Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: nature, seasons

While working down in my basement storage room this morning,
I was surrounded by pots, crates, shelves, boxes, more pots… & flowers?! Who’da thunk?
There I was “finally” putting away all of the remains from the Holiday Home Shows.
Trying to make some sense of the mess I call my storage space! All of the stuff that filled
my condo just “filled” my storage space with no rhyme or reason. Putting things away
trying to figure what what’s left, what kind of inventory I have and what I still need to make!
And then I saw flowers… bougainvillea and gerbera daisies!!! Sure, they’re not the brightest
or healthiest of flowers… kind of anemic & sickly. Very few green leaves left on the branches!

So at the end of the summer, I take the flower pots of my back porch and literally
just throw them down in the basement. My hope is that a few of the plants might survive
until Spring rolls around and they can go outside again. I’ll admit my track record isn’t
all that great. Because I always forget to water them! But then today, amongst the dried up
& crunchy leaves on most of the plants… there were flowers!!! Crazy.

The bougainvillea & gerbera daisies are in bloom.
I know our winter has been warmer than normal, but really?! Flowers?… Now?!

Categories: kiln firing, process

Basking in the sun. Waiting to be bisqued. Love the way the sun is streaming in…

Categories: artists, creativity, inspiration, pottery, process, workshop

This weekend was a two-day workshop with Julia Galloway.
Let me just say, this was my third two-day workshop with Julia Galloway!

Each time I’ve seen her working, I’ve been at a different stage in my own ceramic career. She was also my first workshop ever – just a few sessions into my wheelthrowing classes. My second workshop with Julia was a few years later when I was addicted to clay, but not really sure where to take it from there. This weekend was another experience – now as a working potter with a whole new perspective. And quite possibly, ready to actually “hear” all of the tips she’s so good at putting out there.

First off, her three word artist statement du jour : domesticity, conversation, beauty. And that’s what she makes. Pots that can be used for nourishment, that create a conversation and are inherently beautiful. Sounds like a good plan to me!

We started with Julia doing some quick throwing. In Julia’s studio, she throws for two days on the weekend & then spends rest of the week decorating those pots. In a condensed workshop like this, she had to make pots quickly to have something to work on later.

As the pieces began to set up, she then started to alter the forms by pressing, billowing & squaring the forms. In her mind, she had a plan for each piece. And she explained to us that many of her “plans” are created by a “predicament.” A conflict that needs to be resolved. A hurdle that needs to jumped. A limitation that needs to be pushed. It wasn’t always clear to us where she was going with the demos… but the exploration & discovery was part of the fun. Many “ah-ha” moments as they came together.

Not only are Julia’s pots very gestural & animated, but so is she. Her ability to be informative & approachable at the same time is refreshing. She has so much information to dispense that it could easily be overwhelming. But instead, she instills so much humor & passion into her presentation. She’s one of those people that I find so endearing & engaging… so much so,
that this is my third workshop with her. Sure, her work is incredible. But I could just listen to her talk. Seriously. Give her a topic and let her go. She’s thoughtful, insightful and giving. Always willing to share. But I digress. Enough gushing. Back to the workshop…

An added bonus… she also showed us a few new, groovy handle making techniques. Handles with textures?!… I loved ’em… and watch for me to be “appropriating” them soon!

Day Two… back for a second day of too much information flying our way…
and she’s still making beautiful things. Even more beautiful as things come together!

As her pieces are now leatherhard, she started attaching, stacking, cutting & combining pieces. Creating some of her signature pieces… also making pieces that will accentuate her surface decorations! And all the while, she’s talking. And talking. Sharing stores. Sharing insights. Sharing her path. Again… I could just listen to Julia talk. And I did. I’m impressed by people who can express themselves verbally & eloquently. And yet never condescending or demeaning. Always willing to answer a question. Always willing to share concepts, tips, secrets & opinions. Everything you want in an educator. Everything I want to be as a teacher.

In between the demonstrations, giving the clay some time to stiffen up, Julia took time to share some art history with us. She brought her PowerPoint collection of pottery through history. To give us a basis of understanding, to offer up historical reference on how pottery had evolved and changed along with the world. How surface decoration is as old as pottery itself. It was somewhat amazing to how pottery has remained the same, and yet so
completely different over the centuries. When I was in college, art history was all about painting & sculpture. We never talked pottery. Who knew how much it was all connected?!

Then, as she started decorating her pots, she also explained how ALL surface decoration can be summarized into four categories. And since we had just seen centuries of surface decoration, it was fairly obvious… yet great to have it pointed out clearly. Here they are…
1. dots.     2. lines.     3. floral representation.     4. pictorial imagery

So, starting her own surface decoration, she wanted to show how “easy” it can be… and that sometimes you just need to dive in and do it. No hesitation. Don’t overthink it. So her pitcher slip demo is just that… dots, then lines, then floral, then object imagery.

And then it was on to some of her signature styles in surface decoration.
With a lot of slip painting, slip trailing, incising, wax resist, slip inlay, shaving, layering and more! All the time talking. Talking about styles. Talking about techniques. Talking about how you need to make a lot of pots. How you need to try a lot of different things. Try, try, try again.
How you need to commit to the techniques when you start. Don’t be timid. Don’t be hesitant. All suggestions I give my own class of beginners… don’t be wishy-washy… commit… it’s just clay!

As the workshop began to draw to a close, we had a much larger vocabulary of techniques, as well as a lot of historical reference to draw from. We looked at some of her pots from the gallery – now understanding exactly how they were made, as she explained some of the steps of how she made them.

As we all found out, so much of Julia’s work is about making beautiful things. Beautiful forms & shapes. Beautiful lines & details. Beautiful layers of patterns & shapes. Her quest for beauty is admirable. Her willingness to share is impressive.

With the workshop encapsulated above, I still feel as though I haven’t covered it all. It’s her dynamic personality, her passion for clay, her willingness to share everything, and her eloquent turn-of-phrase that does it for me. It’s impossible to grasp that in a blog.
And I do think that the third time was the charm. I feel at this point in my ceramic career, I was ready to “hear” what Julia had to say. And now confident enough in my own skills to now stat trying more of her techniques. The trick will be making it happen. I can’t wait to
see what happens, and how I can incorporate her tricks into my own styles. I don’t want to make “Julia Galloway Pots.” But I am looking forward to seeing how she influences my work.

Thank you Julia Galloway for another wonderful workshop.
I know that everyone in the room was as enchanted as I was, and learned a lot along the way. Everyone in there has their own path that they’re on, and I’m sure we all got something different and yet equally important out of the two days we spent with you.

For more information on Julia Galloway, check out her website in my “Links” section. As well as the “Link” to Montana Clay which highlights her surrounding ceramic community.

Categories: artists, friends

This week we lost one of our artistic friends at Lillstreet Art Center.
Lois Retzloff was known to many over the years for her talent and constant smile.
She will definitely be missed. She was the “highlight” of Handbuilding Room A.
She was generally a quiet person, and that’s how she went out as well.
Quietly. Overnight in her sleep.

When I found out that Lois had been a staff illustrator for “Highlights” magazine…
she became a rock star to me. I grew up with the magazine and loved the “Hidden Picture”
puzzle in every issue. Lois was responsible for many of them during my childhood.
Every trip to the doctor or dentist would bring another issue and another “hidden” puzzle.

And then she came to Summer Camp…
Lois’ class shelves were located in the room where I frequently have my camp kids.
And on days when the room was filled with campers, Lois would often get her stuff and find
another room to work in. So it was my “job” to introduce her to the kids and tell them all about
her career with “Highlights” magazine. They were surprised to find out that she drew the
puzzle… although I’m sure they didn’t realize it was more than a few years ago! Regardless,
every time Lois would re-enter the room, I would point her out again, and they would give
a rousing “It’s Lois!!!” with applause. Okay… maybe it embarrassed her once and awhile,
but I know deep down she loved it. Because after all, she was a rock star to my childhood.

I’m not sure if these examples are specifically Lois’ work,
but here’s two “Hidden Pictures” to refresh your childhood memory.

Thank you Lois for unknowingly being a big part of my childhood,
and for also being a big part of the Lillstreet community. We will all miss you greatly.
You have left behind a legacy of many childhood memories for more than you know.

Categories: artists, friends, process, production, special events

Tonight I went out to LaGrange to play with my friend Nancy at her pottery studio.
If you recall, Nancy is also the one who got me started in pottery several years ago.
She’s also one of  Village Potters in LaGrange… and they’re preparing for their
charity event “Empty Bowls.” They’re hosting two open house days for people to come in
to throw bowls. I can’t make either of those days, so I went out tonight so we would have
time to play, chat and make some bowls!!! I made a dozen “empty bowls” for the cause…
and one larger one for them to auction off!

Tonight’s “empty bowl” production reminded me of the night I teach my class
how to make bowls. We work on making bowls with intention, and not a cylinder gone bad.
And then I make a lot of bowls and show my students quickly how that can be altered, fluted,
pinched and shaped to make each one different from the next. So each of my twelve bowls
had a different look. Nancy will be responsible for trimming and glazing to get them ready
for their April 26th “Empty Bowls” charity event.

Many of the potter/owners come from the former Terra Incognito in LaGrange.
When that Terra location closed, they needed a place to work… so they banded together
and opened this great studio space! They’re still in the fledgling stage, but growing quickly!

While many of them are there for studio hours, Village Potters do offer classes and workshops
for people of all ages. They also have shelf space for rent for potters out there who need to
find a place to work. They also have a nice Gallery space at the entrance. So if you’re ever
in need of some fine pottery, or a quick gift, be sure to stop by the Village Potters
and tell them that Gary sent you!!!

Village Potters : 333 North LaGrange Road, Suite 2, LaGrange Park, Illinois 60526
(708) 352-2330  :


Categories: bike, sunrise

After days & days of gray, it’s about time the sun came back out.
It’s been so gray & cloudy lately, every morning… blah.
Good sunrise today… finally… and I couldn’t wait to get out on my bike again!

Categories: classes, process, stamps

While Tuesday may have been the sweetest evening for many… I spent the night with my
beginning wheelthrowing students. Who let me just say are moving along quite nicely!!!
We’re now more than halfway through the session and tonight we tackled ovals.
Some of my returning students have enjoyed making ovals, so they asked for them again!
And I am always more than willing to make more ovals!!!

So here’s the first oval demo. Yes, it’s basically just a straight-sided cylinder with no bottom.
Then, once it stiffens up a bit, I remove it from the bat, move it onto a ware board and
shape it into the final oval shape. And this is where we start the photos…

Then, it’s time to pick the “perfect” stamp from my toolboxes of hundreds!

Carefully pressing one stamp at a time, all the way around the cylinder.

Then I felt that the rim was a little bit heavy and “chunky” looking. I felt that it needed
a little splash of fun too. So I pulled out a square-ended chopstick and started
“denting” the rim.

Then, from the inside of the rim pressing outwards, I used a round dowel rod to add
some curve divots to counter-act the sharp edges of the dents on the outer edge.

And here it is… the “now-stamped-and-decorated”  cylinder walls. Next up, it’s time
to add the bottom to the cylinder so it appears seamless as though it has always been
part of the pot. Then, handles will be added and the drying can commence!

Then here’s the second oval in the works!
It started as a bottomless cylinder just like the first one. This time I used more clay
for this demo – so the cylinder is a bit larger and taller, plus we added some voluminous
curve to the walls. Next, I slice it off the bat and move it onto a ware board while
stretching it into the oval shape!

Again, it’s time to choose a stamp trying to picture the how the final texture will turn out.

Then it’s systematically stamped one-by-one all the way around the pot.

And here it is… the oval cylinder with finished stamping. Both inside and out!
Yes, I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive and can’t help myself from using the smaller stamps
to add tiny little textures and details even inside the oval dish!!!

This one is now in the same place as the first.
Ready for the bottom to be attached, then handles!
Still working on them both… step by step. Unfortunately, my students don’t always
get to see the steps every step of the way. We discuss the steps… and I hope they get it.
If not, they know they can check here for photos & details.

Also on Tuesday, one of my students said she had missed the plate demo… of course
I was more than willing to do the demo again. She appreciated it… and made her first plate!
Here’s my demo platter… and the stamping that followed!

Again, it’s just one stamp pressed in over & over & over again… all the way around!

When the stamping was complete, I felt it need a little bit more… so I fluted the rim
with gentle curves all the way around to accentuate the stamped design.

Here’s the second oval demo… a little larger, with a little curve to the sides.


Categories: friends, holiday, pottery

Here’s another entry in the Valentine Vase pool.
This time it’s from my friend Kelly who is showing off yesterday’s Valentine flowers
in one of my stamped vases.. plus some textured salt & pepper shakers to boot!
Her husband Kel did well again this Valentine’s Day. Thanks for sharing Kelly!

Categories: friends, holiday, pottery

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentines Day today.
And possibly received some flowers from that special someone
that you “just had to” put into a Fire When Ready Pottery vase of some sort?!!!
Like my friend Pam who’s Valentine flowers make my vase look even better!
Well done hubby Pat.

Remember, flowers always look better in a handmade ceramic vase.
Just like food always tastes better off a handmade ceramic plate!
Go figure…

Categories: process, production, stamps, textures

So the plates that I threw last week as part of my class demo were finally at the right
leatherhard stage for stamping. It’s always tricky… can’t be too dry, can’t be too wet.
Got to get them right when they’re wet enough for good impressions, but not too wet
as to be sticky or squishy. Tonight they were ready for stamping!

So here goes… The first plate is a large dinner plate. Thrown with about four pounds of clay.
When I’m ready to start, one of the toughest decisions is “which stamp”??? I have hundreds
to choose from. So the possibilities are endless. I try not to dwell on it… just grab a favorite!

So here’s the lucky stamp chosen to tackle the rim of this plate…

Then, that one stamp rhythmically pressed in over & over & over again…

And the rim suddenly has a whole new texture. So much more fun than the plain,
old smooth flange that the plate started with!

Now plate #2 is a bit larger. Thrown with about six pounds of clay. The rim is plain,
but the center “food area” has a dramatic, concentric circle design created on the wheel
as I was finishing the throwing demo.

So again, which stamp gets to come out to play?… this one apparently!!!

Around & around, this time developing a nice scalloped pattern around the edge.
This pattern is also quite conducive to a fluted edge. So I did…

And there it is… a scalloped pattern of stamps with another small detail stamp
at the points, as well as on the tips of the fluted edge “high points.”

So now, both plants are back under plastic drying some more. I’ve got to wait for them
to dry to the right stage for trimming. I always tell my students that throwing plates is easy.
It’s the drying & trimming that is difficult. So now I wait… for the difficult part!