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

So it’s Day Twelve of my TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS POTTERY SALE… and we’re celebrating with one last surprise!!! Today we’re doing a SILENT AUCTION only on my Fire When Ready Pottery Facebook page for this large lidded jar with a cardinal on top… not quite a partridge, but close enough for me!

Many of you have followed the story of this piece, and now it’s time for me to release one into the wild!!! It is totally handmade, stamped & soda-fired, approximately 11.5″h, with a tenmoku glazed interior. The opening bid is $100 by my friend Nancy Wheeler… and we’ll do increases in $10 increments. The bid price includes packing & shipping within the contiguous USA. Simply leave your bid in the Comments Section only on my Fire When Ready Pottery Facebook page… the highest bid at midnight (Central time) tonight WINS!!!

Click HERE for my Fire When Ready Pottery Facebook page!

And as always, Thank You for following my pottery adventures. The holiday season will be “different” in so many ways this year… but I hope that these past TWELVE DAYS OF POTTERY have made it a little brighter for everyone.

Thanks again!

Categories: animals, pottery, soda-fired, stamped

Tomorrow morning at 8:00am CST, I will be kicking-off the final day of my TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS POTTERY SALE with a very special surprise! For the very first time, I will be holding an AUCTION on my Fire When Ready Pottery Facebook page!!! One single item, going to the highest bidder!

Yes, this large cardinal lidded jar will be my final “partridge”! It’s stamped & soda-fired with a handbuilt cardinal & twig as the handle! Approximately 11.5″ tall with a tenmoku liner glaze.

Click here for my Fire When Ready Pottery Facebook page!
Click FOLLOW… and then be sure to check-out the auction throughout the day! Be the top bidder at the end of the auction and you WIN!!!

Categories: animals, art fair, soda-fired, special events, stamped

So we’re currently eleven days into my TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS POTTERY SALE… and here’s a little “teaser” of the special event headed your way tomorrow to celebrate Day Twelve!!! And no, that’s NOT a partridge in a pear tree… but close…

Categories: animals, artists, friends, My Talented Friends, pottery, soda-fired

So this story has been a LONG time coming. You’ve seen glimpses of my birds… a few feathers here & there… a couple beaks popping up. But I’ve never really explained the whole reason I was making jars with birds on them. And NO, it was not to honor the show PORTLANDIA!

It all started last March…
When I received a phone call early on in the Covid Shutdown… sometime towards the end of March. It was the husband of one of my art fair friends. I had met Anne at one of my summer art fairs several years ago. I always loved her beautiful watercolor paintings… mostly birds, flowers & plants. Very realistic… great compositions… kinda like Audubon illustrations!

Derek had some bad news to share – that his wife Anne had passed away. Not from Covid, but from other long-term health issues. Just that the timing couldn’t be any worse with all of the Covid shutdowns & quarantining. He shared the story of how his wife Anne passed away, and that she was going to be cremated and needed an urn for her ashes. The story goes on that she wanted me to make the urn for her ashes… as I was her favorite potter & art fair friend. Derek wanted the urn to be stamped & soda-fired like the rest of my work she loved… and also the beautiful teal-blue glaze that I use frequently. I’m not a big fan of doing special orders… but under these circumstances how could I say no?! I couldn’t… it would be an honor.

But then the story & requests continued…
He said that he also wanted a few smaller versions of the urn for their children to have as keepsakes. So now I would be making a whole “flock” or urns. Especially as they were going to be soda-fired and you never know for sure how the pieces will come out after the firing. So to hedge my bets, I knew I would have to make an extra or two of each size.

And oh, but wait there’s more… the requests continued…
Since Anne was a wonderful watercolor painter, and her imagery frequently featured birds… you can see it coming now, right?... he asked if I could work a bird of some sort onto each of the urns. A little homage to Anne and her work. So I was already “in” for the large urn… and the small urns… and the soda-firing… and the “extras”… and now they needed birds?! Whew! This was just getting better & better!!! But you know I always love a good challenge.

My head started to spin. How to do a bird? Can I make a bird stamp? Should it be painted on like her work? Could it be a stencil?… or a decal? Should it be three-dimensional?… or more two-dimensional like her paintings? So many options… not enough decisions. I would have to ponder this one!

I explained that with the whole Covid shut-down & quarantine, I couldn’t commit to a date of when I would get them done. I had no idea then if or when there might be another soda-firing at Lillstreet Art Center… as Lillstreet was closed down too. Luckily, I had access to my studio so I could make the pieces during the “shelter-at-home” order… and I felt safe going to work in my studio at night as there was no one else in the whole building! So I started making the pieces… I just didn’t know when they would get soda-fired. He agreed and understood my dilemma.

So I started by throwing them as lidded jars. I stamped the patterns onto them… and trimmed them when they were ready. I flipped the jar over and threw the pedestal portion onto the bottom.

And then while the urns were under wraps drying to leatherhard, I went online to see a few of Anne’s birds on her website for inspiration.

I’ve seen a many of them for years at the art fairs, as well as a few of them at my parent’s house. There are several of her pieces hanging up in my Dad’s place!

So then I started assembling the birds. I decided to go three-dimensional and to add them to the tops of the jars – kinda like a glorified knob! So I started doing a little handbuilding. A little assembly line for my feathered friends! Basically starting with little pinch pots… and then connecting them to make the bodies. I kept the parts & pieces in a small damp box to keep the pieces viable longer.

And a few little leaves to add in later…

Then it was tails… I loved how they started to look more & more like birds as each step happened!

And then it was time for wings…

Finally it was time to start attaching the birds to the lids… as they would be the “knobs” on top! And of course, every bird needs a good branch to rest on, right?! I found that some folded post-it notes were useful to keep things propped in the right places while the clay set-up.

Finally the parts & pieces were coming together. I started finishing the lidded jars… with a couple extra lids “just in case” something went wrong somewhere along the process. It was time for a slow & gradual drying. I kept them under plastic for a few days… only unwrapping them for an hour or so every day when I was in the studio. I didn’t want anything to crack by drying too fast.

Eventually they were dry and made their way into the bisque kiln. Still so fragile… can’t wait to get through this precarious part of the process.

It’s always so good to see these little code letters… CPLT… complete!!! Especially when the kiln has such precious pieces in it. Everything is so fragile when it’s just dried clay… kinda like a piece of chalk. But after bisque firing, they are a LOT more stable & solid… and a huge sigh of relief.

After bisque firing, it was time to start adding some color to them. I used some red iron oxide to stain the branches. Some green underglazes on the leaves. I knew that the soda-firing process would work its “magic” on the pieces to some extent… but I wanted some hints of color to help tell the story!

Then I sprayed the urns with a bit of green glaze – knowing that it would turn to the drippy teal color Anne liked so much when it gets hit with the soda atmosphere during the firing. It was tough getting a good coat of glaze on the urns without getting too much on the birds & branches!

The urns finally made it into my Spring soda firing. It was so weird to be working in my studio so much during the shut-down. They kept telling us to shelter-at-home, to self-isolate, and to stay safe. It felt totally safe to be working in my studio as they was no one else in the building. But at the same time, also weird to be working to fill an entire soda kiln with work already knowing that my Summer art fairs were all being cancelled due to Covid-19. Scary times not knowing where your income would come from as the pandemic raged on.

So I fired the soda-kiln and felt a little anxious when it came time to unload the kiln. I had put so much work into these pieces – and had so much riding on it. Such a meaningful & sentimental project. I would be devastated if they were ruined by a bad firing.

Whew… they turned out great!

But then when I talked to Derek to tell him they were ready to pick up, he said “I can’t wait to see the cardinals!”

Wait… what?!
I’d never heard the request for “cardinals” anywhere along this commission process. My birds were all kinda “generic” and bird-like. So I had a moment of panic… can I turn them into cardinals quickly?!!!

I asked a couple artist friends of mine… and thanks to Susan Volk, we came up with a plan to paint them with enamel paints. I didn’t want to paint them totally, but apply enough to give them the “feeling” of cardinals… as I knew I could NEVER paint them as well as Anne would have.

I did like the way the enamel paints worked so well on the soda-fired surfaces. In some places actually leaving some texture & randomness like the soda-firing.

Soon enough they were all painted… and I now had CARDINALS!!!

But then when I had them all done…
I was kinda put “on hold” in terms of posting pictures of them!

Derek wanted me to keep them a little bit of a “surprise” for his kids who would be getting the keepsake urns. So I kinda stopped posting… and left a lot of people here online just hanging!

With “teaser” photos kinda like this one…

But now that they’re all done & Derek picked them up… I can finally share the finished results. And carry on with the story!!! So here are the finished urns. Stamped, soda-fired, teal-blue glaze color AND a bird as requested!!!

Urn #1 ———————————————————————–

Urn #2 —————————————————-

Urn #3 ————————————————

Urn #4 ———————————————————–

Urn #5 ————————————————————–

Urn #6 ———————————————

Urn #7 —————————————————-

Urn #8 ———————————————

Sure the birds turned out pretty cute… but I was still enamored by some of the shadows & stamped details. Cuz’ that’s kinda my jam!

Derek came to my studio to pick out the urns that he wanted. It was such a special moment. Appropriately awkward. Precious. Sentimental. Everything it should have been. He was so taken by them… it brought a tear to his eyes! He took his time and chose the ones he wanted. So glad that I fulfilled the commission… and that he LOVED them!

As it was still a “surprise” for his kids, I’ve kept it pretty quiet. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise… or give away too many clues. I held onto the “extras” for awhile just in case something “bad” happened along the way. I wanted to make sure that Derek had all of the urns he wanted… and that he wasn’t going to come back to get another one or two.

So now I’ve got a couple extra bird urns…
err, from now on we’ll call them BIRD JARS!!!

To finish out our commission project, Derek offered me one of Anne’s original watercolor paintings as payment. Sure, I could have charged him cash… but I suggested a painting… as it felt so much more meaningful to give her my art in return for some of her art. I knew her as a wonderful watercolor artist… and I will remember her always as that. Especially every time I see her artwork on my wall.

This is now MY wonderful Anne Gilna original piece!

We will all miss you Anne Gilna.
You made the world a much more beautiful space.
Your spirit & talent lives on in so many ways & so many places.

Categories: animals

So does it mean anything when you come home and find a large moth flying around inside your condo?! Sure, the weather has gotten cold… so who wouldn’t want to come inside somewhere warm. I get it. Sadly, he’s been ushered back outside into the cold… and my sweaters are already thanking me.

Categories: animals, lillstreet, sculpture, summer camp

After finishing their Robert Indiana inspired letter sculptures… and sending them off to the kiln!… my Summer Campers re-focused to start their new larger sculptures! We discussed options & ideas with a little bit of brainstorming. Then we covered how were going to build them… discussing process, materials and options. We all worked together to finalize our plans, and the kids drew pictures of their sculptures.

We then started building the basic structure & inner armatures for their sculptures. I helped them with the structure and power tools… but it was their creativity & inspiration that led the way. After building their armatures, they set-off on filling them in & bulking them out with lots of newspaper & masking tape. Their challenge was make it look as much like their “intended” sculpture with minimal supplies. A lot of crumpling, folding & taping in place.

After filling the armatures, we started covering the newspaper with a thin layer of plaster gauze. Think “industrial-strength” paper mache! It’s the same stuff they make plaster casts out of at the hospitals. A bit of water, several sheets of plaster gauze… and they were able to add an outer layer to their sculptures.

After a full day of working with plaster gauze, we were ready to clean-up for the day! Yes… back to Gary’s Summer Camp Rule #3... “Whatever mess you make, you WILL be cleaning up!” So they did… on their hands & knees scrubbing the floor to get the plaster dust & splatters off the floor before it dried too much.

The next day, we came back to the plaster gauze… this time adding details, patterns & textures. The goal was to make them as “realistic” as they could… and easily identifiable for what their plan was. The perfect chance to bring their sculpture to life!

After building the sculptures and getting them to dry overnight, we started painting them with acrylic paints. So much fun to see them really come to life in technicolor!!! And a little bit of color-theory… as they only go primary colors to work with. They needed to mix & blend their own special colors!

On Friday, while the paint dried on their sculptures, we pulled together a quick Gallery Show Opening Reception. I had them make a large poster for the door to our classroom, as well as small “art gallery tags” to put next to their artworks. Basically just a show for their parents as they came to pick-up their kids. Tough to do while keeping the quantity of people in our classroom down to a small number. But we did it… and the kids LOVED showing off their work in their ART GALLARY (sp)!!!

So here are most of the final sculptures in our ART GALLARY (sp)…

AVERY – Desert Cactus Flower

CICI – Red Fox

FELIX – Koala Bear

ORI – Quilted Bed

TALI – Magical Pegasus

JANE – Colorful Peacock

Another great week… kicking off what will hopefully be a great Summer at Lillstreet. This whole panademic crisis has been so weird for all of us… it just felt AMAZING to be back teaching the kids in-person. Hoping that the whole summer goes by without incident at Lillstreet. I think this week went smoothly… and we all learned a LOT about how to teach a class of kids during these times of Covid-19.


Categories: animals, inspiration, nature, photography

With Summer coming all-too-quickly to an end, and a BEAUTIFUL day last Wednesday, I decided to take the day off and play hooky!!! I drove up to Rock Cut State Park in Rockford.

We used to go camping there all the time as kids, so it was a bit of a flashback! Such a beautiful day hiking around the lake a couple times… logging in some good miles of beautiful scenery… and a very relaxing & much needed day off!

And after a LOT of beautiful scenery… of course we had to have a bit of reality! Which of course is totally fine by me… I have a strange attraction to roadkill. The whole “circle of life” thing I guess.

Categories: animals, nature

Smoke in the sky… feathers in the sand.

Categories: animals, Chicago, nature

On my way home, I also saw this guy cooling off at Jackson Harbor. Always fun to see a Great Blue Heron hanging out in the water fishing. Keenly watching the water waiting for breakfast! I’m always amazed at how large they are, kinda prehistoric… and that we have them in the City?!

Categories: animals, soda-fired, stamped, textures

Celebrating a little TEXTURE TUESDAY with these stamped & soda-fired pieces! Loving the color, the soda “orange peel” finish… oh yeah, and the shadow!!!