index

Brad Sondahl's magazine articles and other Pot Thoughts:
(linked to articles found on this page)
(sorry, the illustrations are not included with these articles)
The Business Wisdom of Timeless Adages March 2004 Ceramics Monthly
Fun with Candleholders   May-June 2003 Pottery Making Illustrated
Tips with dips and Pours March-April 2003 Pottery Making Illustrated
Tips from a Pro Jan-Feb 2002 Pottery Making Illustrated: 4 articles:
Bracing yourself Keeping steady while doing pottery work
Getting it even Using your hands as a calipers
Beading the Lip
Adding decoration: Feathering and Repetitive Scriffito

Sprig Decoration on Mugs Adding logos onto sides of mugs (Fall 1999 Pottery Making Illustrated)  This is my original unedited text...  Since I developed the technique on my own, I was unaware I was "sprigging" and referred to it as "embossing"

Tobikanna: Making and using the Japanese "Jumping Iron" (Summer 1999 Pottery Making Illustrated)

Unusual Pottery Markets (Summer 1999 Ceramics Monthly) Note: This is my unedited original article, which properly attributes the last part of the article to potter Terry Young (which was edited out by CM)

Adding a Coil Foot  Winter 1999 Pottery Making Illustrated.

Young Upstarts and Old Stick-in-the MudsDec. 98 CM Comment

Collecting pottery- a potter's view: Journal of American Art Pottery Association, Vol 14. No. 4 July-Aug 1998

Crystalline Glazes, Natural Beauty: Journal of American Art Pottery Association, Vol. 14, No. 3. May-June 1998

A potter's tale of terrors.(Column) Brad Sondahl.  Ceramics Monthly, April 1997 v45 n4 p112(1)
Outline: A potter describes how he continues to practice his craft, despite the mishaps
  that have occurred. His problems have included the receipt of bad clay, a fire started by
  the kiln plug and the creation of a foamy glaze as a result of mixing it in a bucket that
  formerly held soap-bubble mix.

Finding your niche. (relocation tips for potters) Brad Sondahl Ceramics Monthly, June-August 1996 v44 n6 p37(2)
Outline: Potters moving to a new location must first decide where to locate their
  studios. Some prefer home studios while others want a separate location. A kiosk on the
  main street of a small resort town is a good place for marketing work. Galleries and art
  fairs are other possibilities.

Teaching and the production potter.
Ceramics Monthly, Nov 1993 v41 n9 p102(2)

The death of Ernest Kunst. A funny detective story
Ceramics Monthly, Jan 1987 v35 p23(2)

Politically correct pots.
Ceramics Monthly  , May 1992 v40 n5 p86(2)
  Brief Summary: Potters must be aware of the environmental aspects of the art and
  craft. Ceramic materials should be recycled whenever possible, and electric kilns cause
  less pollution than wood or salt kilns. Also, the politically correct potter will not pander
  exclusively to the rich.

The trend toward standardization. (in art supplies, paints, and glazes)
Ceramics Monthly, Dec 1991 v39 n10 p88(1)
   Brief Summary: Something is both gained and lost as a result of scientific advances in
ceramic materials technology. The positive side is predictably uniform and high-quality,
non-toxic paint and glaze. The negative side is the lack of individual experimentation and
discovery.

A distinctive pottery culture. (column) Brad Sondahl.
Ceramics Monthly, May 1990 v38 n5 p22(1)

Menu of other Pot Thoughts on this page:

Competitors or Compatriots: How I look at competition
Cost of a Mug:Analysis of costs of production.
Gas or Electric Kiln? Why I use electric...
Dirt floors and Monkeytails A wild pottery adventure.
On being a Successful Potter
My first Intern
When a bisque overfires

Go to Brad's homepage
 
 

Other article, text not yet available.

I was only following orders. (taking customer orders for pottery) Brad Sondahl.
Ceramics Monthly, Dec 1988 v36 n10 p22(1)


Business wisdom from old sayings (original title and text for Business Wisdom from Timeless Adages, March 2004 CM)
 The folk wisdom of old sayings can be a valuable guidepost in making pottery business
decisions.  They don’t replace having a sound business model, but are more likely to serve as
common sense filters to avoid unnecessary expenditures.  Here’s some ideas I’ve gleaned from
some old chestnuts.
 Look before you leap.  This is the best advice for young potters.  Nearly everyone who
falls in love with ceramics considers throwing away everything in pursuit of the pottery
profession.  As a professional potter, I can affirm that it’s a good life, but few potters would say
it’s an easy one.  If you’re considering a career in ceramics, talk to some professionals in your
area.  There is plenty of competition out there, and earning a reasonable income means selling a
large amount of ceramics.  If you don’t want to spend at least  half of your time selling your
work, you probably will have a difficult time as a potter.
 “Look before you leap,” is also critically important to selecting a pottery workshop or
sales location.  If there are other potters in the area, the market may be saturated (although this
can also work synergistically to bring in more customers).  If there are no potters, galleries,  or
gift shops in the area, it may be too sparsely populated, economically disadvantaged, or off the
beaten track to establish a successful business.  It’s not exactly an old saying, but location,
location, and location is a meaningful business axiom.  When considering location, you’ve also
got to consider zoning ordinances, nearness and friendliness of neighbors, utilities such as gas
lines and electrical service, all part of looking before leaping.
 To paraphrase a saying in the writing business, Don’t be a potter unless you can’t
possibly be anything else.  This may be said by  professionals in part to discourage the
competition, but more realistically because all the creative fields are filled with talented and
dedicated individuals living more on love than salaries.
  On the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained.   If you’ve really got the clay
bug, you may already have the tools, the wheel or kiln, to become a viable business. It’s easy to
make a profit from pottery, since the materials are “dirt cheap,” and a lot of potters turn a
profitable hobby into a viable business.  In recent years new concepts are helping to support
pottery businesses, such as “paint it yourself” pottery centers (a more free-form version of the
traditional cast ceramics part of our industry).  Many potters teach classes from their studio, or in
the community, to help support their pottery passion.  Many others focus on sales, moving up the
art fair food chain from the $10.00 tables to the wholesale shows, or opening their own gallery.
If you fail, it’s better to have tried and failed, than to never have tried at all...
 When considering maintenance issues, A stitch in time saves nine. Whether fixing kilns,
wheels, or buildings, it’s good to keep this in mind.  I used to wait for the elements to burn out in
my kiln before replacing them.  This inevitably resulted in parts of the kiln being over- or under-
fired when the element burned out. The old elements were less efficient at producing heat, thus
costing more per firing. Besides some pots needing to be re-fired, often whole sections of the
pottery in the kiln were destroyed from the over-firing.  Their value would have paid for
replacing the elements earlier, which relates to the stitch in time motif...  Also keeping backup
kiln parts, and performing maintenance regularly,  can prevent big work slowdowns in your busy
season.
 But another maintenance consideration is that a new broom sweeps clean.  You can
change the elements all you want on a kiln, but if the walls are cracking and the wiring is fried,
you’re better off to go shopping, than to be nickel-and-dimed to death with “stitching” repairs.
When thinking in general of “new brooms,” identify the bottlenecks that are cutting down your
production or sales.  What new process, concept, or machine would help set you free to succeed?
 Many old sayings relate to frugality, which seems an almost outmoded concept. But if
you care about depleting resources and the environment, or if you’ve a limited budget, Waste
not want not is a worthy dictum. For example, you can recycle those clay scraps instead of
adding to the waste stream...  A less familiar variation is Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or
do without.  These sayings are the other swing of the pendulum from the “new broom,”
thinking, and can be used as  devil’s advocates when making decisions.  This thinking could
apply in the automotive arena.  If your budget is limited, you probably don’t need a new 4 door
pickup truck to get your clay twice a year.  You may even be able to trade your handicraft  to
someone who has a truck for hauling, thus “doing without.”   I went to a lot of art fairs in a VW
Beetle in my younger years, so anything’s possible...
 In fact, the Beetle memories bring up the wisdom, don’t count your chickens till
they’re hatched.  Twice in that car I nearly didn’t make it to art fairs because of car trouble.  I
recount the full story at my web page, but, in short, a blown piston and nearly thrown rods
almost made me miss two major fairs.
 Keeping to the avian theme, I could have avoided the trouble if I’d listened to the saying,
don’t put all your eggs in one basket.   If we had a second car, or hadn’t overloaded the little
Beetle, there would have been less trouble all around.  Along the same lines, it’s easy to become
dependent on “the one big fair” or “the one big weekend.”  If you’re juried out of the fair, or the
weather is miserable, you will be in a much more precarious position than if you have a variety
of sales options available.
 Finally remember that setbacks are as inevitable as bad kiln firings.  We all have them.
We can make it through most of them... So keep your sunny side up (works for eggs), let a
smile be your umbrella (although the frown is a better umbrella design), and turn, turn, turn
(or throw, throw, throw).
Fun with candleholders (original text)
Candle holders have a timeless appeal.  Here are some ways to make elegant yet practical candle
holders on the wheel that also invite variations.
The basic candle holder secures the candle and hopefully catches any drips that may occur.  Here
is my basic design:
After centering, push down with one finger towards the outer edge to create a "hat" shape.
Finish the outer edge by stretching outwards, and compressing and smoothing the lip with a
chamois.
 Use one finger to open a hole in the middle, stopping short of the bottom.  Pull the middle holder
part taller and thinner.

To help make a good fit for a candle, make a sizing tool by wrapping several thicknesses of
masking tape as smoothly as possible around the stub of a candle.  This will increase the diameter
of the candle, helping to make the size right after the pottery shrinks. (Some experimentation may
be necessary.)  When the wheel is stopped, put the end of the candle in the holder to assess the
size, and adjust the holder if necessary.

After the proper size is achieved, collar in about 1 inch below the top to make a stopper for the
candle.
That's the basic candle holder.  Here are two fun variations: the candle ring and the candle arch.
The candle ring can have multiple holders placed on them.  I have made them with four for
Advent candle rings, and even with a dozen holders for the 12 days of Christmas.  Here's the
basic idea:
After centering about 2 pounds of clay, poke a hole in the middle to the bottom, and pull out a
ring.  It helps to press downwards as you pull out, or it may easily become detached from the bat.
When the ring is about 8-10 inches in diameter, push down to make a trough with one finger.
   Set the ring aside while making the candle cups.  These are the top parts of the basic candle
holder, which can be best made off the hump.

Form the part as illustrated, and cut off with a needle tool, leaving a flared flange for attaching to
the ring. Repeat for as many as you'd like on the ring.

To make a candle arch, proceed to pull out a ring as previously shown. Instead of pushing down
to make a U-shaped trough, push in from the outside to make a C-shaped trough.

Trim the bottom of the shape so that it is symmetrical to the top. Some of this can be done while
still freshly thrown on the wheel   At the same time as you make the arch, make some
basic candle holders to go with it.

When the arch form is leather hard, turn it over and finish trimming to make it symmetrical. Any
area which has been trimmed may have open pores, and should be sealed with throwing slurry.

To make two identical candle arches, cut the ring in half. I use a spackling knife to make a straight
cut, but any knife will do.  You can make a single high candle arch  by only cutting a little off the
arch (you may wish to attach it to a slab to make it less tippy).  You could even use the whole
ring, and coil build or throw a stable foot for it.

To attach the arch to the candle holders, score and slip them well and attach them with firm
pressure.  Some clay may be added at the junctions to strengthen the bond.  These will be
extremely fragile when dry, but they will become more durable with the bisque and when the glaze
helps form a tight bond.
 

Tips with Dips and Pours
Improving your glazing techniques.
(unedited text)
By Brad Sondahl

The quickest way to glaze a pot is by dipping.  But potters can find this method irritating due to runny drips, bad overlaps, and blandness of decoration. Here are some ways to improve your success in glazing by dipping. They should work with any vessel form, from bowls to vases.
1. Preparation: If there are areas that should not be glazed, such as pot bottoms and sills where lids are attached, consider applying wax resist first to those areas. But if it takes less time to sponge off a pot bottom than to wax it, I don’t bother to wax.  Also, test to find which glazes work well when overlapping each other before trying this on pots you value.  Don’t forget to stir your glazes frequently.  Fragile glazes without kaolin can be difficult to handle when dry without rubbing off onto your hands (wearing rubber gloves when glazing  is advised).  Any glaze may spread color to other areas when handled, particularly if at all damp.

2. Although hands are handy for handling pots, they leave large spots unglazed where they contact the pot when used for dipping. This can be avoided by dipping in two steps (often with two colors of glaze).  I usually dip the bottom half of the pot first, then clean the bottom up with a sponge.  Pot bottoms are invariably thicker than the tops, so the glaze moisture is absorbed quicker and it will soon be handleable. If you want a placid decoration, hold the pot straight as you dip it into the bucket. For more zest, tip the pot at an angle as you lower it into the glaze.

3. At this point consider adding more wax resist to sharply define the area you wish to contain, or to add accents of the underlying color.

4. Now switch to the second color of glaze. Fill a cup with this glaze, and pour it into the inside of the pot, taking care not to drip on the outside.  A thin lipped cup such as come in boxes of detergent works well for this, particularly if the handle is bent by heating over a flame until it bends down, making a handle which can hook on the bucket.  Swish the glaze around the inside slightly, up close to the upper edge.  Now tip the pot on its side and steadily pour out the glaze while rotating it so as to complete glazing the inside.  When finished, tip the pot upside down, and dip it into the glaze bucket to where the two glazes meet.  Some overlap is desirable, and usually creates an interesting third shade of color.  When you remove the pot from the glaze, rotate the pot again as you tip it back up, so as to make the drip on the end travel along the lip of the pot, rather than dripping down and marring the design.

5. Rubber bulb ear syringes make great glaze applicators. You can squirt a wide line of glaze quickly, or carefully extrude a finer line directly on the pot.  These will add accents of decoration to the dipped pot.  If a carefree wide line is desired, hold the pot over the glaze bucket, and start squeezing before the stream of glaze hits the pot, and quickly move it across the pot before stopping.  Allow the glaze to dry slightly before setting down, or the glaze may run. Try holding the pot sideways in one hand while squirting with the other.  6. If you want to glaze a pot with only one glaze, use glaze tongs.  These pliers are designed to leave only small marks on the glazed surface, which can be smoothed before firing.  Note that when glazing larger pots with tongs, the pot should also be supported with your other hand so as not to apply too much pressure (which can cause them to break through the pot). Also the tongs have a narrow set of teeth aligned with the handle, and a wider set at right angles.  This wider set should be on the outside of a bowl as it is dipped, so as to support the pot better.

6. Glaze dipping can produce quite varied results, depending on which way you hold the pot as you dip.  All three of these examples use the same technique, just starting at different angles.

Figures: Dipping bottom straight. Dipping at an angle. Adding wax resist.  Pouring glaze into pot. Turning and pouring out.Dipping into glaze.  Zipping glaze color on.  Pottery tongs on bowl. Three examples of glaze dips.
 
 
 

Brace yourself!
By Brad Sondahl (unedited text)
You can improve your strength and stability in throwing by learning to brace yourself. These techniques are valuable in all phases from the heavy pushing of centering to the careful application of brush decoration.  Use these simple rules to reduce strain and frustration when working on the wheel: Figure 1. Keep your hands in contact as much as possible. When your hands are in contact, they communicate with each other as to unevenness in the clay, and are much more stable.  You can cross your thumbs to help keep your hands from spreading apart.Hands should stay in contact with each other until the pot is too tall to maintain contact.  Also fingers in contact with each other are much stronger than if they are spread out.

Figure 2. Secure your elbows.  When centering, you might try to bring your elbows in towards the center of your abdomen, and push them against your abdomen, using your whole upper body force to brace your lower arms. If you are seated when you throw, brace your elbows on the mid portion of your thighs as much as possible.  If your elbows are not resting anywhere, your elbow joints and muscles are doing a lot of unnecessary work.

Brace your whole body.  When pushing hard on the wheel, a backwards force is exerted towards your body.  If you have no back on the stool you are sitting on, you are constantly fighting that pressure with your legs.  Even a short padded back support added  to your stool can help you counter that force more directly.

Figure 3 When doing fine decorating work, brace your hand against the work itself, or with your other hand.  Rest several of the outer fingers on the piece you are working on, unless it may mar the decoration.  If that is the case, hold the hand you are using at the wrist with the other hand.  This will reduce unsteadiness and can be used to exert more force than one could with one hand, if needed.

Getting it even!  Using your hands as calipers. (unedited text)
By Brad Sondahl

It is sometimes difficult to gage the thickness of a pot as it is thrown, particularly towards the bottom.  If you learn to use your hands as a calipers, you can reduce a lot of the heaviness of the pots you throw.  This follows out of the basic bracing technique of keeping the base of your thumbs or wrists in contact while you are throwing.  It also has the advantage of being less likely to damage the pot than using wood or metal calipers, since your hands are more sensitive to contact.

Figure 1: Each hand should form a C shape, with the thumbs in contact at all times.  You can cross the thumbs to keep them out of the way and strengthen the bond between the two hands.  The four fingers should be in contact in a bunch, as this makes them more stable.

Figure 2: Slide your hands in this position  to the bottom of the form.  Apply pressure until slightly compacting the base.  Now move both hands up as a unit, following the form’s shape closely.  If the pressure eases off, you will know it is thicker at the bottom.

As you gain proficiency with this method, you should be able to sense how far apart the fingers of your two hands are, even blindfolded.  If you determine that the lower portion is too thick, you can use this same technique to apply more pressure and make a pull to thin out the heavy part. The only limit to the calipers technique is when the height of the pot gets too tall to keep your hands in contact.
 

Beading the lip.(unedited text)
By Brad Sondahl

Your pots can achieve a more elegant touch by beading, or making a small rounded overhang on the lip.  Besides adding a distinctive look, beading eliminates the sharp edge on the lip, and compresses the clay to help prevent cracking.  This technique only works on lips which are even, so if there is a wobble, trim the pot even first with a needle tool.

Figure 1. Grab the end of a wet chamois with your non-principal hand (e.g. left for righthanders, etc.), pinched between the first two forefingers.  You will want to hold on close to the edge which trails behind as the pot turns on the wheel (if your wheel rotates counterclockwise, this would be the upper edge as you hold the chamois in front of you).. Leave less than an inch of separation, and lace the rest of the chamois in the fingers of your principal hand, draping the end off your little finger.

Figure 2. Dip the chamois to get it wet.  Push the chamois between your fingers together to make a bulge in the middle part of the chamois, and loosely contact the lip of the pot.  Make contact only with the parts of the chamois held between the two hands.

Figure 3. Push the thumbnail of the principal hand in towards the lip, and tighten the gap slightly until light pressure is applied inward and downward.  If any friction develops, re-wet the chamois.  Ease off pressure slowly after application.

This is one technique guaranteed to help you get The Edge...

Feathering and Repetitive Sgraffito   (unedited text)
By Brad Sondahl

You can quickly add decoration to your thrown pottery with bands of colored slips applied with a brush while the wheel is turning.  Centuries ago feathering and repetitive sgraffito were developed to add variety to simple slip decoration.  Feathering (originally done with a feather) implies marking  lines through  two or more colored bands of wet slip to create a varied appearance.  If the slip is drier, or the lines are scratched deeper, the same technique becomes sgraffito.  When the scratching is done in a repetitive manner as the pot rotates on the wheel, a wave or scallop decoration appears. Besides the slips and brushes, a small tool with notches in it is the only special equipment needed to create these effects.

Figure 1: This tool can be made from old credit card plastic.  The narrow end has one rounded bump for scratching single lines.  The wider end can have two, three, or more bumps, depending on desired effect.  Try making several variations.  Cut the shape with a tight scissors.  Make small V-shaped notches at the wide end with the tips of the scissors.  Then round off the resulting bumps, sanding them smooth before using.

Figure 2: Apply the bands of slip on the fresh or leather hard pot as the wheel turns, either in narrow alternating strips or applying a second layer of a different color over the first.  Although any surface can be decorated in this manner, the insides of bowls are more difficult to apply smoothly than the outsides.  If it is difficult to get a smooth clean edge to the band, add more water to the slip.  Apply blue slip last, as it can overpower other slip colors.  To feather, use the single end of the tool, pulling lines up and down alternately while the wheel is rotated extra slowly.  This must be done immediately before the slip dries onto the pot.

Figure 3: Single lines can be incised by using the single end of the tool as the wheel rotates the pot.  These are used to add variety or mark out areas for the decoration.  To make a smooth wave pattern, scrape with the multi-notched end of the tool smoothly straight up and down while the wheel rotates slowly.

Figure 4:  To make a scalloped decoration, while the wheel is slowly turning, make a small circular motion by moving your whole hand while the tool remains in contact with the pot.  If the speed of the circular orbit is synchronized with the turning pot, the scalloped decoration will result.  This motion takes a bit of practice, but once learned becomes easy to repeat.

Some Slip recipes:

Blue Slip Ball Clay 85
Cobalt Carbonate 10
Cobalt Oxide 5

Iron Slip Ball Clay 90
Red Iron Oxide 10

Green Slip Ball Clay 85
Copper Carbonate 15

Sprig Decoration on Mugs
by Brad Sondahl
Frequently potters desire to repeat a detailed decoration, such as a name or logo, on items for niche marketing. Mugs are the traditional favorite for this kind of item.  This article will show one way of making a plaster stamp and applying it to the side of a mug to create a standardized but still unique decoration. Part 1: Making the stamp. Step one: The stamps can be made from plaster or by bisquing a  clay master.  I prefer working with plaster, as the fine grain accommodates delicate carving, so the following instructions are for plaster.Make the forms for filling with plaster from small thrown pots or juice cans. Forms can be round, oval, or rectangular.  One larger cylindrical form should also be prepared, which is slightly smaller in diameter than the inside of the mugs you will be decorating.  A sturdy piece of wood (1"x2"), twelve to fifteen inches long with a hole drilled in one end, will be inserted in this larger form.  This will be used like a shoe on a  shoelast, to hold the pot in place while pressing on the decoration.

Tip: I like to throw the forms on the wheel, and then fill the forms with plaster shortly after throwing.  The insides of thrown forms have nice smooth curves at the bottoms.  Also the clay can be peeled off the plaster easily at this stage.  If you use nonclay forms, lubricate them with petroleum jelly before casting.

Step 2: Prepare a batch of plaster according to its directions.  Avoid stirring excess air bubbles into the plaster.  Fill the forms, and tap them down gently on the table to make them flatten on top, and to agitate bubbles out of the surface.  The top surface is the part used for the stamps, so it should be as smooth as possible.

Step 3: After mostly filling the  larger cylinder with plaster, push the wood piece halfway into the cylinder or more, supporting it until the plaster sets up.

Step 4: When the plaster is hardened, remove the forms, and clean any odd bits of plaster off with a loop tool or knife. If the top of the form is not smooth and free of bubbles, scrape down with a knife until you reach a better surface.  On the large piece with the stick, remove any sharp edges as they will scratch the inside of the mug.

Step 5: Draw a design onto the plaster stamp, keeping in mind that the final result will be a mirror image.  If you have difficulty conceptualizing the design backwards, most computer graphics programs, including the Windows Paint accessory, can reverse images easily.  You can draw a grid on the image, and also on the plaster stamp, to assist in placing the design properly. Carve the design into the stamp, using a small nail, dental tool, or other fine pointed scraper.  Make the first carving carefully, and a groove will be established for subsequent scratching.

Step 6: Make a small wad of clay, which when flattened is about the size of the stamp.  Press the wad of clay onto the stamp, and push it against a firm surface.  Peel the clay free.  Take note of areas that need to be deeper grooved to show up properly.If any mistakes need to be corrected, or a bubble mars the decoration, these can be scraped lightly and refilled with a little fresh plaster. Keep in mind that plaster bits should not end up in your scrap clay, as they will harm it.

When you are done designing the stamp, leave it in a warm dry place, to remove any excess water, so that it will be the least likely to stick when used for production.  I put an arrow in ink on the top of the stamp, so as not to place a logo on upside-down.

Part Two: Stamping on Mugs

In your workshop, find a place on the edge of a table to secure the stick and plaster cylinder (hereafter dubbed the Potlast).Screw it onto the table, far enough in that it will not pull loose when downward pressure is applied on the outside plaster part.  Using only one screw to secure it allows it to swivel out of the way when not in use... The Potlast should be smooth on all edges, so as not to scratch the interior of the mugs.

After adding handles to your leather hard mugs, place them in the area with the Potlast.  Also a small piece of smooth cloth, some slip from your slop bucket and a small brush, and small wads of clay are required.  The wads of clay may be sliced from a thick coil of clay, so as to approximately standardize them in size.  Experience will yield the proper amount needed.

Step 1: Slide the mug on the Potlast, with the side up on which you wish to place the decoration. You may wish to vary the side you apply the decoration to, as left-handers and right-handers may have different preferences.  You could also put the decoration on both sides...

Step 2: Roll the wad of clay in your hand into a ball to remove any irregularities.  Flatten it with your hands to the approximate shape of the stamp.  Press it gently onto the center of the stamp. Firmly press the stamp and clay onto the cloth, until clay is nearly sticking out on all sides. Remove it from the cloth.

Step 3: Apply a small amount of slip with the brush to the whole back of the clay pad.  Choose the place to apply it to the mug, and roll it across, applying pressure.  If the plaster is dry, the clay should adhere to the mug, rather than the stamp.

Step 4: With a wet finger, smooth down the edges of the decoration to compress it onto the mug. Repeat the process for the next mug.  If used for over 30 mugs at a time, it may be necessary to heat the stamp gently to dry it, so as to avoid it becoming sticky.  If stickiness is a general problem, try to use drier clay for the wads which are to be attached.  On the other hand, if the clay wads crack when being pressed, the clay wads are too dry.  I have used this technique for logos for centennials, camps, and towns.  Many people enjoy the tactile sensation of the raised relief.  Each decoration comes out slightly different, from pressure, placement, and size of clay wad, so the result is hand made, rather than the machine perfection of decals. Try to find a glaze combination which will not overpower or obscure the decoration.
 

Making and Using the Flexible Tobikanna Decorating Tool
by Brad Sondahl

 The tobikanna (pronounced Toe' Be Kah' na) is a simple decorating tool traditionally used in some parts of Japan.  Its name means "Jumping Iron," which is descriptive of the way it hops and plunges against a moving clay surface, creating texture and incised decoration simultaneously.  Since the tool is not commonly available commercially, this article will show how to produce the tool, and how to apply it to produce various decorations.

Part I: Making the Tobikanna

 Tobikannas can be made of any thin, springy steel.  For this article, the lid of a tuna fish can is used, as these are readily available and standard in size. Use of unusual tools is kept to a minimum. Step 1: Pound the lid flat with a hammer against a hard smooth surface (such as a brick or cement floor) to remove ridges. Step 2: Using a tin snips, cut out a strip, approximately 1/2 inch wide, straight across the lid, as illustrated. Smooth any sharp edges or burrs on the strip with sandpaper or a fine file.

Tip: If you do not have a tin snips, wearing gloves, crease the lid near but not at the middle.  Make a parallel crease 1/2 inch on the other side.  Fold the creases tightly back and forth until metal fatigue induces the metal to break.

Step 3:Bend one end of the strip of metal into a smooth curve, with the tip approaching a right angle to the rest of the strip. Step 4:  Heat the tool in sections over a flame (candle or propane torch), holding it with a pliers.  As a section gets glowing hot, plunge it in cold water.  This converts the steel to spring steel, so that it will tend to retain its shape when used.  Repeat the process until the whole strip has been heated and plunged. Warning: Steel transmits heat readily, and will get hot far from the direct heat source. Do not handle the heated metal until it is plunged in water.  The tobikanna is now ready for use.

Part II  Decorating with Tobikanna

 The tobikanna is a flexible tool producing a variety of decorative effects. It can be applied to fresh thrown or leather hard clay.  It will carve through oxides or slips, exposing part of the clay body beneath. But let's start with the basics.
The tobikanna works by digging in to soft clay as it is spinning on the wheel, catching for a moment, bending, and springing free, only to recontact and repeat the cycle many times per second. In the following illustrations, Red Iron Oxide is applied to the pot to make the effects of the tool more visible.

Step 5:  Apply a band of Iron or slip to fresh or leather hard pot. Tip: Beginners will have better luck with a leather hard pot, secured to the wheel head with pats of clay. Advanced throwers may find that decorating pots while still centered is highly efficient.  Note that the tool makes larger marks on softer clay.

Step 6: Score lines through the Iron to mark the limits of, or add rhythm to, the decoration. I use a strip of plastic credit card with a pencil tip shaped end for this. Step 7: Use a moderately fast wheel speed. Hold the tool at its straight end so the curved end contacts the pot as it turns. Try changing angles until chattering occurs. Also try holding the end tighter or looser, and try varying the pressure with which you contact the pot. If you are just scraping a steady line, apply slightly more pressure.  Once the tool starts hopping, move the tool slowly up or down so the pattern will fill the area allotted for it. Tip: There are a lot of variables to holding the tool, as well as speeds of the wheel, so keep trying the different techniques suggested until it catches. Once achieved, it is easy to master.

 Once you've started chattering with the tobikanna, it's time to start considering its decoration possibilities.  If you make one pass with the tool through a dark slip that has been applied to a light clay body, the effect will be rather like snow flakes, or polka dots. Making multiple passes will obscure the individual nicks and create more of a unique overall texture.  A bold painting with engobes on a pot can be rendered subtly ancient looking with this technique, as each pass slowly wears away at the underlying decoration.  My favorite way to use this decoration is to combine tobikanna with combed waves of scriffito, as in the illustrated vase. I also use a  granular manganese slip close to it, as its random speckles go well with the pattern  of the tobikanna.  Another way to use the decoration is as an underlying texture.  Apply tobikanna to a leatherhard pot which is not otherwise decorated, perhaps confined in an area with scored lines..  Bisque fire it, and paint on Red Iron Oxide over the chattered area.  Wipe off the iron with a damp sponge, and the deeper nicks will retain more iron.  The result will be dark notches on a lighter background.  Use a transparent matte glaze, such as Sondahl C-4 Matte, with it to get the best effects.

Here are some glazes and slips I use with this technique:

Recipes:

Sondahl C-4 Transparent Matte (Cone 8-10 oxidation) Custer feldspar23.4 Dolomite23.4 Kaolin23.4 Whiting13.5 Frit P2513.5 Bentonite2.7

Blend the Bentonite with water in a blender before adding to glaze.  Use this glaze thinly-- effective over iron and manganese slips. Tip: If this glaze crazes, or is not transparent, thin it more with water.  One quick dip will coat a pot sufficiently, or even brushing  one coat on can be effective. Apply the following white glaze over this C-4 glaze for areas of the pot which would benefit from a gloss surface.

Sondahl Magic White (Cone 8-10 oxidation)
My workhorse white gloss glaze, opaque, but shows underlying copper or cobalt slips well.

Custer feldspar 21.7
Zinc oxide 6.7
Whiting 20
Kaolin 10
Flint 20
Zircopax 16.6
Spodumene 5

Note: Add some dissolved Epsom Salt Solution to prevent settling.

Engobe (or Slip) recipes (work on wet or leatherhard clay, broad firing range)
Tips: Slips need to be thick to be applied, particularly to freshly thrown pots. You can gage the correct thickness when you are applying them--too dry and it will be impossible to make a clean band of decoration; too wet and the claybody will show through...  In order to sieve engobes, it may be easier to add extra water before sieving, and scoop off the excess water on top when the mixture has settled, in a day or so.

Beige Speckled Slip Warning: Manganese is toxic, including as it vaporizes in the kiln.  Granular ilmenite, granular rutile, or granular magnetite may be substituted in place of Manganese in this recipe.
Ball clay 72
Kaolin 25
Red iron oxide 3
After mixing with water to thick cream consistency, and sieving, stir in: 40-60 Mesh Granular Manganese 12

Blue Cobalt Slip
Ball clay 87
Cobalt carbonate 7
Black cobalt oxide 6

Tip: The Black Cobalt Oxide is added to make the slip more visible when it is applied (as well as more blue), since tiny specks of it in the wrong place may ruin a pot's decoration. All Cobalt Carbonate may be substituted for it in the recipe instead, but it is then recommended that the slip be tinted with dye to improve its visibility.  The color of this slip shows through the Magic White glaze well.



Unusual Pottery Markets
by Brad Sondahl
I'm about to embark on a major sales display in our local grocery store.  Some of my more ardent patrons might wrinkle their noses a bit at the thought of such a mundane outlet, but I find it invigorating and amusing.  After all, it's a step up from the Squirrel's Nest-- a craft boutique in a garage, featuring wooden bean spoons, which were partially reconstructed to resemble a ladder (to assist in letting the gas out).And these are just the latest in a life of unusual pottery markets...  I'll preface my stories with a confession.  I hate finding new sales locations.  There are factors like having to judge if sales will be adequate,  whether the staff will be professional and honest in payment, and little items like whether the business will likely be there in six months. Often the galleries selling pottery are at the fringe of the business area.  I'm frequently pleased to find parking right next to the gallery, but this does not necessarily portend well for future sales...  But all of this is nothing compared to the possibility of rejection that lurks in the background.  Hey, would I be an artist if I wasn't sensitive?  Approaching a new gallery brings back all the angst of faculty critiques in college, of asking for a first date, not being able to find your locker on the first day of school.  Augh!  So gutless wonders like me tend to grasp the bird at hand rather than floundering around in the bushes.
I thought I'd hit the bottom when I agreed to bring some pottery to Tony's Fruit Stand. True to the principals of cowardice just elaborated, it wasn't my idea to sell there.  My father-in-law arranged the "showing" while buying some fruit.  In spite of the fact that this wasn't even a local fruit stand (200 miles away...), it turned out I did have to go by it later, so I dutifully brought a box of samples.  Tony's Fruit Stand was just what you imagine: a weathered old shed along the highway... "Hey,  that's great," Tony said.  "How much you want for the box?" I protested that they were just samples, but he was happy to haggle for them.  So I sold the box, and might have taken more to him, but I didn't go that way again for a long time.
At this same time I was trying to market from our home, which was twenty five miles from the nearest town .  It goes without elaborating that sales were not stupendous.My wife and I were living there, getting free rent in exchange for answering the phone for  a camp accessible only by boat ride near Lake Chelan in Washington State.  This camp proved to be our next successful and unusual market.  In the summer 500 people per week attend the camp, with nothing but a small bookstore for them to vent their primitive buying urges upon.  While up there on a visit, I was invited to sell pottery at the bookstore.  Soon I was sending every pot I could make.  There were several unusual points in the arrangement.  The first was that I preferred selling on consignment, since I would get a greater share of the selling price.  This was fine with them, but to cut down on bookkeeping they just paid my whole share when the pots were received.  This made sense, since most of the pots were gone within a week... The other point was that all the pottery was shipped via boat, where it was loaded onto a bus for the 10 mile trip into the mountains.  This is an exotic and romantic way of doing business, although in reality it also meant a fair amount of breakage in shipping...
The end of the arrangement was unusual, as well.  Due to camp policies, our job terminated after two years, so we moved to a new location, but still sold most of our pots to the camp.  New people came to run the bookstore, with a philosophy of "buying local."  Our new location did not qualify as "local" so we lost a good share of our business overnight.  This shows that diversification is a good idea for potters as well as stock portfolios...
Our next sales location was on the main street of a small lake town in Idaho.  By making pottery easily accessible in an outside kiosk, our sales grew rapidly (see Summer 1996 CM, "Finding your Niche."  Having a great summer market takes care of a lot of winter output. However, in interests of diversity, I still like to have some consignment shops.  That's where the craft boutique and grocery store enter in.  People that know you are much more likely to become customers than all those "birds in the bush."  Living in a town of 500 or less, one soon gets to know lots of people, and some of them are eager to be customers.The goal then is to remove impediments for them, such as selling from the house.
I believe there is a psychological barrier to entering houses for sales (which is one reason "garage sales" are not "living room" sales.  Of course this barrier goes both ways--every time someone would call up wanting to buy pots, I'd wonder when the last time I vacuumed was, and rush about furiously making things look decent...  That's why, when a neighbor wanted to open a garage boutique, I was ready to leave the selling to her...  After six months she also ran up against the "house barrier," and decided to call it quits.  However since my pots had been good sellers, and I was gone for the summer, she convinced the grocery store to sell them for a while.  Since then sales have been as good as at a gallery...  This grocery store is a small "Mom and Pop" type operation.  The owner offered to sell them without commission since I'm a regular customer, but that would not make sense in the long run for either of us, so I insisted on a fair commission.
When I started writing this article, I posted to the Clayart LISTSERV asking for other unusual sales outlets.  Terry Young from Jay, New York, responded with this observation: "When I first moved to the Adirondack Mountains of NY State, the first thing I did was apply for a peddlers license from the country clerk's office.  I was doing etchings, engravings in metal and hand printed by myself and I would set up my art work at a popular entrance into the Mountain region.  There is a mountain spring that people stop at to get the cool fresh water; and a Hot Dog Vendor, and Fruit seller would set up there too. That was 18 years ago, I now have my own gallery and I still have customers from those days!   For years we did a large craft show in the biggest town near us and we built up a large customer base there.  We no longer do that craft show but wanted to sell to our customers. We offered them all kinds of incentives to come to our gallery about 31 miles away and nothing worked.  Now we rent a conference room in a Hotel up there and it has turned into the single best show we ever have done.  We have made it convenient for them to buy.  The one thing we have learned through all the years of marketing our pottery and art is that it has to be convenient for Americans to buy it.  Convenience and location are the keys to selling anything."  Convenience is indeed a key to successful sales.  To that I would add creative marketing and openness to new opportunities.  Behind all that is careful crafting, and thoughtful design.  Given all these,  you can succeed in finding homes for all the beauty you create.


Adding a Thrown Coil Foot
  For many potters, trimming the foot is a process fraught with frustration.  If the pot was not cut off evenly to begin with, the whole pot may list a bit, like a ship after hitting an iceberg.  The same defect, if not visually dramatic, may yield a warped bowl in the final firing, as uneven parts of the foot settle when the clay reaches maturity.  Add to this the problems of soft centers,  bottoms that are too thin to trim,  and the sharp edges on trimmed feet, and you will see some of the advantages to adding a foot instead of trimming one.  For many years I have added a coil foot to the bowls and plates I make.  Once mastered, the procedure goes nearly as quickly as with trimming alone, and the result is a highly controlled, smooth-edged foot which can be placed on the pot wherever the potter desires.  With this process it is easy to make a foot tall enough to be glazed on the inside, reducing significantly the amount of unglazed surface on the pot.

The first step is to change your throwing so that the pots are only as thick as you would desire of the finished pot, probably 3/8 inch or less.  This will result in reductions as to how much clay it takes to make each pot, as well as reduce the trimmings which would have to be recycled.

Next, make your coils.  While an extruder might be very handy to make uniform sized coils, I've never had one, so don't fret if you don't have one, either.  Start by grabbing a handful of clay, squeeze into a coil shape in your hands before rolling on a smooth dry surface. Spread your fingers apart as you roll--this will reduce the unevenness which results from rolling straight on.  As the coil gets longer, separate it in two if it's too thick, and keep separating and rolling until you end up with coils the right length and thickness for your pot.  What's the right length?  Smaller bowls require about a foot of length--larger platters and bowls will take half again more.  The thickness of the coil will vary depending on how tall you want the foot to be.  As you make the coils, lay them on top of each other on a board long enough to allow them to lie straight.  If you work in a dry climate, keep the board wrapped in plastic to prevent drying, as they are relatively thin.
Now center and secure the pot to a wheel head or bat.  I use a thin coating of water for this (sticking the pot on like a suction cup), or pats of clay work well also. Unless you were able to squeeze every bit of excess clay out of the shape when throwing, you will need to trim a bit of waste on the outside of the pot bottom.  This can be best accomplished by working from the outside towards the center, and should only serve to make the clay an even thickness throughout the piece.  A larger trimming tool is better for this purpose than smaller ribbon tools.  If you use an open ended Japanese style cutting tool, you can use the same tool to trim and to score lines on the pot where the foot is to be placed.  Lacking this, you can use a needle tool or other sharp point to do the scoring.
After scoring, add slip or water to the area where the coil will go.  Press down the coil onto the scored area while slowly turning the wheel.  When you have reached the point of connecting the two ends of the coil, wet or slip them, and overlap the ends to attach them securely.  Pinch off any leftover of the coil.  Now wet the coil with a sponge, and slowly commence pressure on the coil with a wet chamois.  This procedure is similar to centering, requiring steady hands, and even pressure against the bumps.  Like centering, it helps to apply pressure in several directions at once.  My technique is to mold the coil with my index fingers pressing towards each other through the wet chamois, and one thumb pressing downward in the same area.  Once the ring is not wobbly, more of the force is exerted downward to compress the ring and improve attachment to the pot.  Pressing with a rib or wooden tool at the joint areas will help reduce cracking loose when drying.  Should the foot prove uneven, increase pressure so that the whole piece is extruded from the chamois, or trim a complete ring off with a needle tool, and try again on the rest.  Using the chamois will give the foot a smooth rounded edge, which helps resist chipping.
That's the basic procedure.  With this technique it is possible to shape the foot to flare outward, which adds stability against tipping, and also allows the potter to easily hold the pot upside down by its foot for glaze pours.  Please note that if the clay is dry enough to come off the pot as flakes instead of ribbons, it may be too dry for this technique.  Slow drying of the pot after adding any kind of clay attachments is recommended.  Also clay bodies vary in how well they take added parts without cracking.  Porcelain is notorious for this, and may not work at all with this technique.  The foot of the pot is a humble thing.  Sometimes one can't even tell if the pot has a foot without lifting and inverting it.  However, the careful shopper does look over the entire pot, and a foot which does its job well can be a real selling point.  For me, the best part of added feet is the ability to glaze the bottom of the pot, with the high foot ring keeping the bottom from contacting the kiln shelf. You'll have to try it to see what it does for you...



Young Upstarts and Old Stick-in-the Muds Dec. 98 CM Comment

  I recently had a dream about visiting a mall and happening on several pottery displays of   hot-selling items in pasty clay bodies with bright garish glazes; the potters were there,   too, working behind hygienic glass. One of them showed me some clay with lumps of   sharp basalt in it that would surely cut your hands when throwing. Confronted with clay   like that, I did the only reasonable thing--I woke up.

  I haven't seen any pottery setups like that in malls, but I have seen similar ideas in the   "potters' malls"--that is, craft fairs--young upstarts skimming the cream off the business,   leaving it to old stick-in-the-muds like me to handle those difficult and pesky "special   orders."

  It was all brought home to me last summer by an intern, who arrived never having pulled   a handle, and left offering me serious competition in sales. Time-honored customers   chose her awkward and hefty shapes over my staid and streamlined ones. Young   upstarts!

  Of course, once upon a time, I was young myself. When I started potting in the early   '70s, it wasn't clear that there was a profession in studio pottery. Everybody was making   pottery ("It's groovy, man!"), and it sold like hotcakes ("Got anything in earthtones?"),   but there weren't a lot of old stick-in-the-muds for us upstarts to bug. Craft fairs were in   their infancy, and jurying was limited to keeping out the crafts made from kits. Ah, the   good old days....

  The success of my young upstart intern illustrates how easy it is to get started in pottery.   It isn't rocket science (although a knowledge of alchemy is useful!), and as small   businesses go, the overhead isn't enormous. For the mere cost of a computer, you can   buy a kiln, and you can make money with a kiln.

  So now I go to art fairs and I see upstarts featuring new ideas like majolica decoration,   frogs in the bottom of mugs (18th-century joke) and puzzle mugs (also 18th century, see   "In Their Cups" by Delia Robinson in the October 1996 CM). You won't catch me trying   any of these new gimmicks--I'm too much of a stick-in-the-mud.

  I also see prices that astonish me (people will pay that much for a mug?). I'm much too   set in my ways to raise my prices (it may have something to do with that leftover hippie   philosophy of "pottery for the people"), but I may start advertising "pottery at wholesale   prices." Nah, that sounds like too much of an innovation for me.

  The more I write on this, the more I feel outdated. The other stand-out stick-in-the-muds   were dinosaurs, who ended up stuck in the mud as fossils. The upside of upstarts is that   there is still a burgeoning craft movement, with room for new ideas and personalities. The   craft fairs that started 20 years ago in school gyms and college lawns are now major   festivals encompassing all the arts.

  I'm able to sell enough from my studio that I no longer sell at art fairs. When I do go to   one, it's because I'm not too much of a stick-in-the-mud to see what the upstarts are up   to, and maybe even glean a few new respectable ideas, like from the 19th century....



Collecting pottery- a potter's view.
 A customer at an art fair once asked me, "So what art here has the best chance of appreciating?"  The question sort of threw me.  If I knew what was going to appreciate, I'd never have discarded most of my comic book collection 30 years ago, and I'd have invested big in Microsoft...  But I answered, "The question really is, what art here do you most appreciate?"
I am a producer of pottery, where everything I make is brand new, and the goal is sales rather than collecting, so my worldview is considerably different from the collector's. I mostly know of collectors from stories in the media, of art works garnering new sales records, or Barbie Dolls worth more than my house. Since none of the pots I make do either of those things, I am in awe of the collector's world.  But I do know about handmade pottery, with over 20 years professional experience.  And I can see from this magazine some of the issues of pottery collection.
Firstly art pottery is historical, with both manufactured lines and handmade originals.  Like any antique, pots gain value from age, quality, scarcity, and name recognition.  Here I would guess that manufactured pots have an edge, since I've seen books of potter's marks for collectors, and with it I have no doubt a system of relative values can be easily derived. The small time hand producer may have lacked the name recognition which would establish a set value.  To some extent the same is true today.  Commercial producers of fine porcelain still command premium prices and dedicated collectors.  But thrown into that stable and well defined world is the heady yeast of the craft movement.
There's no pinpoint start to the movement, but it burgeoned in the 1960's, and remains strong to this day.  I can see that for collectors, it must be bewildering, since there are thousands of potters in the U.S., each with varying claims for collecting status.  I see potters in the following continuum, ranked in order of production volume.
At one end are the emulators of industrial pottery, establishing set styles of shapes and decoration, using jiggering and slipcasting to produce standard items for mass market. There are not many of these, but because of their high volume, their results are commonly found in tourist markets and gift shops.  The next category are also quantity producers, but avoid machine production for artistic or ethical reasons (is a jiggered pot handmade?). Most successful potters in this country fall in this zone.  Next, the artist potters produce one-of-a-kind or series pots, relying on gallery shows and name recognition to command high prices for their work. These are frequently tied to the academic world.  Finally we encounter the hobby potter, who often enters the market at a minor level, since pottery is relatively easy to produce.
So who does a collector collect in this great conglomeration?  Of all these categories, only the artist potter is selfconsciously aiming at collecting status. They are the likeliest to date, sign, and notate their work. But in my opinion they are also the likeliest to follow fashions which may in future generations appear quaint or silly.  As a production potter, I'm pleased if someone wants to collect my work, but that is not my first goal, which is to support myself making durable, beautiful, affordable, functional wares.  I'm not sure if my work looks as well on a shelf as it does on a dinner table...
By my door is a painting of a cottage by the sea, festooned with flowers.  It's such a comfortable picture that I always enjoy looking at it.  It was painted by an artist named Lulu Johnson.  There may be experts combing the world for more like it --"Look, I've found a real Lulu!" but frankly I doubt it.  But I love this painting for what it does for me when I see it.  That should be the real criteria for collecting. If it lifts your heart, buy it, or even just settle for that lifting glance...

Here's the painting...


Crystalline Glazes--Natural Beauty

 I first saw a crystalline glaze about ten years ago.  Although the vase had only a couple crystals on it, they were captivating.  Although round in outline, crystals are each a starburst pattern radiating from a point.  As you change your viewing angle, the crystal can rapidly fluctuate in appearance from light to dark.  This and their innate beauty made me immediately hooked upon them, and I resolved to try crystalline glazing myself.  In studying various references on the subject, I became somewhat daunted.  It turns out that in order to produce the right conditions for large crystals to grow, the glaze must be very runny, to the point that many texts speak of chiseling the pot out of a pool of glaze, and grinding the base smooth.  Also special firing techniques were urged, holding at certain temperatures for hours, to encourage crystal growth.  These factors are enough to discourage many potters from attempting them.  Also the chief ingredient to producing the crystals, Zinc Oxide, is fairly expensive, and must make up 20-30% of the glaze.  Through many tests, I was able to overcome some of these obstacles, to produce a glaze which mostly stays on the pot, and requires no unusual firing, except that it is a high (cone 10) fired glaze.  Because of its improved behavior, I've been able to integrate the glaze into use in production pottery, with some reservations.  For example, small temperature variations in the kiln result in radically different appearing glazes.  While this is fine for one-of-a-kind pieces, it makes sets of crystalline pottery difficult. These variations can make the glaze change from looking dark and matte, to the optimum wildly wonderful, and on to pale glossy and with no crystals showing.  So what should collectors look for in crystalline pottery?  --Potters who use crystalline glazes, foremost.
(Here I've deleted a few mostly outdated web page references--you can go to my links to find current examples...)
Not all the artists I just mentioned post prices for their works, but the cost of crystalline pottery varies widely.  Lasse Ostman has pictures of pots which sold for over $1000, and many in the $3-600 range. My own prices are low, under $50, resulting from isolated location and limited reputation, and my own choice.  So after you locate a potter, what do you look for?  Beauty.  Variation.  Overall design.  Look at the pot bottom. If glaze ran off the pot, the foot will possibly be rough, although the potter probably ground it smooth.  Although this is technically a defect, it is very minor, since many potters routinely chisel crystalline pots loose.  Most important is the size and variation of the crystals.  The most beautiful pots will probably not be covered with an even coating of crystals, but have conglomerations and cloudlike formations to add to the decoration.  Many of these formations can not be controlled by the potter, and so, like a jewelstone, must be selected from the less desirable.  Beyond the glaze considerations are the forms of the pots, other glazes, and decorations which make the pot a coherent whole. For example, I seldom use crystalline glaze alone on a piece, as it can be overwhelming.  Also small additions of colorants or other glazes can add to the overall design of the piece.  Some potters suggest that crystalline glazes are "potter's glazes," or glazes that most potters like themselves, more than are appreciated by the general public. While this may be true of copper reds or rutile blues, crystalline glazes generally draw in anyone fascinated with beauty.  I think most potters who work with crystalline glazes have a love- hate relationship with the process (due to the technical difficulties I've cited), but most are delighted with the results, as are their customers.



A potter's tale of terrors. (Column) Brad Sondahl. Ceramics Monthly, April 1997 v45 n4 p112(1)

  My mother likes to worry about all the things she thinks could go wrong. By doing so,   she hopes to avert their happening. I question the theory, but expect that someone may   benefit from this potter's tale of terrors.

  Gravity, you may have noticed, is a potter's worst enemy. I discovered gravity as a child,   when I tried to "save time" by tying a trio of 1-gallon glass milk jugs together with a rope   to carry them the several steps into the kitchen. Even though the domino theory didn't   work out for Communist domination of the world, it certainly did when one of the jars   slipped out of the aptly named "slip knot" I had tied them with. Loose milk and bad news   both travel fast...

  So, gravity is a tough lesson to learn. The potters I once apprenticed with had just built a   100-cubic-foot kiln on the lower level of their shop, and the pots had to be ferried to and   from the kiln on a dumbwaiter. This pottery elevator consisted of about five rows of   5-foot boards, lifted by a hand winch. The point at which a system fails is the point of   maximum stress. So when the dumbwaiter was loaded with about 50 cubic feet of   finished pots, the rafter to which the dumbwaiter was attached gave way. Gravity won   that one also.

  When I finished my apprenticeship, I set out to conquer the art fair world in a VW Bug,   which I crammed to the point of maximum stress with pottery and display shelving. On   my way to one of my first fairs, the car lost power, but since it kept running, so did I. An   engine rebuild and a couple years later, the same maxed-out Bug and I were on our way   to a fair in Washington State, where the only thing between me and financial success was   a 2000-foot-deep canyon. By the time we had reached the top, the car was doing what   the manual called a "rod-throwing song." It sang it to the fair, where I earned enough to   replace the car. It sang all the way home. It sang its swan song halfway to the car   dealership.

  So, gravity is bad. Clay has its problems too. Bad clay happens, to paraphrase a popular   saying. I remember visiting some potter friends on the day they opened a big kiln, and   commiserating with them as the pots sang their own song, of chips spontaneously flying   off their lips. The clay supplier had gotten a load of high-silica feldspar. I went home to   find I'd gotten some of the same clay, but had not made nearly so many pots from it.   Fortunately, suppliers are generally good at replacing any genuine clay problem, though   no one can give you back your time.

  Kilns have their own tricks. I gave up gas kilns for the relative ease of electric firing. With   such a deal, I've had arcing elements, uneven firing, fused switches and touchy circuit   breakers. Then there was the time when my kids came to tell me the kiln plug was on   fire. Sure enough, at the point where the plug goes into the receptacle, arcing was causing   the whole setup to fry. That was probably a fluke, but since then, I've hardwired my   kilns.

  But through it all, I've stuck with pottery. After all, the car always broke down after the   art fairs. Besides, I've got a new green glaze in a bucket in the basement that I think will   be pretty good. It's hard to know for sure, though, because I mixed it up in a bucket I'd   used to make some soap bubble mixture for the kids. I washed that bucket out well, but   it's impressive how pervasive dish detergent is. And it does the same thing in glazes as it   does in your sink--makes foam. Someone else may have found an attractive way to use   foamy glazes, but I haven't found one yet.



Finding your niche. (relocation tips for potters) Brad Sondahl.

Two years ago, I moved my pottery studio to a county in the Idaho Panhandle; the   population is so sparse, there are no stoplights in the whole county. It is next to a county   as large as Vermont, which also lacks stoplights and, more significantly, the kind of   population that usually accompanies stoplights. Not every potter ends up in such as   underpopulated environment, but many potters move, and have to reassess their   marketing strategies as a result.

I've always felt that because I'm self-employed, I could set up a workshop anywhere.   In my 20 years as a potter, I've had seven studios and their locations have   greatly affected my marketing success, but I've always been able to keep   going. Other issues related to the pottery environment are: physical setup,   name recognition, family considerations and local market conditions.

  The first decision is whether to have a studio at home or in a separate location. Though a   lot of successful potters have separate studios, the question for me was, "Where do I   want to spend most of my time?" When I apprenticed, I spent enough time sitting kilns   that I knew I would always have my workshop at home. But home studios can be   controlled or prohibited by local codes; and noisy kilns make irate neighbors, so choose   the location carefully.

  The amount of space available and its suitability should also be considered carefully. An   unfinished basement may provide plenty of room for a workshop, but hauling tons of day   and pots up and down stairs can be a bit of a nuisance. Generally, my studios have been   too small. While this made them economical to heat and afford, there was insufficient   storage space for materials and finished goods. Even a large space needs to be broken   up into separate spaces to control kiln gases, excess heat and dust, dust, dust.

  Okay, now you've set up a studio, and you're making pots, but no one has ever heard of   you in Grangeville, Idaho. No matter what the quality of your pots, your name does not   necessarily travel with you to new areas. If your pots are good, you can still sell them, but   there will be no repeat customers until you've been there a while, so sales will be slower.

  Art falls are the great equalizers, allowing mass exposure to the target market.   Unfortunately, getting into good fairs is another matter, subject to different systems of   jurying, changing juries, tenure, etc. Galleries are dependable, and usually looking for   new exhibitors, but each account requires a lot of pots to make a reasonable display, and   returns are sometimes slow.

  My best marketing strategy so far involved the purchase of a small place on the main   street of a tiny resort town, the street being the only access to a 7-mile-long lake.   Because customers didn't feel completely comfortable entering a private residence to   look at pottery, I built a kiosk display in front. Then, because I didn't want to be tied   down, I posted a sign asking people to pay by check under the door if I was gone. This   strategy actually encouraged some customers to become loyal, because of the trust   shown on my side.

  At first, to develop a customer base, I took names and addresses off the local checks,   and sent them handwritten invitations to special sales. After several years, the flow was   self-perpetuating, with no advertising except a modest sign on site. To ensure repeat   business, I added new items yearly, as well as new decorations and one-of-a-kind pieces   for novelty. Sales of second-quality pots have sometimes brought about a kind of feeding   frenzy with patrons.

  Earlier, I mentioned that family considerations are important in locating your studio. It   was my wife's occupation (as a pastor) that led to the move to this challenging new   environment. I never would have chosen this particular location for sales, as it is too far   off the beaten track. Fortunately, we still own our old location in the resort town by the   lake and, as sales are mostly in the summer, we return there to sell what I've made   throughout the winter. I throw pots at a kick wheel near the kiosk to keep busy and lure   in more customers.

It's tough to find your niche in the world, but a potter's got to do what a potter's got to do.



Teaching and the production potter.
It started with my offering to let an acquaintance bring her two preschoolers to my shop   to play with clay. They had a great time, and even got to try the potter's wheel. Later, she   told me that there were some friends of hers, home schoolers, who would love to have   the chance to learn about pottery, too.

  Within a couple weeks, I had scheduled three groups of fifteen. This resulted in my   building new work space for them, as well as spending two hours with each group. That   left me wondering if I should be offering classes.

  Classes to me imply schedules, fees and dealing with people as groups. I needed to   ponder the whys and wherefores, and even the economics of it all. I have always based   my business on supply and demand economics--I make a supply of pots, and there is   enough customer demand to keep me producing. Figuring out the monetary value of a   class is a whole new ball game. What is it worth to spend my time teaching pottery?

  In point of fact, I have always let my neighbors try making pottery for free, which seems   fine, until one gets too much of a good thing. That reminds me of a folk story from India:

  A man asked an artisan, "How much is this bracelet you have here?"

  He replied, "One gold coin."

  "How much would you charge to make ten bracelets exactly like this one?"

  The artisan thought and said firmly, "Fifteen gold coins."

  "But," the customer argued, "that is much more per bracelet than if I bought only one.   Shouldn't I get a discount on quantity?"

  The artisan replied, "If I were to make ten bracelets all the same, I would require much   time in meditation to make up for the cost to my spirit. Thus, you must pay more, if you   want more."

  I am a production (rather than an artist) potter, so this story never seemed to fit my   theories on quality handmade work for the masses; yet it has stuck with me for a long   time. I work alone, and after 18 years, find it takes more than just demand to make me   produce. I think the key word is relationship. The successful craftsperson lives in a   network of positive relationships.

  The beginning is the relationship between one's efforts and results. If your clay is full of   burnouts, if your glazes shiver, spall or crawl, this is hard on your spirit as well as your   pocketbook. I have just returned to mixing my own clay (by foot, no less) to try to   improve this relationship (don't knock it until you've tried it).

  When the pot is finished, the marketing work involves direct sales to patrons, or dealing   with galleries and shops. Although it is definitely business, I certainly feel better when I   am friends with the people I'm selling to.

  This brings me back to the point of this essay: teaching. One can quantify the value of a   pot, but teaching involves a relationship, which is much more difficult to price. I am not   alone in my confusion. It is possible to find students of pottery who pay thousands of   dollars per year to learn how to work with clay, mix glazes and fire. There are also   apprentices who perform those chores as payment for learning pottery skills. And there   are people paid wages to perform those same jobs by other potters.

  In a school or art center setting, the relationship aspect is deemphasized, and a set fee is   charged per class. But in my home workshop, I cannot contemplate teaching without   considering the relationship. If I let my children's friends use the studio for free, how will   paying students feel? Should I charge less for those I know are less affluent (since no one   ever suggests charging more for those who are wealthier)? Should I charge less for   children, even though they make a proportionately greater mess? I have a hard enough   time keeping my prices straight for consignment sales versus wholesaling.

  And what about that cost to my spirit? As much as my rational mind rejoices in this   interest in learning pottery, my aesthetic sense reels at the primitive results. Oh yes, I still   have my first pot to keep me humble (and cheer on disappointed novices), but that   doesn't mean I'm thrilled by their first efforts.

  Okay, I'll be honest. I haven't decided what to do about teaching. So far, no one has   made me an offer I can't refuse. But I take my hat off to those who endeavor to teach   how to move hands through clay, whether I decide to don that hat or not. And we all   benefit from greater knowledge of clay.

Other Pottery Thoughts:
Competitors and Compatriots (April 2000)

I was talking shop at an art fair once with a potter from across the state.  I admired his sparse but  realistic drawing style on his large platters.  I learned he was more of a producer than I was, using twice as much clay as I did in a month.  We got to talking about galleries, and I mentioned one that had been doing well for me.  I didn’t think much about it until the next time I stopped in the gallery, and saw a large display of that potter’s wares.  I realized then I’d aided a competitor... I felt like that potter had taken advantage of my friendliness to my detriment.  I started to feel like my sales weren’t as good there as they used to be, although in retrospect it could have just been my imagination.  Competition is constantly with us.  It is with us as we begin learning pottery.  If we learn to center quicker than the others, we’ve got an edge.  If our sculptures meet the approval of our teacher more than the other students, we get the better grade, or better recommendation for graduate school.  Yet in that same environment, cooperation is also a vital strategy for success.  If I have a problem, I’ll mention it to anyone who can help me, and in return if someone approaches me with a problem I know something about, I’ll be happy to share what I know.  We are both better off than if we struggled on our own.  If ceramics were a simple undertaking, cooperation would not be so necessary.  But the field of ceramics is complex enough that no one is expert in all areas of competence, such as clay composition, forming processes, glazes (in all their temperature ranges and atmospheres), and firing processes.  The spirit of cooperation has long been reflected in Ceramics Monthly, where potters sharing ideas and processes have shaped their counterparts around the world.  In addition the Internet has become integral to fostering this cooperative relationship, as questions on very specific problems can be addressed to persons most experienced in that area.  Some people (including myself)  have chosen to create helpful web pages in their areas of expertiseFor specific questions and answers the Clayart listserv (which can be viewed at http://www.egroups.com/list/clayart ) and the newsgroup rec.crafts.pottery are probably the most widely accessed in this regard.  One reason that this cooperative system works is that a potter in Australia does not feel in competition with one in Ohio, and thus will share secrets freely.  However the Web is becoming more prevalent as a marketplace, and competition again becomes a factor, as the various pottery web sites vie for the same pool of shoppers.  Both competition and cooperation are vital to our survival.  While I favor the cooperative approach, I know that there are valid boundaries to set as to how far one should cooperate.  If I work for years to develop a wonderful glaze, it is a sane decision to keep the recipe to myself, if it is what makes my current work special.  But my formerly wonderful glazes, now history, may be just what someone else can do wonders with.  Also competition fosters an improved product, as we try to equal others accomplishments, or are knocked out of our complacency.  I would rather think our real competition lies with  the mass manufacturers, that we are all compatriots promoting human made craft over machined indifference.  This is certainly the case where corporations have mimicked hand made style, clearly competing in our arena.  And it lies in all our interests to promote the use of handcrafted articles, and to cooperate so that we can produce the best possible of these things of clay.

The Cost of a Mug

 I well know the detailed list of steps  that go into making a mug.  This is more of a cost analysis of it, since I just filled a kiln with 100 mugs. The various totals are  for 100 mugs, at the end I will come up with the cost of a single mug.  If you would like to repeat the experiment for yourself, put in your own weights, clay costs,  etc.

I just fired a bisque in a 7 cu.ft. elec. kiln with 100 mugs in it, just  mugs. That represents: 75 lbs of clay for the mugs themselves 25 lbs of clay for the handles 100 lbs at $.25/lb (cost when purchased by the ton, including shipping) Clay cost $25.00

The bisque uses about 70kw to fire (local elec. is cheap, 5 cents per kw) Bisque Firing cost $3.50

The glaze cost is difficult to figure.  From mixing lots of 100 gram tests, I'd guess the average mug uses around 20 grams of glaze.  From the cost analysis of Glazechem software, I'd guess my glaze averages 3 cents per mug. Total glaze cost $3.00

The glaze firing uses about 100kw to fire.  The same 100 mugs will fit. Final Firing cost $5.00

Consider that the elements are good for fewer than 100 firings, and cost $180 to replace.  That cost is $1.80 per firing. Shelves also have a limited lifetime, at $30 or more each. I would guess I spend $60 per 100 firings, or .60 for each one.  The kiln also has a limited lifetime, but I'm still  using the first one I bought used 20 years ago, so I'd leave figuring out the fraction of kiln expense to macroanalysis.

Loss of pots as seconds must also be factored.  Of 100 mugs, 7 became seconds (1 had a burnout, 1 had a glaze lump, 5 had bits of clay/kiln shelf stuck on them.   Some of these can be refired to be mended, others will be sold at half price or less.  The loss here is variable, and not included in the cost of the pot, as it is more  related to the price charged.

The total thus far is $38.90 for 100 mugs, or $0.389 per mug.  Whenever I figure out this sort of thing, I think I should be rich.  Unfortunately that is just the basic cost, without overhead or labor costs.

So then there is the value of the space used to produce the pottery.  This cost (particularly when rented) puts lots of potters out of business.  I won't hazard what your expenses are.  I know I bought my place cheap, and have paid for it, so only have taxes and repairs still looming over me.  However, attendant to this are the utility expenses, bookkeeping requirements, and transportation costs.  These are better dealt  with from a macroeconomic analysis.

Finally the labor. I spend about 1.2 minutes to throw a mug. I use 2 minutes to sign, clean up, and add handle.  .5 minutes to glaze.  .5 minutes to move: putting in and out of kiln, sanding the bottoms as they come out.. Probably 5 minutes total labor for each mug.  (I do not lavish individual attention on them.)  Hmm, 12 mugs an hour. Still sounds pretty good, even at a profit of $3.00 per mug.  Why ain't I rich?

Well, there is the major hurdle of selling them.  At least as much time, energy and expense goes into this part, as into the production part.  That's why retailers get as much for the pot as you do.  And why you sit in the hot sun, rain, and, strangest environment of all, the mall-- slowly losing your mind.

Macroeconomic analysis: Don't be scared off by the big word. It just means looking at it from the top down.  If you take the cost of goods sold from your  records (1040), plus the cost of business expenses (same source), and divide them by your gross profit, you will have a ratio of expense to profit.  This figure will  show you what decimal fraction of each dollar you receive is expense.  In my case last year the decimal is an absolutely astounding .76, which is 76%.  If you have a  figure similar to mine, you may want to consider another occupation.  It means that 3/4 of the value of whatever you make is going to materials, overhead, etc.  So I  checked back, and the figure fluctuates significantly.  Two years ago, it was 34%,  one year ago 49%.  From extrapolation, it's clear I'll be out of business by the  end of next year. :-)  However, being a small business, major items like repairs can fluctuate widely from year to year.

Even this analysis doesn't take into account the cost of  taxes, since that's figured after the profit. I always knew I wasn't into pottery for the money, and now I think I've proved it... I developed a theory a year ago that every artist needs a designated responsible significant other, sort of like having a designated driver when out partying.  I came  up with the theory talking to a musician married to an artist.  They have a tough time making ends meet...

Gas or Electric kiln?

Electric kilns offer dependable results. Oxidation firing yields the same colors from the same glazes consistently. For production potters, making a line of pots, this is very nice. Electric kilns also do not have the risk of explosion, as can occur to gas kilns before they reach red heat if they do not have a gadget to keep the flame lit on the burner. Ease of use, relative silence in use, no need for chimney makes for varied location for use-- all of these favor the electric. No need to store a large reservoir of propane... No need for constant monitoring of firings... These are all good reasons to favor the electric kiln, especially for beginners.

Dirt floors and monkeytails

I had a dirt floor studio several times. I've never been a fanatic about dust, but I didn't notice it any dustier than my current cement floor. I've read of potters who sprinkle their dirt floors to keep dust down. If I lived in Hawaii, I'd have no qualms about a dirt floor. (I'm not sure if I'd have walls...) The major drawback might be humidity rusting electric wheel components, though where I worked it wasn't humid enough to be a problem. Keeping pests out is probably also a challenge. The last place where I had a dirt floor, I started seeing a weird curlytail critter disappear out of sight when I'd come in. Made my hair stand up, the first time. I mean, it reminded me of a monkey's tail. Turned out to be a packrat, and the little rodent took to stealing my cone packs. It was fun for a while, but they have really bad smells associated with them. I live-trapped it, and crawled into a narrow place to get out its nest. It had surrounded its nest with cone packs pointing out, looking like missile defenses.

On being a "Successful" Potter

I was reading a post on rec.crafts.pottery on the frequently pondered question: Can you really make a living potting? This particular posting was a response filled with realistic figures to show how hard it is to make it, due to high overhead, making 200 pots a day and not keeping up, body wearing out, etc. It reminded me of Alice in Through the Looking Glass, running as fast as she could to stay in the same place... So it is possible to be in great demand, be producing full bore, and still not be successful, at least by some criteria. At one end of the scale is the peasant potter, subsisting on what is produced, unnoted even in the community in which he/she works. At the other is the "name" potter, able to command selling prices which ensure a comfortable lifestyle, travelling at invitation rather than necessity, occurring in nature about as frequently as the ratio of rock stars to bar bands... Most of us fall in the middle of this spectrum, but are probably emulating one end or the other. I've leaned towards the peasant model, favoring local selling, low prices, and simple repeatable decoration. And if success were measured solely by demand, I am successful. However demand is a treadmill, and while it has the tempting carrots of financial reward and patrons' positive feedback to keep one on it, one still feels too often like Alice... So what makes for success? Likely suspects include artistic integrity, money, acclaim from patrons or peers, and comfortable lifestyle. This last is a slippery wicket, best defined by user. So what makes you feel successful?



A Summer Internship
My studio in Spirit Lake, Idaho has a good summer business (See CM, Summer 1996 "Finding Your Niche").  For several reasons, including a desire to vacation with my family, I decided to take on a summer intern to help with operations there.  My internship notice, placed on the internet newsgroup alt.crafts.pottery, yielded inquiries from across the U. S.  Because I doubted whether what I could teach was worth travelling the globe for, I opted for the closest candidate.
Todd Burns had just graduated from Utah State University at Logan, Utah, where he had studied under John Neely.  He was already accepted for graduate school at the University of Indiana.  Todd arrived with his own self-designed-and-made Leach style treadle wheel, a garbage barrel of clay, and enormous enthusiasm. Some of the pots he brought, including saltfired teabowls, reflected a broad range of experience he had gotten in his college training.  As we pored over and discussed old issues of Ceramics Monthly, I was impressed with his knowledge of personalities and history of pottery as well. It was important to me that the internship be mutually advantageous, but I was clearly going to have to work to come up with pottery knowledge Todd hadn't already acquired.  I was reminded of some of the sharp interns James Herriot reported on in his series of books on the English veterinarian life. Fortunately, Todd knew little about my specialty of high fire oxidation stoneware, as well as marketing. Also, it was apparent that Todd was willing to enjoy the environment of lakes and wooded mountains nearby, and not be a pottery monomaniac. We exchanged stories--I from my apprenticeship twenty years ago--and he of his experiences checking out grad schools.  I enjoyed the story he told of one university where the professor kept asking him, "Why make pottery in the 90's?"  Todd said the professor wouldn't let go of the question, kept at it.  I laughed and said that he probably really wanted to know, and if he got a good answer, he'd run out and tell everyone...
Todd would unload his glaze kilns as soon as a piece of paper wouldn't ignite in them.  He told of a professor saying that if you don't burn your hands to get at your latest firing, you're in the wrong business. Since I fire over a hundred kilnloads a year, I said that that person clearly runs on adrenaline.  The remark rubbed me the wrong way slightly, since I produce fairly pedestrian functional lines of pottery, but I think it helped to knock me out of a rut (nasty word--rut--I prefer plateau).  Before Todd came, I fretted about whether to share my glaze recipes with him, including a crystalline glaze which works well without coddling in a regular cone 10 firing.  I had my world adjusted when Todd never displayed any interest in any of my recipes, and remarked that he never cared much for crystalline glazes anyway. I guess that glaze recipes are easier to come by today, with sources like the San Diego State University internet glaze data  base, than when I started with a list of ten or so.
This was my first experience with internship, and I think it was a growing process for both of us.  I think dialog among potters is critical, and although I enjoy relating with other potters on the internet, the visual nature of pottery makes one-on-one exchange much more valuable.  Todd remarked that it's actually difficult for young potters to find experienced potters to apprentice with.  I suppose I've been part of that, keeping to myself for twenty years.  But the world is bigger for both of us, and internship seems a healthy choice for master and novice both...
 The Death of Ernest Kunst

It was one of those posh midtown galleries. A potter, Ernest Kunst, lay sprawled on the floor Who or what had killed him? Homicide division was on the case. As I walked into the immaculate gallery, a couple of wellheeled art patrons stood gawking at the lifeless heap: "What do you say, dear? Maybe we could fit it at the end of the coffee table in the knickknack room... "If you want to take it home, you can keep it in your den." I dutifully informed them it was not modern art but modern tragedy before their eyes. They seemed relieved.
Inspecting the body, I observed a neatly dressed, plumping, middleaged man with clay on his shoes. Why can't they ever wipe their feet? A knife was stuck (through a newspaper clipping criticizing his latest show) into his back. To me it seemed an obvious red herring. Modern artists are too tough to die from stuff like that. Still, bad press might implicate the gallery.
The owner was ready to talk. Looking at the review, she said: "Yes, I read it. Where do they hire those beasts? It wasn't even Ernest Kunst's show. I don't give shows for functional potters. He was really just my lotion pump and potpourri potter." I had to ask what she meant by that.
"Oh, you know. He wholesaled some pots with pumps and others as containers for that stuff that fills the room with fragrance."
"Sure," I said. "Did he have any friends or enemies?"
"Well, he was always talking about someone named Hamada, and another fellow called 'the Leech."' I mulled this over as I gave the body another quick check. If this guy hung around with friends with nicknames like the Leech, he could easily have underworld ties. Just then I noticed a wet gray trail leading away from the body out the front door.
"Hey!" shouted the gallery owner "There goes one of his friends now." I dashed out the door, following the gray trail to a leaky bucket carried by an Asiatic person I assumed to be Hamada. When stopped, he pretended to know no English, handed me the bucket and took off down a busy sidestreet. I realized he had given me the slip! "Cone 10 White Slip," the bucket read.
On a hunch, I made my way to the waterfront, where Japanese teahouses litter the wharves. I knew this was it when I found two beatup pickup trucks parked outside a teahouse. Each had bumperstickers--one read "Potters do it in the mud"; and the other "Stoned on stoneware." Peering through the window, I saw the arcane rituals of the Japanese tea ceremony, and overheard the one I thought might be the Leech saying to Ramada: "Do you use EPK?" I'd heard enough. Kicking open the door, I flashed my badge and gun, and said: "All right, quit discussing your favorite drugs and start talking about Ernest Kunst!"
The Leech responded: "Kunst, Kunst. The name rings a bell." Ramada retorted in perfect English: "I believe he was your apprentice, old chap."
"Ah yes, a very serious young fellow. Decent worker  I couldn't tell you more than that."
Another dead end! Leaving the watery tea district, I decided to try a new angle. Kunst's parents lived in the city; I thought maybe I could get a lead from them. The Kunsts refused to believe Ernest was dead.
"In an art gallery? Oh come on. It was probably just a performance piece. Let us show you some of his work," they said, throwing open a closet. I saw pot after pot lining the walls. "This was his first teapot," said his mother proudly.
"But the spout goes horizontally from the bottom," I said. "It wouldn't hold a drop."
"Ernest wasn't always bound by functionality. Look at his college senior dinnerset."
"It looks like the food would slide off. I've never seen plates where the edges fold down."
"He also made a series of interesting, nonfunctional ashtrays...
I laughed, "He must've kept you amused."
"Oh no, he was very serious about it. He has integrity."
"What about his love life. Any jealous lovers?"
"His wife left him. He was committed to thrown reduction stoneware and she got into hand built oxidation porcelain. They were just incompatible."
I left the parents' residence, mulling over the facts. But as I drove along, I got a call from the gallery owner
"You can forget the whole thing about Ernest Kunst," she said. "He's alive and well, and took a job driving a potato chip truck. I guess it was just his way of leaving the art world with bravado."
The case was closed, but I couldn't help thinking about it. What could lead a potter to the point of driving a potato chip truck? Was it the lure of a regular paycheck? Or freedom from kowtowing to customers' whims? Perhaps life without art fairs was just too attractive. And how could he have died and yet not have died?
Then I understood what had happened. This guy had really tried, but the artist inside him had died. He took himself too seriously.
Politically Correct Pots
by Brad Sondahl

 Is pottery political?  Musician Frank Zappa once said that everything you wear is your uniform. Stretching the analogy; if your pottery is apolitical, per-haps this merely reflects your personal politics. Has pottery been political? I think about the ruckus caused by Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party"' and know that it has. Is pottery subject to the current trend of political correctness?
Ponder lightly and read on.
Since everything else in life is subject to standards of political correctness, from grocery bags to dorm room doors, let's consider whether pottery meets today's high standards of behavior. when I began "doing" pottery in the early '70s, there was no question that it was the right thing to do. After all, at about that time Ceramics Monthly began printing in full color. If that's not evidence of a mass movement, I don't know what is. Pottery was then clearly a direct counterpoint to the prevalent military industrial complex that afflicted the psyche of our country. To avoid contracting that disease, I would retire to a kick wheel and think peaceful thoughts. I knew back in college that pottery was more politically correct than the other arts, because it didn't require any models sitting around naked. This, and the "elitist tendencies of art, convinced me that art was politically incorrect, and prompted my final art production, a happening called "Art as a Bourgeois Sham:'
In the current language of ists and isms for every occasion, this clearly labels me an art ist (despite and because of my attempts to disavow it) and a non"nude"ist (as I am obviously a prudist).
Getting back to my historical critique, I moved into a chicken coop and tepee with another potter, and learned how to live righteously, scraping along with scrap clay, used kilns and a big garden. living close to the earth was synonymous with making pottery then, especially since the pottery studio had a dirt floor. This was the good life, although Minnesota winters are justly famous for wearing down good-lifers. We lasted several years before moving on to other possibilities.
By the eighties, the age of greed took its toll among the ranks of potters who wanted to have some semblance of financial security in addition to their good life and political correctness. Teaching became an attractive second career option, and the ones who remained in the ranks split between those emphasizing production and those capitalizing on artistic quality and uniqueness. At the same time, living close to the earth was beginning to suggest silicosis from long term occupational exposure. Meanwhile, glaze leachates implied potential government regulation and skittish consumers, while leftover glaze chemicals and pottery wastes became not so environmentally correct (and even glossy pottery magazines posed a problem for recyclers). In the light of all these environmental considerations (which potters have tended to know. about, but chosen to continue anyway), suddenly the politically correct choice lies in the route of less consumption, since materials processing and usage both denote (to some degree) environmental degradation. Even the earthy wood or salt kilns, and reduction firing in general, represent greater environmental degradation than sane-but-bland electric kilns.  (If I label them bland does that make me an “oxidation”-ist?  In this case, no, since it is my sole firing mode.)
At any rate , environmentalism poses a quandary for me (as it does to the world in general), because artist-potters tend to use fewer materials than production potters, as more time is devoted to each expensive piece.  This conflicts with my own populist-derived functional nature.  I console myself, though, with the belief that artist-potters also tend to use more exotic chemicals and techniques, which have equally exotic effects on the environment. So here it is, the nineties, and while handmade pottery has gained a permanent niche in the world’s artistic life, is it still the right thing to do? Of course.  But with some reservations...
Suppliers and users of ceramic materials must be environmentally responsible in their use of and reuse of these materials. Even failed pots can be put to good use as material for mosaics, best evidenced by the fanciful architecture of Barcelona's Antono Gaudi. In that pottery is a product to be sold, the buyers participate in the craft, through their appreciation of pots and their support of craftspeople. However there is a tendency toward exclusivity n catering to the rich, and I personally affirm craft that can be purchased by the less affluent. Whether as a teacher or a proucer, the potter's talents can be shared with a broad spectrum of society through demonstrations for groups, from preschools to senior centers. This can be considered selfserving promotion, but he immediate rewards are apparent (both to the audience and the one presenting) and can help in the most politically important part of pottery: making and keeping craftspeople in contact with the community as a whole. Caveats aside, pottery is still a very inclusive discipline, for it can be enjoyed at some level by nearly everyone. When it comes time to face a ball of clay, we are all wonderfully challenged by it.



The Trend toward Standardization  by Brad Sondahl

Ceramics is by nature a hybrid between art and science, much as architecture combines art and engineering. At one extreme, scientific experimentation in ceramics has yielded superconductors, outer coverings for space shuttles and car engine components. At the other extreme, avocational potters can now pick clays, stains and glazes from color charts and achieve beautiful results with minimal knowledge of ceramic science. Most of our experience lies somewhere between.
Let us examine the trends: A hundred years ago painters mixed their own oils from raw materials. Without the intimidation of that technology, painting as an art and hobby has flourished. Also, such problems as fading and peeling have been reduced. One need only recall Leonardo da Vinci's failures in experimental painting materials to laud commercial standardization of modern art supplies. One wonders, however, if Leonardo would he so memorable today if he had not had his passion for experimentation and invention? I perceive a distinct trend toward a similar standardization in ceramics today.
Fifteen years ago, I apprenticed with a potter who had worked at a folk pottery in Japan, mixing glazes from materials such as rice and wood ash. Today he applies commercial overglaze decoration on commercially prepared earthenware. He is not alone. The rainbow hues now frequent in galleries and at fairs point to the widespread popularity of commercial stains and glazes.
So what is gained, and what is lost? Commercial preparation yields a broad palette of reliable colors, ease of application, nontoxic formulations, less preparation time, fewer losses, and accessibility to those who are not scientifically inclined. On the negative side is the loss of unique glazes developed by individual experimenters, which will affect true diversity in the ceramic environment just as monoculture of crops or trees affects diverse former prairie or woodland environments.
At stake are competing paradigms of the nature of pottery. The traditional model is of the relatively self sufficient, technically competent craftsperson, who produces beauty through intimate association with a limited range of forming processes. The emerging model is of the free artist, given a broad palette through commercially prepared clays and glazes, untrammeled by tradition or functional limitations. The first model champions knowledge of glazes and firing techniques. The second triumphs in results obtained dependably through others' specialized knowledge. This shift in paradigms mirrors trends in specialization in many other parts of society for example, the replacement of the general practitioner by a host of doctor specialists.
Perhaps the trend toward standardization in ceramics is an inevitable part of the modern world. Issues such as product liability may eventually force most potters either to have their glazes tested by an accredited laboratory or to use certifiably safe commercial preparations. We are not yet at that point. Because of ceramics' hybrid nature, a certain technical prowess with glazes and firing will always remain necessary. Even in painting, where paints are no longer mixed from their constituent oxides, choice of gel media, extenders and drying agents offers a genuine technical hurdle. And all artists must face the real high jumps of form, content, expression and aesthetics, which have plenty of challenge in themselves.



Towards a Distinctive Pottery Culture
by Brad Sondahl
It's really disheartening to work in such a concrete" medium as ceramics, because there's so little room for big words in learned discussion. I once heard of a potter doing a master's thesis on lids, and imagined the writing included few words to rival the "hermeneutics of systematic exegesis" rampant in theology or the "iconoclastic ideologies" of social science. The reason for this is blatantly obvious. Today's potters have gradually blended into the ranks of the "regular" culture, and are more prone to discuss PTA agendas than Alpha Beta quartz inversion.
Sure, I know how it happens. As a student, I inherited the vocabulary of the English pottery tradition: cone, kiln, bats, pugs, wedge and throw (considering they invented the language, the English could have at least used a few multi syllabic words for pottery terms). For a while I even pronounced kiln as "kill;' but after a couple years of reading more about pottery than talking about it, the "n" returned, permanently. So we have individual potters, isolated from their species, interacting with patrons who know exactly what's happening.

"See, they take that blob of mud and knead it and shape it on the round thing, and then paint it and heat it in the oven.' Under the circumstances, who am I to tell them that it's really a kiln (without the "n")? So to end this cultural degradation, I propose a long-haul approach to developing a distinctive pottery culture. But we can t reach the Song dynasty without some cultural preparation.
First a folk culture must evolve, and from this, classical ethereality will blossom. Just as the cowpokes and railroaders had their work songs, potters must evolve a distinctive folk music. How about these starters? I see by your apron that you are a potter... Or, I've been working on the kick wheel, all the livelong day.... Old MacDonald had a kiln, eieio; and in that kiln she put a vase.... Already pottery has made inroads into some forms of music. What would jug band music be without the jug? Where would we be without wind chimes?

When we lived in Portland, Oregon, some potters had banded together to form the Cobalt Blues Band. I also read in The Mudpie Dilemma about a part of Portland with bars frequented by potters. Now we have the glimmerings of a mass movement: potter patrons drinking to cobalt blues while thinking pottery thoughts. From such humble beginnings, the course is clear: Entrants to postsecondary institutions must be judged by their colorfully embroidered costumes and ability to yodel. All potters will live together in large enclaves of right relationships.
The long awaited New Age will finally be ushered in, spilling out into the world of Art in General. No longer will artists exhibit urges to desecrate flags or squash rodents. They will buy crystalline glazed pendants from us and wear them around their necks,  their iconoclastic ideologies soundly thrashed by our new hermeneutics of systematic ceramics. Strong and bold pottery will be displayed, some of which will hold water.  Best of all, no teapot spouts will dribble the last drops or the patron's lap. Finally, all one syllable words' disappear from the ceramists' lexicon– they will then be considered archaic. After manipulating the vessels into our convection, downdraft, turbo powered furnaces, we can monitor the thermocouples and carbon dioxide meters, and revel in the results, secure about our place in society.

When the bisque overfires byBrad Sondahl (Jan. 2005)
I was firing a bisque yesterday.  I use an electric kiln with a kilnsitter with timer.   I didn't feel like bending over (as in recent back spasm) to check the timer, so I just cranked the timer over a ways and fired away.  When I checked it a few hours later, I found the trip lever had flipped, but had not disengaged the kiln.  The result was probably cone 8 bisque.  Having had nearly everything that can with a firing go wrong through my career, here's the observations I've had about it. First I will say that dealing with cooked bisque ware is about as fun as jumping in a cold lake on a spring day, so I put it off about half a day.  But I finally jumped in...

1. What caused it? (Crucial)  I let the trip lever drop again and noticed it had enough friction to drop slowly, which inhibits the whack it makes when it hits the button.  I WD-40'd and oiled the little pins that it swings on, hopefully stopping the problem for a good long time.   Replacing that assembly would be a good idea next clay order...

2.What to do with the pots?  Usually I thicken my glaze buckets by taking a bunch of water of the top before stirring them, and glaze them sort of normally (by dipping).  Because the drying time is greatly accentuated, I try to glaze about 4 boards of pottery at a time instead of one, hoping the first glazed will be dry enough to handle by the time the last has been dipped.  This means spreading the glazed ware all over the studio while doing it.  It also means that when you pick them up, hoping they're dry, they won't be, and you'll remove finger sized patches of glaze from them.  In this case I just go ahead and sponge off the bottoms, and touch up the bad places with a brush.  The other innovation I added to today's struggle was to stick with one decoration for the whole mess-- a cheap green glaze that looks good even if a bit thin (which is going to happen).

3. So now they're firing, and probably a few of them will be seconds, but not the whole mess.  Well, customers like seconds anyway...

Among my other insanities, I like old movies from the 20's and 30's, and I think it's one of those Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers musicals (Great music and dancing, weak  plots) they sing (what no doubt was inspiring in the Depression),  "I pick myself up, brush myself off, and start all over again."
Still good advice.
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