves through parts of the process, other parts require touch. Just the facts of the job.

I'm not showing work with my guild at their twice a year show and sale this weekend in Mountainside, NJ, at the Presbyterian Church on Deer Path, but if you want to see lots of good pots, some pretty innovative and some quite classical, the church is straight up Deer Path (New Providence Rd exit) from Rte 22, and the hours Sunday are 12-5. (They are there 11-5 Saturday as well.) You can find some interesting and happy purchases there if you give it a chance, in all price ranges. 

I'm going instead to visit an NCECA friend in Long Island at her potters' group meeting, for a change. This is my time to meet people and talk talk talk clay. Pot on!



Posted on April 24, 2015 .

Using New Tools

Using some of the new tools bought at NCECA, along with items of my own fabrication and collection, here's what I'm working on this week: bird things. 

Posted on April 15, 2015 .

Adding Great Tools

Never mind jewelry and new shoes. Who cares? I went shopping for studio tools.

Bought some nifty and extremely useful items from vendors at NCECA 2015, and also added some items from elsewhere.

There's this wheat etched roller from Their booth was fun to check out.

(Texture roller for clay from Socwell LLC)

I'm thinking about having them make me a signature stamp for signing my work. We'll see. I blew the budget for now on this NCECA trip!

And these hand cut wheels and stamps from Stanley Hurst at, whose motto is "Impressions last a lifetime; make a good one!"

(Mecca Pottery tools. The square and rectangle stamps have different designs cut into the other ends.)

They have a beautiful handmade feel which is unlike the neat laser-like etching of the wheat design roller tool. There's a place for both in my work.

Can't wait to use this brush with the copper ferrule (below at bottom) handmade by Joe Campbell. I tried out many of his brushes using water on colored paper, and chose the one that made the mark I liked best. I came back the next day and bought the other brush for a friend.

(Joe Campbell brushes)

It's going to be extremely helpful to use these dinnerware hump forms (below). In fact, I intend to start using them next week.

(Hump forms for making square dinnerware)

They're from GR Pottery Forms ( I will roll slabs and drape the clay over the forms to shape square plates in two sizes, salad and dinner. The forms are very dense grained, the clay won't stick to them, and this set comes with an edge finishing tool for the vessels I will make from them. I'll throw bowls and cups on the wheel to create full place settings. My head was buzzing with designs and plans while I pondered buying these. Once I have some color and surface ideas planned, which I hope to have by June, I'll be offering a wedding registry! (Look for developing information about that on this blog over the coming weeks.)

I had already ordered this set of 11 biscuit cutters online before going to the conference, from Bill van Gilder's excellent site (, to facilitate handbuilding perfect circular components for lids and bases and foot rings.

(Biscuit cutter set for making round components on handmade pieces)

And I had just bought this adjustible measurer (below) online from John Fulwood at Kissimmee River Pottery (, to measure vessels as I throw them on the wheel. This is a very fancy version of a tombo (Japanese measuring tool) to help me know whether I'm maintaining constant sizes for sets. I won't be making huge numbers of sets, but I will be open to commissions once I have prototypes of the dinnerware up on my website.

(Fulwood Measure from Kissimmee River Pottery in NJ)

I'm continuing to invest in the business, and it's exciting!


Posted on April 9, 2015 .

Surface Marks on Bowls

Simple marks are easy to make, and fun.

These were made by tools that were gifts from friends. 

A simple chattering tool is held angled in the hand in different ways to make larger or smaller marks. This is simply a strap of flexible, bent metal with sharpish edges. Held a little out from the pot, it makes thinner lines. Held about perpendicular to the pot, it makes bigger, wider marks. Little chippy shavings come off as the tool bounces on the turning pot, and it makes a sort of whirring hum.

The little doodad below is a lemon zester. It gets pulled along the surface as you turn the bowl in your hands bit by bit.

Below is one of my usual trimming tools, used to trim excess clay from the bowl after it has firmed up quite a bit post-throwing. It made uncomplicated rings around the bowl.

(This is a Bison trimming tool, handmade in Las Vegas. Expensive, but worth it. It stays sharp.)

Here (below) is a link to a video of much more complicated surfaces made by Ken Standhardt on his beautiful pots, with tools just as simple as the ones above- a pair of can opener/punches, in fact, and a ballpoint pen. So much is possible using the most elementary tools!

Human ingenuity used for good, not evil. Ohhhh yeah.

Posted on April 7, 2015 .

Simple Bowl

You know it's been too long since you sat at your potter's wheel when the liquid in your throwing-water bucket has evaporated to the thickness of pudding.

It's been at least a month of doing other things around the studio and gallery and teaching area. Plus holiday prep around here, plus NCECA.

I woke this morning thinking about "bowliness" and by 6:30 had gone into the studio to weigh 2-lb balls of clay and throw bowls. I want to bring the essence of "bowl" to the clay. The bowl was my first and favorite form. It is generous. It contains. It offers. 

I made the bottom thin, and the walls, and neatly finished the edge of the rim. Four times, one for each 2-lb ball of clay. I am beginning to explore Bowl again in its simplicity.

Except for making the interior curve with no line of transition from wall to floor, and thinking about a balance of containing and offering, my main intent was to let go and flow with the clay. Maybe they will want to be stamped later. Maybe colored. Maybe left ivory. Maybe I don't know yet. 

Went on and threw a couple of 3-lb bowls. They are thrown equally thin. What a difference a pound of clay makes.

What does 4-lbs of clay do? ...Tomorrow. Early.

Posted on April 6, 2015 .

After NCECA, Pausing

I've been to NCECA! Pronounced "Enseeka", that's National Conference for Education in the Ceramic Arts. It's big (nearly 5,000 people), it travels annually to a new venue (this year Rhode Island), and I hadn't gone in 14 years. And I would like to blog more about it. But it was too darn big and too much to assimilate and just la di da write up, so I'm going to have to think about that for a while. 

All I can say for sure is, I came home with connection to a new friend, and having had interesting conversations with some diverse people, seen good clay techniques demonstrated by really fine artists, and bought some cool new tools and texture items for the studio. My appetite for all things and folks "clay" has only been further whetted. I should be half my age to do all the things I want to do in my field before I hand on my potter's wheel. 

In any case I will go like gangbusters once I get back to work with clay, which will be another 9 days or so. This is the "busy life" time where I pre-budget a break from clay itself and pour my energies into all the things I need to do for our family life. Unlike my earlier days, though, this time is more than compensated for by longer hours and work weeks in the studio before and after the break. I have to say- it's hard to take a break after a flood of new ideas begins to germinate!

In the last week I've visited my 101 year old aunt in Massachusetts (what an impressive woman, lucid and personable), been to NCECA, and also registered for the Women Working with Clay Symposium in Roanoke, Virginia beginning June 8, 2015. Aside from that, I've made some resolutions.

The first is COLOR. Want. Lots. Underglazes to the max.

The second is PASSOVER. I'm on a roll. I can't stop figuring my way through Passover ware suddenly. I'm designing in my head till I can work with clay again. Matzah plates. Seder plates. Other Seder dishes and household vessels. I want to design like crazy and focus for a long while...and see what transpires. Most other things will wait!

The third resolution comes from the realization that working with clay is bringing me full circle to the creativity of childhood. I mean the unselfconsciousness, before undue external criticism and don't-do-that-art-thing hampered it. I am more my original art-self than I've been in years. My resolution is, go with it to the max.

There's one matzah plate left; click here. I decided that the slight line along the foot ring was a reason to lower the price from $95 to $75. It does not affect appearance or function, and you can still hang this plate on the wall! It is 19" in diameter, curved to resemble a round handmade matzah, and smooth and glossy. I made it from a slab of clay, used colored washes of underglaze and lettering on it (with clear glaze over it), and gave it a creamy coat of nutmeg glaze on the underside. People always ask, so I must add, it is food safe. All my pottery is. I want you to be comfortable using my pottery. 

Enjoy the holiday!

(19" diameter Matzah Plate)


Posted on March 30, 2015 .

Tripling the Inventory & Pricing it Right

I did not realize how many pots I put away "for later" over the last 15 or so years (half my pottery working life) until I brought them into the light and began wiping them down and putting them on the gallery shelves. Much to my surprise, I believe I've tripled my inventory. 

That is the main reason I've been neglecting my blog these last weeks (except for writing about this year's Passover pottery, which I'm pretty excited about). Who can blog when there is so much to sort and dust, to photograph, measure, weigh and describe, to figure price and put on the website, and price-sticker and put on the gallery shelves? It's been a tiring, time intensive but really interesting journey of rediscovery.

Some are styles I do not do currently. But they have me thinking that I have to do that again, whatever "that" is. Like, for instance, the interior of this cereal bowl- that was a cool effect.

These little personal cream & sugar sets... liking the slipwork I did on them. Have to do more of this sort of decoration on other types of pots.

My "walking jars" (below) were very interesting. Might do more, different but recalling certain elements, like those walky feet.

There are good glazes I hadn't gotten to work for me with my current clay, that were nice on previous clays; like this rusty red (below). (Although I think I may have solved that just lately and will use this glaze again...)

Another example- this black, which has never been this black again on my vessels since I changed from dark clay to light. (I keep working on it, though, testing glazes.)

Don't know why I didn't wake up and see that I had some buried treasure. Anyway, most of the buried treasure is now on sale at ridiculously good prices. The gallery is too stuffed, and besides, I'm rarin' to make new work. You are welcome to browse the web pages here and visit the Gallery Downstairs (here on Windsor Way in Hillside, NJ) and see what I mean. The new "Sale!" web page and the same pots in my physical gallery should stay up a while, but I priced these things to go quickly. I'm putting up more of these pots several days a week. On to your new homes, kids! Mama's got lots of new work to make. 

Posted on March 10, 2015 .

Passover is Coming...Spring, Too!

Several months of preparation have culminated in Passover pottery, new for this spring. Yes, here in the lower Northeast, the "S" word is welcome: "Spring"! It's going to arrive. I promise. Passover coming around is a major harbinger of spring at our house. One of its names is  Chag Ha'Aviv, the Holiday of Spring, in fact. 

I've been working on these new pieces since autumn, and I'm happy to have them to present on the Jewish Life page on my website. I've kept the color palette simple and low-key, so you can coordinate them with most table settings.

The matzah-textured plates are new this season. I love the design. They're big, too, for handmade round matzahs! You'll be seeing more of these next year.

(17" diameter matzah plate)

(17" diameter matzah plate)

(16" diameter matzah plate. My personal favorite this year.)

Also new and extra-big, but smooth, with one large "matzah" written on it (drawn freehand with underglazes, under the glaze):

(19" diameter.)

For those more economically minded, I added small vessels for the Seder table. They can be arranged (as shown here) on your own 13" diameter plate to form a Seder plate:

And I made some small dishes- very useful indeed for salt water, Charoset, Karpas or the like if you want small portions of these things placed along the center of the table for a larger group:


I have some Searching for Leavening (Bedikat Chametz) candle holders as well, which you can find by clicking here.

And here's an important studio update: 

While the Passover pottery for 2015/5775 has been on ongoing project, I've continued to unpack and do inventory on the last 15 years of pottery I put away "for a while" in the kiln room and around the studio, pottery which I am in a way rediscovering. Many beautiful things here! I have probably tripled my inventory with these. Who knew I had so much? Not I.

There will be a new sale section of these on my website coming in perhaps a month or two. Although I did not put them out for sale when I first made them, they are good quality, and some represent various styles, clays and glazes that are slightly different from my 2015 ones. 

I am doing the unpacking and inventory between making new pottery and teaching in my studio, so this will take a little while. When it comes together, sometime this spring I hope, the prices will be seriously affordable. Check back from time to time to see if the Sale page has gone up, especially when you have a gift-giving opportunity and need to find something nice (and handmade, and affordable) quickly! I will also send out one of my rare email mailings, which you can only get if you are on my list (sign up via my Contact page, above in the menu, to get this!)

As ever, thanks a million for reading the blog, and for staying up to date with my studio. Mention it if you see me. I like to know whose been reading!

Posted on March 2, 2015 .

So...Been Making Pottery Lately?

I'm often asked, "How's the pottery going?"

It's going well, thanks- I'm excited about it. After all these years of making pottery, I'm finally building a business. 

Since most shows are Saturday/Sunday combos, and I don't "do" Saturdays (they're all booked forever), I've had to think of how to build a different sort of business.

So I'm making a certain amount pottery, enough to have fresh pieces on hand every couple of months, and the rest of my time I am working a whole lot on those other parts of my business.

Lately I've been working with a consultant and building business infrastructure. It's time to grow my business sensibly. There are so many moving parts to a business.

For example, we've been creating a better annual calendar of work with realistic finish dates. Also, we've been planning a couple of types of sales in my studio gallery, and working on how best to do them. I've been scheduling couple pottery-date nights and the occasional family-group pottery session. I've wanted to bring people into the studio (it's so solitary!) and create an alternate source of income to supplement the pottery sales, but I hadn't done these things until lately.

Also lately, I took an online course on branding, licensing, and writing about my craft, given by two fine and thought inspiring potters, Ben Carter and Molly Hatch. That was a rare and timely opportunity. I'm always reading and learning about my art and craft. 

Luckily I'm still in the phase of life when I can keep trying to make better or other works in clay. That means growing and stretching creatively!

If I made pottery all day, every workday, and did nothing else, I'd be busy and justifiably tired. But at the end of the day I'd be left with... lots of pots. So now, instead, I make pottery some of the time, and spend lots of time on ways to get (and keep) organized and to let people know my studio and website and gallery are here and available.

After just about 30 years with clay, (I'll reach that milestone in March) I have lots to say and do on the subject, so I also teach several private students some of the ins and outs of this medium. That's a challenge, and it's fun because the students are so motivated. It also guarantees a certain amount of income while I'm figuring out some of the other parts of the business.

I'm glad to be using lots of energy and really engaging my brain. Some of my fellow clay folks may be saying hi to me at NCECA (National Conference for Education in the Ceramic Arts) in Rhode Island in March, and maybe one or two of you might be going to a great symposium in June (Women Working with Clay, at Hollins University in Virginia). I'm always bursting to talk clay with other people who work with it. I'm looking forward to meeting in person some of the potters whose blogs I follow.

Did you know there are lots of potters? While we're not a dime a dozen, being a tiny fraction as many as accountants, say, or bus drivers, or dental technicians, there are a bunch of us low-profilers out there. (Maybe there are as many of us as there are philosophers...) It's just that we do what we do pretty quietly, in our solitary studios, so you don't hear about us much. Not every one of us likes to write incessantly about pots like I do, either!

You probably know by now- I'm always looking for inspiration. 

Posted on February 23, 2015 .

Looking Through the Back Room Shelves

All those pots I have put away over time in the back room of my studio (aka the kiln room) for "later" ... are about to become a windfall for a bunch of shoppers. 

"Later" is about to arrive, and it won't cost much.

Bring friends because it will pretty much be a once in a decade-and-a-half event here. My last one was that long ago. Come because $5 will buy you something you can use and enjoy.

This is where I assemble lots of nice pottery objects that I wanted put aside to look at for a while or come back to at some point and consider. I'm looking and considering now! 

There are all sorts of items. There are vessels made from various types of clays.  Some  were experimental designs. There are also many, many bowls in ice cream, cereal, soup and side dish sizes; mugs from espresso to jumbo with all sorts of handles in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and various glazes; some vessels with minor flaws that won't affect use; and singletons of a particular color or style whose peers went on without them. Many have not been seen by eyes other than mine.  

Stay tuned for the date and time of "the sale of a decade and a half", please! It will take a bit of time to price these pots and set them up in the gallery. I'm thinking sometime in the next 2 weeks...


Posted on February 18, 2015 .

Matzah on the Plate...

With some Seder plates bisqued and ready to glaze, I went on to make some matzah plates. 

After last Passover, I made silicone molds, brushing layers of liquid silicone on the surface of a couple of square matzahs. It was especially messy because the matzahs sort of dissolved or embedded themselves in the silicone as it set. But I was able to wash out the matzah residue after the silicone hardened. 

(Great for texturing a slab...)

I rolled a couple of great big slabs. This involved lots of whacking a big chunk of clay with a big mallet into thinner (about 2" thick) pads, stretching each slab so it would be wide enough, and rolling them one by one to at least 20" in diameter and a bit under 1/4" thick. 

I put them into Selma's big, curved plates, which I am using as slump molds. Selma was a lovely friend who died at 93 or so, a few years ago. I inherited her big bisqued plates, which she had never gotten around to glazing. Now I've decided to use them as slump molds to make these slab plates, and I think of her when I use them. I'm thinking she would probably have enjoyed this matzah plate process, too. 

I textured the fresh clay plates, rolling the textured silicone matzah sheets into the surface. If you click on the photo below, you can see the texture better.

These plates are made to hold the large, round, handmade matzahs ("hand shmura") that many people use especially for their Passover Seder. They are 18.5"-19" at this point, but will shrink to  about 16"-16 3/4" by the time they are finished, glaze and all.

Here are the slabs supported in Selma's bisqued plates, textured with the silicone sheets and some brushwork that says "matzah" in Hebrew randomly all over. One is round and one has a "handmade matzah" edge.

("Hand shmura" plates firming up so I can add a foot. Strips of clay for the feet are under plastic to the left. Click for larger image!)

Once the plates were firm enough to remove from the supportive forms, I flipped them over onto upholstery foam and added a raised foot to the bottom, each foot made from a strip of slab about 22" long. I put 4 holes through the foot so the plate can be hung on the wall as a decorative object between uses.

(By contrast to the textured top surface, the bottom surface is fairly smooth. I don't want it to catch on your tablecloth or scratch your wall.)

Remember, the gray clay will be a warm ivory, and glossy. Should come out really nice if all goes as planned.

Posted on February 16, 2015 .

Sorting Commences on Sale Pottery

The sorting commences for all those pots that were hiding in the back room, that will go on sale at really great prices in about a week. 

Here are some glimpses!

Posted on February 15, 2015 .