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'


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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.


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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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Pottery News Briefs & Job Postings


As of 5/27/11 at 3:55 p.m.PST

Thank you for 8,844 hits! Announcing my current number, not counting syndicated views! (An internal counter isn’t visible to the public, so I’m telling you directly.)  We’re seven months old; our first tiny post can be seen here. Thank you for reading Jane Street Clayworks; I am grateful and thankful! – Jan

Imprisoned Chinese Provocateur Ai Weiwei Makes Pottery Political, Metro Pulse – Shocking story in to senses. One, as the title states, the artist is a political prisoner in China, so this  exhibition of his work opens in Knoxville, Tennessee, while he’s incarcerated. Second, because of the objects he alters and how he does it. Art is meant to open your eyes and, brother, this did it for me.

All fired up over ‘rock stars’ of pottery, Victoria Times Colonist – The season at Metchosin starts off with a bang this weekend with a famous annual show of 11 artisans work. Buyers from all over will be flying in to Victoria, rounding the southern tip of Vancouver Island and making a beeline to the exhibit. For more info, click here.

Time teamsters discover medieval street under Norton Village, Runcorn, Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News – UK archaeological team finds pottery shards in remains of a unique medieval town  dating back to 13th or 14th century.

Edward Lycett, Designer for Faience Company, The New York Times – History of a British immigrant who worked with faience in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “He soon started supporting the family by painting china, including dinnerware patterned with eagles and clouds for the White House.” Story traces his life and work and announces an upcoming exhibition of his legacy at the Brooklyn Museum.

Two Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher Posts in Archaeological Ceramics, Cordis Wire – Sheer heaven: studying the pre- Mycenaean culture! “PhD research on the analysis of Neolithic to Bronze Age pottery from excavations in the Mesara Plain of Crete. The research will form part of the department’s commitment to the ‘New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to ancient material studies (NARNIA). This is a Marie Curie Initial Training Network, financed under the ‘People’ program of the European Union.” (See link for more info)

University of Sheffield – Department of Archaeology
Faculty: Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Contract Type: Fixed-term for 3 years
Salary: £30,151 per annum, with additional allowances as per Marie Curie.
Closing Date: 21 June 2011

Ron Nagle: DISQUIET IN CLAY, artnet – Show features well-known 72-year-old San Francisco artist whose work appears to be a fusion of mediums. For more of his work, click here and here for more info.

Job posting – CERAMICS INSTRUCTOR, Musing About Mud – Sessional position at Camosun on Vancouver Island, near Victoria. Sweet. Here’s a link to Camosun and posting.

Faculty Position Vacancy
Camosun College, Victoria BC
CLOSING DATE: June 3, 2011 Part-time Term Faculty Position
August 30, 2011- December 19, 2011

Edmands and Hooper Pottery Works, Charlestown Patch – “The factory produced pottery on the banks of the Mystic River until 1905.” Story about a pottery in Boston, Massachusetts, a family-run business that provided vessels to New Englanders. The town and its history related to clay dates back to the late 1600s.

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Sid Dickens and his incredible Memory Blocks

I’m taking a road less travelled today to introduce you to a Vancouver artist whose work is informed by the classics, science, art history, research, curiosity, and poetic vision. Sid Dickens’ Memory Blocks are not made of clay, but of beautifully decorated plaster tiles. They are quite thick and I like that…they have substance. Exquisite designs, soulful execution. Highly unique. Dickens, 48, is originally from Prince Rupert, B.C., according to Beladagio. “Until the age of 28 he worked as a commercial fisherman,” according to what must be an earlier site. “Off-season, he served burgers on the ferries and dedicated his spare time to drawing and painting.” Dickens attended Vancouver’s Emily Carr College of Art and design, now a university, was inspired by works he saw in Europe and later learned bronze-casting in Mexico at the Instituo De Allende in San Miguel. He opened his first studio in 1984, then built a studio retreat on Haida Gwaii. In ’91 he opened a studio in Gastown, the oldest area in Vancouver, along the waterfront. The Beladagio site quotes Dickens, who said, “Originally, I created large panels with many elements.” His ideas evolved and he began to work on a smaller scale. His site says his tiles are “hand crafted plaster, 6″ x 8″ x 1 1/4″, finished to a porcelain-like quality, cracked to create an aged look and feel.” He has a studio in Vancouver, employees a team of about 30 emerging artists, according to the site, Sid Dickens Timeless Collectibles, which features some of the artisans involved. Click here to see some photos of the blocks being made and some information about them. Dickens’ current studio in Vancouver is not open to the public, but the memory blocks can be found in many locations or purchased online. I see that there is a retailer in my town that carries his work, so soon I hope to pop on over and see them in person. The tiles can be mixed and matched to suit your tastes and there is a wide variety of themes. The Memory Blocks have an aged, antique look, and I think they are exquisite. Photos are copyrighted, so I cannot show them to you here, but here is the link to his online catalog of works. I saw an earlier version of his website some time last year, the first time I learned of him. I felt a bit put off by the new site because not all of it is accessible unless you ‘join.’ I like free and easy access to information and while I understand that he and his work are enjoying increasing visibility and popularity, it smacks of exclusiveness. In the end this matters little because the work is what counts. I will leave it to you to explore his site and possibly find a retailer that carries Memory Blocks in your area. One of my new favorites is one from a line out this spring and it is called Winged Sage. It is quite lovely and retails for $92.00 CDN. So many forms of art emerge from Dickens’ work, all of which he designs himself. When you gaze upon one of his tiles it evokes many feelings, senses, and memories. One appreciates the beauty, the artistry, and the subjects portrayed. It is so nice to know such beautiful work is being made so close to home, in Vancouver.


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A sweet rakued pony

Yesterday, my friend Gary climbed up our twenty-six stairs, reaching the somewhat flat area by our cottage. I was waiting to greet him. He took a look around, as it was the first time he’s been up on the hill. He saw our greenhouse and contemplated whether he should set one up at his place, a picture-book home overlooking a bay. He looked at our porch project, then his gaze travelled up the forested hill. And he gave me a pony, a lovely and generous gift. The pony’s iridescent body is glossy and dark and the hooves are matte black from raku kiln smoke. It is a treasure. You may remember Gary Ruckman’s work, but if you have yet to see it or want to refresh your memory, click on this link to Gary’s Wild Horse Plains. Here’s a peek at the little gem he gave me… It fits right in with our little home and will give us much pleasure.

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