Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Canada's Fruit Basket

We live in a part of Canada known as Canada's fruit basket. The Niagara Peninsula is noted for it's peaches, cherries, apples, nectarines, plums, pears etc, etc. When we first moved here 10 years ago there were acres upon acres of orchards with little road side honour system stands.
We would witness the coming of spring with the arrival of migrant workers from Jamaica and Mexico that would work the farms and ride by our house on their bicycles to shop in town. In the past decade there has been a wine explosion and with that the fruit is gone and the booze is flowing. Hundreds and hundreds of acres of orchards around our house have been torn up and replanted with grapes. There is more money in tax revenue from booze than cherry pies. The small bonus for me is there are piles and piles of free fruit wood available at the roadside.
Labour is a large factor. The tender fruit business requires cheap labour and lots of it. The grapes for the most part can be attended to by mechanical means. Large million dollar tractors trim the leaves and pick the grapes. No climbing ladders and filling little baskets.
I thought these small hybrid apple trees were clever. Bricks tied on the limbs to train the branches to grow downward and keep the fruit closer to the ground.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bigger, better, more

On Monday Bruce Cochrane and I took the Sheridan students to see Bigger, better, more a show of work by the late Viola Frey at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. I knew of Frey's work for it's exuberant use of colour but I was awe struck by the scale and volume of the work. This show certainly shows Frey's place with the greats of the San Fran art scene with possible soul mates as Voulkos, De Staebler, Arneson and most likely our guest artist of last year at USU- Bob Brady. This show took 2 18 wheelers to transport and it is going to travel nationally. Look at the Gardiner website for a place near you. This show is not to be missed.
I felt humbled! I was not allowed to take pics in the museum so these photos are from the catalogue I purchased. It's too bad really cause every thing is bigger than life size. The man peering down at you is probably 10 feet tall.Being a vessel man I was attracted to this ambiguous plate- is the man coming in or going out? Is he a threat or is he a friend? Is it Micheal Jackson just about to do a moon walk? I also thought it sweet of Frey to capture our national rodent the beaver on a bunch of Canadian lumber that was probably sent to China to be processed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Deer, moose, elk, caribou or cotton

I've been to my share of wood firings where participants show up in their North Face jackets and gorgeous soft new gloves made of deer, moose, elk, caribou and other silky smooth skins. Those $30 and $40 gloves will have holes in the finger tips part way thru the firing. Besides that leather burns ya when it gets hot and it is slippery when wet. I double layer a pair of cheapo cotton gloves that cost 99cents a pair and are cheaper by the dozen. When the outer layer wears out I put them inside and move the inner layer out. Cotton also doesn't get hot and burn ya. It may burn but I simply dose my gloved hands in water. I can get two firings for under $2.00 in hand apparel. I also like those cotton gloves with a rubber palm for wood prep and mudding the kiln. They have a good grip for picking up wood and sell for under $3.00 and last for a long time.
The kiln is finally loaded and lit after 2 years of being neglected while I globe trotted. I have trees to burn outta the stack and moss to scorch off the firebox.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My New Bumper Sticker

There is more money to be made in the living room than in the kitchen. If one of Sheila's boxes is glazed in a celedon, waxy matte, shino or any other good hard glaze we get questions like " Can you roast a Cornish hen in these?" Glaze them in a dry lichen type glaze and all of a sudden those questions stop. Why? Well it is because they are now art and not "just a pot'. Now don't get me wrong on pots. I just saw an article today on my all time favourite British potter Richard Batterham. The article was called "Just Pots". Pots are harder to please me with than art. They are harder to make consistently well. They not only have to please the eye but they have to work. Batterham has done it for decades.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Heavy Metal

I'm not a fan of heavy metal music but I do dig metal flowers. They are my specialty and the reference for the glazes I'm attempting. The beauty of my metal flowers is the low maintenance and I think the colours are superb.
I was thrilled to get my glazes out today and find that the rutile variation is almost that of my Shasta daisy. The front row is the the dry ash glaze using EPK and the back row using Grolleg kaolin. A nice subtle variation in colour.
What you're looking at is 2 glazes, 7 oxides with 6 progressions in percentage, on a stoneware clay half dipped in white slip with 4 oxide trailings of iron, cobalt, rutile and copper. That means you have almost 1000 bits of information.
This is an ash glaze so they are a bit lumpy. Now that I have shot the shotgun I can zero in with a rifle on one and screen a 500 gram batch to try on a cup or small bowl.
I'm excited!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Serving your detention

This is what happens when you just sit in on a class and don't do the homework. If you're really interested the teacher makes you do the work after class. I was teaching throwing at Metchosin and lurking in on the Master Glaze class. When Robin put himself to sleep during his own lecture the class poured cocktails and put on smiles.
Today Sheila and I started to do the glaze homework that Robin sent me. We spent 4 hours on our feet doing 100 test tiles of 2 glazes with 7 colourant additions of 6 different percentages and 4 oxide brush strokes. This is going to translate into a lot of information. We have 18 more glazes to do-oh my aching feet.
Robin sent me an nice little flat knife for dividing 10 grams of oxides into a grouping of 6 and I splurged and bought a little digital scale for $50. We will fire the tests this weekend with a load of pots for the showroom.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School

I'm back at the most creative spot I know of- Sheridan College. My job for the next 7 weeks is to teach the students to make mugs, bowls and plates. I start every class with a showing of pots from my collection or the ceramics studio. We have a discussion of what we like about them and what we are going to be doing today. I love books and I love to read to the students so there is always a reading. Entering the ceramics studio you walk thru the hall of shame which consists of wall after wall of clay shoes that each 1st year student has made of their own shoe. Here is a picture of my class. what is so fantastic about teaching in Toronto is that it is a melting pot of people- Iran, Taiwan, Sicily, Korea, Turkey you name it and there is a student from that part of the world. I have students that are graphic artists, veterinarians, accountants etc, etc. Clay is free for my class so I make them throw several tonnes of clay in the next couple of months.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Apple

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree is true of Sheila and daughter Eileen. Eileen has an eye for the unusual and brought us this teapot she picked up at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop in downtown Toronto. It was sporting the high price of $8.95 and is probably the most unusual handle/spout placement I've ever seen. Anyone out there have any idea of it's origins????? The lid actually looks like it was thrown in a mold. It's a nice amber ash glaze that I really love. If Ei looks confused at first it is that we really couldn't figure out how to hold it and she did a trial water demo to get the hang of it.
This is a nice addition to our collection of pots to talk about.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

So? I have good reasons!

I'm not getting the wood kiln loaded and I have good reasons. Today I had some unexpected guests drop in for a brunch at the local cafe. Potter/artist Shane Norrie dropped in with friends. They were in search of the perfect bottle of wine. Shane does a great job of marketing his work and his blog is a worthwhile read for those interested in watching how he is cleverly carving out a career as one that walks the walk.
In the late afternoon my daughter Robin dropped in and we had a drink and I dug some potatoes for fries and some beer battered haddock. Sheila, Robin and I talked for 5 hours solid. All the worlds problems are now solved.
Another picture from the other Robin- Sir Robin Hopper indicates that he has ingested some barium, strontium or some other toxic substance in the glaze lab and has developed some great colour. If only he would read Clayart he would know that these are now banned substances in the world according to others.

Small Wonders

Small wonders never cease! My neighbour Dr. Pumpkin dropped this mini 5 ton electric splitter over for us to try. It worked amazingly well on most of the wood. I had cut some rock elm that I can't split with my Paul Bunyan monster maul and the wee splitter couldn't handle either. Great little thing for side stoking wood but slow. I'm slowly loading the train with some pots. Seems with the studio demands, back to school and other distractions I'm taking a long time. This tree has started to grow in the stack to illustrate how slow I've been. Actually it's been two years since it was fired.
Another small wonder of the weekend was I dragged my analog friend Sir Robin Hopper into his first flight on the rocket ship Skype. It was an amazing flight to see and hear each other some 3500 miles away. Robin sent this picture of himself with the caption- "It blew my mind!"

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Clay Pits

My uncle worked in the coal mines of Newcastle when he was a boy of 14. He told me of the work ponies that would bring the coal up from the mines. I'm the clay pony at Sheridan. My job for the next 2 months is to teach throwing to the second years at Sheridan College. Probably a little known fact is that Sheridan is the biggest art school in Canada and the second biggest in North America. Well, it's not the craft dept that gives it that distinction, it's graphic art and animation. Here is the clay pit that I rule. It is a fabulous place with a hand building room, glaze room, throwing room, individual studios for 15 3rd year students, 4 gas kilns, l soda kiln, l car kiln, l wood kiln, 5 or 6 brand new Cone Art electric kilns etc, etc. Here is a picture of Hugh Douglas Murray who has been the long standing full time Ceramic Technologist that keeps every piece of equipment in tip top shape. Hugh keeps the machine well oiled and greased so that faculty can do their job of teaching. Hugh also does a fine job of teaching kiln firing, clay and glaze making and most importantly- SAFETY!
Bruce loaded the car kiln with pots for a film that is being taken to be shown in Korea on Sheridan.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Free wood

There is no such thing as free wood. I used to get my side stoking wood from a local cabinet making shop. They took container after container of oak, cherry, maple and birch kiln dried wood to the dump every week. I'd bring home a pick up or two to side stoke my wood kiln. It ain't free really as it would take me driving and man handling the stuff. Now they have decided I might drop a piece on my baby toe and sue them so it is no longer available. This week I ended up paying for the side stoke wood and got the rock elm from a friend for free. Well, free means, gas, a morning to pick it up, a sharpened chain saw, and an afternoon to saw it into firebox wood.
If any of you are in Missoula, Montana go see my ole land ladies show "Slice' at The Clay Center". She's getting kinda old and is still got a cocktail in each hand so hold her up for me would ya. Have a killer show Heidi!!!!