Monthly Archives: May 2011

Clay, ceramics, and camaradery

It was so wonderful today to be in the company of five friends with whom I have worked in the clay studio for some time. I had not seen them for one month and two days! Many studies and stats point to the importance of a good social/support network. People with a rich life benefit in many ways…they have lower incidents of heart attacks and cancer, they are happier and more well-adjusted.  Their outlook on life is more positive.  Aside from the act of working in clay and benefits derived from the creative process, the chance to work with a set of people over time is something special and not to be taken for granted. It was great to see them all today and we had a good, old time telling stories, swapping yarns, hearing about how each of us is doing and what we’re doing. Plus, the very act of breaking bread together has much to be said for itself. It’s a tribal act and a bunch of people who regularly meet for lunch are doing much more than just being in each other’s company. They are sharing a primal act. In our case, smile, much of what we order is shared, whether we’re splitting appetizers or an order. Taking sharing another step! It is all a very bonding experience. If this were men who had read Robert Bly, I would expect to hear drum beats and whoops in the background…” male bonding.” Instead, we meet in a pub on the main street of a small town.  (No, we don’t drink our lunch!) Some time last year, the pub was sold and the management changed.  Well, we didn’t much like the changes we saw and, in terms of new policies and treatment toward employees, we all decided to look for a different place to meet.  Over a number of weeks, we sampled different restaurants, looking for one that met our needs.  It had to be within walking distance.  It had to have decent food.  Prices had to be reasonable.  It had to be able to accommodate a large party of up to 13 or 14, at times.  Today, it was just the core group, six of us; however, the numbers are flexible and there are often more around the table.  The three restaurants we tried were a bust. The first didn’t really have its act together for such a large party and the ambience wasn’t that great.  The second place was comfortable, if kitschy, but pricey.  The last-place was a café art gallery combination that seemed promising, at first.  However, after we ate, we talked with the owner for a moment, telling him who we were and, and to our surprise, he immediately started acting arrogant and being critical of the art scene here. Then, he quickly went on to assure us that to he could not represent any of us because his clients were sewn up.  He continued, saying that galleries were closing right and left and on and on….  We all looked at each other in amazement.  All we had done was to be friendly and let him know we were from the Arts Centre two blocks away. So, after that, we didn’t much feel like going back there, either. We deliberated.  Discussing other restaurants, some notorious dives, some not so good, and we ended up making a decision: to go back to our original haunt and take it for what it was worth. That’s what we did. Patronage had fallen off markedly. What had once been a bustling pub, full of people, was now a big cavern with people at only several tables. Well, as far as our little company goes, it means excellent service, since we’re practically the only ones there, good seats, because we can sit anywhere we’d like. In addition, it met all of our other criteria. So, we are back where we started. Throughout the year, week after week, Tuesdays from 1-3 p.m, you would all be able to find us at this little pub. There’s something very comforting about that fact. Continuity. Familiarity. Friendship. And breaking bread.


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The greenhouse is done!

I overdid it a bit yesterday, so stay tuned for “Gold and silver leaf on ceramics, Part 2” am working on it and soon soon… In the meantime, I want to show you our finished greenhouse! (We still have a bit of work to do with the floor and outer perimeter, to seal it, but it’s up and ready to go!) After I finish my mushroom projects, morels, chanterelles, and fairy ring, it’s on to garden markers! Big thank you to Mom and Mark!! It creates a lovely new space, inside and in front of it.  I am not ready to do any full-on gardening yet, so we will shop for the right kind of tomato plants and place them inside first. I hadn’t known that greenhouses require different plants than those grown outdoors , so am on a learning curve, thanks to our library. It makes sense for tomatoes…after all, they can reach 10′ tall! So mine will likely be the bush variety…indeterminate, for lots of fruiting. So we’re off and running. This is the coldest spring here for 50 years, so the greenhouse is also very timely. Will start seedlings for outdoors in it and hope to begin that quite soon….

Exaco EasyStart Season Extender greenhouse, louvered window open, 4'4"x6'4"x6'


Filed under Current Events, Fun, Home and Garden, How-to-do-it

Gold and silver leaf on ceramics, Part 1

The first time I saw gold and silver leaf was in the mid-1970s, as the guest-of-honor at a dinner held in the home of a South Asian gem stone dealer and archaeologist. When the dinner was served, it took my breath away, for much of it was covered with edible gold and silver leaf. The shiny warmth and coolness of each contrasted starkly with the rich yellows, greens,and reds of sauces, and the whiteness of rice and dips. As colorful as a silk sari…. Afterwards, we sipped gold-tip Assam tea, as that was where Mahendra was from, and it remains my favorite tea to this day. Then we chewed betel nuts. We were settled into comfortable conversation by that time, but had all had our mutual shocks that evening, them, learning I was a white woman in her early twenties and, me, finding out the degree to which they were honoring me. It was an incredible entry into a different world. I had eaten curries and other South Asian delights, but this was on beyond zebra. So exquisite! Since then, I’ve had the chance to taste desserts that were silver-leafed up here in Canada. It is a beautiful treat. I thought of metallic leafing again after I saw the Sid Dickens site and it sparked an interest in the idea of using leaf on ceramics. Dickens’ uses it on painted surfaces and his material also seems to be in flaked form, but maybe it is leaf. I also had a boo at this youtube video in which a woman shows how to apply gold leaf transfers to glazed pieces. Here’s the link…there are English sub-titles. She uses pre-designed transfers that aren’t readily available here, so I decided to look further. I had previously posted about using water-soluble metals. In addition, I thought of the materials that must be used in china painting, which often has accents of gold or silver. First, I decided I needed to know more about materials. Here is an excellent video that talks about the different forms metal leaf comes in. Gilded Planet, the source of the video, looks to be a good outfit for resources and it also has many tutorials. In addition to using gold leaf, there is also the subject of gilding, which has a rich history. On to ceramics, though… According to Wikipedia, “Both porcelain and earthenware are commonly decorated with gold, and in the late 1970s it was reported that 5 tonnes of gold were used annually for the decoration of these products.” This article talks about three different ways gold is used on ceramics:

  • Acid Gold – ceramic surface is etched with acid prior to using gold, reported to be a difficult method
  • Bright Gold or Liquid Gold: a solution of gold resins is placed in a bismuth flux; needs application and firing; bright after removal from the kiln
  • Burnished Gold or Best Gold: gold powder in a liquid suspension with flux; needs polishing after removal from the kiln

The method I’m most interested in is the ‘mechanical’ method, which started being used in the Middle Ages, says the Wiki site. Those days, the method consisted of gessoing the object, letting it dry, smoothing it, then rewetting it with ‘glue waster.’ After that, the gold leaf was applied in sheets, left to dry, followed by application of gold painted on (ground gold dust suspended). I’ll stop here today and will resume tomorrow to close with a post about using gold leaf on fired, glazed ceramics.


Filed under Articles and Interviews, Fun, Home and Garden, How-to-do-it

Clay mushrooms as garden art

Last year, I made my first mushroom, an amanita muscaria, reminiscent of life in Germany, where it is considered good luck. Each Christmas, I get out my little collection of the red and white mushrooms and put them on our tree. While I don’t like things that are cute, I do like well-made representations from natural materials. My mushroom can be said to border on cute and many people have said just that about it, but they didn’t know my background and why I chose it for my garden. I put it right outside my front door over the year, by the red twig dogwood. I knew it would always look cheerful, no matter the season. It looked neat buried in snow in the winter…but while I glazed it inside and out, I did not glaze the rim and tiny bits of it broke off from freezing and thawing. I might see if I can scrub it up, glaze the edges, and refire it inverted to seal it. Amanitas are one of the most beautiful of fungi, but it has a bad rap because it is both highly toxic and hallucinogenic. If left alone and just admired they won’t hurt us, though. I remember when my friend, Gary, took a mycology class in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, a locale not much different from here. The place was teeming with mushrooms and there is nothing like cooking with a fresh morel or chanterelle mushroom! I would like to take such a class here. Also, I would like to make small versions of these to nest in clusters outside my greenhouse. Morel mushroom look almost brain-like. I know my Mom used to pick them in the wild, chanterelles, too. Both of these mushrooms have an uncanny resemblance to marine organisms. The chanterelles have soft, golden, leaf like parts that look like sea cucumbers. Nature is so amazing! I think I could make some out of white clay, then use white underglaze with red Shino over to make a nice representation. I know I can make this work and it’s the perfect little project for me at the present. Yesterday, I made some  ‘toadstools’ of white clay. The stems are stylized and squiggly, as I want a nested group that fits together a certain way and is sort of funky. The caps will be textured with fork tines. I plan on staining them with iron oxide, then wiping it off. The stems will be reinforced by wrapping copper  wire around them before they’re placed. It will age nicely. I hope to get some nice natural mosses growing on them, too, but not covering them up. My husband was game when I asked him to hold them up for a slideshow, which runs below and includes all the mushrooms, too. He held up the three outsize ones I’d made, a small, medium and large. I’ll nest these together after completion. I learned with my red and white one that the base doesn’t have to be as stocky as I made it. The ‘stems’ I’m making now, with their fanciful curves and twists are less stable, but maybe my wire-wrapping will strengthen them. If not, I’ll see what else I can do. I really like the idea of these little guys in my garden, though!

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Filed under Articles and Interviews, Fun, Home and Garden, How-to-do-it, My Work