In the Studio

I’ve had a productive week. Sixteen mugs, three small bowls, and a vase thrown on the wheel. I ran the risk of not getting handles attached to five of the white mugs and getting their bottoms trimmed up; I had left them to stiffen a day too long on the shelf, so it was a scramble in getting them trimmed, pulling handles and getting them on. As I was working I knew there would be cracks at the joins, and I really thought I’d missed the window, but with a good roughing and lots of slip I hoped for the best. Then I went on to work with red clay.

Sure enough the next day when I checked the white mugs they had indeed formed cracks where the handles joined the mug. I set to work with a paint brush, vinegar and a flat, wood tool and mended the fissures. I had to do this every day until all the pieces were completely dry. Why Vinegar? It moistens the semi dry clay without adding extra water to the clay because it quickly evaporates. So it gives me enough time to manipulate the softened clay to make minor mends.

Luckily I managed to save all the white mugs. The red clay pieces were carefully monitored as they set up. Then I spent a day trimming the bottoms and pulling handles and attaching them. But checking them the next day I spotted a few of them had small cracks, so out with the brush and vinegar.

I have been making a lot of mugs, trying to get them right. When I first started making them they came out of the kiln so small, not taking into account how much shrinkage happens. Then, when I think I have a good size mug and glaze them, I’m unhappy with the end product after the final firing. In the last firing for example the clear glaze applied over top of the underglaze, was too thick and caused some lumpy and cloudy areas in the final fire. So, trial and error, and practice, practice, practice.

I think I’m getting closer to the size I’ve been after, and the thinness. Tomorrow I’ll be under glazing. I’ve stumbled upon some designs I was quite happy with on my last batch and I’m excited to get to work. Fingers crossed this batch is the charm!

Then I made a mini-Apple Pie and Orange-Fennel Ice Cream, because- balance.

Cheers!

A Little Space

I made a couple of purchases the other day for my basement studio. A six foot long plastic banquet table, an adjustable, portable table top drafting board, and an easel. Boom. The long table replaces a small drafting table I had picked up second hand a couple years back, but it wasn’t working for me, I needed more space to sprawl. The drafting board is compact and can be easily moved, used anywhere, or folded up and put away until needed. And the easel is an upright model, not a tripod, so takes up less floor space.

One side of my small studio works fine, the pottery side. I have my wheel well placed next to the wood stove, a long canvas covered work table with a full length shelf underneath that holds boxes of clay and other related material, and a short table with a small shelf for under glazes and brushes. And I have a tall shelf unit that holds all my clay work in process.

It was my studio’s “painting” side I was struggling with to get right. Like a bird fussing over its nest, I’ve prodded and pecked until it “felt” right, until it had flow. It has to work. Especially so since I do have to consider the size of my studio area. It’s small.

But I believe I’ve got the lay out just right now~

So I originally had this post close to sharing on January the 11th but, well life, I guess. So this is what I’ve been doing between then and now. I’ve settled into my studio- it feels good, got some pots thrown.

Freshly made, now waiting to trim and foot (clean up their bottoms) and apply handles to the mugs.

I’ve also spent some time in my kitchen, making French Macarons, meat pies, and carrot cakes. I’m enjoying once again making edible stuff. I moved away a bit from baking especially. Because I kept debating with myself the downside of the combination of sugar, and eggs, and butter and how expensive those ingredients are, and for what? To make me fat. (..ter). But since Christmas baking, I’ve reconnected with confection. Although maintaining a workable distance for the sake of weight. And I do have a captive neighbourhood who are more than happy to relieve me of the caloric burden, if I so choose. Oh, and Bob. He will oblige willingly. And he lives with me, so that’s handy.

I once had visions of having a bistro/bakery. It’s one of the main reasons why I trained as a chef and baker. That or an amazing boutique Bed and Breakfast. Fifteen rooms. Waterfront. Oh what I thought I could’ve done with that.

Mini 4″ Carrot Cake with candied carrots and caramelized walnuts.
Mini carrot cake. 2021

But, everything is in its place, as it should be. So, a little baking; a little cooking; a little clay work; a little painting; a little writing. I’ve also joined up for a fun project called The Sketch Book Project from the Brooklyn Art Library. They sent me a booklet filled with 32, 5 x7 white empty pages, and I am to send it back by August’s end full of whatever I have created within. Then it joins thousands of other little sketchbooks to be cataloged in their library. My niece is participating too- so we’ll inspire each other.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m boiling orange peels in simple syrup and they are ready to tray. Cheers ~

Sweet Little Days

Ok, I have found that I am not keeping my promise in making weekly posts. It’s not as though I’ve been unable to. The weeks seem to float by, like ‘sweet little days,’ to clip a lyric from John Prine; so unassuming that I’m caught unaware. And the next thing I know is- I haven’t posted anything.

In my last post I mentioned that I will be involved in the Nanowrimo (National November Writing Month) and that is precicley what I have been up to. The goal is to write about 1700 words a day to a total of 50,000 by the end of November. I started the month with a story I had already in progress, with 25,000 words already written. My goal is to have a written draft completed by the end of the month. The challenge too that I’m trying to overcome is the need to edit as I write. Having a stiff timeline like the Nanowrimo to work under pushes me to power through and not over think. To “fix it later.”

I compare it to the cooking competition show Chopped. The chefs are given a black box containing crazy mismatched ingredients and must create a delicious plate of food, within a sharply limited time frame, that is then put before the judging panel. In this situation, the chef cannot spend moments thinking; it’s Go- NOW!

Except I have thirty days to put something together, the chefs have twenty minutes.

Anyway, I’ve been tapping away on a historical creative non fiction, rather ambitious for a first novel; go big or go home and all that, and I’m making good strides. I think I am. That’s the thing with writing a book. You sequester away for days, months, years, as nearly a hermit, with no guarantee anything will come of it.

I’ve begun a little practice of waking early, before dawn, and heading out on a walk. It’s early enough that no one is out, and I feel like I have the island to myself. As the sky lightens I find images to photograph on my walk, so it becomes an Artist date ( The Artist’s Way ) and exercise at the same time, win-win!

I’m loving starting my day like that. When I get back home, some yoga, then breakfast, then feel I can sit down to write for a few hours- sometimes more than a few hours.

I’ve recently gotten my pottery out of the kiln, a big bin of mugs, some vases, and a couple of bowls, and I’m happy with how they came out. Almost. Still having issues with the clear glaze I apply over the underglaze; coming out on the opaque side rather than crystal clear on some of the pots. And my mugs could be slightly bigger- I’m surprised how much shrinkage happens in the bisque fire.

So that about catches me up. I can’t accept that I haven’t played any music for two months, so that is an issue in need of rectifying.

Cheers and stay well ~

Rainy Day

Just back from Salmon Arm visiting my daughter, her husband and my two granddaughters, one of which we celebrated her third birthday.

The card I made for my granddaughter. She’s obsessed with dinosaurs. Knows many of their names, since the age of 2. Genius.

I managed to get the final glazing done on a batch of mugs and bowls before I left. Still working on getting the size of my mugs right, and to get that perfect “Lip” on the rim. I use underglazes to create my patterns and designs, the final glaze is a clear glaze on the bisque ware.

Here are the under-glazed pieces before I coated them in the final fire glaze:

Here is one of the mugs, bisque fired and ready for final fire glazing. The size is better, I’ve been more aware to make the mugs on the large size to compensate for shrinkage. Most of my past mugs have come out of the bisque fire rather teensy.

The same mug painted with the final clear glaze. Looks kinda crappy, but it will be clear and the images beneath will shine through when it comes out of the final fire.

Then there is this bowl. I was attempting my first ever large bowl when it suddenly collapsed. I was about to pull it off when I noticed it fell into a pleasing way. It had a shape. It could still be something. I thought, meh, fruit bowl?

So I left it on the wheel for a day to set up, and then removed it to a board to dry further so I could clean up the bottom. Then I painted a poppy image on it, and hope for the best! Below is the bisque fired piece.

I hadn’t played my guitar or had done any writing over the week I was away in Salmon Arm, a house with two toddlers is a BUSY house. Now I’m home, that’s deathly quiet, and back to my creative practices. On this stormy, rainy October day it was spent in the kitchen making tomato jam and figuring out what treats to make for the ghosts and goblins that will be coming by my door in a few days.

Cheers~

November blossom, Vancouver Island 2019

Spring Push

March is here and I’m happy about it! Time to start thinking about the veggie garden and other gardening activities, time for being out doors more than indoors, and soon time for swimming in the river and ocean.

Half of the month of February was taken up by a minor injury that required five stitches and two weeks to heal. I was pushing down on a large bag of my recycling bag to make room for yet a little more, and a can sliced into the fleshy part at the base of my right hand thumb. A nice fillet of palm.

I buy hardly any canned products, but that little can of evaporated milk got me. I clean all my recycling, because I’m an obedient citizen (insert sarcasm ), but it was still a can, and a deep slice. Off to the walk-in clinic and stitches, and a tetanus shot for good measure.

A note about the young resident doctor at the clinic. I chatted with him about where and how long he has trained, etc. He says UBC and  eight years, then the residency. He put his rubber gloves on, got the tray of sewing gear ready, then he reached in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone- had a look, swiped it to read something, then slipped it back in his pocket. I said, “Would you mind changing your gloves.” (it wasn’t a question) which he promptly did; I think he realized his slip. I thought, Didn’t they teach you hygiene in med school? Cell phones are petri dishes!

The cut kept my right hand in limited use. I managed to get some more pottery under-glazed, but throwing on the wheel was out of the question, or hand building.

I got some writing done too, class work, but also concentrated on a non-fiction short story to submit for the CBC competition that ended yesterday, the 29th. I had changed my submission story three times. I started with a story from my childhood and a grade five bully. Wrote 2000 words on it, then thought who wants to read about an old woman’s little bullying  episode from 1967?

So I started another story based on the life of a good friend of mine, someone I am close to and love like a brother, and who has overcome real hardship. 2000 words. Then thought- is this my story to tell? Then I started the third -and last story, because I was running out of time! I chose an event from a 1997 sailing trip from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas I was crew on. Some interesting things had happened on that voyage, so with one week left till deadline I wrote another 2000 word story and got it in last night.

Writing non-fiction is harder than writing fiction. More fun to create a world. Writing fiction is far more entertaining than trying to unearth anything interesting from my own mundane middle-aged life to write about!

I’ve submitted to this competition three other times in the past. Spoiler alert- I’ve never won, or was ever short listed. Never expected either, and still don’t. Right now I’m just working at getting comfortable with submitting! Of course my writing is garbage, that’s ok. Maybe it’ll improve, it’s why I’m taking a writing class. Each time I polish something for submission it’s good practice, working with a deadline, all that.  I know I get better by increments. And that’s quite enough for the time being.

Happy March !

Studio Work and Back to School

I’ve been a little preoccupied over the last few weeks. One, I’ve been getting some work done in my studio. It took me a while to get myself down in to the basement- my studio’s location-because I had to overcome a ridiculous hang up; where will I put the things I make? Where will I store them? True, there isn’t a lot of space down there, yet presumptuous of me to worry about stuff I haven’t even made yet.

So I gave myself a pep talk: just get in there, make stuff, then consider the logistics.

 

I can self sabotage like a champ.

And I know I’m not alone in this. Why do we self sabotage ? Especially when it’s something we love to do, or have always wanted to do? Self Sabotage is slithery, sometimes – many times- I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I don’t know about you but I can always come up with a justification for not doing something.  I’m working on rectifying this, and recognizing when it’s happening is the first step.

There should be a Self Sabotage Anonymous Group.

 “Hello, my name is Debra and I am a self sabotager.”

“Hi Debra.”

The other preoccupation; I’ve enrolled in a Fiction Writing university class! It was hit and miss for a bit because I was on the waiting list. This happened mid January and I’ve got three weeks assignments in. There are reading assignments, then questions to answer in paragraph form. We submit our own short story piece every other week and give constructive critiques to each other. The instructor then does his final critique privately to each student at the end of each week.

Writing is a passion for me. I’ve been writing, privately, for many years, and have kept journals since the age of fourteen. Badly written pieces aside, I want to do this. These first few weeks have been illuminating, and I’m loving the process!

And let’s just add that I need this class.

The bonus is the class is conducted online, which is ultra convenient. If you don’t know, I live on a tiny gulf island and commute by boat. So when it’s a snowin’, blowin’, sleetin’ or a rainin’,  I. don’t. care. I’m snug at home.

Enrolling in the class was a positive step in taking something I imagine I can do to the next level. It is also a sly method to seek some outside validation. In other words I can write till my fingers fall off and think it’s pretty good. But, in fact, like Schrodinger’s cat, I’m a great writer- in my eyes – in my house.

Now I’ll see which state collapses when observed by a third party.

I continue doing Morning Pages. I believe they have been instrumental in guiding me to dig down and mine the good stuff I had buried over the years. Focused journalling, is what I call it. Three pages every single day for nearly five months now.

Happy Creating ~

 

Attachments

IMG_2624I have a blue cup that I drink my coffee from each morning. I will not use any other as long at it remains intact, which  even though a long vertical fissure emanating from a big chip on the rim could render its holding properties null and void, still the little mug remains defiant.

I bought the cup in Cowichan Bay what has to be 10 years ago from a woman potter whose studio was down near the water just off the main street. I can’t recall her name, she’s identified only by what I can guess is a letter “J”  scored into the clay bottom. I’ve been back since to see if she was still there when I had thoughts of replacing my blue cup when its crack grew longer, and thinking its life was over, but her studio is gone. I searched another potters wares while I was there, picking up and holding several cups but nothing felt quite like the one I had.

It’s not that I won’t use another cup at home, It’s just when I am at home my blue cup- nick named by my daughter as Old Chippy- is the one I will always prefer to use. Oddly too I will never drink tea from it. Only coffee. Tea can go into any cup. I don’t care.

Allow me wax poetic over Old Chippy-

It’s a mighty little mug. It is well proportioned and exhibits a lovely shape that could almost be called delicate, but not so much that a man would feel awkward drinking from it. I love this mug. No explicable reason can follow such an arcane statement. It could be the color, or the shape, its size that gives me just the right amount of coffee that I need. It’s not too big and it’s not too small, its rim the correct thinness that allows my lips to receive the perfect sip. It could be that the fingers of my right hand are an ideal match for its handle, that its lower contour fits comfortably nestled when it rests in my cupped left hand. It “cups” well, living up to its primary function.

I believe my cup has feelings. Weirdo. I feel that it would think I thought it ugly with its cracks and chips  if I were to begin using a new cup. But this would never be the case. My cups patina only enhances, the chips and crack a testament to duty and purpose and fortitude, proclaiming its brawn and determination to remain engaged in the task that it was made for until it absolutely can no longer.

There is courage displayed there in my cup, and something of The Velveteen Rabbit perhaps.

I am aware that this is an odd attachment but this awareness carries no shame. My cup is made of earthen clay, shaped by a person’s hand, infused with the potters intent and attention, fused by fire and air. I suppose I am remembering what I read in my Findhorn Cookbook given to me by a friend when I was 17, about that community that honoured the spirit not only in the growing things in their gardens, but also in the equipment, machines and tools that they used. So I don’t feel too out-of-place, or left field. Or weird.

 

1069870_660720867290654_1570902779_n-2