Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

12 Inch Cylinder Club

A challenge was posted to the Ceramic Arts Daily forum a couple of months ago: to throw a 12 inch cylinder with 3 pounds of clay, in only 3 pulls. I finally found time to give it a shot, and here is the result:

This was actually my 4th attempt. The first try got up to 11.5". The second and third tries were complete failures because my clay was too wet. It just couldn't handle the aggressive pulling. So with stiffer clay I was finally able to do it. My second pull got me to 11 inches, so I knew I had it at that point. I used Standard 365 porcelain. Fun stuff.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Easy Load

I had the good fortune to sell an L&L Easy Load EL2448 kiln recently. These kilns are about the size of a large refrigerator, but weight much more, about 1,400 pounds, so it can be a complicated ordeal to move them into place. Because of their size and difficulty to make, they are not returnable, so a 4 page checklist is required before the kiln can be ordered. Most importantly, you have to make sure it will fit through all the doorways and such in your building. This particular kiln went into a high-rise building in Chicago, and had to go from the first floor loading dock to the 10th floor ceramics studio. So we had to walk the entire route and measure every door and elevator opening to ensure it would fit.

I was very nervous the day of the move, but everything went according to plan. I had a crew of 5 guys helping me out, although in the end 3 of us could have done it. We moved it on a pallet jack, and had no trouble moving across the thresholds of the freight elevator. There were wood floors in the studio, so we put down sheets of masonite to protect the floors as we rolled the kiln through. To get it through the kiln room doorway we had to remove the door latches and swing the door wide open 180 degrees. We had one whole inch of clearance through the doorway, 1/2 inch more than expected! The whole process took 2 hours, but it went amazingly smoothly and the kiln is now in use.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dinnerware Samples

Some new dinnerware samples ready to go into the kiln. They are decorated with layered glazes, wax and sgraffito techniques. These will be delivered to a friend/student of mine who is opening her new interior design studio this week, Mouse in the House Interiors in Mundelein, IL.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bionic Finger

Tomorrow is surgery day for my broken finger. I'm not necessarily looking forward to the process and the pain of healing, but I am very excited to finally have a fairly definite timeline as to when my finger will be functional again. It's been 7 months from the accident, and I haven't been able to use my finger tip the entire time! So it will be nice to be whole again in a few more weeks.

 “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better...stronger...faster.” 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Goodbye, Old Friend.

I've been using the same porcelain bowl for my throwing water since 1997, and today it finally broke. To get back at me, it left a small shard in my splash pan that cut my finger when I was cleaning it out. Payback's a bitch, as they say. But now I have an excuse to throw some bowls....


Lidded jar base. About 16" tall, 15 pounds of porcelain.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lillstreet Soda Kiln Photos

Here's a slew of photos from the Lillstreet Art Center soda kiln build Doug Jeppesen and I did over the weekend of September 20-22, 2013.

Cinder block and first floor layer. We used hard brick for the outer walls and where the posts holding the shelves would sit, soft brick for the rest of the interior for added insulation.

First 3 rows of the walls, and the start of the chimney. The flue opening is 9x9 inches.

The walls are hard brick on the interior, soft brick on the exterior. Every 5th row is a header course. All are mortarted with a 50/50 mixture of fireclay and sand.
The steel is welded up. In addition to the usual perimeter pieces and along the arch skew bricks, we added a piece of 4" channel along the fireboxes, since the bricks tend to move a lot there. The corners are tied across the top with 3/4 all thread. The steel flanking the door jams are tied to the pieces flanking the chimney so it's all tied together front to back as well as side to side.
The arch form is set into place, held up by bricks.
Underside of the arch form.

Beginning to lay the arch brick. The arch has a total rise of 14" in the center. It is built entirely of #1 and #2 arch bricks, no straights.
Doug up on the arch, crammed under the exhaust hood.

The first layer of the arch completed.

Filling in the back wall under the arch.

Done, with mortar skim coat drying on the floor.

Martha and Me, The End.

The first round of voting in the American Made contest ended on Sunday night, and I am sad to inform you that, despite all your hard work, I did not make it into the final round. I know what you're thinking- THANK GOODNESS! I COULDN'T TAKE ANOTHER WEEK OF VOTING! I hear ya. It's been a long month, and I can't thank you all enough for sticking it out and voting till your little fingers went numb, through the buggy website, and the annoying emails, and the barrage of Facebook reminders. And even though the final round was out of reach, you still kicked some major you-know-what. At last count, before all the voting difficulties and irregularities of the last 5 days of the competition, we were in the top 20. That's right, the top 20 out of approximately 1000 nominees. Holy. Cow. That's. Amazing. Only in America could a potter in Grayslake have so many wonderful people rally to try and reunite him with his college-sweetheart-slash-media-mogul-slash-home-decorating-goddess. I've said it throughout the competition, and I'll say it again: you people rock. You humble me. I am in awe of your generosity. So hold your heads high, because you're all winners in my book.

And don't forget that the competition is not over yet! We still need to vote for a winner. You can see the 6 finalists HERE. Personally, I like the winner of the 'Technology' category, Modern Yardage, so that's where I'll be casting my 6 votes a day. But you can vote for whomever you choose, because I am relinquishing the voting power that I have held over you for the last month. Go. You're free.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lill Street Kiln Build

Doug Jeppesen and I started on the new soda kiln at Lill Street Art Center in Chicago today. The layout went smoothly and we got the floor and first four wall courses finished. Tomorrow we'll complete the walls, put on the steel frame and build the arch form. Sunday we'll turn the arch. More photos tomorrow!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Here We Go Again...

Despite all our best efforts (my doctor and I), the shattered bones in my middle finger tip have not healed completely from the accident I had back in February. There's still a big gap in the middle of the bones. We tried using a bone growth stimulator machine for a couple of months this summer while my schedule was too busy to even consider doing surgery, and that did get the little bone fragments to fuse up together and start to join back to the main bone. But now the bones have stopped growing together, leaving a very flexible fingertip where it should be solid.

So more drastic measures are called for. Specifically, a bone graft. The doctor will take some bone out of my wrist using what he describes as a 'melon baller for bone', and cram it in between the separated bone pieces. This, in addition to a permanent screw in my finger tip, is a guaranteed fix. We discussed getting a Wolverine-type claw, or possibly a finger tip with removable attachments like a screwdriver or wrench or knife, but he said my insurance wouldn't cover it. Bummer.

What I would like to look like after the surgery.

So back under the knife I go in early October. I'll be splinted for a while, but should be able to get back into clay within a couple of weeks.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Martha and Me, Week 3

Voting: Will It Ever End?
No. No it won't. You signed up for this, you've got no one to blame but yourself. And me. It's kind of my fault, too. I'm willing to accept partial blame if you let me off the hook for all that other stuff I did. You know what I'm talking about, let it go already. And I suppose you could also blame Martha, because technically this was all her idea. But we don't ever blame Martha for anything, got it? Never. Ever.

But honestly, I do understand that this whole voting thing seems like it's going on forever. And it kind of is, because I just got an email saying that they have extended the first round of voting until September 22nd. That's 11 whole days from now. 11 glorious days of voting. Why did Martha extend the voting? Who knows. We don't question Martha. We just know that it's a good thing.

And I know I promised you an awesome photo of Martha and me, but I haven't had a chance to scan it into the computer yet. And I have a really good reason: jury duty. Not good enough? Try this: Federal jury duty. That's right, the big boys in the big building in the big city need my awesomely impartial judgement skills. So the photo of Martha and me has been postponed. Until tomorrow! That's right, only one more day! I considered not telling you, because I know you're going to have a hard time sleeping if you read this before bed due to the excitement. It's like Christmas Eve in September, but with slightly less commercialization. But I didn't want you to think I'd forgotten you, because you all have clearly not forgotten me. You have been voting your hearts out, and I really, really, really can't thank you enough. Except maybe a picture of Martha and me is close to thanks enough, because we are both looking really, really, really good in it. I used to have long, flowing hair, you know.

Keep up the good work for 11 more glorious days. Then you get a couple days off before the final round begins. Here's the link again in case you've lost it: American MadeAnd remember you can always link to it from the main page of my web site HERE.

P.S.: This week is the 9 year anniversary of opening my shop! Thank you so much to everyone who has helped keep it going! You rock!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Not again!

Those of you who have been reading my blog know that back in February, two of the fingers on my left hand lost a fight with my snowblower and got pretty chewed up. When the pins finally came out, the shattered bones at the tips of the fingers had still not healed completely. Now, 6 months after the accident, including 2 1/2 months of using a bone growth stimulator, one finger is finally good to go, but the other has still not healed. So it's time for a bone graft. The doc is going to cram a small piece of bone from my wrist into the break in my finger, as well as put in a permanent tiny screw to keep it all solid. This is a guaranteed fix, so that's good. I'm not sure when I'll do the surgery- probably in about 3 weeks when my schedule lightens up. Big fun.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Martha and Me, Week 2

Holy cow! Over 2600 votes in one week! What can I say? You continue to amaze me. I owe you. Big time!

So here's what I know after one week of voting: We are doing great! Several of us here at the studio spent way too much time browsing through the American Made site to get an idea of where we stand, and from what we can tell we are doing very well. We really have no way to know for sure how we're doing, but after looking through about 100 of the 900 or so crafting nominees, we found that we are beating almost everyone. Almost everyone. Almost.

That's right, I'm trying to get you all riled up.

Now let's channel that energy into voting. Here are some fun ideas to help you help me get more votes:
1. Set up a voting stand outside the supermarket.
2. Force your children to vote. For real. I can't find anything in the rules that says your kids can't vote.
3. Forward this email to everyone in your email list.
4. Adopt more children and force them to vote.

If all this seems a bit extreme, it's not. It's perfectly normal to adopt more children in an effort to get a potter from the midwest into the second round of voting in a popularity contest run by a media goddess. Perfectly normal. Now stop asking so many questions. Shouldn't you be voting or something?

So that's where we are. Keep up the great work. I really can't thank you enough. I promise my next email will contain the photo you've all been begging to see- Martha and Me circa 1998.

Vote Here!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Martha and Me

Back in 1997, while in graduate school in Logan, Utah, I had the opportunity to meet Martha Stewart in person. I packed up one of my best pots and headed down to Salt Lake City to give it to her and chit chat about the finer things in life. She remains the only celebrity I have met in person. For the last 16 years we have stayed in touch through email (not really) and Skype (never), and spent many Saturday nights on the phone (nope) talking about canning beets and organizing the potting bench. Now, after 16 long years apart, we finally have the chance to reunite in person. But I need your help.

Please go to Martha Stewart American Made and vote for me.

A lot. Six times a day, in fact. No, really, you can vote for me six times a day. You should vote for me six times a day. I'd try for seven just in case they're not paying attention. Not that Martha wouldn't be paying attention. Forget I said that. Martha pays attention to everything. Only vote six times a day. For me.

The other thing I need you to do is post the link to my American Made page on your Facebook page, and tell all your friends to vote for me. And tell all of them to tell their friends to vote for me. This is a big 'ol popularity contest. It's that simple. And forward this email to everyone you know and tell them to forward it to everyone they know, and tell everyone to vote for me. Every day. Don't even look at the other entries. They mean nothing to you.

I'm going to apologize right now for the number of emails I am going to send you over the next 3 weeks reminding you to vote for me 6 times a day through September 13th. I'm sorry. So very sorry. But if I don't win, I won't get to see Martha in person again, and I can't wait another 16 years.

Questions and concerns about the contest? Too bad. Put that energy into voting 6 times a day for me. Too busy to vote 6 times a day? Get your priorities straight, mister. Computer broken? Use your smart phone. Think, people! This ain't rocket science. Get up, get dressed, vote 6 times for me, do whatever you do the rest of the day. Simple.

With your help and dedication, you can rekindle the flame for Martha and me.

p.s. If you don't send me nasty notes complaining about all the emails I'm going to send you for the next 3 weeks, I'll include an actual photo of me and Martha, circa 1997, in one of the email. For reals. Spoiler alert: I wasn't always bald!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How I Spent Two Months Not Making Pots. Chapter 3.

The next morning I called the surgeon and found out that he did not accept my insurance, which is crazy because I have the biggest insurance company in the USA, whom I quickly called. They verified that he was out of network, and that it would cost me $9,000 out of pocket if I went to him. So they gave me the names of some other doctors. The first number I called was out of service, and the second said they could see me that morning. So off we went.

The surgeon took a look at my fingers and said I would need pins to hold the little broken bones (cornflakes, he called them) in place, lots of stitches, and that he would have to remove my fingernails, clean up the nail bed, and put the nails back, to make sure my nails didn't die off for good. He did all this the next morning.

When I woke up from surgery, my hand was wrapped up halfway up my forearm with a bandage and rigid plaster splint, which seemed excessive for injured finger tips. The confused look on my face was noticed by the nurse, who said the doctor found that I had also cut the flexor tendon in my middle finger, so I would not be able to bend my finger or wrist for the next 6 weeks. Go big or go home, as they say.

The next week was awkward, but not too painful thanks to my happy pills. I even went to a broadway show, The Book of Mormon, which was excellent and everyone should see it. After a week in my bandage I was unwrapped to reveal my shiny new fingers. The middle finger looked pretty good, but had lots of stitches. The index finer had very few stitches, but there was no skin on the pad. Yuck-o-rama. I had to buy some $200+ salve (thank god for insurance!) to put on it that would allow the skin to grow back, which it did. Pretty amazing stuff.

I was then sent next door to get a splint made that I would have to stay in for the next 5 weeks, and to start physical therapy (PT). The splint was basically a big slab of plastic that covered the back of my hand and forearm, and was held on with velcro straps. I could take it off to shower, as long as I didn't bend my wrist or bad finger back, which would rupture the tendon.

I started going to PT twice a week. The goal was to keep my broken tendon moving so it didn't scar and sieze up.  So 6 or 7 times a day I would do my exercises, and twice a week I would show my therapist what I had accomplished, and get some new exercises. Two weeks ago I got to put away the splint for good, and the range of motion in my finger is about 80% of normal. They still swell up a couple times a day and are pretty stiff, but all that will go away with time. I should get back to mostly normal in the next few months. For now they're quite functional.

All this brings us to today, Pin Day! That's right, today the pins were removed from my fingers. The doctor just grabbed them with some forceps and pulled them out. Only took about 10 seconds. The X-ray showed that the corn flake bones are all solidified, but they may or may not be solid with the main bone. Chances are they are being held solid by cartilage, but that doesn't show up on x-rays. The doctor said most likely they are fine, as he's only ever had 1 patient that had a problem, but we won't know for sure until I start using my fingers. So we'll know next week after the pin holes heal up. If they aren't solid, he'll have to graft in a piece of bone from my wrist. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How I Spent Two Months Not Making Pots. Chapter 2.

We last saw me heading into the ER:

So I quickly found out that the emergency room is not a fast paced, exciting place like it is on television. After sitting in my room for a good long time, someone finally cam in and made me unwrap the towel from my fingers and look at the unholy terror that my hand had become. The pads of my fingers were totally torn up, but surprisingly, bleeding very little. I half expected them to squirt all over the room, but they hardly even dripped.

I don't remember exactly what order they did things in, but at some point the nurse tried to numb my fingers, which didn't work very well. They still hurt where I had injured them, but also hurt at the base of the fingers where she injected the anesthetic. So she tried again, and they still didn't go numb. Maybe it was her first time? So I asked if there was anything she could give me through the IV. At that point she introduced me to my good friend Dilaudid. The pain went away, I stopped hyperventilating and shaking, and started to smile. Literally. I felt great! At some point I also got sent for xrays, which showed that I broke the bones at the tips of my two injured fingers. Great. That meant an even longer recovery.

After cleaning off the fingers and loosely stitching them "just to hold them together till the you see the surgeon", I was on my way. Only 3 hours and $4,000 (thank god for insurance) to do 20 minutes of actual work. They gave me the name of the surgeon to call in the morning and sent me to Walgreens to get some horse-strength pain killers.

To be continued.....

Friday, April 26, 2013

How I Spent Two Months Not Making Pots. Chapter 1.

Fingers are pretty important nowadays, especially to those of us who use them to make a living. Brains are important, too, but for a potter it's more about the fingers. My fingers and I have always had a good relationship- they put food in my mouth and pick stuff out of my belly button, and I keep their nails chewed down to a nice length and put lotion on them when the clay dries them out. We have a good thing going. But on February 26th I put our relationship to the test.

It was the day of the last big snowfall we had here in the Chicago area. The snow was wet and heavy, and there was enough of it that I decided to cancel classes at the studio (which I almost never do) and head home to clear the driveway. As often happens with wet, heavy snow, the chute on my snowblower clogged. Little did I know that even when the blades are turned off, they hold some tension and can kick when the clog is removed. So when I pushed the snow out of the chute, the blades moved and caught the tips of my index and middle finger on my left hand.

NO, it didn't cut them off. But it really was pretty gory and very painful because it totally chewed up the pads of my fingertips. At first I didn't even know I had been cut. I t just felt like the blades had brushed against my fingers. But when I saw that my glove was cut I knew something bad had happened. When I pulled off the glove it wasn't pretty. I ran into the house and yelled for my lovely wife, who brought me a towel to wrap around my hand. She ran the kids over to the neighbor's house, then drove me to the ER in the snowstorm while I yelled at her to drive faster. She dropped me off at the front door and went to park the car. I had to give the front desk all my personal information while hyperventilating and freaking out, then a nurse put me in a room that would be my home for the next 3 hours.

To be continued....

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Laurell Pottery Works

I just finished shooting some slides for my friends George and Elsie Laurell, and I thought I'd share a few with you. They make some of the best Arts & Crafts style pottery I've seen. Each piece is made by hand- no molds are used. Amazing work! You can see more of their work HERE.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Year, New Work

A few of years ago I was doing some sgraffito and iron slip work on my pots, and firing them in reduction to cone 10 in my gas kiln. This worked great, and I loved how the slips came through the glaze:

I have been meaning to do some testing of this technique in the electric kilns, but of course I haven't gotten around to doing it. The main problem to overcome is that in cone 6 oxidation the iron oxide doesn't flux out as much, and therefore doesn't show through and mix with the glaze as well. So instead of doing this with slip, I thought I'd try doing it with layered glazes, using the technique I've been using to put stripes on my pots:

I am VERY happy with the results, and plan to do more. I also did another one with different glazes that did not turn out nearly as well. The top glaze was too stiff and didn't mingle with the bottom glaze very well. So now I have a good idea of what glaze combinations will work the best. The only down side is that I can't do this with these glazes on a vertical pot, as they will run and blend and wipe out the design. So platters are it for doing this with glazes. But now I'm really excited to start testing slips!