Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: mugs, pottery, process, production, special events, television, textures

Okay, so lets back it up a bit… here’s the story about my HGTV Journey.
From the very beginning when they contacted me… up to tonight’s big HGTV debut!

It all started with a quick e-mail from the show Producer Nicole. Apparently, the show’s
host, Meg Caswell, likes to feature a local Chicago artist in most of her HGTV room
renovations. After some Internet searching, she landed on my blog. They contacted
me and asked if I might be interested in taking on the project. They were looking for a
Chicago ceramic to help them by making custom, handmade kitchen cabinet knobs
for an upcoming kitchen remodeling episode.

Of course, my first response was “YES – of course!!!”
But then my second thought was about how much I dislike special orders & commissions.
I debated for about 30 seconds and then dove right in!

I sent Nicole back an e-mail with some questions trying to nail down specifics. My
biggest concern was the tight turn-around time to the filming date & the install deadline.
Making handmade kitchen cabinet hardware is not a quick process. No clay piece is.
It not only takes time to actually form the pieces, but more time to dry, fire, stain,
fire again and attach the hardware pieces. I wanted to make sure I would be able meet
their deadlines before I accepted the challenge. Once I committed to Nicole…
the excitement kicked in!

With a couple e-mails back and forth, and some some input from Meg along the way,
Nicole and I pretty much nailed down what we were going to make… and Meg agreed!
They sent me the “style board” for the project which show the basic “vibe” or “mood”
of the new room design.

She explained “he” is Greek, and”she” is African-American. That there were using a lot of
Mediterranean inspired colors and textures, and they thought that the shapes and textures
of my Relic Rattles might give it a bit more of a Contemporary Tribal look.

As the filming day got closer, my studio got cleaner!
The night before, I cleaned my studio cleaner than it ever has been. Staging everything for
filming – facing everything, spacing everything, trying to make everything look good for TV.

It was an early morning when the filming day finally came round. And hot.
Filming was one of those surprisingly hot & steamy March days in Chicago. So early in the
year that no one had turned the air conditioning on yet. It wasn’t too bad until they turned
on all of those studio light in my tiny little space! Then it got really sweaty. And I was
positive that I was sweating right through my shirt!

So we filmed in my studio for a couple hours. Meg and I worked together to determine
what shapes & patterns we were making for the kitchen. Then it was my chance to get her
dirty and play in the clay. I showed her how I was going to make them, and she gave it at try.
I think she realized that it’s not quite as easy as she thought.

We also filmed some other footage of me working during different stages of the process.
It was funny to watch them filming in my small little studio. Trying to move around with
all of their cameras, lighting, crew, lighting, etc. And to be on the other side of the camera
with a wireless microphone recording every word… and the makeup artist right there
trying to make us look our best – and like we weren’t sweating it all off immediately!

The kitchen cabinet hardware we decided upon was a variation of the shapes I make
as Relic Rattles. They stared as textured little pods just for fun. You know how much
I love kiln-filler! So these silly, little “pods” have now taken on many different shapes
& forms… and now… they’ve become TV Stars too!!!

And now for the process…
To make the forms, I start with thin slabs of clay that I pull by hand. No slab roller.
No rolling pin. Just my hands, gravity and inertia. When I get the clay to a good thickness,
I press in the textures. The shapes are then cut out and cleaned up a bit. With a lot of
scoring & slipping, I form the shapes and keep the air trapped inside. Sometimes the “pods”
seem to flatten out a bit… so I literally “blow them up” like a balloon to keep them puffed up.
After it’s sealed, I poke a small hole with my needle tool, put it up to my lips and blow into
the clay. You can feel the “bulging” happen, then I press it together with my lips to trap
the air inside. Some last minute detailing on the edges… and Stage One is done. Oh yeah…
did I mention that you need to poke a tiny little hole somewhere so it doesn’t “explode”
as it shrinks during the drying process?

Once the pieces were almost dry, I made holes through one side where the hardware
was going to be added later. I had to guess how big to make the hole so that the shrinkage
rate wouldn’t make it too small for the hardware. Once they were punched, it was time
to dry. And then the first bisque kiln firing to cone 06.

Once bisqued, I painted them all with a coat of watered down iron oxide.

Once they were all covered, I gently wiped off the top surface with a damp sponge.
The goal is to clean off the top surface, but still leave good amount inside each of the stamped
impressions. The fun part is if you wipe too much out, you can always add some more
back in and do it again.

After wiping them all down, they were ready for the second firing – this time to cone 10.
Which is approximately 2350 degrees in a gas reduction kiln.

The high temperature firing makes them incredibly hard and vitrified. The clay takes on
a much darker color, and the remaining iron oxide was gives a nice warm hue on the surface
and a darker contrast line in the grooves. Luckily, I guessed well with the hole diameter
and the size is perfect even after two rounds of shinkage in the firings.

Then I attached the knob hardware to each piece. I epoxyed the metal hardware into place
through the back and attaching to the backside of the front piece. Once that layer of epoxy
had dried, I filled it in with a few more layers to make sire it was quite strong.

So that’s that. The work was done. The pieces fired. The hardware attached.
The show Producer stopped by my studio to pick them up so they could install them.
Mission accomplished. Now the waiting game to find out when it will air on TV.

And then… oh, but wait there’s more…

As if hours of footage in my studio weren’t enough… they called me back.
The show Producer asked if I would be available to come to the client’s home to film
some footage of me working with Meg to install the knobs onto their new cabinetry.
Of course I said yes… more TV time?!… I’m in!!!

So I showed up at the house to meet up with the film crew. I got a quick tour of the kitchen
as they were setting up the lighting and staging the kitchen for “The Big Reveal.” After a
quick trip to the make-up artist, and then to the sound guy to wire me up with a microphone,
I was finally ready for my time with Meg in the kitchen… as we installed a few knobs!
Sadly, that portion didn’t quite make it onto the screen. I’m sure it’s sitting on the
cutting room floor somewhere still.

But it was great to see how my custom cabinetry knobs & handles looked in the kitchen!
It was weird to finally see the “style board” come to life with MY handiwork in place.
The square knobs were installed on the kitchen cabinets. And the horn shapes were installed
horizontally onto the drawers. They turned out to be a beautiful compliment with the dark
ebony stained woodwork.

So funny to see how the kitchen came to life as we installed more knobs around the kitchen.

Of course I was a big fan of the glass tiles… very aquatic, very Mediterranean.
And the copper sink which worked so well with some of the “oranger” tones in the knobs.

While I was there waiting for filming, in between takes and while they were styling everything,
I did take a little “photo tour” of the kitchen to share with those who may have missed the show.

Oh yeah, and I “just happened” to bring a couple mugs with me as a gift to the homeowners!
Isn’t it great how they “just happened” to match the color scheme of the kitchen SO well?!
No mere coincidence I might say... My kitchen “house-warming gift” to them.

So that’s my story. By now I hope you’ve watched my “big debut” on HGTV…
and I hope that you don’t think I made too big of a fool of myself?!!!
It’s all in the editing…




June 10th, 2012

I thought those mugs looked familiar!
The minute I saw the picture of the sink I got suspicious. What a thoughtful thing to do!


June 11th, 2012

Haven’t seen it yet but had several people tape/TiVo it for us.(didn’t want to risk someone forgetting!)
The reports back are that it was great…great to see you on TV, the knobs were great, and your STUDIO LOOKED REALLY GREAT in the shots. Congrats Gary. Another adventure come successfully to a close. That is until the producers call you to ask if you want your own show.

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