Monday, July 12, 2010

My Pottery Garden

All potters have pieces of pottery that they don't like, that have flaws or that have broken.

I have always had a strong aversion to trashing pieces, even if they were never going to sit on someone's shelf... or on any of my shelves in view of my students or visitors! Well, that's not quite true, I have a few pieces that I saved to show students... one where the glaze didn't settle and you can slice your hand if you pick it up... another teapot where there spout fell...

Anyway, aside from those that I use to show what not to do, I had a growing stack of pieces that I liked but only if you looked at one side, or if you could ignore the crack, or if you were color blind in one eye.

I also have a studio that sits in a "hollow" of sorts. The water from the yard keeps plants or grass from taking purchase on a large chunk around the studio. Plus, there's a cool tree that I love, but the shade under it combined with water run-off has made it impossible to make the area around it look "pretty".

The yard is chocked full of large rocks, some of them very beautiful. I had been picking them up and tossing them in the woods as I tried to beat back the edges of brambles and wild privet hedges.

Finally, a little light went off in my head --- I could use the rocks, use my pottery and make the area under the tree look a little better. Maybe a little funkier is a more apt description!

I haven't quite decided what to call the garden yet. Mainly because in addition to planting my pottery, I'm sticking found items from the yard. Every time it rains I find something new. I have an old, old shaving can that's half rusted out. I found a metal bucket with a slice out of the bottom. Someone must have dumped a bunch of sea shells after a trip to the beach because they pop up faster than all my plants combined. Off and on I come across some weird shaped metal strips. I'm adding them all to the garden.

Maybe I should call it a Found Item Pottery Garden. Ha ha. Hmmm, wonder if I could use those words plus another to make a good name. FIPG doesn't work for sure. Pottery Item Garden would be PIG. I'll keep working on it.

It took forever to get the bare beginnings of a rock outline around the tree. I started with a rough square rather than  the typical round shape. I intend to add triangle spokes over time to expand outward. I also want different heights in the garden, some rock areas to be higher than others. I'm picturing rock lines walkways, an English style hodge-podge of flowers and creeping plants and, and... yes, my imagination is very ambitious.

Once I finally built the rocks up to the height I wanted to start with, I began buying dirt to fill the center. I'm still buying dirt to fill the center! The water fairies take my dirt every chance they get, despite my best efforts to block it all inside the rock confines. It's getting better now that some of the plants are taking root and I've thickened the depth of the rock confines. Plus the plants are starting to travel into the crevices, which is what I envisioned.

Finding plants that will survive winters, like the shade and won't mind whatever is in the leaves of the tree has been an interesting challenge.

My mom gave me some wild blackberry bushes that she said would take over... they haven't. I planted some things from other areas of the garden that I pull up like weeds, like mint and other herbs, but they obviously prefer more sunlight than the area provides as they're wimping along.

I didn't want to spend any money other than for the dirt, but I ultimately stopped at the local nursery and went shade-plant hunting. Now I have a few things that are thriving --- so far at least!

I find that planting my sub-par pottery isn't going to be enough. I am now going to be making some things to go in the plot. I need some TALL pieces and I can't wait to goof on something ;-)

I'm finding some cool pieces of wood to add to the plot as I work on other areas of the yard. We have five acres with the majority being woods. I love the property, but it is a constant battle to keep the woods from overtaking the grass. Thank goodness I love playing in the dirt almost as much as I love playing in the clay.

My son gave me a cool glow-in-the-dark frog on a lily pad that has a place of honor, too. One of my students brought me a broken piece of pottery to go in the garden.  The pieces of pottery in the bottom photo broke off one of my friend's creations. She tossed 'em. I pulled 'em out of the trash and glazed them. They're stuck all over the garden, mostly in between the rocks to catch attention. All those things are special and it makes me think of the people they're attached to every time I see them.

I noted that my cute little chipmunks have found the rock garden. During dry times they scrabble under the plants to get at the water. I understand they won't eat the roots or hurt the plants so I'm letting them roam free right now. If I find out that they think the plants are my offering to them, then I'll have to decide what to do about them. It's their woods so I have a feeling I'll just learn to work around them. I do love watching them scamper all over the place as I work in the studio!

I thought I'd share a few photos of where the pottery garden is right now, then let you see some off and on over time so we can share the growth. It looks pretty pathetic right now, although please don't repeat that in front of the plants. They're working hard and need all the encouragement they can get!

I have two more flowering plants sitting on the driveway ready to go into the plot. Plus I'm going to plant some of my lambs ear in there. I can't stop it from growing anywhere else so hopefully it'll like it under the tree.

Oh, and I made a stop at Lowes tonight to pick up some more dirt...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Zipping all over the place...

I've been working with some new clay... I usually like working with red clays, majolica being a favorite given the type work I do. However, I break out sometimes and use whites, blacks, tans, whatever.

The clay I'm using right now is a Mocha earthenware clay with a "Café au lait" color. It's stretching me a bit because it's a very wet clay. I think it would be great for throwing, but I am using it for slab which requires PATIENCE as I have to slab it then let it dry for a bit.

With my other clays I go right at it. In fact, I have to keep the slabs covered while I work, and oftentimes I have to keep the piece I'm working on partially covered or spray it lightly to keep it wet enough to flex like I want it to.

Oh, my grammar teacher would be reaching for her red pencil the way I put my sentences together these days!!! Ah well, this is pottery art, not grammar art ;-)

I am waiting on a kiln load that's about half mocha and half red to cool right now. I can't wait to see the new pieces. I should have taken some photos of the 'before' to include in here. I'll take some shots as I unload the kiln.

I also picked up some new glazes by Western, some greens. I've never tried their glazes before so it should be interesting to see how they work on both my usual red and the new mocha clay. I use a lot of commercial glazes, but I mix the colors to create my own. I flat out don't have time to work on creating my own glazes, although maybe someday I'll get back into that area. Given the wide range of colors I use it's almost counter productive to make up the small batches I'd need.

Regarding my choice of clays --- white clay is my least favorite. There's a lot you can do with it as a palette for true color in glazes, but I've never found a white clay that does what I want it to do. They all crack easier, don't flex, dry out too fast, and they just don't 'feel' right.

I've been working in the low fire range for many years. I'm getting ready to move back into mid-fire just to change things up a bit. Not that I'm bored at all with low fire, it's just that I will never be a niche artist, have discovered that my nature requires that I change things up fairly often.

I see many artists finding their slot and staying in that groove. They sell well, love what they're doing and can still experiment within the range they've chosen. They get a following of folks who like their style. I drool over some of their work, and sometimes push myself to stick with something long enough to be a master of some difficult technique after seeing their work. It's on my list of "somedays".

I have a style, too, one that many who buy my work recognize. It is one that I am still perfecting and I think I learn something new almost every time I form a piece.

However, I have a tendency to go flying way outside that range. I used to joke that when I felt like someone was getting to feel like they knew me, it was time to change... that seems to be the theme of my pottery life, too. Guess it's my wacko eclectic nature.

The list of things I want to try is way, way longer than the list of things I've already tried! Maybe the flexibility of the art of clay is one of the reasons I fell into immediate love when I first touched a ball of clay. We fit.

I was just reading back over this rambling blog. I zip from one topic to another don't I? Kind of like my ping pong mind... zip here, zip there... I work in the studio the same way sometimes. I start of a piece, stop and go water the plants, come back and work on the piece for a while, go up to the house and check my emails, grab something to drink, go back to the studio... you get the picture. Of course, more often I am very focused. I'll start working on a piece and the next thing you know it's dark, I've missed dinner or lunch and I'm wondering if I'll be able to make it to the bathroom . So, maybe that's another reason I'm attracted to clay --- it keeps me focused. Ha ha, a focused zipper...

Ah well, guess on that note, I'll say goodbye for now. I'm off to the studio to check the kiln.