Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: friends, My Talented Friends

Another installment in “My Talented Friends” series of blog entries…
I met Martin when he started taking my wheelthrowing class at Lillstreet Art Center.
His wife Christi had been taking my class for a couple sessions when Martin
decided to give it a try. I could tell right away that he was artistic… but who knew?!

As time went on, I found out that he was an architectural model maker by trade
but looking for other artistic outlets. It wasn’t until I got to know them better
that I found out that Martin is also a very talented painter. As well as a proper
Englishman complete with accent, Shepherd’s Pie and Pims!


When the opportunity came up for he and Christi to move to Raleigh, North Carolina
for Christi’s new job, it was then that Martin decided to make a go of it and become
a full-time artist. He’s how happily in his studio with pen & ink, oil paints and any
other medium he can get his artistic hands on!


So now he is getting himself established in the Raleigh art scene,
and finding ways to get his work out there. If you would like to see more, visit his
website at


Categories: classes, lillstreet, pottery

Looking for something fun to do this Spring?
Longing to get your hands dirty – but don’t have a garden to play in?

The new Spring Session of classes starts next week at Lillstreet Art Center.
Mark your calendar as my class starts next Tuesday, March 24th, 2009.
I will once again be teaching my class on Tuesday nights from 7:00-10:00pm.
My class is Beginning & Advanced Beginning Wheelthrowing.
It’s a 10-week class that meets every Tuesday night for three hours. You’ll learn
the basics of wheelthrowing and every step along the way to your finished pots!
Whether you are a complete novice, or an experienced beginner, this is the class
for you. We’re all very low-key, very social and very fun!

Lillstreet Art Center offers some of the best clay opportunities in Chicago!
In addition to your scheduled class session, you also get open studio time at Lillstreet
seven days a week – what a great chance to play inside & practice slinging mud!
So if you’ve ever wanted to play in the mud and make some pots…
it’s still not to late to sign up for classes at Lillstreet Art Center.

Registration is easy – just register online at
But hurry… my class generally fills up quickly.
Avoid the waiting list… register today!

Categories: bike, inspiration, tiles

Today was a beautiful day.
Even better once I got out on my bicycle…. dust it off… pump up the tires…
It’s been a long time coming… but biking season is finally here!!!
Let’s hope the nice weather stays this time…


The above artwork is a beautiful bricolage project that was completed last summer
by a group of local city artists and kid’s groups. It is under Lake Shore Drive at Bryn Mawr.
It’s a huge mural project that covers spans the entire width of Lake Shore Drive along both
sides of Bryn Mawr Avenue. It’s made up of a large collection of mosaic tiles, mirror shards,
as well as ceramic pieces created just for the installation. It even includes images & historic
items embedded in the artwork for all to enjoy. Rumor has it, they’re going to do the same
thing this summer to the Foster Street underpass too!


Categories: studio, Taylor

My niece Taylor turns four tomorrow… and a talented new ceramic artist!
To celebrate the big day, she stopped by the studio today to play in the clay
and make some art. Mom & Dad came with… and they got their fingers dirty too!

We started with terra cotta plates – press molded into Chinet paper plates
as molds. She rolled small balls and pressed them flat into the mold. After
filling the plate and smoothing her edges, it was time to press patterns & letters
into the surface. And then paint it with colored underglazes!


After the plates… she was very excited about trying to throw on the wheel.
I tried to explain that we typically don’t start teaching kids wheelthrowing until they are
eight years old. But she would hear none of it. She was determined. She was on a mission.
She dove right in with reckless abandon unafraid of the mess & splatter!


So once we cleaned up, she opened her birthday presents and we went out for pizza.
As the day wore on, she understandably wore out. It was a big day for our little artist.
Yet a very fun day in the studio for everyone… splash… splatter… and smiles!!!
Even a few “stool races” up & down the hallway outside my studio!!!


Categories: inspiration, photography, pottery, process, sunrise

Oh, what to do with all those dry clay scraps?…
Well, turn them back into new clay again of course!!!
Yep, all of those dried trimming scraps can be re-hydrated into new clay
and used again to make a new pot!

So I take all of my trimming scraps and allow them to dry out completely.
I keep them in a large plastic bin for “safe keeping.” When there’s a good amount
of them, I fill the container with water just above the clay level. The water will soak
into the dry clay and allow it to “slake” down. After the clay has absorbed the water,
I let it sit for weeks… or at least until I feel I have time to deal with it.

When I feel that the dried clay is rehydrated, and the majority of the water has either
soaked in or dehydrated, I scoop out handfuls of the new clay mixture and place it on
a large slab of plaster. This will help draw the excess water out of the mixture. I typically
leave the pile of clay sitting on the plaster bat for a few days until enough moisture has
been drawn out and the mixture is now close to a normal clay consistency. Then, I take
the clay off the plaster bat and get ready for some “heavy lifting.”



As you can see, I don’t worry too much about what kind of clay scraps get into my reclaim.
In fact, some of my other studio mates don’t reclaim their scraps… so them give them to me!
You just need to make sure that all clay going into your reclaim bin is rated for the same
kiln firing temperature.

I then take slices of the new clay, and interleave them with layers of fresh clay straight out
of the box. As the majority of my work is fired in the soda kiln, I generally use fresh
soda clay when I’m layering so that I know that at least half of it is for the soda kiln.


Now that I have stacks of mixed clays, I start pounding them together. It’s actually
easier than it sounds. Just pick up the entire stack, and slam it back down onto the
table. Cut it in half, stack the halves on each other – and slam it down again.
Slice-stack-slam-repeat. Slice-stack-slam-repeat. And so on… and so on…


Seen above, I’ve only sliced, stacked & slammed once. See the layers are still apparent?
Assume you are starting out with 10 layers. Slam them down, cut it in half, stack it on itself…
now you have 20 layers. Repeat… and now you have 40 layers. Repeat… and now you have
80 layers. Then 160 layers… 320 layers… 640 layers… etc. So the more times you do it,
the thinner the layers become and the more incorporated your different layers become.

Once I have sliced & slammed the clay and feel that they clay is well incorporated, I pound
roughly into cubes and store it in recycled clay bags. This reclaimed clay is now ready to go!
Yesterday, I reclaimed over 175 pounds of recycled clay – that would have otherwise been
thrown away. Even better… with just a little effort, it’s like FREE CLAY !!!

Categories: pottery, process, production, stamps, studio, tiles

Spice it up with textures & tiles…
and trying to combine the two into new salt & pepper shakers!

So I’ve been working on a new batch of shakers that combine the textures
of my tiles, the soda fired colors & flashing – with the functionality of
salt & pepper shakers! They’re still in the works… with trays to come!


Once the shakers are built, I’m applying a thin coat of soda slip on some
of them to give them different colors & flashing effects to be created in the
soda firing atmosphere. Seen below before & after…


Categories: pottery, process, production, stamps, studio

Back in the studio… making oval vases again.
First thrown as a bottomless cylinder, then squished into an oval, then
the floor is added… and then ready to be stamped! It’s ovals… before & after!



Categories: artists, friends, My Talented Friends

I often tell people that it is great to have talented friends!!!
And here’s another one…

I met Sarah Chapman at Lillstreet Art Center. She’s a wonderful artist & metalsmith.
Although she works mostly with sterling silver, she has a heart of gold!
Over the years we have become good friends and love to share our work, our ideas
and our business experiences. We have often discussed that we have very similar
business philosophies and experiences… both of us trying to find our way as
full-time, self-employed artists. We have frequently discussed how we seem to be on the
same path, kind of at the same business experience level, making the same decisions…
only she’s using metal instead of clay!!! I won’t hold that against her… especially now
as she is currently getting dirty in my Tuesday night wheelthrowing class!!!


Sarah’s work is a wonderful combination of materials, textures & patterns.
In fact, the necklaces above are great as seen… but they are also reversible with a different
pattern and different metal on the other side – two looks for the price of one. Brilliant.
No wonder I love her work!!! Over the years, I have gathered quite the collection
of her work… including two bracelets that are my favorites!!! I love having those
“one-of-a-kind-just-for-me” pieces that she makes!


Watch for her out there on the art fair circuit. She does several shows in and around
the Chicago area, as well as several shows out-of-state. I can frequently be found hanging
out & helping in her booth if I’m doing the same art fair! If you don’t find her early on
this summer, she’s usually just two booths south of me at the Evanston Lakeshore
Fine Arts Festival
. Be sure to stop by and say hello to both of us!!!

And if you can’t wait until summer…