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

As we are in Week Nine of ten, we’re coming down to the wire in my LILLSTREET THROWDOWN pottery challenges class. Last night was their final “Quick-Throw Challenge.” Tallest cylinder thrown with just one pound of clay in 15 minutes. A classic challenge testing their basic throwing skills. I think they were all surprised to find out it wasn’t quite as easy as they had assumed.

After the time was up, we did a bit of comparing…
trying to rank them from top to bottom… tallest to shortest for points!



Categories: classes, creativity, lillstreet

So my students are KILLING IT this session! I’m teaching a new class and having a great time. It’s my LILLSTREET THROWDOWN class loosely base don the BBC reality show. We’re more than halfway through and they’ve just finished their first real handbuilding challenge! Sure, we could have done something easy… but what fun is that. So we dove right in and went for a handbuilt butter dish!!!

And here they are in all of their buttery glory!!!

And a tribute to architect Frank Gehry…

This one was a bit too large… so we were joking that it was “Large Marge-erine.”
So she went for it!!!

Love this one with the attached knife holder…

This one is extra sweet with a handmade ceramic butter knife too!

And probably the most inventive & creative of the bunch…

Even better when put into the scene parked at the ol’ trailer park!!!

Plus, sadly... the one that didn’t quite make it into the kiln in time…
We all would have loved to see this one glazed and done like the rest of them!

And the big winner… with Catherine tackling her handbuilding challenge with porcelain!
With beautiful simplicity and a perfect fit.



Categories: classes, creativity, lillstreet

So if you recall our last class, I had all of my LILLSTREET THROWDOWN students throw platters “thinking” that they were going for the widest diameter platter. But then I flipped it on them and had them paint it with a dark colored slip… and told them the REAL CHALLENGE was going to be the Sgraffito Challenge… SURPRISE!!!

Of course I threw mine into the mix… since I was challenged to participate by Taylore…
of course, mine wasn’t in for points… just for fun!

I drafted longtime Lillstreet potter Lester to be our special “surprise” Guest Judge.
He was eager to accept, but quickly realized it’s not any easy task ranking all of this hard work from 1 to 15. He took his task very seriously, and gave some very “realistic” comments & critiques along the way. Unfortunately, he started off by saying he’s not a fan of “geometric” sgraffito… so many people had an uphill battlle to win points from Lester!

So here are the “entries” in our first “Sgraffito Surprise Challenge.” To think that they threw these platters a week ago, and they’ve already finished decorating & carving them is pretty impressive… especially when several of my students had never really tackled sgraffito!!! Amazing work team! In no particular order… until the end!

And Ryan’s accidental entry! This was his SECOND sgraffito platter!!! His back-up plan so to speak. It wasn’t intended to be in the contest since he preferred his other one. But in the mix-up of setting up and putting all platters on the table, somehow his made it into the mix! So this angler fish was part of the judging… but points values awarded were worked out to accommodate this slight mix-up.

And the big sgraffito winner… this beauty by Stacey! Even though I wasn;’t the judge… this was my favorite too. I love the way the plant is in the center and overlaps the border. Love the woodcut look of her style. And the way she cleared out the white background but left the texture and just a smidge of color in between. Now I think Stacey needs to make a set of plates like this…each with a different botanical element.

Categories: bowls, classes, lillstreet, production

So last night in my LILLSTREET THROWDOWN challenge class, I surprised my students with another quick-fire throwing challenge. I had them wedge up a large, ten-pound ball of clay much to the griping & moaning of my students. A bigger ball of clay than many of them have ever wedged! I had them all set up a wheel with splash pan, water, tools, etc… all the basics they would need to throw some pots.

The I pulled a small, little mass-produced green bowl from IKEA. And I explained since that is very much a “mass-produced” bowl.. we’re going to mass produce replicas! So the challenge was to throw as many matching little bowls to that sample one off-the-hump as possible in thirty minutes. I did a very quick demo of how to throw off-the-hump for those who had never tackled it before. And then they were off!!! 30 minutes!!! GO!!!

Once they got into the rhythm, and accustomed to the depth, width & technique…
the little bowls just started piling up everywhere! So fun to watch them multiplying.

At the end of the thirty minutes, many of them had come close to finishing the full ten pounds of clay. We brought all of the bowls to the table for a little self-critique, judging and squishing. They were each given points for the number of bowls that were “deemed” matching, or at least close enough. The winner of the challenge was “Tay-Tay Clay-Wedger” with 29 mini bowls!!! Amazing.

Categories: classes, lillstreet

After an hour of class time spent carving, each of the cylinders were considered “done”…
at least for the challenge. Ready for judging and Throwdown Points!

Special thanks to our surprise Guest Judge Darlys Ewoldt from the Lillstreet Metals Dept.
Her design sensibilities and attention to detail really came in handy!

Prior to this “Sgraffito Surprise” they also did a platter throwing challenge with six pounds of clay. Which they “assumed” would be a challenge for points. I told them we were going for widest diameter. But never more details. We left them to “stiffen up” on the wheels while we moved to the tables for this “Sgraffito Surprise.” When the points were awards… then next challenge was revealed…

The platter throwing challenge was really just a w ay for them to make a great “canvas” for themselves. SO I told them they needed to paint a layer of dark slip on their own platters. And now they have a week to carve a sgraffito design onto their platters for judging and points next Thursday night!!!

Here are the carved & decorated cylinders at then end of their hour challenge…

And then the big winner… with her VERY FIRST sgraffito attempt ever!!!
“Peggy Burnish-ine” for the WIN!!!

And of course the whimsical “addition” of a marshmallow PEEP as a handle
could only give her some added bonus points!!!

Special thanks to the folks at  Springfield Pottery for supplying some of our sgraffito visual inspiration for the evening. And for inspiring “Peggy Burnish-ine” to borrow some ideas for her first sgraffito attempt ever!!! A beautiful homage to the sgraffito genius of Jennifer Falter!







Categories: classes, creativity, lillstreet

Last week in my POTTERY THROWDOWN class, I surprised my students with the “SGRAFFITO SURPRISE”!!! We talked briefly about sgraffito and looked at some examples. And then I “sprung it on them”… one hour to decorate a black slip covered cylinder I had prepped prior to class. So much to watch how each of them approached the challenge… and tackled the blank canvas with some sharp carving tools.



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!!!