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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hand lotions for potters

Clay is incredibly hard on hands, drying them up to the point of cracking. Most potters I know that have major dryness problems with their hands have the biggest issue with their fingertips cracking. Thankfully mine are okay, this sounds very painful. I do have problems with the back of my hands cracking though. In the summer it isn't as much of an issue, but the minute the heaters kick on and the cold settles in, my hands begin to crack, and each winter it seems worse than last. The heavy duty creams that once did the job beautifully don't cut it and I searched for options. Local potter Jeremy Ogusky recommended Bag Balm. It's pretty heavy duty stuff, but it still didn't help. Only a few minutes after the application my hands were back to the same dry mess.

This winter I've been using a combo of Neutrogena Norwegian Formula and Miracle of Aloe Miracle Hand Repair and it seems to be doing the job. I've been putting the Norwegian Formula on before I start working, a few times during, and right afterwards. I put on the Miracle Hand Repair lotion at night. I figure the aloe might help heal the skin. There is still dryness but it is minimal, and there are no bleeding cracks, so I'm satisfied. There was a article in one of the pottery magazines recently about various lotions to try, so if these two end up not doing the job I've got some other ones to look in to.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Background of Etsy photos

A long time ago I would take one set of pictures of work and call it good, using the photo closet at the studio with the lamps and various background papers there. I decided that this neutral background wasn't working for my Etsy shop though. It didn't give my functional work the character I wanted it to have, it looked cold, dull, and not particularly welcoming, at least in my opinion. It was what I needed for calls for entries, but I hated it for my online store. 
I adjusted my Etsy photo taking since then and I had landed in a better spot. I was using a white background wall and a woodgrain counter top. This background gave my work the nice, warm, homey feeling I wanted. 
Recently I began using a white counter top with the white background. I think it makes the items pop a bit more. It's also easier to adjust with photoshop. My apartment has terrible natural lighting, what I prefer for Etsy pics, so I generally have to go back and clean up the image and adjust the colors so they are true. The solid white helps me much more than the neutral back drops when I am doing this step. 
The exception to my new 'all white' rule is photographing all white work. These white cups get lost in the solid background, they're begging for something. 
I think this older pic of my white mugs on the wood grain counter top looks much more eye catching. It's only a small piece of color, but it helps define the edges and curves of the shapes a bit more.
Let me know what works for you, I'm always curious to try combinations I haven't!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nara Chawan Expo catalog

I wrote about the Chawan Expo this spring in Nara not long ago. I just got a link to a copy of the exhibit catalog, it looks great! I don't have my print copies yet, they should ship to me soon, and I can't wait for them to get here. It will be so nice to see after the planning via email across the world. If you look at the second page you will notice that the catalog itself was an international effort, being created across Belgium, Croatia, and Netherlands, all for a Japanese exhibit of international artists. It seems so fitting. If you happen to be interested in an exhibit catalog I will have a few extra when they arrive, let me know if you want to grab one!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Yarn bowls and what is to come

I've been playing with the design of my ceramic yarn bowls a bit lately, and I've finally made up my mind on some of the details. I started making them late last spring. Since then I've been making them a bit wider and taller. Not much in either case, but a bit. The main aspect I've played around with is the cut out pattern that the yarn feeds through, and the number, size, and placement of the holes. In the pic above of the green yarn bowl you can see the final pattern I decided on, which is ironically very close to the original few I made last year. Below is a pic with some of the other patterns I tried. My least favorite was the white yarn bowl. The cutout looked like a worm to me, definitely not what I was going for.

So what's happening with the bowls? Well, for the moment you can find them in my Etsy shop or at The Potters Shop Gallery. I've got a bunch in progress that will be out of the kilns shortly, some of which I will be bringing by Cristina Hurley's shop. Diane Ivey sells her yarn there, so Cristina and I were thinking my bowls would make a great addition to the items I already have down there. The rest of the bowls will be hopping around with me to upcoming events this spring. There may even be some fiber shows I sell at, that's still TBD but I'm excited! I'm hoping to get more yarn bowls out in shops. If there's one you love that would be great, don't be shy, let me know, I want to spread the local handmade love this year

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The cabinet of a potter

So maybe every potter's mug cabinet doesn't look like this, but mine does. Overflowing with handmade goodness, mostly my own, at least in the mug cabinet. Other potters dominate the bowl and plate cabinets.

I feel like this isn't just a potter thing, this is a 'maker' thing. I imagine the jewelry cabinets of jewelers are out of control, and the toiletry drawers are busting at the hinges in the homes of soap makers. If you make something you probably have a ton of it sitting around. Am I wrong?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

International Chawan Spring Expo in Nara, Japan

Last fall I participated in a traveling Chawan (teabowl) show while it was exhibiting here in the United States. The show has been traveling the world for a few years now and features the work of artists from many countries. I was very excited when I was asked for my work to continue on with the exhibit and travel to Nara, Japan for the spring of 2012. I had only expected to the part of the exhibit while in the country, so an invitation for my teabowls to travel on was excellent news.

It seemed so far away last October when I was asked, but April is almost here and there's been a lot of preparation for the show. Information and photos needed to be submitted for the catalog and poster printing, and I really wanted some great shots of my work so I called on local photographer and friend Lucie Wicker to shoot two of the pieces I'm going to send. I also needed to order some custom wooden storage boxes for the chawan, which I won't get to see until after the exhibit ends and work is shipped back to me.
Photo by Lucie Wicker
I'll keep you guys posted on the opening and should have some photos of it. Sadly, I am not able to head to Japan for the opening. While I would absolutely love to go, it's a very far and expensive trip, especially if you want to do it right. Some day.....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lots of new work! Mugs, trays, and yarn bowls

I fired some kilns this week with lots of new designs and I'm really happy with them. There's new trays, and two new designs of mugs. One is a new brown and white color combo and the other design is white with a cobalt blue chrysanthemum pattern, similar to my new trays. There's some new yarn bowls too with a few different cut/pierced patterns. I also restocked all the standard mugs I was out of on my etsy shop.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Pinterest and why you should check it out

Pinterest is a website that is getting talked about more and more, and I'm going to urge you to get on board too. The site is just under two years old, but has had incredible growth recently and I predict it will only get bigger, so you might as well dive in now.

Pinterest is made to be a collection of 'pins' that are posted to various 'board' categories, each pin being something someone chose to post because they thought it was interesting for whatever reason. It posts as a photo that links back to the original site the content was pulled from, and a small section of text. This 'pin' can now be 're-pinned' by the user's followers or other visitors to the site, and grouped into different 'boards'. Popular posts can spread like wildfire by being pinned and re-pinned over and over.

Because it is a condensed collection of photos, you are able to scroll rather quickly to browse things that interest you and re-pin them easily. If you've got great photos and a great product your work suddenly became much easier for other people to share it. Pinterest doesn't want you to use the site only to promote yourself, and frankly neither do other users. An occasional pin of your work is one thing, using the site as your own billboard is another. If you've got something you think other people want to see, share it! Pin things that matter to you and that you are interested in, and follow users and boards of the same. 

It is incredibly visual based, which is why artists need to be on Pinterest. Etsy recently added a 'pin this' button to items, making it easier for Pinterest users to spread the word of things they like and want to share. This move was no coincidence, as Pinterest had gotten to be the number one traffic director to Esty, beating out Google, so embracing it with the button made sense. The site is growing incredibly fast, aside from what Etsy has experienced. The number of users on Pinterest blew up from 1.2 million at the end of the 2011 summer to over 4 million by the end of the year. *update, just found this diagram about their growth and other stats

More and more businesses are using the site to locate people and products they'd like to promote. I recently had a piece that was getting a lot of attention on Pinterest and it ended up getting published in a magazine. While I wasn't the one to post the piece to the site originally, it shows the power of having work being looked at and shared on the site.

If you're already on or decide to join, let's follow each other over there, it's so much fun to see what other people post up.

Friday, February 03, 2012

How to Screen Print on Clay

Screen printing on clay is a relatively easy process, allowing you to consistently reproduce detailed images. Getting started is a quick process, being able to move from idea conception to screening on pieces in an afternoon. I learned the process from Paul Andrew Wandless at a workshop held at Fuller Craft Museum a few years ago. Paul is a very nice guy and a great teacher, I recommend taking a workshop with him if you are ever able.

The screen process I will show you uses
EZ Screen, a product I love and have had success with using. I recommend getting their starter kit for all the items you will need during the process. Use coupon code KMAHONEY15 for a 15% discount when ordering from EZ Screen. 

First, adjust and prepare your images using Photoshop. Essentially you need to simplify your image to a black and white subject, eliminating shadows and color variation for your screen to be successful. If you are using text or a type of line drawing you should be set, aside from resizing if you want. If you are using a photo first adjust your image to gray scale, then use the photocopy filter. This will simplify your image into a line drawing. From here play with brightness and contrast to bring out or cover up parts of the image. Don't be afraid to use the erase tool to get rid of unwanted details, it can help clean up the image nicely.Crop as you wish, and create a document with your images. Be sure to leave at least 1/2" of space around each image (there should be 1" between two, 1/2" for each). Print off a page and you're ready to move on. 
The next step is to make a transparency copy of your image. Some home printers can do this, check into yours before attempting to print off at home. Also, from what I've seen it is incredibly expensive to buy a box of these pages, though maybe I'm searching in the wrong spots. I generally take my images to the local UPS store or Kinko's, and they tend to run about a dollar a page. I strongly suggest making two copies of your image on transparency pages, as much of the success will rely on the opacity of the ink. 

You're ready to make your screen so get out your EZ Screen kit and transparency images. Line the transparency pages up together, and make sure there is no light visible through the ink. To secure my pages together I use a small bit of tape on two sides of the page away from images so it doesn't disturb them. Make sure the room you are working in is dim before pulling out your screen, as the EZ Screen is light sensitive. Slowly peel away the protective plastic layer from the EZ Screen and put the screen on your black board, shiny blue side face up. Now place your transparency pages on top of that, so that your images appear reversed when looking down at your project. When you go to screen your image, the blue side will be face down, making your images appear correctly. Place the plexiglass on top and clip the project together, making sure you aren't covering the images with the clips. I like to cover the project with a towel at this point to help block light while I transport it. 

To create your image in the screen you may use a lamp or natural light. I've always worked with the sun on bright days and it's been great even though sometimes the New England rain can hide the sun for days. I like to find a spot in full sun, where I'm sure the shadows won't adjust my way. Remove the towel to expose the project to light and start a timer. At the Wandless workshop he gave a time frame of five minutes in bright sun. The time given in the instructions that comes with EZ Screen is different and I've never tried it, I've only used 5 minutes in sun. When the time is up recover your piece with the towel and head to your sink.
Again, make sure your working room is dim. Take apart the project and place the screen in a sink or bucket of cool water for at least 15 minutes, though longer will not cause harm. At this point, I usually cover up the sink with boards or towels to block the light, so I can flip the lights back on and work on something else in the studio while waiting. 

Now come the final steps. Place the exposed screen on the plastic mesh screen supplied in the kit. Rinse the page under running water. The material on the screen that was under the ink of transparency pages remains soft, washing away creating your image to screen through. The rest of the material hardened after being exposed to UV light and the soaking time. If there are portions that won't wash out you can carefully rub them using a sponge or soft bristled brush. If your image will not wash out, it may be overexposed. If everything washed out, it’s underexposed. You will need to start with a new screen if either is the case. Once clean, put your screen back in the sun for another 20 minutes, to further harden the material for better durability. 
The final step is to cut out your screens, leaving that minimum 1/2" border around each image. This is the space you will hold the screen to your work, so adjust to fit what's comfortable for you. Don't store your screens together in a stack, they can stick together. Instead store them between pages of paper. 

I've used the screens successfully with slips and underglazes, on wet to bone dry clay, but I find the best results come from using underglazes on leather hard clay. When I use the screens I like to dip them in water and pat them dry with a towel. Wetting them softens them, so they are better able to hug the curves of your pot, and creates a better seal in my opinion, but only if you have patted them dry. Generally you don't want your underglaze or slip to be too watery or too thick, each causing issues. As many things in pottery go, this isn't a rule. I've had very watery underglazes give fantastic results. I also have a particular jar of underglaze that runs terribly, no matter how I adjust the consistency. So as always, experiment!
I really like this technique and have used it for various projects over the years, but I have used it much more recently, screening chrysanthemum drawings on trays and other items. The blue on the white reminds me of Chinese cobalt work.