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

Last night at Lillstreet Art Center, we had a great little workshop by one of the Artist-In-Residence Artists before my class. Nolan Baumgartner demo’d three different large platters… but more importantly, three different techniques of centering & throwing them. Since the demo was right before my class, I encouraged my students to come an hour early. Even though my students are mostly Advanced Beginners, it’s always good to watch someone throwing pottery. Even if their skill sets aren’t quite ready to tackle this amount of clay!

Platter #1 – Traditional Centering
Nolan started with a large ball of porcelain… about 20 pounds. He muscled & finessed his way through centering the clay in the traditional way. Locking in his elbows and pressing everything to the center. He then started throwing a large cylinder with a slight angle inwards before the pull of centrifugal force sets in. You could just see my students soaking up every little bit… intrigue, concern and understanding.

But when Nolan pulled out the blow torch…. WATCH OUT!!!!
My students were mesmerized... and I had to nip it in the bud. I don’t even allow my Beginning students to use fans or blow dryers. So when they saw Nolan using an open flame to help stiffen his clay quickly, I knew I was in trouble!!! But I kept “glaring” at my students with my best “don’t even think about it” look!

After stiffening up his clay a bit, Nolan went back to doing some more shaping of his platter… flaring out the flange wider & lower. And look at my students Taylore, Patty and Catherine right there closely watching his every move!

Some finishing touches and Platter #1 was ready to be set aside.

Platter #2 : Centering Layered Balls of Clay
For his second platter, Nolan started with centering a 5-pound ball of clay. He then carefully set another 5-pound ball of clay on top of it… and then slapped and centered it downwards.

After smoothing & centering the second five pounds onto the bottom five pounds…
Nolan added another 5-pounds on top making it a total of 15 pounds of clay. Again, centering the top ball of clay down onto the centered bottom two-thirds. Once he had all three balls of clay centered & incorporated, Nolan went back to throwing the second platter similar to the first one.

And then again… THE BLOW TORCH!!!
Really?… you’re killin’ me! I know I’m going to need to “re-direct” my beginning students a bit when we get back to my classroom! But for Nolan’s large porcelain platters, I get it. Especially for a workshop demo like this. If he pushed it too far too fast, the porcelain platter would just flop down.

A little more shaping with ribs, and a little more blow torching, and Platter #2 was ready to set aside.

Platter #3 : Pounded, Paddled, Beat-up and Fluted Platter
For this one, Nolan started with another large ball of wedged porcelain. He set it on the wheel and slapped it around a bit until it was close to centered. But his third technique was to make this platter WITHOUT centering it the traditional way. So he started slapping it down while the wheel was rotating slowly with open palms.

Once it was “kinda” centered, he then pulled out a square mallet… and started pounding!!!
The wooden mallet is covered with a white gym sock. Again, pounding the clay evenly as the wheel is rotating slowly. I think the trick is to keep the spacing even, as well as the strength & power of each pounding of the mallet.

Pounding the sides, then the top… then the sides…. and the top again…
Getting it more & more centered, compressed and flattened out.

When it gets low enough, flat enough, and centered enough… Nolan switched to pounding it with a closed fist. Again, rhythmic pounding as the wheel is rotating slowly.

At some point, the clay is “centered” and it was time to throw the rest of the platter the “normal” way. Since this was the third and final platter, Nolan decided to decorate this one with his special fluted technique. He did a split rim, and then curled up even spaced areas using an MKM Decorating Disk.

A quick pinch and a pull upwards…

And since the clay was still a bit squishy & slumpy, Nolan likes to use some clay “logs” to hold up the fluted points. A quick hand-squished coil to put in… kinda like flying buttresses.

Once supported, Nolan then curves the spaces between the pinches downward to give it some sexy curves.

Huge thanks to Nolan for sharing his tricks & techniques. My students loved the demo, as did all of the other students who came to his workshop. He definitely gave everyone a lot of great ideas… some too good for my Beginners.

Did I mention the blow torch?!!!

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Categories: artists, workshop

Today I went to a presentation by Chicago artist Eric Jensen at the Lillstreet Loft. Eric has been making a living as a functional potter for over forty years. And today’s discussion was about what it takes to be successful while making pottery for a living.

Eric shared many stories about his path to ceramics. How he went to Cranbrook in Michigan for Graduate School back when it was actually affordable. About how he decided early on that retail art fairs were not his thing. Instead, he has done a lot of work with relationships he has built over the years through wholesale fairs & opportunities.

He also made a “joke” early on and said that it definitely helps to have a spouse with a real job, a good paycheck and health insurance. So with that said, I took everything he said with a grain of salt. I don’t have any of those “security blankets”… and maybe that’s why I’m still working & teaching at what seems like three, four, sometimes five part-time jobs!!!

We ended the presentation with a discussion on how he decided how to be “successful” in his own estimation. He did a bit of homework and determined how much “income” he wanted to realistically earn from his pottery business annually. Adding expenses, materials, taxes, etc. on top of that, he had the “big number” that he needed to make each year. He then determined how many days out of the year he wanted to “work.” How many days off. How many days of glazing & firing. How many days of packing, shipping & busy work. How many days of research & development of new concepts. When he finally got to a total number of actual production work days, he used that to divide out the big number. And come up with how many “dollars” he needed to create in the studio during each work day. That daily average number became his goal while making work in thew studio. Logical, but it sounds like a lot of work.

So it looks like I now have a bit of homework.
Which of course I’ve been thinking about for years.
How do you determine if you’re being successful, or just being productive?!

I know I’m PRODUCTIVE… but am I making a real career out of it?!

Of course he brought up how pricing works into the equation. How making work that sells over making the “art” you might want to make. How commissions, special orders and consignments worked better for him than retail art fairs.

Keep in mind, Eric Jensen has been working as a full-time ceramic artist for over 45 years. He has years & years of experience & relationships already in place. Even he was quick to admit that times are different now. He does no marketing, social networking or online sales. He’s pretty “old school”… and it’s working for him.

A lot of great information shared today.
Thank you Eric Jensen for sharing your life’s work with us.

And here’s the real kicker…a joke he shared from his potter friend Les Orenstein…
“What did the potter do when he won the lottery?”

He started doing art fairs until the money ran out!

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Categories: artists, mugs, porcelain

Last night was the opening of the new Mugshot Monday Show at the Lillstreet Gallery.
It was a nice collection of mugs as curated through the many potters who post on Instagram for #mugshotmondays.

I was totally transfixed by these highly “constructed” mugs by Colby Charpentier.
Such an amazing assemblage of porcelain parts & pieces… like these…

In the end… this masterpiece will soon be joining my own Mug Collection!!! WHOO-HOO!!!

And then after snatching up the incredibly complex mug….
I decided to add yet another mug… much more simple & subtle… and unintentionally sticking with a monochromatic porcelain theme with this understated beauty by Bianka Groves.

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Categories: artists, creativity, rusty

With freezing temperatures all around, I figured it was a good day to stay in
and reminisce about warmer days and fun with friends. A little summer flashback!

A full day of fun in the sun with “my very first art fair friends” friends Gerry & Rosene… shopping all of the “treasures” at the Third Sunday Flea Market in Bloomington back in October. And a quick glimpse into the back of their car at the end of the day!!!

So you know I’m obsessed with all things RUSTY!!!
So imagine my surprise when we drove out into the middle of Central Illinois and found an entire menagerie of rusty animals!!! Including a life-sized llama with a full pelt of chains! WHOO-HOO!!!

Heart palpitations… Visual overload… Sweaty palms… this might be too much!

Life-sized animals made from assorted truck & farm equipment parts & pieces. And then left to rust. All with loving care & creativity of sculpture artist Robert Cumpston. Apparently he’s pretty well known in those parts. We ran into his daughter in a thrift store in Peoria the day before. So Rosene called him and asked if we could stop by and he said ‘of course.’ And by “those parts” I mean somewhere far out in the middle of NOWHERE!!! We drove miles & miles into the perfectly flat cornfields of rural Illinois.

Love the bird that has taken up residence in his favorite deer head…

So we got the FULL tour from Robert Cumpston himself. A wonderfully kind & sharing man. And very chatty. He walked us all over his property and showed us his creations. Each one more adorable than the next.

The tour continued… and he kept chatting and telling his stories. I took a few chances to split off to go searching on my own. Good thing Gerry & Rosene were so attentive. .. or at least played along better than I did.

As we continued the tour, there are piles and piles of scrap metal. All waiting to become something cool. Partial animals here & there. Most likely never to be completed… like the giraffe body below… top left of the pile.

And then he took us inside the barn into his studio. So many tools. So many things to see.

Tools everywhere. Pieces & parts. And an occasional llama head…

Sad thing is that he has since retired from making his rusty creatures. He says he “tinkers” a bit, but I fear that many of these animals will never be completed. And that his skills and talents will soon be lost. I asked if he had ever thought of getting an apprentice or intern to teach and help carry on his rusty legacy. Unfortunately, there was no plan and no real understanding of how sad it would be to let all of this talent & expertise end here.

And now back to the rust… it was everywhere!!! Bins packed full. Skids piled over. Pallets with rusty metal being overgrown with grasses. Heaven for those with a healthy appreciation for all things rust.

By the end of the day, my friend’s car was packed full. It was a great day at the Bloomington Flea Market followed by a surprising “haul” from Robert Cumpston’s place.

Click HERE for a video tour of Robert Cumpston’s place on YouTube. Unfortunately, you can see how much of his “inventory” has found a new home since the video was published in 2004.

And click HERE to see another clip of a Cumpston piece at the Antique’s Roadshow!
Apparently he made more than just animals?!!!

And here’s one of the cuties that come home with me…
and is now living under the park bench in my kitchen!

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Categories: artists, porcelain, process

Here’s a great how-to video of Jennifer McCurdy playing with her porcelain and making it do things you won’t believe. Amazing carving, nice use of a “scrubbie” and a great upside-down trick that is just gravity-defying!!!

Click here to see the Jennifer McCurdy video on YouTube.

Categories: artists, movies

Remembering Debbie Reynolds with one of the best movie musical moments ever captured on film! She will be missed. This is not a “good morning, good morning to you, and you, and you, and you.”

Click here for the “Singing In The Rain” video slip on YouTube.

And let us not forget about her amazing stint as Grace’s Mom on “Will & Grace”.
Click here for a quick reminder of her brillianceand Karen’s too!

Her passing made even more sad & emotional as she leaves us just one day after the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher. Following her passing, Reynolds’s son, Todd Fisher, told Variety, “She wanted to be with Carrie.”

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Categories: artists, friends

One of my favorite birdhouses enjoying a snowy day. This one is on my back porch. It’s one of many in my collection… all handmade by my very first art fair friends Gerry & Rosene!!!

Categories: art fair, artists, My Talented Friends

A quick reminder that THIS SATURDAY is my final Holiday Show.
It’s the second Holiday Home Show… this time with my friend & Talented metalsmith Amy Taylor. It’s the perfect chance to swing by my condo and cross a few names off your holiday shopping list!!!

Categories: artists, friends, My Talented Friends, ornaments

We’re inching ever closer to Christmas… November’s gone… and here’s another batch of holiday ornaments made by me & four of My Talented Friends.

Remember, we all signed-on for a Monthly Holiday Ornament Challenge almost a year ago. The plan was for each of us to make a new ornament each month of the year. We’ve finally made it through the eleventh month… only one more to go!!!

My Talented Friend : Cory McCrory
Cory decided to “top it off” this month with a whimsical top hat. Just like the one that blew off of Frosty’s head! And for size comparison, Cory’s friend decided to take it for a test drive! Looks like a match made in Heaven!!!


My Talented Friend : Sarah Chapman
Sarah’s gone a bit more organic this month! A beautiful, textured copper leaf with a fantastic torch-colored patina.


My Talented Friend : Roberta Polfus
Roberta decided to go Christmas thematic this month… but it looks like the partridge was too tough. Ha!! So she just went with the pears! Love the gentle curves and the natural pear coloring.

My Talented Friend : Amy Taylor
Amy’s entry for her November ornaments are these two glass bead pendants. Nifty hinged pendants with a sterling silver bezel.


My Talented Friend :oh wait, it’s ME again!!!
My November ornament is a textured scroll pattern with a gentle curve! They’re made with soda clay… and some of then have been painted with colored flashing slips. Looking forward to seeing how the soda firing process affects the colors & textures of the scrolls.

So I made the ornaments first and let them set-up a bit.
And then a quick layer of flashing slip…

And set to dry on my plastic grid racks…

So there they are… November ornaments from My Talented Friends Cory, Sarah, Roberta & Amy. Hard to believe we’re just one month away from finishing the year. Just one more batch of ornaments to go!!!

Be sure to check out everyone’s websites. They’re all in the LINKS section in the far right column. And they all have fun Facebook pages too. Find your favorites & follow them everywhere!

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Categories: artists, friends, My Talented Friends

Another fun day down at “One Of A Kind” with the uber-talented Sarah Chapman. So many great pieces of oxidized sterling silver with textures, patterns and spots of gemstone colors!

To see more of Sarah’c amazing work, click here for her website.