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.