Monthly Archives: April 2011

Still sick

Dear friends, am still couch-ridden today but hope to post the Marilyn Levine Smithsonian interview tomorrow.

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I’m Sick

Dear Friends,
I am very ill today — am dictating this to Mark –. I hope to see you on Sunday.


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Article Round-up: Ceramics, Repetitive Stress, and Ergonomics

Instead of having our general Friday news briefs, I’ve opted to cover a specific topic, ceramics and health issues. We all know about the dangers of inhaling clay dust, but there are many other areas we can attend to keep ourselves healthy or to work within the limits of our health conditions. Personally, I am unable to do some of the things I used to be able to do with clay. In addition, I have altered some of the ways I do things to compensate for problems I have with arthritis in my neck and hands. I know I am not the only one…many are in the same boat. Potters, sculptors and ceramists, as a group, suffer from repetitive strain and cumulative trauma to joints and tissues. Tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia. Also, back, neck, and shoulder pain and muscle strain. Yes, we can become stronger, physically, by working with clay, but we do pay certain ways. Here are some links to briefs about issues and solutions. For good measure, I’ve even thrown in a story about skin care for potters. If we take proper care of ourselves, we will be able to prevent injuries and enjoy our passion, ceramics.


MDGuidelines Occupational Information for Thrower, MD Guidelines. Job description of potter, list of occupational hazards of throwing.

How you can beat aches and pains if you love doing pottery, by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR, A rheumatologist discusses areas of the body that are affected from repeated throwing over time, especially the neck.

safety – health, updated April 18, 2011, Clayart. A subject list for the message board on the site…attends many health-related subjects relevant to potters. Arthritis and repetitive strain injury account for many entries.


ERGONOMICS IN THE CERAMIC STUDIO: PROPER STUDIO EQUIPMENT AND EXERCISE, by Jayne Shatz,  October 22, 2009, CERAMIC WRITINGS FROM JAYNE SHATZ. Covers health issues, ergonomics, and the role of exercise in keeping fit enough to prevent injury and strain.

Prevent Wrist Injuries,February, 2011, Pottery-on-the-Wheel, How to prevent repetitive motion, repetitive strain to the wrist.

4000 year-old technology solves injury problem, increases output 20%, and eliminates rejects, by Dan MacLeod, January 10, 2006. An ergonomics consultant shows how he modified a potter’s wheel to create an ergonomic work station.

Ergonomics and Ceramics: An overview, by Johanna DeMaine, Australian Ceramics. An Australian Ceramics Association publication detailing all aspects of ceramics work and how to improve the way we work with clay.

Is Ceramic Clay Good for Skin?, Elizabeth Beeson, February 4, 2011, Suite 101. Skin care is especially important…dry skin, abraded skin from working with heavily grogged clay….

Take Great Care of Your Hands: Preventing Repetitive Strain Injury with Stretches and Warmth, by Paula S. Morgan, Written for beaders, but much of it applies to us…the need to stretch and take breaks.

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Open Studio Report, April 26th & 27th

Time-sensitive projects meant two studio sessions this week. The weather is very cold in British Columbia, so clay projects win out over gardening. It actually hailed today when I was out walking with my friend, Gail, so tonight I wore my winter boots. It’s almost May! Well, I guess if Easter was late this year, so is warmer weather. Here’s a run-down on what’s up:

26th: I charged into the studio breathing industry and, therefore, accomplished much. Molded two dishes out of  white clay, one round and shallow, about 14″ wide and, the other, rectangular with sloping walls, about 12″ x 8″. I would like to use white underglaze and Shino on this one…simple, yet glowing with the warmth of that beautiful glaze. I am keeping in mind the decor of the homes of the people I’m giving them to as gifts: warm and cool. Maybe a majolica combo on the bowl… After I set those in the damp room to dry, I switched gears. My bird house was ready for the decorative elements I’d made the week before. It was drying quite nicely, too, knock on wood, as the patches seem to have worked. Reglazed the olive oil lamp bottoms…I sound like a broken record and just want to finish and light them. Brought home the brown sugar medallions. If I could only be this productive each day I’m in the studio!

27th: The main reason I went in tonight was to do finish work on the bird house before it gets any dryer. Time to cut the holes for the hangers. I bored one hole through the centre of the lid and was going to move to the house portion, but noticed a crack wasn’t patched successfully, so I temporarily turned my attention away from cutting holes in the lower cone. I cut away, scored, then filled the crack…fixed it as best I could, but I really need to turn it upside down and work on the underside. I did what work I could by easing my hand under it and working on the crack from that side, but I can’t see what I’m doing well enough. Also, I’d better bring the whole thing home and work on it further. I’m worried about it. Time investment; lots of clay. Can I carefully turn it upside down in a box of foam peanuts? Bubble wrap? Hmm, will sleep on it. Besides working on this project, I did a few other things. Organized my supplies and projects in the damp room. Added a mold of my “Sunrise” tile I made tonight. Molded a thinner “Trees” tile, my first thin one. It looks good! Placed it between plaster to dry. Pauline, my friend/artist-in-residence, and I were the only people in the hand-building area for most of the evening, so we chatted and enjoyed each other’s company. I told her I wanted to get some Frost porcelain. I’ve never used it but want to see what it’s like. I’m home now, have rested, written, snacked, and have definitely decided to bring my bird house home. I will work on it here and take it back to the studio next Tuesday. One week will make or break the project. I know what my mistakes were. One I cannot rectify, the other I can. I didn’t use paper clay, the first mistake. I haven’t dried it slowly enough, second. Me, the gal who is so careful, I can dry things 6 months before firing…just to make sure…I can work with this, though and will patch it up and dry it right.

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The Ten Golden Rules of Ceramics

It’s funny how things you’ve heard time and again still make sense and are worth being reminded about. This was written for youngsters, but I read it and thought, hey, everyone could use a reminder like this every once in a while…. — Jan


The Ten Golden Rules of Ceramics

  1. Clay must be thoroughly covered up with a plastic bag to keep it from drying out.  This applies to works in progress and moist clay.
  2. Clay dust can be harmful if you are exposed to it for long periods of time, so keep your area clean, clay scraps off the floor and clean with water and a sponge.
  3. Clay can be no thicker then your thumb.
  4. In order for clay to stick together it MUST be scored and slipped together while the clay is moist or leather hard.
  5. Wedge clay to remove air bubbles, achieve uniform consistency, and to line up the particles of clay.
  6. Trapped air can cause clay to explode.  So hollow out sculptural forms and put needle holes from the bottom so air can escape.
  7. Don’t glaze the bottom of a piece.
  8. Always wash the piece before glazing.
  9. Always handle your project with two hands at all times.  In other words BE CAREFUL it’s your hard work. Never lift pots by the rim.

— Joe Cox (Incredible Art Department)

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Ceramics/Pottery Project Planner

A goal without a plan is just a wish.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I have a black hardback sketch pad for keeping notes about clay work. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years and even now, when I think of it, my mind goes blank because I have yet to have a system for recording projects. What I do have is scraps of paper with notes and sketches. As an idea person, I need to have a better way of consolidation all this info, let alone keep track of a project. To help me move to the next level of work, I want to start making a record of what I’m doing. A project planner will help me be accountable to myself, help me work toward a specific goal, and give me proof of my work. A planner will also serve as a reference tool and help me plan future work.

When my planner layout is finished, I will photocopy it on archival paper. I am not certain what the finish size will be, as I have yet to determine how I’ll hold my pages together. Ring binder? If so, what size, etc. Today, I’ll spend time creating a layout I think will work for me. After I have a working draft, I’ll post it here for comments. I’d like input from you to prevent leaving out something crucial. After that, I’ll make changes and corrections, then post the final draft. I’ll lay it out with Quark XPress on my Mac, then convert it to a jpg for posting. No template, as it’ll be filled out by hand. If you like it, you’re welcome to use it for your own projects.

Questions: What kind of system do I need and what are the things that are important to record and remember? Here are some of the areas I’ll add to my draft. If you have any ideas of your own, I’d be grateful if you’d tell me. Please write them in the comments section of this post. Thank you!


Start Date
Project Type, i.e. bowl, tile, etc.
Clay Description, reason for choice
Construction Notes
Problems & Solutions
Wet Stage Completion Date:
Drying Stage Notes
Drying Problems & Solutions
Bisque-fire Date
Firing Temp
Area Placed in Kiln
Post-firing Comments
Glaze(s), reason for choice
Glaze Fire Date
Firing Temp
Area Placed in Kiln
Finish Date

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Louis XIV, kaolin, and Limoges

Carol Nicholson Bell is an expert in ceramics, art pottery, Chinese export and European porcelain.  An author,  dealer and collector, she writes extensively on these topics. I was fascinated by her knowledge about kaolin, that pure white clay from which porcelain is made. I think I may have come across some kaolin myself at Hot Springs, Montana, on the Flathead Indian Reservation. White clay is common there, and some of the Native Americans in Montana are called, “People of the White Clay,” the A’aninin. In addition, the original native place name for Cutbank means “Cuts-into-the-white-clay-bank-river and there is a town named White Clay. I will have to look into the composition. It is the finest, softest, whitest clay I’ve ever seen and, at some point, I would like to use it. Back to our Louis XIV, by Charles Le Brunstory, though. The Chinese discovered kaolin and began making proto-porcelain as early as 1600 BCE and by 100-200 BCE porcelain was developed. “Marco Polo was one of the first Europeans to see porcelain; he named it after very white and translucent shell,” according to Bell in an article for Suite 101. “Vasco de Gama brought back the first porcelain objects to Europe in the fifteenth century.” Unbeknownst to him, Louis XIV was the catalyst of events which eventually led to finding kaolin on French soil. On May 15, 1702, war was declared on Catholic France. It was a battle of Protestantism vs. Catholicism, as well as a personal attack on the French king, who was accused of being duplicitous over James III. Over the intervening years, war drained France’s resources and, finally, all silver plate at Versailles was melted down to make coins, by order of the king. France was bankrupted by war with the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and the Americas, according to David J. Sturdy in Louis XIV. The order to melt down silver caused people to scramble for a new material. Until one was found, porcelain dishes started being imported from China, but at great cost. “The State decided to find out how porcelain was made and an order went out that anybody who could discover the manufacturing process would be handsomely rewarded,” said Bell. The first porcelain to be manufactured in Europe was in Meissen, Germany, in 1710. Later, kaolin was discovered outside Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche at Clos de Barre, in the Limousin region of west-central France, she writes. Apparently, an unsuspecting wife held the key. According to Ceramics Today, “In 1765, the wife of French surgeon Jean-Baptiste Darnet was using a white and unctuous paste that whitened fabrics to wash her linen.” Darnet “was eager to commercialize the mysterious substance and went to see an apothecary to work out a formula for a new detergent,” it continues. “The apothecary identified the material as pure white kaolin, spawning the Limoges ceramics industry.” Interestingly, early Native American Gros Ventre women in Montana and Saskatchewan used white clay to clean their hides and robes. I will have to find out more about this aspect of kaolin. In the meantime, let’s turn to Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche and our story. The French economist, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune, was the tax collector of Limoges. According to Bell, when Turgot heard of the kaolin find, he recognized the economic potential. People in his tax region were poor but the area was rich in metals that could be used for oxides for faïence. As a result of Turgot’s foresight, a porcelain industry was established at Limoges. Bell said the first factories set up in Limoges and Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche in 1772. “In 1771 the Faïence manufacture was converted into porcelain manufacture,” Bell said, “and the region’s first hard-paste porcelain began to be made.” (According to Wikipedia, hard paste porcelain was first made in China from “a compound of the feldspathic rock petuntse and kaolin fired at very high temperature…It now chiefly refers to formulations prepared from mixtures of kaolin, feldspar and quartz.”) In France, porcelain manufacture was state-sponsored and, in 1784, the factories in Limoges and Yrieix-la-Perche became subsidiaries of the royal factory in Sèvres, according to Bell. “By the 1830’s there were as many as thirty porcelain factories,” said Bell. The fame of Limoges porcelain grew and it was perfect because of the purity of its kaolin. Most pieces were painted by hand, some by well-known artists and they became very collectible. A piece with an artist’s signature over the manufacturer’s mark was and is more valuable. Many factories meant many ‘brands.’  “Some of the best known are Haviland (H&Co), T & V, Paroutaud Freres, Flambeau, Elite, and JP/L.,” Bell said. “The name “Limoges, France” usually appears, or the letter “L” beneath the name of the manufacturer,” she continued. I first learned about Limoges porcelain when I fell in love with a little hinged box in the 1980s. It was of a pea pod. When I opened it up, there lay five perfect peas. I do not know why it affected me so. But, the design for the ‘Peas in a Pod’ trinket box was perfect…along with enchanting. It’s amazing, isn’t it? A surgeon inquires about a detergent, a king’s silver plate is replaced, and the world is given pieces of enduring art and utility, Limoges porcelain.


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