Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: bowls, process, production, stamped, stamps, summer camp

So I squeezed in a little stamping between sunrise & summer camp this morning! I’ve still got a few more bowls to stamp… but I had to go quick as my campers were arriving soon!!! Happy that I got one done at least… stamped one-by-one-by-one… and the stamp that did all the work!!!

Categories: artists, lillstreet, sculpture, summer camp

As part of my Sculpture Summer Camp, I like to teach the kids some art history along the way… this time focused on famous sculptors! I made a set of flash cards for some famous sculptures – many of which are in Chicago that the kids might have seen. I also tried to show them at least two pieces by each artist so they weren’t just memorizing one photo… but trying to get them to learn about their style, subject matter and time period. And just to keep them on their toes… there are a few duplicates along the way!

The trick to using flash cards is to make it a game… so at some point, they’re so excited to play a game that they don’t even realize they’re learning stuff at the same time! By the end of the week, most of the kids have memorized all of the following artists… first and last name!!!

Like this game on Friday where I turned it into the classic game of “MEMORY” where they had to match up the cards – finding two cards by the same artist. Keeping safe social distances with a LOT of hand sanitizer along the way!

Not the sculpture name, but the actual artist… first & last name!

I must admit I had to Google a few of them myself.
I mean… do you know who made the Venus de Milo???
… and his name is NOT Milo!!!

Categories: lillstreet, summer camp

After finishing their terra cotta sculptures on Tuesday, we started our larger sculptures on Wednesday. We had a big brainstorming discussion about what they wanted to make. And then we discussed how we were going to make them and that they needed a good pose, posture & environment. We discussed the armature they were each going to need inside their sculptures to get them to stand up and hold their shapes!

So we started with some “individual consultations” and I helped each of them build their initial armature… as it required some power tools & construction materials. After I helped them build the armature, they started “fleshing it out” with newspaper & masking tape. Trying to give their sculptures some shape & bulk. So much fun to see their vision coming together… and their blind-faith that it will all work out in the end. They each had a plan… and I’m just there to help facilitate their vision!!!

Once they had filled it out with newspaper & tape, we started adding a layer of plaster gauze over the whole sculpture. Plaster gauze is pretty much like industrial-strength paper mache’!!! It’s actually the same material they make casts out of at the hospital. You take a sheet of plaster gauze, dip it in the water and then place it on the sculpture… rubbing it together to spread the plaster. Layer after layer, sheet after sheet… eventually they covered their sculptures. And you could see it all coming together even more!

After we finished the first layer of gauze, we did a bit of clean-up… again Rule #3… “whatever mess you make, you will be cleaning up.” And they did!!! Gotta get the drips & drops of water cleaned up before someone slips on it, and before the plaster dries on the floor!

After lunch, we finished up the plastering… and added a few more details to their pieces. Textures, patterns & details to bring their pieces to life! Always fun to see the creativity & energy at Summer Camp! These kids have unbridled enthusiasm… and I’m just there to foster it and encourage them to channel that towards their artwork!!!

When they finished all of their plaster details on Thursday, we put them in front of the blowing fans so they could dry completely overnight.

On Friday, we started the day by painting the sculptures with acrylic paint. They only get the primary color, black, white & brown. All of the other colors they need to mix to get what they want… a bit of color theory along the way!

When they finished painting their sculptures, we cleaned up our workspaces and started turning our classroom into their Art Gallery… or maybe ART GALLARY??? Two of the kids made a sign for us to post on the door to welcome our guests!

After the kids had finished painting their sculptures, and making their signs, we were ready for their “Gallery Opening”… which really just meant showing off all of their work for their parents as they came to pick up their kids! The kids were so proud of their achievements… and the parents were impressed by all they had made in such a short time!

Thanks to this group of great kids for making our first week of Summer Camp at Lillstreet a success!!! It felt so great to be back at camp… I LOVE SUMMER CAMP!!! And especially for making it feel like we’ve taken one big step towards a little bit of normalcy… masks included!!!

More Summer Camp to come… I have three more weeks scheduled!!!

Categories: lillstreet, summer camp, terra cotta

So we finally started Summer Camp at Lillstreet Art Center. A lot of new rules & guidelines for all students… and for the kids coming to Summer Camp! A lot of cleaning, disinfecting & sanitizing throughout the day. And of course MASKS for everyone!!! So exciting to have the kids back… the energy, the fun, the creativity!!! But still kinda weird at the same time to not be able to see their cute little faces!!!

Since this was Sculpture Camp, I figured out two-day clay project would be inspired by Robert Indiana… stacked dimensional letters. Some of the kids had never heard of him… but they sure knew him and a LOT more famous sculptors by the end of the week!

Sculpture by Robert Indiana

The kids started their project by drawing out their letters on a piece of paper to use as a stencil on the clay. They needed to cut two of each letter… for the front & back of each piece. So we made plenty of slabs. Plenty of tracing letters & cutting them out on their little canvas-covered boards!

After cutting out all of their letters, we let them set-up for a bit on a large sheet of paper. Then they started assembling their letters. A lot of scoring & slipping as they added a slab strip around all edges of the letters to give them some depth. Once the sides were on, they needed to add the top layer to close off the box. The biggest trick was to score the correct side of the letter so it lined-up with the box… I think about half of them did it backwards the first time!!! HA!!! Easy to fix… it’s just clay!

We started Tuesday by finishing & refining their letters. After they were all cleaned up, we started stacking them and designing their final layouts. Keeping Robert Indiana as their inspiration, they each figured out different configurations… and then decided on their final stack. I helped them assemble their sculptures with some “strong” scoring & slipping!

Once they were all stacked, they start to paint their sculptures with color glazes. One of the benefits of working with terra cotta in Summer Camp is that we can do a single firing and get their projects back by Friday!

Always part of the process… and “Gary’s Summer Camp Rule #3”… Whatever mess you make, YOU will be cleaning up!!! And they do without complaint. It’s just an “understood” part of the process. You tell them to do it. They do it. Giddy-up!

On Friday, their sculptures came out of the kiln. They finally got to see their sculpture masterpieces!!! So adorable!!! Sure, there were a few minor issues where something didn’t stick together… “did I tell you to score & slip?”… but no huge errors! No explosions! No major breakage! I consider that a success… especially because THEY LOVED THEM!!!

Categories: classes, clay, lillstreet, summer camp, terra cotta

Last week was our first week back at Summer Camp!!! Lillstreet Art Center is finally re-opened for classes & camps… and it was so fun & exciting to have “people” back in the building. The energy. The creativity. The smiling faces… or well, at least I assume they were smiling behind their masks?! Anyway… summer camp was AMAZING as always. I had a wonderful time with a wonderful group of kids!!!!

Categories: lillstreet, summer camp

SO EXCITED!!!… Summer Camp starts today!!!

After far too many months of quarantine, sheltering-in-place and e-learning… it’s so exciting that we’re ready to teach kids again!!! My camp this week is a Sculpture Camp… sadly no field trip to the Art Institute this year, but we’ll make up for it with a lot of art history, clay projects & amazing sculptures made by the kids!!! So exciting to be starting up again… with a LOT of proper precautions in place. Fewer camps, fewer campers, lots of new guidelines, more cleaning and a LOT of social distancing!!!

Categories: color, creativity, summer camp

So I’ve been a fan of tie-dyed t-shirts for a VERY long time.
And for those who are not at Lillstreet on a regular basis, you might be surprised that I wear one pretty much every day that I’m in the studio! I think it’s the colors, the patterns, the fun activity of making the tie-dye… and some sort of childhood flashback to Summer Camp fun. Yes, my very first job ever was a Summer Camp counselor… and look at me now… STILL a Summer Camp counselor!!!

And with Summer Camp coming up again… and PROJECT RUNWAY focusing on tie-dye as high fashion last week… I felt it was time to step-up my game and make some new t-shirts!!! And thanks to my friend Jill Miller of Hooey Batiks for inspiring me with a little tutorial advice on how to ice-dye! Didn’t sound too difficult… so here I go…

No need to tie them all up with tight rubber bands… more of a crumpling and “holding in place” with a couple rubber bands. Its going to be the ice and the dye that does all the work! So I decided to start with four shirts… two new white ones, and two colored shirts that have a couple stains “to be creative-camouflaged away.”

And then I covered the four t-shirts with a bag of ice cubes from the convenient store.
I tried my best to cover every part of the shirts.

Then you sprinkle dry dye powder on top of the ice. It’s kind of “random” as you’re sprinkling… I’m more accustomed to dipping into colors where you can “control” what part you dip into what. Sure, the folding, twisting & crumpling are all part of the pattern & end result… but I’m not so confident on the colors I”m going to get out of this pile of ice & color?!!! I’m thinking this might come with practice… but this is my first try… so here we go!

As the ice melts, the powder dye dissolves and kind of “travels” with the water as it drips & seeps into the fabric.

And it seemed like this batch went well… my first time ice-dying…
so why not do two more quick while I’m all set-up?

So here’s a quick peek at my new tie-dyed shirts… actually more “ice-dyed”… but you get the idea. I’m pretty excited for these new designs & patterns. I’m kinda digging the ice-dyed technique. A lot easier, quicker and “newer” than traditional tie-dye with a ton of rubber bands! Don’t get me wrong… I still have rubber bands… I still have dye… and I still have t-shirts… never say never!

Unfortunately, these still need to be washed to get some of the extra dye out…
which is also when you lose some of the beautifully vibrant colors.
I wish there was a way to keep them this bright… but they’re just t-shirts, right?!!!



Categories: summer camp, terra cotta

On this week’s episode on THE GREAT POTTERY THROW DOWN, the potters had to do some handbuilding to build a complete chess set! They had 4-1/2 hours to build them all, and then another 3-1/2 hours to glaze them after bisque firing. And the whole time I was watching the show, I kept thinking about how great my Summer Camp kids are… and that many of them have done the same project as these adults on the show. And then I realized that I never posted pictures from last summer’s camp!!! So here we go… a fun flashback to last summer when my campers cranked out their Chess Sets in one week of fun!!!

We always start the camp with some discussion of rules & expectations… followed by some fun brainstorming to come up wth the themes the kids will be using to make their chess sets. Once they have their set all planned out, I do some demos for them to show off some basic handbuilding skills they’re going to need. And then I set them loose!!! Eyes on the prize… they need to stay focused as we start building & cranking out all of their pieces.

We continued building their pieces… as well as RE-building a few of them that might have fallen apart overnight as they dried. I mean, I keep telling the kids that they MUST score & slip everything really well or they will fall apart with they dry. Frequently a couple of them will think they know better… until they come back on Tuesday to see some of their pieces fell off… from NOT scoring & slipping! Told ya’ so!!!

We started the day with working on their chess boards. They had to decide what colors they wanted to go along twith their chess set theme. And then today’s goal was to paint the first set of squares.

They’ve also made more pieces today… working towards our goal of having all (or at least most) of their pieces completed by the end of the day.

We started the day with finishing up the painting of their chess boards…

And then returned back to the pieces… as we started lining up all of their pieces in the right order so they could see how their chess sets are really coming together! As they completed construction, I had them start painting with underglazes. Unfortunately, as they are painting their pieces, occasionally something mght break off if they’re not careful enough… or if something wasn’t scored & slipped well. So along the way, there are some repairs & rebuilds that happen too!!!

At several points throughout the day, I had to remind them that the underglazes
was supposed to go on their pieces… and NOT the table!!!

The final day… and always a LOT still to finish! By the end of class they need to have all 32 pieces consturcted & underglazed. I also encourage them all to make a few “extras” in case something breaks along the way… whether in the kiln or at home paying the game! It’s always so much fun at the end to see all of their themes really coming together!

And then we carefully put them all on the rolling studio cart… very carefully…
So proud of my Summer Campers and all of the hard work they put in this week!!!

So for now they’re sitting on the cart ready to be glazed. One of our studio monitors will carefully glaze them all with a low-fire clear glaze and fire them. The kids will just have to wait a few more days to get their AMAZING Chess Sets back!!!




Categories: sculpture, summer camp

The kids are scrambling and putting the final touches on their Sculpture Art Gallery Show… just about an hour away from the Opening Reception from 3:00-3:30pm at Lillstreet… today only! C’mon by…

Categories: lillstreet, sculpture, summer camp

This week my little Summer Campers have been working hard building large sculptures… photos to come! Tomorrow we finish painting them in the morning and set-up a gallery show for the afternoon. If you’re around town and looking for a fun art experience… c’mon by for the kid’s Sculpture Art Gallery Show at Lillstreet from 3:00-3:30pm in the Kid’s Rooms!