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

The Great Lillstreet Throwdown : LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!

With all of the fun going on in PyeongChang, South Korea…
it was only appropriate that we celebrate the Winter Olympics with our own version of competitive fun!

So I chose three team leaders… the forerunners in the weekly challenges!
They then in turn chose their teams in a schoolyard pick. Once the teams were chosen, I gave each Team Leader a sheet for them to fill out with their crew. It listed the ten challenges for the night with somewhat cryptic titles… and lines to fill in with the players who would be playing that game. Once the rosters were filled out… it was time to start the fun!!!

But first things first…. in addition to the Olympic OREOs…
possibly the best Carrot Cake Cupcakes ever… Thanks “Peggy Burnish-shine”!!!

And now that everyone’s all sugared up… on to the games…

Without the benefit of a scale… and only 10 minutes…
One player had to cut chunks off the bag of clay and guesstimate them be pre-determined weights. They could get advice & guidance from their team, but only the one person competing could actually touch the clay!
four @ 1-1/4 pounds  -  one @ 1-1/2 pounds  -  one @ 2-1/2 pounds
         one @ 3 pounds  -  two @ 4 pounds  -  one @ 5 pounds
When done, we actually weighed their guesses and compared to the list.
One point for each 1/4-pound off either way. Team with the LEAST points won the round!

Once we said GO… they had 10 minutes… the two players re-measured the clay balls WITH the scale! And then they wedged them all and put them back under plastic. Here’s the twist… only one person could wedge at a time and they must alternate taking turns. First team to finish wedging all of the correctly measured balls of clay won!

And if you look closely… like Jon Cusack in “Serendipity”… you’ll see “Joe Bowl-a” holding up his iPhone while playing the Olympics theme song to help set the tone!!! So funny!!!

CHALLENGE #3 – STRETCH ARMSTRONGRevisiting a Classic Throwdown Challenge!!!
With four pounds of clay… the chosen player had to make a good slab with no more than five pulls! No slab roller. No rolling pins. No ribs. No tools. We were measuring the largest continuous “rectangle” in the slab. Largest “area” wins.

And if nothing else…. we gave “Susie Greenware” the prize for best dismount!
Look at her hands.. the style… the flourish!

Get the reference?…. “Only You”… “Can make my dreams come true.”
Who sang the classic song “Only You”???

With five pounds of clay… and just 15 minutes… the chosen competitor had to throw the largest diameter platter… THE PLATTERS, get it?! An actual, legitimate platter… it must have a “viable” bottom. And not flopping down. We wired them off… with the guideline that if we see the wire you’re DQ’d!!! Widest diameter WINS!!!

It was so much fun to watch the teams working together so closely. They were all so supportive of each other… yet again with the rule that only the actual competitor could “touch” the clay!

CHALLENGE #5 – ON A ROLLRevisiting a Classic Throwdown Challenge!!!
With 1-1/2 pounds of clay and just five minutes… each contestant had to roll the longest continuous coil by hand. But if it broke, they were done and we measured the longest section left. No re-attaching. Longest coil wins!

With three pounds of clay… and just 15 minutes… each competitor had to throw the tallest cylinder. We were just measuring height. It had to be a traditional, hollow, free-standing cylinder. But here’s the twist… It’s had to be thrown while standing at the standing wheel. Which NONE of my students have ever done before!!! Challenge on!!!

And it was fun to see “Clay Eagerman” getting some tips and encouragement for his turn at the standing wheel. A little consultation before throwing.

With four pounds of clay… and 15 minutes… the next contestant needed to throw the largest serving bowl. “Largest” was measured as height plus width. And here’s the twist… BLINDFOLDED !!!

And again… part of the challenge was that ONLY the contestant could touch the clay. But their teammates could work as “sou chef” giving them advice, suggestions and handing them tools.

After the timer went off… it was HANDS UP and NO MORE CLAY!
So much fun to see the joy & excitement when the contestants got to take off their blindfolds to see their latest creations!

With four balls of clay each 1-1/4 pounds of clay… and 10 minutes… the two contestants took alternating turns of throwing a cylinder. Each player had to throw two cylinders. They had to work together to throw four matching cylinders. Height. Width. Shape.

Here’s the twist…
While one team member was throwing at the wheel…
the other player was operating the foot pedal for them!

With 2-1/2 pounds of clay… and just 10 minutes to throw… the three team members took turns working on the same cylinder. Switching places every 30 seconds. Tallest, free-standing, straight-sided cylinder wins. Yes, I said switching positions and rotating the person throwing on that cylinder every 30 seconds!!! Turns out to be a lot tougher than they expected.

With about eight pounds of clay… and the final ten minutes of class… the team had to work together to make the tallest handbuilt “structure” using just clay, plastic straws and toothpicks!!! Must be free-standing. No tools. No supports. Tallest wins with bonus for creative sculptures!!!

And “Kelly Bisque” getting into it…
shrouding their structure from the peering eyes of the the opposing teams!

And the winners of STICKS & STONES… with the tallest free-standing structure…

It was quite a busy night!!! A lot of fun… a lot of laughter… a LOT of camaraderie & teamwork!!! So much fun for my Throwdown class. Exactly the sort of fun that I was hoping this special Throwdown class would bring out. And it did.

So to finish up our night… we had our own Olympic Closing Ceremony where the contestants actually got their medals! The tally scoreboard was updated with the winners getting GOLD and 30 points!!! Silver got 20 points and Bronze got 10 points. And the fun continues next week with more Throwdown Fun!!!








Categories: classes, lillstreet

A sneak peek of the fun my students are going to have tonight in my GREAT LILLSTREET THROWDOWN class! It may only happen every four years… but at least we have Team USA themed OREOs to set the mood for a night full of games, challenges & friendly competitions! And yes, medals will be awarded!!!

I’m sure there will be MANY photos & stories still to come…




Categories: classes, lillstreet

So we’re almost halfway into The Great Lillstreet Throwdown!
We’ve been working hard & playing harder… with great challenges, fun races and a little friendly “trash-talking” along the way. Every class has been a lot of fun. Laughter. Screaming. Giggling. Causing a bit of a ruckus around the studio every Thursday night. Each challenge has been awarded points and we’re working our way to an eventual WINNER!!!

So here’s the game…
of The Great Lillstreet Throwdown!!!
Who will win the challenges? Who will garner the most points?

Purely superficial fun based on their photos below… like a good Reality TV show…
just like how we choose our players in the Survivor Pool, right?
Making these crazy assumptions & predictions based on a gut feeling.

So here we go… my own cast of reality characters for your perusal… and voting.
Please add your guess in the Comments section!
And then as the class continues we can start showing you some Winners along the way!

Actual names have been altered for fun & confusion. Ha!!!

AW : ANNA WHEELIEbelow on the left
CW : CLAYTINA WATERGIRL - below on the right… she’s really NOT a bucket…

CE : CLAY EAGERMAN - below on the left
DJ :  DEBBIE JIGGER - below on the right

IM : IZZY MUDMAKERbelow on the left
JB :  JOE BOWL-A - below on the right

KB : KELLY BISQUEbelow on the left
PB :  PEGGY BURNISH-SHINE - below on the right

PN : POTTERY NURTERER - below on the left
RB :  RICHY BENTONITE - below on the right

RJ : RY-RY JOSHBLUEbelow on the left
SG :  SUSIE GREENWARE - below on the right

SL : SALLY LUSTERbelow on the left
TCW :  TAY-TAY CLAY-WEDGER - below on the right

So again, here’s the game…
PICK THE WINNER of The Great Lillstreet Throwdown!!!
Just place your “votes” in the Comments section… and we’ll see how good your intuition was in a few more weeks when we “crown” the winner of the Great Lillstreet Throwdown!!!







Categories: classes, lillstreet

Also this Thursday night, during our Throwdown Challenge class, we did a quick flip to handbuilding. Now most of my students are wheelthrowers… and NOT handbuilders! So the FLIP was on them!!! So I told them to wedge up two balls of clay… one one-pound ball, and another five pound ball.

So their first challenge was to take the one pound ball of clay to the table when it was their turn. And I gave them each five minutes to roll the longest coil that they could by hand. No tools except their hands. They could use the entire five minutes, or stop sooner if they thought they were done. Because if their coil were to break at any point in the coil rolling, their challenge was done – no re-attaching!!! And we would measure the longest remainder of their coil. Points were awarded for the longest coil.

Love the grimace… a little tough at the start… but it smoothed out later on…

What precipitated this handbuilding challenge was a discussion last week on how none of them really knew how to roll a coil… which flabbergasted me! I thought it was such a basic skill, but they were quick to point out that I have never taught it to them. To which I retorted that it was a wheelthrowing class, and not a handbuilding class. So I gave them a quick tutorial last week as an option for making handles. I even showed them how to resolve a bad coil… you know, one that is a bit rectangular and goes thump, thump, thump when you roll it. Just take the coil and twist it like a corkscrew (as seen below right) and then roll the coil again to smooth it all out.

We were all impressed when one of our few “Porcelain Players” decided to take on the challenge with porcelain. And then proceeded to impress the heck out of us with one of the longest coils of the night!!!

Of course, at the end of the challenge, a couple of my students threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to do the same challenge… rolling the longest coil possible out of one pound of clay! So I did…

And it was going pretty well… until I got a little “greedy” with just a few seconds left…
and a piece of it broke off and didn’t count in my final measurement. All in all,
still a respectable showing in the Coil Rolling Challenge!!!


Categories: classes, creativity, lillstreet, mugs, seasons

So it’s another week of The Great Lillstreet Throwdown!
And another challenge… turning their four matching mugs into The Four Seasons!

So my students brought their “greenware finished” sets of mugs to class.
They set them out for all to see… and for our special Guest Judge Sam Hostert to come in
and award them points for their efforts. Thanks to Jon for some of these beautiful photos!

It was so much fun to see how everyone approached the challenge. How to depict the Four Seasons on four mugs???… illustrative? narrative? literal? figurative? symbolically?… so many options. And only four mugs!!!

So here are the sets of mugs… in no particular order…

The Four Seasons depicted with a tree through the seasons… and a special surprise on the bottom of each mug.

A seasonally-appropriate bug on the bottom of each mug!!!

Abstract brushwork showing the color palette of the seasons… winter, spring, summer & fall.

Straight forward and quite literally… spelling it out clearly for all to see…

The phases of a lant through the season… carved & inlaid illustrations in black with color-coded interiors to help show the season. Didn’t quite make first place… but “not-so-secretly” this one was my favorite set!!!

High-contrast black & white… porcelain & black slip depicting the sunlight cycle throughout the year… shown in the amount of white “sun” in relation to the black “night”. As an added bonus… a brief explanation carved on the bottom of each mug.

The seasons as seen on a mountain top… and something to do with a “mountain meditation” too.

Sponge-painted underglazes to show the change of colors for the change of seasons.

Another tree changing through the season… snow, flowers, leaves & fall foliage.

An erudite entry… the Four Seasons as seen through alchemical symbols.

Graphic contrast in black & white symbolizing day & night through the year…
and a brilliant surprise on the bottom of each cup.

Graphic symbolism for the moon & sun attached to the sides of this set.

No one specified “which” four seasons were to represented…
so this set went more for the activities of the seasons!

And unfortunately, this entry didn’t quite work. There was a last minute attempt at applying a cut-out stencil on the side, them paingint the darker slip color over the stencil -a nd then pulling it out. Apparently in the rush to make the deadline, the stencils didn’t quite get pulled out cleanly… something stuck… something didn’t… and in the last moment she decided to paint them over and call it done. Valiant effort.

So for now, the mugs are done. They can go off to the bisque firing and then get glazed. No more challenges for these mugs… but I did ask my students to bring them back to class when they’re finished just so we can see them!








Categories: color, creativity, lillstreet

Another great way to brighten up an otherwise dreary day is with some of the fantastic kid’s art murals hanging on the walls at Lillstreet.

So much color.
So much uninhibited creativity.
So much fun.
A great contrast to the grayness outside!



Categories: classes, lillstreet, wheelthrowing

After the bowl challenge, my Lillstreet Throwdown students moved on to matching cylinders. So they had five minutes to throw their own “perfect” cylinder. They thought that was it… but after setting their own standard, the “real” challenge was announced. They had an hour to throw as many matching cylinders to their own “perfect” prototype!

When that hour ended, they got points for the ones that matched, and the ones that didn’t match… SQUISH!!!



Categories: classes, lillstreet

Online registration for the new Winter Session of classes at Lillstreet Art Center opens today!!! I will again be teaching my Beginning/Advanced Beginning Class on Tuesday nights.

And NEW this session… a fun new class based on the BBC reality show “The Great Pottery Throwdown.” Every Thursday night will be filled with challenges, games, contests and all around ceramic shenanigans!

Sign up quick… my classes fill up fast!!!

To register online, click here for Lillstreet Art Center.


Categories: artists, gallery, lillstreet, My Talented Friends

Okay, so here’s the explanation… and a great show in the Lillstreet Gallery Annex by my friend & metalsmith Kelly Novak. Her pieces are incredibly stark, sharp and surprisingly perfect for my week on the B&W Photo Challenge! Lots of metal, black leather and incredible shadows on the walls. And that’s why today I challenge her!!! “INTERVALS” by Kelly Novak through the end of the year.

Categories: classes, friends, lillstreet

Well, I was out of town last week… so I missed teaching my pottery class on Tuesday.
Which just so happened to be Halloween!
Kind of a bummer because I had HUGE Halloween plans for my class… maybe next year?!

Anyway, apparently some of my students had Halloween plans also.
And when they found out I was going to miss our Halloween class, they decided to push their Halloween costume back a week for when I returned. So funny when you wee them all working at the sink…

Yes, I “think” this is flattering?!     I hope…
But they decided for Halloween to dress up as ME!!!
Complete with my shorts, tie-dyed shirt, sandals or Crocs, my IRONMAN tattoo!
They even took it to the smallest of details with a smattering of glitter. Long story…

But here’s the test… can you pick out the REAL IRONMAN???

So much fun in class… I HAVE THE BEST STUDENTS EVER!!!