Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pottery: Beginnings Part 2- Slip Trailing

Eventually making and selling reproduction folk pottery became not very creatively fulfilling for me. I'm sure, looking at the photos of the work, you can see why. I wanted to find a way for my electric kiln to give me the kind of interesting glazes that a gas kiln gives. That's a tall order and I naively thought I could make it work.

I really enjoyed the slip trailing technique that I learned to replicate the salt glazed crocks and jugs of the 18th and 19th centuries. Slip trailing is a technique of taking liquefied clay and adding a mineral colorant like cobalt and piping it onto the pottery. (Very similar to cake decorating, no?)

In folk pottery slip trailing was done with a simple cup that had a straw sticking out the bottom for a tip. It took great skill to get the beautiful designs you see on old pottery.

I did slip trailing with a Clairol squeeze bottle as my tool.

(Decorating my kitchen tiles with slip trailed cobalt designs. 1994)

I then started using the slip-trailing techniques in a new way.

14" platter

14" wall platter

This set of cannister jars was a commission.

9" bowl

And garden art...

I made short and tall birdbaths....

and hanging ones.

I left behind the craft show days and started doing art fairs and gallery shows.

I loved making this slip-trailed work but it didn't sell very well. I have no clue why.

Which brings up the ages old question of whether an artist/craftsperson should make work they enjoy or work they can sell. It can be very difficult to find that happy middle place of making work you love to make and work that other people love too.

Looking at these photos makes me want to get back in my studio and do some more slip-trailing. Just for fun.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pottery: Beginnings

I'm a potter. Really I am.

I haven't had any pottery posts lately because I haven't spent more than a couple hours in my pottery studio in the last three months. I haven't fired my kiln since last summer. But I'm still a potter. I swear, I'm going to get out in that studio...soon! I have lots of ideas to work on, new directions to go in. I just need an eight day week if someone could work that out for me please. Thanks.

In the mean time, let's climb back into the ol' Time Machine and I'll show you where I started.

My pottery "career," such as it is, started when I was eighteen. My dear friend from school who is a gifted artist had signed up for some classes at the Flint Institute of Arts. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that she was taking sculpture and pottery classes. She encouraged me to take them with her. She had to really twist my arm because I was completely lacking in confidence. I had graduated from a private school where I was given a very good education and I had no plans to go to college. But pottery classes sounded fantastic for someone as talented as Sarah. I could never do something as cool as that. Of course you can, she said. I finally gave in and signed up for the beginning pottery wheel class.

On the first day I waited anxiously for my friend Sarah to show up to class. I was so nervous about taking this class, I couldn't do it without her. She never showed up that first day and she never took the course. To this day she doesn't remember what interfered but for me it was the first jump into the cold waters of independence. I took the course all on my own and loved it. I was good at it without her holding my hand!

One thing always leads to another when you work in crafts, be it pottery, woodcraft, glass work or anything else. If you find yourself drawn to do it enough to acquire some proficiency, you end up selling your work just so you can buy more materials. And the snowball starts rolling.

For several years I continued to take classes and produce pottery at the FIA. During those early years I got married and started having babies. When we moved into our country house I was producing so much work during class that the teacher gently suggested that I needed to have my own studio.

Here goes the snowball. I bought a pottery wheel and set myself up on our unheated enclosed front porch. I hauled unfired greenware to the FIA kilns for firing. That arrangement didn't work for long. When my thirdborn was still a baby I bought an electric kiln and started doing my own firing. Investing money in equipment is a commitment and a huge leap forward. It was time to support my habit by selling more work.

Mind you I was nursing babies and changing diapers, squeezing in wheel time when I could. This was during the 1980's and the trend in decorating was "Country Kitsch." I started doing craft shows in school gymnasiums. Every other booth had tole-painted wooden geese and corny signs to hang in your kitchen.

My electric kiln was utilized for folky reproduction work. Instead of using the glazes from school that I loved so well, I had to change my style and use clay slips for color. This plate is red terracotta clay with a yellow slip and sgraffitto design. They sold very well.

I learned slip trailing and tried to replicate the old salt glazed crocks in my electric kiln with limited success.

These were an exciting commission for me. Someone wanted butter churn sized crocks that they turned into lamps. Their size was a big challenge for me at the time.

These are tiles in quilt patterns that I made for the wall behind our wood stove. I also sold them as trivets. The blue is cobalt slip stenciled onto the clay.

Believe it or not, they were popular.

This is downright embarassing.
I sold a good amount of these folk reproductions wholesale to country craft stores too.

This was my very first set of dinnerware. I managed to sell it too.

A man and his son bought it as a gift for the wife/mom.
I hoped she liked it. I was always afraid that she might have reacted like,
What were you thinking buying me this??

Thus were my humble beginnings selling pottery on the street and in school gymnasiums.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Flipping houses for "fun" and profit

It's still January.

Not much blog fodder around here in January.

I put my daughter and grandson on a plane this morning. Kris flew back to Europe too. Having the big kids gone sucks a lot of excitement out of the daily grind. about we climb back into the old Time Machine and I'll tell you another story from

Our Family: In The Beginning...

This was our first home. It was located in the fabulous metropolis of Flint, Michigan. Yes, the Flint, Michigan made famous by unemployment lines, vacant GM buildings and Michael Somebody.

Living in an economically depressed area does have its advantages. My husband bought this two story, three bedroom, one bath house while we were engaged. He payed $2500 cash for it.

What? No. That is not a typo. I did not leave a zero off that number. He payed two thousand, five hundred dollars for the title to that house. It was downtown on a dead end "street" behind a credit union parking lot and right next to the place where he worked.

The house had been lived in for twenty years by an older lady who didn't do much to keep it up. Mr. Dirtywrench had to spend several months repairing, painting and carpeting the entire place. I won't write here about how I was not consulted at all on the colors or changes to this house. It was his house and he did it all. Really, it was sweet in an old-fashioned kind of way. Kind of like a nineteenth century prairie homesteader getting his cabin built before going into town to find himself a wife to milk the cow and cook up the vittles. We got married and I moved into a mostly finished house. I eventually got used to the blue walls and carpets, the bright yellow kitchen cabinets and orange dining room carpeting.

Hey! It was paid for! No mortgage. I'm not complaining. But guess who picks the paint colors now.

We lived in that house for four years and two babies. Just around the time it became evident that we needed to get out of the city, the credit union that was our neighbor decided they wanted to expand their parking lot. Long story short is that we bought the identical house next door for $5000 and then sold both houses to the credit union for $10,000. Still sounds kind of like the nineteenth century doesn't it? This was 1985.

The credit union then destroyed both houses and expanded their parking lot. We were able to first remove whatever we wanted to salvage like bath tubs and light fixtures and such. What a deal, right?

That $10,000 was then used as the down payment on a house in the country.

We know how to wheel and deal with the best of them donchaknow.

This twelve room farmhouse had a mother-in-law apartment and a price tag of $25,000. All the porches were falling off, the well was dry, the plumbing no good and someone stole the solid oak, beveled glass front door before we could move in, but it also had hard wood floors, lots of room to grow and space for a large garden. It took years of remodeling and work but these starter homes got our family's feet on the ground.

It's a hard thing for young families to do these days but with our U.S. economy swirling the bowl and so many foreclosures on the market, maybe there are some opportunities out there. Provided, of course, that people are employed and can pay the oppressive taxes imposed on us.

Sorry...sore subject.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Creative Writing

Seven year old Peter dictated this story for Creative Writing today:

The Big Evil Monster

There was once a little village called Tinyville. This village was very scary because there was big evil. There was a big monster who haunted the village. None of the children could ever, ever come out. The monster was an evil, bad scary face with green drool coming out of his mouth. He would stomp the ground always hungry. He ate alligators and could fight down any of the animals in the jungle.

There was man called Elcabon who had a big metal guitar. He lived in a big cave close to the village. The kids needed help and Elcabon could save the children from the big green evil monster. Whenever the kids called he would come out on his horse with his guitar. Whenever he made a pluck on the strings it made a big weird sound and the sound was WOW-CABOW-DOW-BOW!!!! and the sound would scare any evil thing away. So he would scare the big evil monster.

When one of the kids called he hopped on his horse and away he went very fast on his horse. He got to the big evil monster BOW-CABOW-DOW-BOW!!! The monster became very angry and he ran up to Elcabon and then Elcabon smacked him in the forehead with his big metal guitar. The monster fell down to the ground with a big boo-boo on his head and he cried and cried and went home to his mommy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The story of my family

We had our kids in two batches.

Or is it three? Or four?

Our first three children were born in a three and a half year period. A girl and two boys. I remember those days as times of diaper service delivery for two sizes of baby bums, toy baskets in the living room, car seats and nap times. Pretty normal for a young family. Mr. Dirtywrench was a partner in a new business and working about 15/7 for awhile.

Three years later we had another little boy. He became (and stayed for a long time) the little brother, never quite big enough to do things with the big kids.

About three years after that, another sibling. A baby sister.

We had five kids. Lots of noise, lots of fun. Lots of bickering and whining too. But let's not talk about me. This is about my kids.
Five kids was a good number. I actually hoped for more, but it wasn't happening. I gradually got used to the idea that our family was complete, though deep down it didn't really feel that way. Occasionally I would hear someone say, Two (or whatever number) kids and we were done. That was it! I would always wonder how they knew that. How did that feel? I never felt that way. I never had a feeling of completion with our family. But apparently the gang was all here because we weren't producing any more. I had to will myself to forget about ever getting pregnant again. For awhile I stopped holding babies at church. I started planning for the future with ideas of what I would do when the kids were older. I moved on.

So of course.

I got pregnant. And I was hoping for twins. What a better time while I had so many helpers?

The youngest of the five was seven years old.
We were surrounded by teen-age naval gazing and adolescent angst.
And we had a baby in the house.

It was magical. The baby brought so much joy and fun with him. We didn't have TV at the time so we spent our evenings together playing with the baby and laughing at his adorable antics. My big boys didn't change many diapers but they became good at handling the wobbly little person.

As a mom, I had it easy. Live in baby-sitters. There was always someone around to take the baby when necessary. Those years with the drama of three teenagers were tempered by the presence of a fun baby.

One weekend when we were preparing for a rare family vacation at a beach house rental, I developed a terrible belly ache. I couldn't finish the packing, I had to stay in bed. At the hospital the first thing they told me was that the pregnancy test was positive. Our baby Samuel was fourteen months old. The belly ache was appendicitis.

So then we had two babies in the house. And four teenagers. One adolescent.
I was changing diapers and scheduling naptimes while our other kids were getting driver's licenses and jobs. Our oldest daughter was getting serious with a young man. Life was very full!

These two kept us all hopping.
Twin terrorists.
Partners in crime.


History is repeating itself.


Now in 2010 our first "batch" of kids are adults. They have their own places, their own adventures, and one has her own family.

I'm pondering all this because we all spent time together this month. It was difficult to make happen but we managed it. We all tried to cherish the moments together, the meals and late night conversations. We are aware that it will be harder and harder to all come together as seven lives take seven different directions.

It was precious to see how much these kids enjoyed spending time together. The big guys wanted to do fun things with the little guys. The First Batch wanted to relive the laughter and camaraderie of their childhood. Brothers drank beer together and sisters shopped. We all played Apples to Apples and found out that Mama knows them best.

The next generation is already started and every one of us is excited to see where our family is going and who will be joining us.

We are blessed with the greatest kids and I can't get enough of them.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Imagination Station

We all know how kids can be with a box. Forget the toy, just give them a box, right?

My boys are masters at destroying transforming every box that comes into the house. If I intend to save a box I have to hold it up and announce "I want this box. I am saving this box. Do not play with this box." And there are still no guarantees that the box won't become an airplane cockpit or a turtle shell or a home with a chimney for the stuffed animals.

For a long while every time I bought a tube of toothpaste, the box it came in was transformed into a camera. A long, skinny camera. I can't throw away bottles or cardboard cannisters without them reappearing in my kitchen in a slightly different form. I thought I threw this thing away?!

My boys do this. My girls do not. Why is that??

I have learned that if a package comes and it contains styrofoam peanuts, it is imperative that I get rid of the peanuts as soon as possible otherwise they will instantly be spread all over the house and I will be forever finding them under the furniture. Worst of all are the hard styrofoam blocks that come as packaging for electronics and such. For a little boy the drive to break the blocks into smaller pieces or to club his brother with them until bits of foam float through the air is more powerful than the need to eat.

My boys do this. My girls do not. Why??

And I won't even talk about the plastic bubble wrap. I try to save it to wrap pottery. Hah!

Really. Who needs to spend money on toys?

Everything, and I mean everything that comes into the house is potentially a plaything for the boys.

The tile I bought for the kitchen quickly became a futuristic porcelain city for matchbox cars.
The boys soon were trying to build upwards by balancing tiles like a house of cards. That's when I stepped in and ruined their fun.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tile my world

Remember my farm house kitchen facelift?

My old "blue matrix" laminate countertops were refaced with granite tile.

The kitchen facelift still has one more project before it is complete and that is to have new tile on the walls between the countertop backsplash and the upper cabinets.

The previous tile was made and installed by me sixteen years ago. Though I am tempted to make new tile again, I know realistically, I do not have time. I would like to get this kitchen finished before this decade is over and it won't happen if I put "make 150 kitchen tiles" on my ToDo list.

So I spent a couple hours in one of my favorite places in the world.

For someone like me who loves the look and feel of clay with glaze on it...

...this place is inspirational.

So many ideas, so little money.

Oh my flippin' word!


Alyssa wants to tile her whole bedroom with colored circles.

I really need to get out in my studio!

Custom, hand-painted tile anyone?

So with every imaginable type of tile- clay, glass, or stone, in every color under the sun...
...what do you think I chose for my kitchen?

I spent time in the outlet store going through the boxes of "seconds" and came up with a plan to use 73 pounds of tile.

To be announced.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Missed again.

I've written about and shown photos from my favorite walking trail several times on this blog.

Yesterday my girls took a walk on that trail 30 minutes after me and guess what they saw? (and I didn't!)

Check it out here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I'm a slow learner

In the twenty years that we've been homeschooling, I have to admit that science has not been one of my stronger subjects as a teacher.

We've managed to read through texts and go on a few field trips but on a week to week basis I wasn't terribly consistent with things like science notebooks or experiments.

One of the things I should expect from myself as a teacher with so much time (I hesitate to say "experience") under my belt as a homeschooler, is that I should be able to analyze my weaknesses and work for improvement, right? My older kids are doing very well despite my short-comings as a teacher but I have a new chance to do better with these little guys in the next ten years that we have ahead of us.

What was that? years?

Someone grab the smelling salts! I'm feeling woozy....

What was I saying?

Oh yes. Another chance. To learn from my mistakes. To make a stronger effort.

So I decided to find something better to use for science and I found this gem:

I am very pleased with it so far. This book has everything necessary for a nice elementary earth science program: explanatory text on many topics involving the structure of the earth, the atmosphere, weather and space. The layout of the book is simple and straightforward with lessons structured to include terms, review questions and keeping a science notebook. The book has reproducible charts, maps, and coloring pages. Best of all it has a hands-on project or experiment with each chapter. The lessons can be geared for ease or difficulty to suit a wide range of ages. I'm using it for seven and nine year old boys but it could be used through sixth grade. All of this is in one nifty package! I truly hit the jack-pot with this purchase (a deal at $24.50!)

We recently finished the chapter on caves. I hope in the spring to take the boys to some caves our family explored years ago across the ditch in Washington. Right now they are too icy to attempt any spelunking.

I'm so proud of myself. We have had consistent lessons-- with terms!

The boys are keeping a science notebook!
The science notebooks have more than one page in them!

We've made a clay model of the earth's layers!

We boiled and cracked eggs while talking about plate tectonics!

This week the boys are doing an experiment to show how stalagmites are formed!!

We are doing real elementary science!!!

I'm so proud, I could cry.