The Last Firing?

Laurie Erdman potteryTomorrow we are loading the kiln for my long delayed wood-firing.  I’ve got a lot of pots and am really excited about the results.  However, there is a cloud looming over this firing.  I am wondering if this will be my last firing. You see, I no longer have a place to bisque fire (the initial firing for those non-clay fans). I wonder what is a potter without a kiln?

The Back Story

In 2010, I found refuge in the studio, as I wrote about in Studio Potter and this blog.  Being with the mud helped sustain me as I absorbed the news of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Ironically, the time I spent making pots that year gave me time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  A question I could no longer delay.  There was a time when all I wanted to do was make pots.  In 2009 and 2010, I did everything I could to make that happen.

But in those many hours at the wheel, something shifted.  It had nothing to about the pots.  But as I changed my life in response to my diagnosis, I wondered if trying to make a living from pots was wise.  As you may know, making pots is physical work, especially wood-firing.  And it doesn’t exactly cover health care.  So I questioned my future as I made pot after pot.  What was supposed to do?

At the same time, I was changing my diet. My long-standing passion for nutrition was beginning to take shape in my own body. The results with my own health were so astounding that I began to wonder if I should share my knowledge with others.

At the end of 2010, after my last wood-firing, I enrolled in school. I had realized at that point that pottery was not my future, at least not as a profession.  I remember being drawn to help others in college.  At the time, I answered that call by becoming a lawyer.  The call had returned, but this time as a health coach.  Honestly, I realized the world didn’t need another half-baked potter, or another lawyer for that matter.

As a result, I spent far less time in the studio in 2011.  I was studying, holding down a corporate job, launching a coaching practice and trying to keep my health in tip top shape.  The prior year I made over 300 pots (not bad for a part-timer).  But in 2011, I made just over 100 (actually not bad for all that I had going on).  Unfortunately not everyone in my community studio understood the shift in my priorities.

Where’s the Love?

Coming to the studio in 2011 was far less pleasant than in 2010. I still loved making pots, but I much preferred working with no one else around. The connection I had had with my studio mates had been broken when pots were no longer my singular focus.

The energy of studio had also changed for me.  I wasn’t getting what I needed there.    Some community studios are tight.  They socialize. They hang out.  They bring casseroles when someone is sick.  This was not that kind of group.  Maybe it’s the fact that so many of us are also professionals with busy day jobs.  But the fact is, closeness wasn’t fostered, and maybe even discouraged.  Someone could be gone for a month and no one would ever check to see how they were doing.  With so much going on in my life, I needed support.  I had to look elsewhere. (Please note, I adore every one of my now former studio mates.  I just needed more out of the community.)

So as summer was winding down I began to contemplate leaving.  The challenge was how would I bisque fire my pots.  While my home “studio” had a wheel, I didn’t have a working kiln. I do have a used kiln sitting in my garage, but it has yet to be tested.  I am grateful for my friend who is patiently waiting for payment while I get the funds to run the electrical to my garage so I can test the kiln.  But having quit my day job to pursue coaching full-time, extra funds haven’t been available for that investment.  What’s a potter without a kiln?

Then three weekends ago, after talking with a studio mate, I was 80% in the camp of staying and trying to work things out.  Maybe if I put more into the studio, it would give more back. And bisque firing would remain a non-issue.

The Universe Had Another Idea

I had clearly not heeded the message from the Universe.  The studio energy I had felt during 2011 came to a head a few days later in a silly misunderstanding that no question I was supposed to leave.  So last weekend I finished glazing for this firing and moved all of my stuff to my basement “studio.”  Laurie Erdman

Once this kiln is unloaded and prepared for sale, I will be a potter without a kiln.  How does a potter not have a kiln?

It’s a Sale!

Well, like all potters do, I need to raise the funds. How does a potter raise funds?  They sell pots.

So from today through September 30th 2011, everything in my Etsy shop is 40% off with this coupon code: KILNSALE.

Any help you can provide me to getting my pottery mojo back is greatly appreciated.

You may wonder why bother since pottery is not my profession?  Because it sustains me.  And because my pots bring joy to others.  That’s enough for me.

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Wall Flower: Toying with Wall Art

I’m headed back to the studio today.  As much as I am looking forward to getting on the wheel, my find is focusing on the Laurie Erdman potteryslab roller.

The slab roller is not my natural choice for pottery tools.  The wheel is where I am at home.  Yet, I can’t get the idea of tiles, or more maybe more appropriate – wall sculpture – out of mind.

The seed was first planted at the Smithsonian Crafts Show a few years ago when I saw Natalie Blake‘s sculptural wall tiles.  I loved the undulation of the tiles and how they came together to make a scene or could stand on their own.

I then saw a Japanese-style platter of Catherine White‘s.  It had been fired in her anagama and was incredibly rich in color and texure.  I found myself drawn to the flat surface as a canvas.  Yet, I also found myself thinking back to Natalie’s tiles. There had to be a way to combine the two things I was most drawn to in each of these potter’s work.

That notion has been rolling around in my mind for almost 2 years now.  I have yet to really act on the ideas, much less sketch them out. The only thing that is certain is that they will be wood fired.  I can’t see it any other way.

I did let myself experiment a bit with going flat last fall when I made a few pocket vases like the one above.  I was worried as hell that the piece would warp and come apart in the kiln.  So it was a test of firing integrity for sure.  It turns out, they held up just fine even with a pretty thin backing. Even with the success of this test, I have yet to explore the ideas that marinate in my imagination.

Why haven’t I acted?  I think it is because I have been so wedded to the idea of functional and utilitarian pottery.  Can I really go non-functional?  Can I really go sculptural, since that is more what is in my mind’s eye?  I have hesitated.  I don’t think of myself as that kind of artist (whatever that means).  I am unsure of myself going down that road. Where will it lead? Yet I feel the pull.  And my mind’s eye certainly keeps going back there.

The pull got stronger this weekend.  While glazing some bowls for an upcoming fundraiser, a couple of my studio mates began talking tiles.  Having never made a tile, I stopped glazing and pulled up a chair.  The ideas that I had shoved to the back of mind, bounced right back.

So as I head to the studio today, I will give in.  I will make friends with the slab roller and experiment with the vision I have. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

Keep imagining,


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A Dandy Good Time

Dandy Blend

I have been raking my brain for something to write about.  Since, it’s been a while since I have been in the studio, I was coming up empty for something to share with you this Tuesday.

My writer’s block was exacerbated by the fact that I spent 4 days at “Food as Medicine”, a wonderful class about the healing power of food. It was by far the best class/conference I have been to.  However, since I am not used to sitting in air conditioning all day, or even sitting all day, I am exhausted.  And there was so much information delivered that I am still trying to absorb it all.  Suffice to say, I am one tired puppy.

So I went downstairs, looking for a pick me up.  Since I gave up coffee a few years ago, pouring myself an aromatic brew wasn’t an option.  But I have recently discovered a delicious alternative.  It’s called Dandy Blend. It’s a mixture or chicory, dandelion root, and roasted barley.  While a recent taste test with a friend of mine confirms that it’s not quite a perfect substitute, it was deemed a good substitute. A good way to help you break your coffee/caffeine habit.

Because of the dandelion root, it helps keep your detox pathways working properly.  And yes, that is a very good thing, especially for those of that do come in contact with heavy metals.

I like to drink mine strong, mixed with almond milk and a touch of stevia or agave.  Here is my special brew in a Matt Hyleck tea bowl.  Because Dandy Blend should be enjoyed in the beauty of a handmade cup.

Inspiration finds itself in the most mundane of tasks.

What do you use as a pick me up? I invite you to share your ideas below.

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A Creative Assessment of 2011

A Road Less TraveledI began 2011 with my goals firmly focused on building my coaching practice. At the same time, I wondered where making pots would fit into my year. At the time, I wasn’t too sure. As we approach the mid-year point, I look back at my journey and forward to my dreams.

The Desert

The year started with a bit of rush to make pots for a February wood-firing. But the pressure (and weather) were a bit much. So I postponed the firing to spring.  I then quickly realized that wouldn’t work either. My focus was off the pot. So I decided to scale back and go with one firing this year.

That means that I postponed my long making sessions, resulting in a bit of a barren desert for my pottery loving soul.  Yes, I’ve gotten into the studio on occasion and worked on new forms as I have chronicled here and here and here. But each session in the studio was focused on making a few pots here and there and practicing for the Gulf Coast Clay Conference.

I’m not complaining.  My choices at the beginning of the year led to this circumstance. But this approach concerns me for several reasons. First, talk about all your eggs in one basket. Wow – one firing for the entire year!  I now know a bit how the Japanese felt.

Second pottery keeps me centered, as I have written about. So how do I stay centered with all that’s going on if I’m not getting into the studio?

Mother Nature to the Rescue

Making pots is one way I connect with nature. I hesitate saying that because it seems a lot of potters  say this.  But it is true for me.  The feel of the clay in my hands. The forms as they come to life, inspired by the outside world. The colors. The flame dancing around the mud, hardening it into something solid and permanent.  All of it calls to my spiritual connection with nature.

The spiritual sustenance, I gain from making pots and from being outside, all seem so intertwined. It is this spiritual connection that I have been hesitant to give up this year as I focus on other things.  One doesn’t just walk away from their church. Yet I know I found my artistic voice in the only break I had from clay in the last 8 years. So I am hopeful that this break will bring new and better perspective to my work.

A few months ago, while sitting on the wild and woolly east end of St. John, it occurred to me that spending time in nature would honor my spirit and fuel my artistic inspiration when I couldn’t get to the wheel. That week, I soaked up the sun and explored the under world of the Caribbean with all its spectacular colors and shapes. I felt content and grounded.  Not unlike my feeling when at the wheel.

More recently, I have been walking around my suburban neighborhood. Mostly there are sidewalks, but some blocks are bisected by an alleyway. I love walking these alleys.  I feel like I am in a different world. Not only do I get to peak into people’s backyards, but I feel like I peak into a different century.  Yards with no fences (seems odd for this So Cal girl), backyard gardens and even bee hives. When I walk these alleys, I don’t know that I am just a few miles from our nation’s capitol. And then there are the trees that line the alleys and the huge dandelions that might might make their way into a green juice or two.

These experiences in nature have helped ground me and inspire me as I have busied myself in my new career. I do miss the studio though. I am looking forward to a return. Maybe even today.

What the Future Holds

My firing is set for September.  I have almost exactly 3 months to prepare. That means I am going to start ramping up my studio time.

This week, I started to contemplate what do I want to do with that kiln space.  Something in Mississippi focused me.  I realized that I wanted to ditch some of my forms.  They just don’t mean that much to me anymore and are no longer fun to make.

I want to focus my next three months on just a few forms. Really perfect them. What’s staying?

  • Definitely my Buddha Bowls.
  • And my dancing pitchers, even though they aren’t particularly big sellers. I love the form and get so much joy from them.
  • Also staying will be the small trinket plates. They ARE big sellers and I love making them.
  • I’ve been making some squarish sandwich plates that I really like.  I’m looking forward to stacking them on sea shells.
  • And of course, I will have to make mugs and teabowls.
  • The new basket form is a must. I realized in MS how much I love the form, even though I have not yet fired it.
  • Teapots of course.  So much work to do on that form.
  • Finally, big bowls.

Beyond this list, I am stumped. Nothing else inspire me.  But I like the idea of consolidating and focusing.  I suspect my work will get better.  Focusing on too much in 3 months seems like a recipe for disaster.  So the future holds lots of focus. Focus. Focus.

The future also holds more nature inspiration as I sneak off to Costa Rica in July 🙂 Who knows how that landscape will creep into my work.

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Gulf Coast Clay Conference: Four Days in Mississippi

Last week I spent four days in Southern Mississippi for the Second Gulf Coast Clay Conference.  The conference was held in Perkinston and Wiggins, MS.

This was my first trip to Mississippi (except for a few hours I spent in Hattiesburg the December before Katrina for a Cal football game).  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but here are a few things I experienced.

The Workshop

Teaching pottery workshops is a lot of fun. You are making pots. You are talking pots.  You are meeting lots of great people who love to make and talk pots.

Workshops are also a lot of work. I was exhausted by the end of day two. Luckily, day three only required me to hang out, watch Pat Bodine (of Bodine Pottery) demonstrate barrel and raku firing, and eat crawfish.  And after two days of being in separate classrooms, I got to spend some time with Randy Brodnax and watch him throw pots.

We are talking about me returning for a week long hands-on workshop about pots as a healing medium.  I will keep you posted.

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The South

The people of Mississippi and the Gulf Coast region are a generous welcoming bunch. They also love their story telling.  It seems that everyone knows everyone here regardless of geography. People in Pensacola, FL know people from Monroeville, AL, as if they are all next door neighbors.

People in the south are natural storytellers.  From Len Blackwell who entertained us during lunch the first day, to just about every participant who attended, Southerners love telling stories.

I was got to experience Southern hospitality.  I was made to feel very welcome. And even though I’m not from the area, I felt at home.

The Geography

It is quite pretty in Southern Mississippi with lots of trees and water.  Yet the imprint of Katrina runs deep in the populous. Almost everyone here lost something, if not everything in Katrina or other hurricanes.  Hurricanes shape the residents and who they are.  They definitely know that you have to let go and not get attached to results.

The Food

Unfortunately, Southern Mississippi is not Louisiana.  On my restricted diet, eating was a challenge.  But on my final day there, I was able to experience a true crawfish boil.  Oh yummy.

I do hope to return and learn more about this region and its people, and maybe even help bring a little healing.  Until then.

Staying centered,

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