Friday, April 30, 2010

Buona fortuna!!!!

Tomorrow night is the Tulip Festival at Sheridan College and the third year students are honoured for their hard work and achievements. I believe the tradition started when the flowers for the evening didn't show up and so the faculty picked the tulips in the college garden and as each student came up on stage they were presented with a tulip. I believe the tradition also includes having the tulips in a vase made by Bruce Cochrane. Second year student Janet Cox is here in Tuscany taking our workshop so we started the morning with a toast to the students at the Tulip Festival. It is always such a lovely event and we are both sorry to miss it. I couldn't find a tulip but the ditch was full of wild poppies. Here is an arrangement of cheese that we had with our many other courses served for dinner. Life is good for those that know that life is good!
I wish all the students Buona fortuna (good luck)!
Janet sends her best wishes as well!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Apparently the local Italian farmers can no longer afford the family farm here in Tuscany. Many beautiful farms are now owned by rich German and English gentry. This nice brick barn is for sale on Pietro's property. It's the bargain price of 300,000 Euros and will take another 3-400,000 Euros to convert it to a lovely bed and breakfast. So potters if you have an extra $800,000 kicking around I can't think of a better cottage. Pietro will run it for you when you're not there and you can retire in the center of civilization.
We have begun teaching throwing. Many of our students are real dogs! Student work will be shown tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Party Begins

We had a welcome party at Bagano Ristorante upon everyones arrival at La Meridiana. We drank copius amounts of Chianti, had real bread,salad, pasta and pork. I think everyone was a bit jet lagged to order grappa and espresso. On day one Vicki celebrated her birthday with a beautiful cake made my the resident chef Luchia. No that ain't Ready Whip and fake mint. Of course, we had to wash it down with some Champagne. Life is good for those that know that life is good.
Here is an old wine bottle on the premises from the days of hand blown glass. These beautiful bottles have been replaced by plastic. Things are slower to change here than in North America.
For the duration of my stay here you may see some spelling mistakes. Spell check is in Italian so almost every word in my post appears as an error.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ash Happens

Well who would have thought that a volcano erupting in Iceland could have an effect on the workshop we are offering at La Meridiana in Tuscany? Well, as they say in America "S@#t Happens!" We have a full group here minus 4 friends that had to cancel flights. I woke this morning to bells ringing in the church across the valley. We heated our room with a small wood pellet stove and got the expresso brewing. One of the guys did some grocery shopping last night for us so we have wonderful cheese, bread, fruit, coffee and the memory of a bottle of Chianti and thin crust pizza from last night. Here is our little apartment, the view out our window and the pottery. The gang arrive tonight where we will have our "Ash Happens" welcome dinner at Bagnano a lovely ristorante down the road. School bells ring tomorrow morning after espresso and biscotti

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A New Way of Walkin'

Happy Birthday on Friday to my buddy Sir Robin Hopper. He shares his B-Day with Shirley Temple so upon landing in Tuscany I will toast you with a Shirley Temple cocktail chased with a double grappa. The events of this volcano on our trip to Tuscany have been rather a pain in the keester.
To celebrate his birthday Robin is changin' his walk and his talk. After a half century of making domestic ware Robin has made his last mug for the showroom. He is on a new clay path of using thin sheets of porcelain(substrates) to do his glaze painting/decoration on. He also has some new magic porcelain that for once he didn't make himself. Some decide to be Capital "A" artists after 3 clay lessons at the Community Center. Robin waited over half a century with thousands and thousands of pounds of clay under his nails. This what ya call having a strong foundation to build on. All the best ole buddy and may your brush be long, pointed and active for another half century. Your coffin will be made out of 100 year old oak. We will plant the tree this summer! All the very best on your B-Day!!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch

Usually when I go to teach a workshop I throw some shirts, and extra pair of jeans, a sweater,some gotchies and my shaving kit in a back pack. I check the 4 essentials mentioned in the subject line and I'm out the door. I'm good to go! It is true I usually forget something but I get by. Well, Sheila is co-teaching our course at La Meridiana in Tuscany and we're packing to live there for eternity. It's Wednesday and we've already packed 3 suitcases and we don't leave till Friday.
Mother Nature threw a bit of a curve ball at us with this Iceland volcano but it appears the gang are en route now and we will be mudslinging, wood and soda firing under a Tuscan sky for 2 glorious weeks. Old George said he'd look after the house, mow the lawn, collect the mail etc, etc if I brought him home a cute young Italian chick. George you're 88 for God's sake you should curb that appetite.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heavy Metal

It appears that glossy/shiny,smooth is functional and matte, dry, crusty is art. I unloaded our glaze firing the other day and thought maybe I'd do a quick firing of some pots without glaze and cool them in reduction. I fired quickly to Cone 9 and turned the burners off, closed the damper until there was only a small opening for flame to pass thru and left all 8 pilots on. I fired down to 1450. Our clay body on it's own wasn't all that interesting however I did like the gun metal black of the pots sprayed with laterite. I do like the texture of the stamping on the unglazed ware. Sometime glazes can pool and break to give a beautiful texture but leaving the surface alone made them almost metal like.
Please excuse the commercial handles but I wanted to show ya the reduction coooooool and I'm pacing the floors worrying about my teaching in Italy. Usually I'm very fond of lots of ash.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dirty Work

When I first unpacked my new Thomas Stuart wheel I referred to it as the Cadillac of wheels since I was sooooooo enamoured by it's sexy powder coated blue paint job. Well I've been driving it for the past few days and the view I get is the box of a Ford F-150 pick up. The F-150 has been America's most popular pickup for decades and for good reason. It's a workin' person's pickup. Not a shiny new SUV with all the bells and whistles that never gets used.
On my travels across America to USU in Utah I loved the drive from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Little America just on the Utah border. The Great Divide is one of the most wild and breathtakingly beautiful spots on earth. Women wear Stetsons (I was going to say cowboy hats) and the trucks actually have dents in them and their boxes are filled with welding equipment, pipes, generators and they are perhaps pulling a trailer of horses. Trucks for a purpose. I love things that work and people that work hard.
I trimmed 17 plates and 16 yunomi's this morning and the bed of my Thomas Stuart had room for more payload. Now that is a truck!!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Chick Magnet

I took my neighbour 88 year old George out to a stag last night for a few wobbly pops. Here is a pic of George with my neighbour and her two good looking daughters. They're both nurses so George had heard rumours over his life time that we might be in for a wild evening. We had a few pops and went home early to watch the hockey game. Memory has so much more to offer than hope.
I was the DD so that let George have a few. I think he was glad to get out for a while. I wonder if he got kissed when he got home?????

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Honey Wagon

One of the thrills of rural living is a septic system. It is one of the reasons I have declared a war on the Chinese Elms on our property. The root system can plug up the tile bed. I've had a septic system almost all my life. When the kids were young there was a sign above the toilet that read " Yellow is mellow and brown goes down". City kids are used to blowing their nose or having a small squirt and flushing. Not if you have a septic system. Keep the lid down if all ya got to do is cover a squirt. The guy came in the honey wagon to pump our tank and I got to tell ya he looked cleaner than I do on a good day. At $239 for 10 minutes work it ain't a bad paying gig. What do you answer at a cocktail party when someone asks you what you do for a living?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


When my old buddy Frank Tucker sold his Cone Art Kiln Company to Shimpo he was in pretty tight with the boys in Japan. They were about to launch this silent but deadly weapon called the Whisper. Frank asked a few of his potter buddies what they would ask for in a new wheel. I responded- a decent splash pan, a better bat pin system and make the splash pans the colours of Sherill ribs- red, blue, green, yellow, pink etc. Go to pottery classes and count the man to woman ratio. Woman like fashion, women like colour and they are your customers. Well you can see how much they listened to me.
So at least my Thomas Stuarts are a nice powder coated green and blue. I still think the neon splash pans would be a HUGE marketing advantage.
I love bats. I have ever since I went to a workshop by legendary potter- Harry Davis. He threw everything on bats and said plainly-"Why build in distortion????"On a visit some many years ago to the studio of Hillsdale, Ontario potter Robin Hopper I saw the bat system that would make me a million dollars. A pin in the center of the wheel and one 2 inches out. This way you can have 4 inch bats. Want to make a porcelain saucer- you don't have to use a 12 inch bat. I bought a sheet of marine plywood and cut 4" bats. So outta a sheet of plywood ya get 288 bats. That's a lot of bats. How could you store 288 12" bats and how much would they cost? Oh yeah, mine remained square and I tell people don't watch the bat watch your clay.
PS: Frank bought back his kiln company from Shimpo and hey that blue colour that he is sporting on those double wall kilns is pretty dang sexy. Why did ya buy it? I liked the colour!!!!! Someone's listening!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Powder Coated Caddy

Well my new powder coated Royal blue Caddy arrived today. I have been driving a Chrysler Pacifica for the past twenty years and it has given me good service. I knew that changes in technology were giving better speeds at the foot pedal but the wheels always seemed to be designed by engineers with no never mind to what potters need. When I tried the Thomas Stuart wheel at Metchosin International School of the Arts and found out it was actually designed by a potter I lusted for one.
Here's why I like it.
1.The splash pan- what mental midget designed the splash pans on the other wheels? Trim one or two cups and it's full with a ball of clay thrashing it's way between the wheel head and the pan. Garbage!!!!! Surely they never asked a potter!
2. The removable wheel head- pop off the wheel head and take the pan off to empty the clay in the reclaim or hose it down outside.
3. The Randall cup- I have used the Randall plaster bat system for making plates,platters and bowls for years. Plates just pop off the plaster and are ready to trim.
So I got the 1/2 hp Revolution model since I don't plan to throw more than 100 lbs at a go, the optional cup wheel head, the plastic mold for pouring plaster in to make the plaster bats and the SSX drive system on the foot pedal for a reaaaaaaaaaal slow turn.
One time a friend of mine asked me what kind of car to buy. I knew a lot about cars and told her what to consider. When I next asked what car she bought she said " A Ford Pinto". I said what the heck did you do that for????? She said "I liked the colour!" Well, I do like this powder coat paint job on my new TS ride!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Old Bull

Here is a story I tell all of my students so that they may be in this craft for the long run.
There was an old bull and a young bull standing on a hill looking out over a pasture of many beautiful heifers. The young bull says to the old bull "Let's run down the hill and make it with one of those beautiful heifers!" The old bull replies "Let's walk down have a cool drink of water and make it with them all!!!"
Here are a couple of coffee cups that I still use in my studio. One if wood fired by Ryan Mormeceo(sp?) and the other salted by Andrew Kellner. They both use Leach treadle wheels in their studio. So glad the Old Bull slowed them down a tad. Remember a life in this craft is a marathon not a 100 yard dash.
Here is current plate of Ryan's that my daughter bought for me at Distill Gallery in Toronto. I like that the plate references where Ryan lives amongst the urban landscape of Toronto. They do make the Old Bull proud.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Door's a Jar

The door that Bruce Cochrane chose to open for his show this year was a jar. Bruce referenced his love of Han Dynasty ware. His show had massive multi sectioned thrown jars, jars built in press moulds and my personal favourites were jars within jars( his variation of double wall throwing except better and much more clever). The big ceramic collectors had already been there and the red dots were many. Glad I bought Bruce when prices weren't more than the replacement value of my little Toyota pickup.
I have been in Toronto twice in two days at shows. Thursday night was the Sheridan third years show at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art. I got there in time to take pics of three students work and then all hell broke loose. The room filled with parents, spouses, students, alumni, collectors, friends, patrons of ceramics and I know almost all of them. With the room full I didn't get any more pics so I decided I couldn't show their show on my blog without having all 9 of them. I can tell ya this- it looked fantastic and they did the lineage of Sheridan alumni proud. There will be more shows in their careers and I'll be there.
Here is a pic of 4 alumni at Bruce's show- Bunny Safari( no I'm not making that name up), Mandy Potter(that name either), Andrew Kellner and Dawn Pettigrew. All still in the game for the loooooooooooong haul.

Friday, April 9, 2010

You know me!

You should pour yourself a glass of grape and sit down and look at the Yunomi Show at AKAR Gallery. AKAR is the most successful online gallery on the planet North America. I love Iowa City, Iowa! I have been to a couple of wood fire conferences there. It is a great college town but let's face it, Iowa City is not the center of the cultural universe. It's smack dab in the middle of a corn field and yet this gallery sells shows out. It is the potter's choice of galleries. They have a soft spot for vessels and if ya want some nice pots cruise their website. It's always current, interesting and instant.
The Yunomi show opened this morning April 9TH and it is 2/3 sold out by noon today. By the end of the weekend probably a 1000 yunomi's will be sold. Mine were gone by 10 this morning. I have more if anyone out there is interested. Just e-mail me and I'll send pics.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Big Shoes

The word is out that Bruce Cochrane is retiring after a landmark 30 years at the helm as the Head of Ceramics at Sheridan College. He is having a 30 Years Show at David Kaye Gallery in Toronto. If you look back at my last post to my blog you’ll see a large platter on the wall behind Sheila. It has thick slip trails and finger wipes. This is Bruce 1982. The double walled jar is Bruce 2010. I must confess that Bruce is my favourite potter on the face of the earth. We have more of his work than anyone’s in our collection. Everything from e-ware, to porcelain to stoneware ,majolica, salt, soda, reduction, wood fire is always top drawer. What has always amazed me about Bruce is his humility. He never gets out an I-phone, computer or cards to show you his work. He always has a question about you and your work. He doesn’t need to parade like a cock rooster. The underground network of potters know of his work and his legacy as a top notch maker and educator. Whoever takes over for Bruce at Sheridan has some rather LARGE shoes to fill. I’m having a rather difficult time imaging him not there.

Non believers

I put the word out and asked you to show me your kiln gods and kiln devils. Only Tracey Broome sent me her raku sacrificial lama. Maybe the raku folks inhaled when they were young like I did. I'm so superstitious about my kiln gods I have a horseshoe and a helmet from the Koren war on our wood kiln. The kiln is named Cassius Clay as it floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. I have needed the luck and the helmet when the wood is wet and the weather foreboding.
Just so you don't think I actually do sacrifice lambs and virgins before each firing I thought I'd show the book I just read after Christmas- R. Crumb's The Book of Genesis. This was the hardest read I've suffered thru in a looooooong time. The illustrations are the work of a genius.