Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What keeps love alive?

I usually get great response to my blog posts when people think I am quitting pottery, reconsidering marriage, or best of all pointing a finger at the cookie cutter potters.  They think I’m pointing at them. So I thought maybe if I tackled the age old question of “What keeps love alive?” I might see a large increase in readership.
Many of my friends out there are thinking what the hell does he know about love? Truth is- not much! I’m still learning. What I have studied is pots and that is the comparison I’m going to draw. How do you keep your work alive and your love of making it? It has to be the attention to details, the unexpected, the trying something new or something old but with a new twist. Doing that little bit more even when you don’t have to.
Doing the same thing in the same way at the same time has got to be the kiss of death in love or  in pots. Perhaps that is why I have always maintained a wood kiln as my mistress. She is very demanding of me but she is always full of surprises and I like to surprise her. I always bring something special to our very hot and sweaty love affair.  If I don’t give her enough foreplay she just won’t allow us to reach temperature or something like that.
I’ve been working hard of late and so I thought I would make a nice chicken stir fry, relax and read a book tonight. This afternoon I had started a special hand building surprise for my darlin'  
and after dishes I found myself back in the studio where a couple of hours went happily by. Now for this little love letter and off to bed. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Monday, March 30, 2015

So you want to be a potter that drives a Lexus?


So you want to make money making pots!
Well for starters stop reading this blog and go to your studio and get some work done. Then secondly if you have to take a break and read a blog for heaven’s sake don’t read mine. I just made 8 big rolls and put 48 handles on them. Now that I am on this double handle craze it meant 6 pulled handles for each roll. Is that any way to drive a Lexus? With these articulated forms the rolls don’t actually need handles at all. I pick them up under the belly of the pot. I have made one brilliant decision and that is that they won’t be wood fired. These ones are destined for the gas kiln. A nice big canvas for me to practice my brush work. Besides the thought of wadding the lids just puts these over the top for the most given unused wedding gift of all time. I swear nobody uses the dang things. They sit somewhere and look pretty. I call it a visual function. That way I can still call them functional vessels. Ten pound roll, 4 pound lid,  fill it with mac and cheese and you got yourself a  grunt coming out of the oven.

48 handles later

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Cactus Lounge

Last night people were out looking for the heart of Saturday night. It's time to party, go out for dinner, go to a show or get out of the house. For me the heart of Saturday night is staying home at The Cactus Lounge, making some pots and listening to Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap and then Holger Peterson's Saturday Night Blues on CBC radio. I made 8- 10 lb rolls and their lids. Better to make money than spend it. Then what could be better than Sunday morning. I get up early and walk downtown to Johnny's Restaurant for my breaky. It's two eggs over easy, bacon, brown toast, coffee and a orange juice. There is no garnish of twirled oranges, greenery or a side of fruit. It's your basic heart attack on a plate and Mrs. Johnny delivers a newspaper to my table, a coffee and breakfast will be ordered without me having to say a word. Then I walk home to finish the rolls and listen to Sunday morning CBC with Micheal Enwright. I love this program as it is my University of the airwaves. I am always engaged listening to so many brilliant people. Life's small pleasures are often what mean the most. It is not the big events of one's life that often bring a smile to your face.
One small event for me was one morning before sunrise lighting the firebox of my large two chamber kiln. I heard an owl screech and a rabbit scream. Then at sunrise my neighbour Clarence saw and smelled the smoke from the chimney. He came over with a coffee, a warm egg sandwich and a roll your own cigarette of Drum tobacco. I always had a pre-firing smoke with Clarence. Then while we stood there on CBC radio came Joe Cocker and Jennnifer Warnes singing "Up Where We Belong". I knew it was going to be a dang fine firing. That small memory is 25 years old.
No dream is too big!
No dreamer too small!

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Here is a bowl in my collection that was a gift from Ryogi Maysumiya in Northern Japan. The bowl was a gift to him from his friend the Emperor of Korea's daughter who is his friend.  I did a one month residency at this pottery and one night he got out his collection of Yi dynasty Korean rice bowls used in Japan for tea. We were allowed to hold them but only about an 1" above a cloth table. I made the unpardonable mistake of drooling all over this one. I love hakeme and this one has these beautiful little orange blossoms that show in the kaolin slip. One night on my way to do a shift on the noborigama Ryogi handed me a wooden box and said "Tony, you love this bowl more than I do! This is a gift to you. Man you could have knocked me over with a sparrow fart at this unbelievable act of kindness, thoughtfulness and generousity. I later found out you are supposed to be too complimentary or they feel obliged to give it to you as a gift. I am now worried he will visit and I might have to give him my first born.
I don't know if this bowl is worth $10, $100 or $10,000 dollars. I held it tonight on my lap and dreamed of my upcoming trip to Korea. I leave next month. I am so excited!!!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Skyrocketing to the bottom!

I wear this silver pin of the Avro Arrow on my sports jacket. It could use some polish but so could I. The Avro Arrow was the most advanced fighter plane ever produced in Canada. My dad worked for Avro. The government of the day scrapped that plane and urban legend says there is one hidden at the bottom of Lake Erie. A friend wrote me and told me how lucky I was. I answered "Yes in 35 years I have skyrocketed to a wage under the national average. " He answered it takes focus and perseverance to be successful. On the same day I had a potter friend phone me and she wanted to throw in the towel. Working too hard for too little money and no time to play. What do I answer? There are those that want to make pots and there are those of us that need to make pots! I get crabby if I don't make pots for more than a week. I tried it this year in Cuba and found myself sketching pots and dreaming of what to do when I got home. Yes, there are days when I am lonely and you my congregation are who I preach to in order to get out of the studio. Cary called me a preacher so I might as well live up to it. Hey somebody pass the collection plate around will ya? Pots are what I know and love. They are what defines me. I have maintained no one else would hire me anyways since I have a resume covered from top to bottom in mud. If you can think of something you'd rather do then I suggest you do it. Unless it is become a poet then you will probably make more money for less work. If you are like me I suggest you will be damn crabby in no time at all. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. Fight,
big fighter, fight!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

WARNING! Beware of this man!

For those of you enjoying the friendship of NCECA in Baltimore I send you out this warning. Sitting in a bar near you is this man who poses as a friendly, lovable, all time great guy. He is a rat! He came to Canada for a workshop at Pinecroft Centre for the Arts and hit on our young women. He is wanted here in Canada and is known far and wide as Ronnie the Rat.
If you see Ronnie the Rat go up and tell him to share the women and buy him a George Dickle with one ice for me. Have a great time everyone. Wish I was there with y'all!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I'm a fraud!

At the NCECA conference panel last year entitled "Where have all the potter's gone?" Mark Hewitt made the pronouncement that a full time potter is one that makes pots full time. A friend Chiho said to me afterwards "Hey Tony you're not a full time potter!" Whadda ya mean says I? You don't make pots full time. You teach and you do workshops. You make pots for others. You don't make your own pots full time. Hey Chiho you are right and guess what? I don't enjoy making pots alone all day, seven days a week. I like people and I ain't got a water cooler to stand at and talk to someone.
I do the damnest things to make it harder for me. Take these bowls with handles for example. They would probably be good sellers as bowls but then I have to go and put these overhead handles on them to turn them into baskets. I call them flower baskets. Not many would buy them for the reason of displaying flowers.
I do a lot of other things to subsidize my wood fire pots.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Potter's Dilemma

Many years ago I read the book by the other TC- Tom Coleman entitled "The Potter's Dilemma". That book still resonates with me today .How does a potter make a decent living making good pots? I posted some teapots on my blog the other day. Bless you all for your positive comments and interest. Trouble is that I have so few pots and so many places I'd like them to go. It's not that I am lazy but the process I have chosen is so labour intensive.  I need to look good in Korea, in Wales, at a wood fire show in Hamilton in June at The Store, a retrospective and invitational of my old teacher Roger Kerslake and then I have a feeling my back is going to be to the wall for the show in Rochester with all the big shots of ceramics in upper NY.
I have a making problem not a marketing problem. How can I make enough pots and do all the other clay related things that I do? Pick something up and you have to put something down. Every workshop I do takes another week out of my clay making. The workshops though are my social life and some security from month to month. Knowing I have a workshop in April is a comfort. I need to feel the same comfort with having a room full of pots ready for market. Right now I'm making some jugs for an anagama firing with my wood fire group. Pick something up and ya got to put something down.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The leaves have fallen!

We unloaded the wood kiln yesterday to a chorus of oooooooooohs and ahhhhhhhhhhhhs! There were some spectacular pots in the kiln. Every zone in the kiln was really well reduced and HOT!  What still continues to surprise me about the ride that Donovan Palmquist built is how beautiful the pots are at the back of the kiln. Ordinarily there is a longing to own the prime real estate near the bag wall. Yes this is still a nice piece of land to occupy but the pots at the  back get ash on their back sides since the flame has to circle back and go to the front of the kiln once again to enter the flues that run underneath the chamber. When you place a teapot and ya think I want ash on the spout so I should face it to the firebox you are wrong. With this kiln you get it front and back.
Here are some of my teapots. Same glaze on two different clays. One clay is iron rich and the other is a Helmer kaolin body. I am a one glaze man so the two clays give me some variation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Last Waltz

I was shuffling thru my I-Photo library and I came across some photos and some memories of my friend Robin "Grass" Hopper's last workshop. I had invited him to do a workshop at Sheridan College. It was the last of 3 he had done in 2 weeks. It also proved to be the last one he would do. He has warned me against burn out and I know what he talks of. The difference is that Grass attracted people by the hundreds. I attract 13 winos and a troll. My workshops are much more casual events unlike the big stage of Canada's biggest rock star. I will experience the big stage this May at the Icheon Ceramics Festival in Korea and then again at the International Ceramics Festival in Aberystwyth, Wales. I know I will receive counsel from Grass before I head out.
 If you are quietly working away in your studio making pots out of the limelight of Broadway don't sweat it. Your stress level is lower and you're still dancing.  I've found dancing alone isn't all that bad and nobody laughs at my awkward moves.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tired dawgs!

With all the energy of being with the group this weekend I thought I'd go into the studio the day after the firing and tear into a pile of clay. Well, truth is that I ache where I used to play. I caught up on some household stuff and napped, did some banking and napped, made supper and napped. I found myself in my favourite resting place dosing off. I did get as far as putting my studio shoes on. They never made it downstairs to go to work.
I really should re-read my book and remind myself of the story of the Old Bull and the Young Bull. When this old bull decides it lovin' time I'll do the work of 10 young bulls. I haven't lost my work ethic, my focus or my mind. Actually I drew some images yesterday that I am making today. Tempted to head over to the kiln and melt a flashlight trying to get a sneak preview. No, get to work young man!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dream team!

We fired the big bourry box this weekend. I had the dream team of women stay at my house.  I'm pooped but can't sleep with the energy of the week end. My frig is full of groceries and the wine cellar is full to overflowing. We had a surprise visit by our friend Dr. Yi who brought a grill, the beer and cooked her homemade sausages for our lunch. You're probably tired of hearing this but I am blessed with so much love and friendship. We went with the walnut for the firing because of the love of the colour of the ash but it did try to kick our ass. I had bought some insurance with a pick up load of kiln dried hardwood flooring scraps and we hit the walnut with a left jab, a body punch and the big right hook as the knock out punch. Down went Cone 11 top, bottom, middle and back. A former boxer sizes up the opponent and goes into the fight with a plan and a secret weapon. Our kiln "Cassius Clay" floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Now we wait until Friday to unload. Sleep tight me

ladies. Ya dun good!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Grass altered my mind

A few years back when I was Temporary Acting Head of Ceramics at Sheridan I had Robin "Grass"Hopper do a workshop. He was and is my old friend and mentor. At that workshop he handed me his quiver of brushes that he used on the road. He nor I knew this was to be his last workshop.    Burn out had taken it's toll on a potter that was more prolific than 10 good potters. I had always maintained that if I wanted kill a pot just put a brush in my hand. Grass also said I needed a passive income and that I should publish my book of lies and horseshit. It has been a million seller. I have a million in the cellar. At the last minute before publishing I picked up the quiver of brushes and started sketching pots. I loved doing it for the first time in my life. Had Grass altered my brain? Had Grass passed his energy thru the brushes to me? Had his now shaky hand taken hold my free hand and guided it

 ? Now the decorating makes me look forward to glazing.
I got some flack for using the maple leaf as such a tight symbol on my loose work. I think though that the pots are becoming more tight and controlled to enable me to paint on them. So I did some and some. Some vinyl resist and some brushwork. The wood firing this weekend will be the judge and jury. I made 50 little soju cups to take to Korea and the rice bowls will be stacked inside of each other just like a couple of Korean bowls that I own and love to use. Hey Grass since I have always followed your sound advice I did mix the iron with tin 50/50 for chestnut but I used yellow iron instead of RI0. I kinda wish it would stay school bus yellow. Thanks dude!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Well hung!

I just hung my meat low and to the right. That the meat hangs a bit crocked actually pleases me. This is the view from my reading chair. I don't own a TV and haven't watched one for over a year. I don't miss it at all. I did  like to watch the odd Leaf's game but so I hear the Leaf's are falling and it is only spring. I often stare at my David Fleming Windsor chair. This chair hand made on a treadle lathe is one of the nicest forms to look at. Painted pumpkin orange under the black it shows where my hands and feet have touched it. To the right under the poster of a younger me is a ladder back made by my cousin Brenda's Uncle Charles. I rescued that chair from the pottery where it held the kiln door open. I think it may have once been a rocker as it sits rather low. The other Windsor is from Pennsylvania when I visited Allison and Blair for the Torpedo Workshop. I started collecting canes when I was in my early twenties. Why???????? I don't know!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Poop is Brown!

I have had a couple of brown firings of late. In the words of John Neely there is no colour worse than brown except shiny brown. I had shiny brown in spades. With the brown shino I applied some masking tape, heated up the pots and wiped on some very thick white shino and did some brush work. With some pots that I fired in the Hamilton Potters Guild Manibigama I had tried straight laterite. Man were they an ugly brown!!! Poop brown of the worst colour. I took them and reheated them and dipped them in shino. I love the marshmellow surface with chocolate sprinkles. A younger me would have taken the hammer to all this work. I don't seem to be making as many pots as I used to so I tried to make diamonds out of poop. I'm pretty happy with the results. This poop doesn't smell so bad


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Life is good!

I have my seven wood fire women coming to stay at the man cave this week for our big firing. We are going to do battle with walnut again since I loved the soft yellow ash. It is cut finer so hopefully coaling won't be as big an issue. I have 1/3 ash as a back up.  Since all are staying here a bit of life is a nice touch in the house. Nice smelly lilies in my Robin "Grass" Hopper parabolic bottle, some anthurium in an old reduction cooled box of mine and a red rose with leave handles inspired by my teapot handles in a small puncheong bottle by Young Chol of Korea. It has been such a brutal winter the flowers in the house have picked up my spirits. Friends Stoner and Lise are coming to stay tonight so oysters, calamari and shrimps laid out on plates of snow are our appetizers. Hey Grass you can't do that in your daffodil bed!!!! I got all these goodies on my Master Card points. The Riesling is chilling in a snow bank. Life is good for those that know that life is good!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Reconsidering Marriage

I was lying on the beach in Cuba with a rum filled coconut by my side (Coco Loco). I was a couple of days away from having unloaded the worst pots of my life from the HPG wood kiln. In this weakened state, I was reconsidering marriage.  I was thinking once again of the marriage of old and new technologies. The marriage of a guy that loves making things by hand and a partnership with the technology that is so available these days. For a decade I made a living from doing paper resist cut out leaf patterns with cobalt or a copper slip under a carbon trap shino glaze. It was a good horse to ride and had more miles of life in it but for me the horse was dead and time to get off. At that time I looked into a digital paper cutter. They were over $10,000 and out of the question for this cowboy.  So now with the popularity of cataloguing as a hobby you can buy a paper cutter for just over $200. On the beach I thought I would look into them when I got home so that I might cut vinyl images to put on bisque to resist glaze for the wood kiln.  Leave more clay showing had been my own advice to the mentees and I had not followed it. I also thought I am going to Korea, Wales and Italy this year and I am going to show my pride in Canada. Yes, the good ole maple leaf is one of the most recognizable images in the world. Yaaaaaaaaaa, Canada!  Yes, it is literal imagery but one that I can stand proud behind. The maple leaf forever! I wore a maple leaf on my back pack some 40 years ago when I hitch hiked around Europe.
So next day on a bus trip to Havana I met this guy from Hamilton, Ontario that guess what???????? He and his wife have a company that cuts vinyl digitally. Bingo! Voila! Holy shit! Hot damn!  I just rolled a 7. I’m busy getting some pots ready to fire in the big bourry box next week with 7 of my wood fire women. I read today that a mentor is more important than classes. That is a BIG responsibility. I gotta find a higher gear to shift into. They’re gaining on me.:)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Frozen Cones

Have you ever fired a wood kiln and had temperature but the dang cones refuse to bend? I call it frozen cones. Sometimes I think it is the cone pack is behind a pot or perhaps too close to the peep. Wood kilns do strange things to cones. I have even seen them go over backwards to reach for the flame. This is a scene from Pinecroft Centre for the Arts today. The small electric kiln is covered in ice, the wood shed caved in under snow load and the studio is hidden behind piled snow from the driveway. Cones have to good sense to say "I'm f

rozen!" Robin "Grass" Hopper was so smug today as to tell me of his bloody daffodils blooming and the magnolia about to burst into bloom.
I am busy getting ready for 7 of my wood fire women to come next week and fire the kiln. When the going gets tuff the tuff get going.