Friday, December 19, 2008

Small Pitcher with Rooster

 I found this little pitcher at a local garage sale, and I keep it by my wheel for inspiration.

 I'll have to try to duplicate this style at school this next quarter. I believe it is a Majolica style.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Some things finally done from class.

 Two coffee cups Shaner's green glaze breaking brown on the outside, sea foam blue on the inside. Also, a 5" glossy blue bowl with a dip of something nice on the rim.
 A nice small 5" bowl.
 A 4" x 4" tea bowl with Shaner's Green, and a dip of Tenmoku on the lip
 A 6" bowl, also with Shaner's Green glaze.

I have more items (a few more coffee cups, a couple large plates, a pitcher, some big bowls, and a vase) that are still in process, but this is some of the stuff I threw in the first three weeks when I was getting a feel for the wheel again.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My First Teapot.

I think it is a success for a first attempt.

The front view. I need to fettle a bit to slim down the spout. It should taper better, so I've some work there to do.
I like how the lid turned out. You can see the handle drying on the blue glass vase in the background. I'll attach it tomorrow after I finish fettling the bottom of the teapot.
Here it is all assembled, just some dent and scratch removal and I'm ready to let it dry.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Female Front Person Bands. Your favorites? Here's mine.

Over the years I've always been entranced by bands (rock, punk, metal et. al.) with female lead singers. Here are some of my favorites over the years in no particular order;


Veruca Salt

Brandi Carlile

The Runaways

Joan Jett

Annie Lennox

The Pretenders


Luz Casal

Pink covering 4 Non Blondes

So what are some of your favorites?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Aegishjálmr, the HELM of AWE! Or, a big metal snowflake.

From Miscellaneous

Here is a site that sells the Aegishjálmr symbol on a t-shirt. I thought it would be a fun exercise in learning to use the cutting torch in class on this sheet of 3/8" steel. I just finished the cutting, and now I need to start working on the finishing work. Each of the spokes needs 4 slots cut, and then a bunch of wire brush work to make it all shiny again. Snow flakes should be white after all. So far, the class has been a potpourri of learning different welding techniques using acetylene, arc, and MIG welders. They also just acquired a TIG welder, so I might get a crack at it before the end of class if the teachers can get themselves trained in on it first.

A box painted like a puppy.

From Miscellaneous

Christian asked me to make him a little treasure chest painted like a puppy. It made my brain jog a bit in thinking about how to paint a rounded and oval object onto rectangle. Here is the result. He likes it quite a bit, and took it to show and tell at school today. His older brother is now jealous and wants a treasure chest painted like a dragon... We shall see...

My wheel space, and some things in process.

Here is my wheel space. I have my wedged clay, and tools next to me on the right, with some green-ware drying above, then I move my freshly thrown pieces on the shelf to the left of me. The view outside is down the hill to the pond/wetlands in my backyard. I love the view, and deer actually walk past my window not more than 5 feet from me if I'm pretty still.
From Pottery

This is my first attempt at a pitcher, and I have to make an appropriate handle for it now. It will hold just over 2 quarts, and I figure it would be a nice pitcher for cool drinks in the summer.
From Pottery

This is a closer look at my existing stack of cone 10 green-ware drying before bisque firing.
From Pottery

This is my growing stack of cone 1 green-ware of things the boys and I have made with some extremly stiff experimental clay. I suspect it to have an overly high concentration of grog. The angular canister on the right there is hexagonal and made from slabbing that groggy clay. It slabs well. Making the canister and lid with slabs was much more involved than I thought. To finish the surface I decided to impress the slabs with oak leafs which you can sort of see. It is experimental after all.
From Pottery

Here are three new cone 10 pieces I'm working on, from left to right, a small creamer (its about a 3" glass shape pinched together at the top), a cup, and a small bottle that needs a cap. Oh, you also see the pots are sitting on parchment paper which I found works in pottery just like it does in cooking. It's great to put freshly thrown pots on and won't stick to the pots and keeps my shelves clean.
From Pottery

Anyway, I thought I should post some things so you can see what I'm working on. I have a ton of stuff still in post bisque stage at school. I have an open class tonight(meaning my teacher is off at a show in Chicago), so I will be adding 4 to 6 more items to my growing collection at school. When I get it back home, I'll post some photos of the best ones. I'm still trying to make space, repair, and install the 2 kilns I have so I can run through the entire process at home.

Why I love clay.

In one of the facebook groups that I have joined, a grad student doing a thesis asked, "Why do you use clay as your main material?"

My response was, "There is something spiritual to working with clay. The fusion of earth, water, air and fire to create with human hands something from nothing. The life of the created work, like us, is fragile and eventually becomes shards which may be passed on to future generations. Some of our works are merely beautiful and serve to enrich us with their pure aesthetic, and other may not be so beautiful but serve us our dinner, our drink, or other menial tasks we assign to them. I choose to work in clay because it is a temporal medium that combines the subtle nuance of gesture in the making, with the creative expression of decoration and glazing all to be frozen as a success or failure within the kiln. Most other mediums can be manipulated until they are finished, but a pot is done once its fired."

I have to admit that my eyes have been reopened to the amazing depth of knowledge encompassed in the craft of ceramics.

When I first encountered it in school it was a course which was difficult, that I muddled my way through. That was my experience with college that I attended when I was 18, and 19 years old. There is a clear schism in my memory of the past where before which I consider myself to be almost entirely insane. I was already employed full time as a programmer, so rather than struggle in that uphill battle of work and college I focused on work. I attribute some of this to my experiences with SPD myself, but somewhere in my mid 20's the fog lifted and I could actually concentrate on my school work and excel in it. My wife was beginning her Masters program that year, so it was the right time for me to go back. I finished my remaining two years of my computer science degree with all A level work.

Now, I find I have an insatiable curiosity regarding almost everything. I've developed the patience to learn at a pace that is also not frustrating, but I'm also excited to start digging into the materials science, the artistry, and the subtle skills needed to be proficient.

Here is a video of Simon Leach, who describes a similar sentiment.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm a Wii bit tired.

My beautiful and talented Ice Dancing wife could not resist the Wii fit bundle offer any longer, so we unveiled it for the boys this past weekend. My conditions for this new thing was that the entire house be clean before another thing could be added, which also required that the suspense of the "special surprise" I hinted at on Friday be followed up Saturday with enough hints to reveal pretty clearly what "it" was. The number one (or pretty high up there) rule of parenting is always take advantage of awesome perks to offer as rewards for extraordinary behavior. This resulted in a flurry of excited cleaning on Sunday sufficient for me to relent and at a convenient point install the new game system in the rearranged family room. Rearranged, since the Wii requires about a ten foot diameter clear area where you won't smack anything or anyone. The original purpose for getting this device are that the Wii Fit balance games are great for motivating Rane through his OT, and it also came with the sports pack which has Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Bowling, and Boxing. Christian has decided that golf is his game, and frankly he is better at it now than I am. Rane is fixated on boxing to the point of being 1/2 way to professional standing after about an hour of play in the last two days. Angel and I are competing in the ski racing and ski jumping competitions, and also to see who can do the yoga poses better. The result is now that we are all spending about 30 to 60 minutes together a day exercising. Hence, I'm a Wii bit sore as well as tired.


I just had my first bowl of grits. It was ok, but I was weaned on oatmeal. I think its like drinking coffee. At first you think, yeeeecccchh! How could anyone stomach this foul concoction? But, then later you get past the whole visceral consistency of nasal discharge phase and begin to experience the subtle nuances of flavor. And then, once you season to taste, you actually begin to enjoy the rich flavors and textures. I like my grits with a little butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar. But, who knows? Being a damned Yankee, what do I know about grits anyway? How do you like your grits?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wedging Table

I scoured the web looking for some plans for a wedging table, and I did find Brad Sondahl's diagram which influenced heavily my design. Here is a .pdf of my plan with the materials lists (both cut and uncut). I notice that I neglected to put the rail kits for the sliding doors (upper and lower rails for a 48" and 24" long opening). The dimensions will be 50" x 25", with six 4x4 posts notched for the three 2x4 frames. The two lower 2x4 frames are 48" x 20 3/4" and the upper frame is 25 13/16" 20 3/4 ". The frames can be nailed, but I will be bolting with 3/8" x 4" bolts where I can, and then nailing where I can't bolt. There will be two plaster wedging surfaces at 26" high, and then at 36" high and covered with heavy canvas. The plaster may need to be secured to the plywood, which I haven't totally solved how to do yet. But if it is needed, I was thinking of trying some of those two sided sticky rubber sheets used for sealing roofs. There is a large space underneath for storage, then a small space accessible from the side as well. I will be adding a cutting wire on there somewhere as well. I will add some photo's once I build it to show the final product.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So who is Khnum anyway?

According to Ancient Egypt Online, he makes babies (from Nile clay) on a potters wheel and places them into their mothers wombs. He can also bless them. He was the head honcho of Egyptian dieties before Ra came along and took over, and some sources say that Khnum crafted the sun and the other gods as well on his potting wheel.

I just thought it was awesome that there is a mythology with a God of pottery.


One little known fact about our household is that our sons eat either pancakes or waffles almost every morning. It has become a part of their daily routine. This 10lb bag will make about 220 pancakes, costs about $5.50 and it will make enough pancakes or waffles to last about 30 days. I cook up a quarter to half this bag at a time on the weekends when I have more time, wrap up serving sizes of six in waxed paper and freeze them so that the boys can just heat up their own breakfasts in the morning. When I'm cooking them up on Sunday morning, its just as easy to make a few extra dozen and the clean up is the same. My boys have mastered the art of heating up foods in the toaster oven without getting burned, which liberates them to do some of their own cooking as they feel the need. They get a sense of satisfaction in being self sufficient as well.

For comparison, Eggo Frozen Buttermilk Pancakes have 12 pancakes in a box and cost $3.89. Yeah, that's about $.33 a pancake, as opposed to my $.025 per pancake or 13 times more expensive (plus the cost of cooking and waxed paper).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's time for a potters mark.

I've been throwing about 6 to 10 items a day for about a month now, and I'm building up enough stock to need to start bisque firing some of it. But, I realized that none of my stuff even has my initials on it. I set out today to design a unique potters mark. I chose ægishjálmr, which is a symbol worn on helms for protection. The letters below are my first name in elder futhark.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sensory Processing

I never gave this subject much thought until my wife started pursuing what was different about our first son Rane. Soon after he could walk and talk, it became apparent in ECFE play groups that our son was a little different than the other children. During "Circle Time", when all the parents and kids sit in a circle to dance and sing, our son wanted to leave the circle to go sit off in a quiet corner to play with toys alone. In play groups, it was our son who would suddenly blow up emotionally and need to be separated to keep him from hitting (kicking, biting, etc.) the other children. We have some close friends who have a boy with Asberger's syndrome, which is a milder form of Autism. At first my wife was suspicious that our son had some other variant of Autism, but many of the indicators were just not apparent for Rane. Rane was very picky about everything including food, clothing, riding in the car, bath temperature, getting his head wet, bedding, toys, sounds and smells. At 2 years, it was also clear he was beginning to lag behind his peers in muscle coordination. Now, I attributed a part of that to the fact he has always been in the upper 90's percentiles for height, while being pretty normal for weight. This means he's been growing taller faster than his peers. At 3 years old, he was over 3 feet tall. Now, just turning age 8, he is 54 inches tall and weighs just over 52 lbs. which puts him in the 93rd percentile for height, and 26th percentile in weight. Due to the diligent research by my wife she determined that my son was exhibiting the symptoms of "Sensory Integration Dysfunction". It took me awhile and some extensive reading to come around to understanding that our son had some special challenges, but now that we understand it better we can do things to help his nervous system integrate normally.

Unfortunately, Sensory Processing Dysfunction, while discovered and written about for 30 years, is just now becoming recognized by the professional cognitive professions (neurology, psychology) and so it is not listed in the DSM-IV (the bible of psychological issues). This means that to the school, government, and to the insurance companies this disorder is not recognized and so help (and often even understanding) is absent. My wife attributes the problem to the gender of those making the discoveries and publishing the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

I mention this here in this blog since I have come to realize in reflecting back to my childhood that my sons struggles mirror my own issues. It is clear to me now that other people in my family also probably had challenges with SPD, but without understanding it can be mistaken for behavioral issues. Traditionally, I believe often people feel that these "willful children" just need more discipline. Rane has trouble in school, but not because he doesn't understand what is being taught. For example, on some tests in math he scores in the 98th percentile, but when the same material is given orally he will score very low ( even zero at times) because he shuts down aural processing at times. In order to test a child with SPD accurately, some special accommodations would need to be given to insure that sensory issues do not interfere.

You can imagine then that the traditional learning model of the teacher giving a lecture and the class listening would be a hindrance to a child with aural processing issues. For example, I can say something simple like "Do you want pudding or jello with your lunch?" and my son will reply "What?". Then I will ask nicely, "Ok, what did I just ask you?" and he will repeat it back verbatim. The issue is not one of hearing, but of processing. It took extra time for his brain to process the sounds and make sense of them.

Handwriting and printing is a nightmare for my son, first because of the lag in his fine motor control and also because of processing issues in the corpus callosum (any activity which causes the brain to cross the mid-line left to right, or bilateral coordination in doing one thing with side of the body and something else with the other). The development of the corpus callosum is delayed in males anyway, and for my son it is especially delayed. My scientific hypothesis is that SPD is related to a very slow development of glial cells and myelination in pre- and post-natal neural development which causes incomplete neural development until later in childhood. I've read some studies that indicate pre-natal stress can affect glial development. This is a childhood neural processing issue which can be overcome with appropriate neural focused occupational therapy.

"Our skin is our largest sensory organ, followed closely by our muscles and skeleton, connected by our nervous system and governed by our brain. The sensory systems feed information from our environment, through sense receptors, and neural impulses via our nervous system, directly to the brain. The brain then organizes it, sends it back through the nervous system for use as understanding, adaptation, learning, and skill development.

When this system functions well, it allows a person to interact with their environment efficiently, developing necessary motor and language skills, and appropriate social/emotional behavior. When this system is unable to organize the information appropriately, a variety of symptoms can present; motor delays, tactile defensiveness, learning disorders, social or emotional difficulties, speech, and language deficits or attention disorders."

Thankfully, Patricia Wilbarger and her daughter Julia have developed therapies for successfully treating these neurodevelopmental disorders. It took me awhile to understand the holistic nature of how physical therapies, like brushing or joint compressions will make vast improvements to my childs brain development in other areas and make him less prone to melt down due to sensory overload. On the opposite side, my son also seeks sensory input which can sometimes be inappropriate such as pushing or in other ways bothering other children. Some of this is behavioral, but there is a core underlaying issue with sensory processing we are working to correct. The appropriate behavior would be easier for a child with a better developed vestibular system, and he wouldn't need to seek so much additional proprioceptive input to stimulate his nervous system.

The recent revelation of my struggle is because of my sons issues, and I realize that there is some genetic factor in this. Here is a check list of potential symptoms that an adult might experience, and running through the list I can identify with quite a number of them. I have lived with this same problem long enough to overcome much of it on my own, or I've developed coping mechanisms to deal with my issues. My experience with elementary school was not good as I recall, and I know my mother did all she could to help me keep up with my peers. I also realize how I was pretty horrible to my younger sister, using her as my main source for keeping my nervous system at "high alert", just as my son fights with his younger brother for proprioceptive stimulation.

Friday, November 7, 2008

No need for 3 phase power.

Yesterday, I stopped by the nearby distributor of Skutt kilns, Minnesota Clay, and spoke with one of the helpful staff there who also run around and repair kilns for people. He said that it would be pretty inexpensive to replace the 208V components with 240V components and run the kiln on single phase power. This is fortunate, but I had already found a place that describes how to build your own rotary phase converter. I was in the process of trying to find sources for all the components I would need. It will be cheaper to convert it to run on single phase power. The picture to the left is what my kiln would look like brand new.

I also picked up 150lbs of clay. 50lbs of White Eathenware, 50lbs of Rainy Lake, and 50lbs of miscellaneous pug mill left overs for practice and experimentation. When I got it home the boys wanted to make some little animals with clay, so I broke out some of the cheap pug mill left overs. Christian and I made a nice little dog, and Rane made some space marines and a tank.

The experimental clay is very hard to work with, but as I explained to the boys as I was trying to throw this last night, "Sometimes the clay tells you that it doesn't want to be a pretty pot." And, "In art, there are sometimes mistakes, but more often happy accidents." I liked how this pot wanted to be more organic, and it reminded me of something I would see in the woods so I left it this way.

I have some "pretty" ones too, which I will post once they are baked.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

And the winner is...

 ...a pair of Chippewa boots I bought slightly used on e-bay. They only have a few marks from weld spatters, a scrape here or there, and fit like a glove. Total cost with shipping was $25. They have full metatarsal protection, and the soles are rated to 400F.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It's an S100, not an S50.

Saturday, after we had breakfast, the boys had gymnastics until about 11am. Then we went and picked up the rental truck and drove the 98 miles to Pine City and back to get the 2 kilns, and the pottery wheel. Rane was able to go over and spend the day with his friend Josh, but Christian's friends were busy so he had to ride along with us for the day. It was not much fun for him, but he colored pictures, did puzzles, and we read him some stories for fun. We didn't get back until about 5:30 and we were pretty tired from the ordeal, so we made dinner, popped some popcorn and watched a family movie (Night at the Museum).

This morning I pulled the truck around back, and unloaded it. It turns out the wheel was still packed in the original shipping box and is an S100, not an S50 as I first thought. I tested it and it works purr-fectly. I'm most jazzed about having the wheel, since I think the only way to really get good at something is to do it at least a few hours every day. This wheel new is $1206, so for the same price I essentially got the two kilns for free.

The kilns are in pretty rough shape, but the repairs (according to my inventory of damage) shouldn't be more than about $750. I intend to fix them one at a time though over the next three to six months. Until then, I can fire my stuff at school, or at a nearby shop. The newer kiln is a Skutt KS-1027-3; it is missing the slab, the stand, and has about a dozen damaged bricks, and needs the very top and very bottom elements replaced. The older one is a Skutt 235, and also needs about a dozen bricks replaced, a stand, and some cement patching on the slab and lid. Both need some TLC, cleaning and a good polish job. While I more deeply examined the specifications, I found that both kilns, if set up correctly, will fire up to cone 10. There is also an additional 4.5" section that can be added or removed from either kiln. They were stored in a pole barn so they are dusty and the hardware is getting corroded. I just hope the electronics are still sound.

I'm not sure I can wire this place to also handle two 3 phase 11000 watt devices running at the same time though. I have already placed a call into my local electric guru, but we traded voice mails on Friday. Pretty soon I'm afraid I will need to install my own power plant here. Someday I will have to discuss on this blog the pros and massive cons of having an entirely electric house. I know I'm already pulling up to 300 amps in here, and the previous owner was hugely into welding.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween Banditry

 One minor issue with jack-o-lanterns around here is the abundance of bandits. Racoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and some other miscellaneous foragers love this feast we set before them.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A wheel, and two kilns.

I came across a deal too good to pass up. The bundle was a new Soldner S50 wheel still in the box, and two used Skutt Kiln's for $1200, and also includes tools, racks, books, etc. One of the Kilns is a complete KS-1027 and fires to cone 10, and the other is similar but only fires to cone 1, and is missing the bottom. Even if I bought them, and used them for a little while, I could probably resell them again for at least this price. I'm going to pick them up tomorrow.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Two of Four

 On Tuesday Christian was bothered that our house was not spooky enough for Halloween, so yesterday we set up the decorations that we had tucked away in the garage. In those boxes he also found templates and carving tools for making spooky jack-o-lanterns. Today while getting a few groceries I decided to go ahead and pick up a few pumpkins as well. The two in the background were stenciled (by me), and carved by the boys (with a litte help at times).

Tomorrow after school we will complete the other two, and I will bake the seeds!

My Connoisseur of Clay

 She sniffs the wet clay slip and begins to purr. Then she rubs her chin against the stone tile it is tenuously resting upon. Splat! Off dashes the cat as I exclaim, "That was not very bright!" To whom am I telling this? I realized then it was me who placed the stone tile in the tenuous position. It was only a little bit, so no point crying over spilt clay slip. Kiki, the cat, loves fresh clay. Note to self; Keep unattended clay out of reach of small kitties.

Monday, October 27, 2008

From whence I came.

 This is a photo of the town saying "Farewell", taken by my great grandpa(father's father's father) when he left Ragunda, Jamtlands län, Sweden. I've been back to Sweden, but I've never made it back up to Ragunda yet. Next time I go to Sweden, I will be certain to get up there. I'm related to the Amrén's from that area who are also descended from the Planting-Bergloo's. All of my grandparents came from different parts of Sweden. My father's mother is from Vänga, Älvsborgs län, my mothers father's family is from Onsala, Hallands län and my mothers mother's family is from Svanskog, Värmland and Okome, Hallands län. I still have some distant relatives all over Sweden.
I mention all this, because I'm finding the Norse themes find their way into all my works. I've also been researching the fuþark (pronounced futhark) alphabet, and I intend to decorate some of my things with them. Not because I'm into some neo-paganism, but just because they look cool and I can write interesting things on my stuff without it seeming like I'm writing on my stuff. My sons are both entirely entranced by dragons, so it seems like daily I need to draw, sculpt or construct dragons in some form. The latest was pom-poms. Yeah, I know. Try to imagine a pom-pom dragon, and what dragons would think of such a thing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

All Hustle Bustle for Chip and Friends

Every day the scurry of busy fauna throughout the homestead is making me feel just a tad guilty that we are not also loading up the pantry for a long winter's nap. Someone came by selling cords of wood the other day, and I declined because we have plenty of dead fall cut up and just laying out back waiting to be split.

This little guy is so bold, that even though he clearly saw me out on the deck, he knows that this might be his last day to gather up his needed stores before winter briskly saunters in to maroon us in our cozy islands for the next five or six months.

The Road Where I Live

Here is a view down the road to where I live. It was taken by me one morning after a particularly wet snow a few years back.

Rane's Sense of Snow

This is a photo I took of Rane 4 years ago after the first snow fall of the season. He was fascinated by the difference that happened to his world overnight.

Kiki, War Cat of the North.

This is Kiki. She is about 2 years old, and was a surprise present from my wife to the family. My wife is a cat person, and I am a dog person. This cat however, has the personality of a dog so I kind of enjoy her. "How?" you might ask. She will fetch pom-poms, and her play mice. She even drinks from the toilet if you don't close the lid. She has a soft mouth and doesn't use her claws when we play and she likes to play fight with me all the time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hot stuff coming through...

... my laces unless I get some new leather work boots! The biggest disappointment in my shopping search last week was the missing leather shoe store. It will be hard to find good work boots without a low melting point rubber/plastic sole, and no laces. From what I've read, in the presence of molten metal which may be up to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit (1650 C), many materials will spontaneously combust due to the intense radiant heat. Or, an accidental spill of hot metal on cloth or plastic laces would result in a pretty bad accident.

In my search of the internet for a new e-store to replace my local *real* store I found some possible candidates. They are definitely not a fashion statement.

1. Herman Survivors - Men's Workhorse Steel-Toe Work Boot -- I like the "survivor" part of this boot.

2. Tatra Safety Boots & Shoes, Inc. -- Yup, the Canadians still work hard...

3. Forge Shield Boots: Met Guard Steel Toe Made In USA Boots 26866 -- I believe these also have a +3 to saving throws against magic spells.

4. Chippewa Boot Company -- A very good selection of quality boots and there are a couple dealers near me.

5. Carolina Foundry Hi Steel Toe -- These look very tough and this site seems like they have some good deals.

It's extremely funny to me that most of my searches (e.g. "Forge leggings" ) result in fantasy role playing game type results (such as "Forge-crafted Elven Leggings"). However, searching for "Foundry Spats" gets closer to what I need.

Hurrah to Clay King!

I checked quite a few internet sites for a beginning set of Doo Woo tools. Many places were out of stock, but Clay King had them! The 12 piece set just arrived in the mail. They look beautiful, are well crafted, and were pretty inexpensive (about 28$ with shipping).

My refresher clay course starts next Thursday, so I thought having some tools would be a good head start. Yeah, I'm one of those over eager, over achievers who ask the teacher arcane questions and blows the curve out of the water.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Building some sifters for cleaning natural clay.

This afternoon my wife was not up for dealing with the two boys, so I elected to take them around with me. I wanted to make a couple of 1 foot square sifters for cleaning natural clay. The first batch I made with an undersized six inch round kitchen strainer, and it made the chore so much more tedious than needed. Christian's leg was still bothering him, so I still needed to carry him. I took the boys out for a trip to the hardware store and bought a small box of two and one half inch long deck screws, some quarter inch steel mesh, and some steel window screen material. Christian was able to ride around in the cart without being in pain, which helped in trying to look for the pieces I needed. I also picked up some cheap safety goggles for the boys so they could hang around while I used the power tools.

I had a couple of scrap two by fours that were taken from the basement in a recent remodeling which worked well. After trimming out the bad parts and making them square in the power miter box there was enough for the eight box sides I needed. I also decided to mortise a simple interlocking joint for a little extra strength. Rane enjoyed helping make the mortise joints, while I held the wood chisel in the right place. Then it was a simple matter of three screws per joint, and checking it for square. I stretched the screen out the best I could, but being only a foot square there is not much stretching needed. For the under side covering the screen, I probably over did it, but I used some scrap half inch by 1 inch redwood bits that were from a broken outdoor table. I held the drill while Christian pulled the trigger on the variable speed drill to screw down the screen with one inch long screws every 1 inch to insure that the screen would not slip out.

All went as planned, and I had to go dig out a pickle pail full of clay to test it on. I did the heavy screening and decided to wait for the fine screening until tomorrow. As a bonus I decided to clean up the clay slip mess I made yesterday and found I could salvage about half of that batch. I mixed it with some of the drier stuff from today to make it easier to move around. It will need to be slaked and cleaned again however, so I'll add that to my list of things to do tomorrow.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

There she was at the farmers market...

... selling pottery. Oh, I so do not want that to be me. I will need to work up the courage to do something like this eventually, but the thought of dragging around a box of my work to try to sell to strangers leaves my stomach in my throat.

It was a frustrating day in other ways as well. I had spent a few hours last week gathering and purifying some clay from my back yard. There is a place that was recently excavated down well below the top soil, so the clay is pretty much as it was left by nature some gazillion years ago. It took an especially long time because I was using far too small a screen to filter out the debris, and stones. I had it under the deck drying out on a piece of drywall. Bright and early this morning I went to move it and it just rolled off >kersplat< right into a huge pile of leaves. I guess it was still wetter than I anticipated. Yes, I know they have it in better forms from a store. I was thinking I would like to make my pottery from here, where I live. That is... at least some of it, and if only a small fraction of the clay. I will try again tomorrow with a fresh dig. My classes start next week, so I wanted to have it available to add into some of my work if at all possible.

The boys have a gymnastics class on Saturday mornings, so I looked up an art store to visit for the hour that the boys are occupied. It turned out that the Google map link was entirely bogus, which we realized as we examined carefully how to get there. When we arrived back at the gym, Christian had fallen hard on his knee and so was in pain when he put weight on that leg. It did not appear to be too swollen, and by feeling around the muscles he did not indicate any pains. So we thought to give it some time to see if it would pass. So we went to Hopkins to do some shopping. Angel had a store she was interested in looking at, and I remembered there was a very nice shoe and boot store. I need to get some pull on leather boots, with steel toes if possible for welding and casting metal. I guess its a bad thing for hot metal to melt or burn through your laces and then into the top of your foot. Christian required carrying from place to place and was in a pretty pitiful state. The stores I remember are gone. In fact, the only establishments that seems to have survived that I remember are either bars or antique shops. Neither are of much interest to me. I guess this is partly due to all the renovation done on main street Hopkins, and partly due to the changing nature of shopping due to the internet.

I also recalled that there was a hobby store in the area, but it turns out it moved as well and has changed its entire focus to RC toys, and model building. The best they had for painting was children's by the numbers sets. So, for me the trip was a waste of time. We went home, and Angel took Christian to the doctor.

All in all, a frustrating day for each of us.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Getting Started as an Artisan

This blog will be a journal of my journey as I transform myself from computer geek, and management consultant into an artisan. I'm not entirely certain which mediums this expression will take, but to start with I'm going to be pursuing expertise in sculpting wood, clay, and metals. I guess my thinking is that I'm pursuing the profession of craftsman, and artisan, rather than say artist. I'm most interested in making useful things that don't collect dust. For example, a tea pot that would actually get used, rather than just sit on a glass shelf and look beautiful. I might make some things that are purely artistic, but that is not very motivating for me really.

My latest management consulting gig ended July 31st, and this time though I'm going to attempt to be through with it. I'm not sure what happened, but in these last few years all the joy and fun I've derived from my work was just missing. The long commutes and being separated from my family most of the time has really worn me down, and put many stresses on my marriage. I never really planned to end up in the career I did, but it took me 25 years to get there, and now I'm pretty much walking away from it.

Financially, my wife and I both worked full time in good careers from about 1985 until our second son was born in 2002, when we decided that daycare didn't seem enough like raising your own children to us and so my wife decided to change jobs to be a full time mother. Our two boys are now just turned 6 and 8, so while still needing the nurturing of their mother -- they also need to have their father around more than a few hours at bedtime and weekends. My wife and I discussed our options, and since both our boys are now in school it would be a good time for me to become the stay at home dad who makes things, and she can return to the work world and bring home the paycheck for awhile.

My artistic journey started in my youth and has expressed itself in many different forms throughout my life. I'm a perfectionist, but I've gotten over it enough to know that imperfection is quintessential in personalizing artistic expression. You might like to know also that I was raised on a cattle ranch, and I trained horses as a hobby. Growing up on the farm I worked with my father and his friends on mechanical contraptions and repairing our farm equipment. I also became adept at taxidermy in high school due the tutelage of very skilled biology teacher. I left the farm for University, and never really found my way back to a rural lifestyle. I've always pined for it though. There was something comforting in walking out your back door and being "on the job" every day. Moving to the city I explored different forms of artistic expression, from classical ballet, to traditional studio arts. To my amazement, I discovered I was actually pretty good at those things that I had previously thought I had no talent in whatsoever. It stands to reason since my mother is artistic, and her mother was artistic that some of their talent would get passed down to me. Beyond that, I'm a technologist, which means that I geek out on everything technical, which there is actually quite a bit of in the arts.

I met my wife at the University, we married in her senior year, and she is a city girl. Her only requirement for our first house was that it be close to a major bus line. Yikes! But, we found a good compromise house next to a large park (cue music: "gimme land, lot's of land..."). We owned that house for 5 years, and were lucky to sell it for much more that what we paid for it. This let us get into our next house, where we still are situated. It is rustic, yet not rural. We are in a tight knit community with about 2 acres which I (and my neighbors) leave wild. So, while I still pine for a ranch, and livestock, I don't relish all the work it takes to run that kind of operation.

I'm not really sure what I'm doing yet, so if anyone reading this makes a living as an artisan, then I would love to discuss how that works for you. I'm beginning by making connections into the arts community in my locality, and finding out who teaches courses, makes, and exhibits what I plan to do. I've also signed up for some courses at the local arts institute to meet more people in the arts community here, bone up on some rusty skills, and learn some new ones. The first two that start at the end of the month are a welding refresher course, and an all level potting class. These are both skills I have done extensively, but it's been ten years since I've welded anything or tossed a pot. I also need to slowly build my workshop, so getting connected to local artisans is also important to finding the best deals on used equipment and tools.

One idea I've had would be to connect my love of gaming, fantasy, and things medieval into my craftsmanship. I thought I would begin by designing a medieval chess set with the pieces made from porcelain, and the board made with inlaid walnut and oak. I've also researched quite a few other public domain ancient games sets that could be made very artistically.