Richard Bresnahan – Body of Clay Soul of Fire

Richard Bresnahan book

Richard Bresnahan.  O.k. wow.  I had never heard of him until I stumbled upon a book in the SF library about him and his life as a potter.  When I picked up the book I briefly scanned the photos of pots as I usually do to decide if it was something I wanted to bother with and saw tons of amazing pots that appeared to be wood fired.  I left immediately with an armload of books including this one called Body of Clay Soul of Fire by Matthew Welch.
In the 70’s, Richard Bresnahan apprenticed with Nakazato Takashi in Japan on the island of Kyushu.  There he learned to make pots on a Karatsu-style kick wheel, build kilns and fire them, and how to use local materials.  He now has a pottery at St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota where he fires a huge wood kiln.  He uses local clay and local materials for his glazes and has found ways to take what others are throwing away and turn it into something beautiful.  This book touched a chord with me and my desire to study with a master potter, fire with wood, and use ash glazes is even stronger now.
Just looking at the photos of all these pots is inspiring.  Reading the book is even more so.  There is a video I found as well. The Richard Bresnahan story is full of lessons for life.  He boldly went after what he wanted and the community of friends, teachers, neighbors, and family all supported him.  His passion is undeniable and people come from all over the place when it’s time to fire that big kiln.
Read this book and be inspired.  I’m reading it now for the 3rd time.

The Potter’s Challenge by Bernard Leach

The Potter's Challenge by Bernard Leach Title Page

The Potter’s Challenge by Bernard Leach Title Page

Just started an awesome book called, The Potter’s Challenge by Bernard Leach published back in 1975.  Only up to page 30 and already completely inspired and fully believe I am on the right path.  What he is saying rings so true for me.  This is the tradition I am drawn to and moved by when it comes to making pots and why and how to make them.

Last night at the SF main library I wanted to bring home a stack of 20 pottery books but had to reduce the pile.  In so doing I would grab a book and flip the pages rapidly while scanning for something magical, a photo of a great pot.  No names could be seen so my mind was free to judge the pot for itself without any association to a maker or the maker’s reputation.  I had no criteria I was looking for, no color in mind or particular shape or type.

What kept happening was amazing and affirming to me.  I flipped through one book that had hundreds of pages of pots that did nothing for me until wow… what was that?  I looked at the pot’s form and surface and color and it touched me deeply as good, true, honest, real, full of life, well made, timeless all in that split second glance.  I found and read the small caption and it said Bernard Leach, Globular Pot, 1927.

With the next book the same thing happened, quickly flipping until something grabbed my attention, but this time it was a plate, Michael Cardew, Bird Dish, 1932.  He was a student of Bernard Leach.  I loved his book The Pioneer Potter.  More on that some other time but I also like pots made by his students like Svend Bayer  and  Mark Hewitt.

The next was a tall bottle with gorgeous colors.  Turns out it was made by Shoji Hamada, bottle, 1929.  Again I saw the pot first and the name later.  A few pages over and I saw another amazing pot, a bowl, 1923, same maker.

Then this beautiful green flash went by as the speeding pages closed too fast.  Wait! back up, what was that?  It’s faceted, it’s stoneware, looks like Celedon. It’s a bowl by Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, 1936.  Also a student of Bernard Leach.

In another book full of not much I flipped until one pot grabbed me. I let out a gasp as if I had found treasure.  I knew right away who made this.  It had to be Warren MacKenzie.  I had seen a YouTube video of Warren MacKenzie throwing a bowl like it but could not have imagined how gorgeous and quiet it could have become after firing. It was a wide footed drop lip bowl with Shino glaze with iron brush work.  He was a student of Bernard Leach.

After flipping through 15 books about pottery without exception, all of the pots I was drawn to were made by potters cut from the same cloth so to speak.  All in the same overall tradition, all different and yet all good form, great surfaces and colors and all with something that touched me in some way.  All pointing back directly to Bernard Leach and his students, as well as Shoji Hamada, and maybe even the meeting of east and west.  These are the kind of teachers I want to learn from and these are the kinds of pots I want to make.

I am very much drawn to wood fired pots as well.  Salt, soda, ash, shino, shells, and the stories told on the pots by the effects of flame are areas I want to explore under the guidance of a master potter.  I love that wood fired pots look different from every angle and each side has it’s own personality and reveal themselves slowly.

To study or apprentice with a master potter who makes pots from their heart in this way, would be a dream come true and a once in a lifetime opportunity.  For now I will learn by practice and repetition.  I trust that my experience flipping through the pages of these books skipping the pots that left me cold and landing on the ones that moved me,  confirmed that I know what I like and what moves me and what does not.  The instinct for what makes a pot good is in me already.  I know it by feel and intuition not by study or by book.  I know it in my heart.  So now from my heart to my hands and into the clay I aim to make quiet powerful pots full of life.

ok. now back to my book to see what else Mr. Bernard Leach has to say.

Please comment if you have something to add to the conversation.

Thanks for reading my blog.  If you like it – like it.


Why C# you ask?

C Sharp seal on my pot

C# seal impressed on soft clay before it's fired

This photo is a close up of the ” C# ” I stamp into all my pots.  This one happens to be on a drinking cup.

Why C#?  (pronounced C Sharp) My first name is Cameron so that’s the C.  My last name is Sharp and in written music the ” # ” symbol means sharp. Whatever note has this symbol is played a half step up.  I’m a musician and C# has been a nickname for a while among friends and other potters.  I love to write songs and for some reason often write in the key of C#, which sonically is the same as D flat.  I play guitar and love tuning it in Drop D, or what me and my band mates used to call drop D and a half, which simply means that we tuned our instruments down a half step on all the strings and then when we switch to drop D it ends up being D flat.  Or C#.  So the strings are tuned from the lowest to the highest as D flat, A flat, D flat, G flat, B flat, E flat.

Along with some other tools, I made my stamp before I ever threw a pot.  I knew I wanted one and did not like the look of names just scratched into clay.  I had some Makore hardwood scraps from a cd corner cabinet I had made years before and thought it might be longer lasting than if I made a seal out of clay.   Having been a woodworker for many years my medium at that time was wood, and even though I had not done much carving, I thought I would give it a go.  I made 2 or 3 and this one turned out the best.

Making them from clay is great because you can make them quickly and keep making them as they wear out.  The clay is much easier to carve than wood.  Simon Leach has some great videos on making seals you can check out on YouTube.  I haven’t made any seals in clay yet but I would like to make some that say the name of my town or the country I live in or even the year.  If for no other reason it would help me remember what was made when and where and help me follow my progress.  We are casually considering new places to live and I would like to mark the pots made here differently than the ones that will be made in the new place.

I like the way my stamp came out so much I was thinking of ways to recreate it in clay.  I could use the wooden seal to make a mark in some soft porcelain clay, let it harden, even bisque fire it, and then use that as a mold to make another stamp.  It would pick up the image in reverse and might just work.  I’ll try it and write another post about it in the future.

Thanks for stopping by.


Up all night with my new favorite tool

Sawzall blade tool

My new favorite tool - the used sawzall blade

Scratches made with sawzall blade

Scratches made with the sawzall blade

I found this journal entry from a while ago in February when I stayed up all night playing with clay…

I did a lot last night from 9 pm until dawn when I heard our neighbor’s rooster crow.  I pulled handles for jugs and mugs.  I made a 2 pound bowl.  I kneaded loads and loads of clay.  I trimmed 6 cups and 3 made it 3 did not.  I think my tools were dull so I must sharpen them before trimming next time.  I had 6 balls at 1.75 pounds of some really stinky clay which I threw into shapes that did not make it.  It did not hold up very well during throwing. The other clay I got from John at the Clay Studio seems denser and better to work with, plus it does not smell like a sewer or cow dung.   It’s good practice finding out how hard to push and how far I could go and especially how far is too far.  It’s also good practice letting go and not being tied to the outcome.

I trimmed the lid I made the other day but it was too soft and did not make it.  So, I made a new lid in a different style which will be easier to trim when the time comes and a real improvement in form over the last one.

I used my sawz-all blades to decorate some texture into the 2 jugs and the mugs. I found a way to make a mark by dragging it 90 degrees and sliding it a little left or right at the same time which makes a progressively longer mark.  The sawzall blade is my new favorite tool.  I love the result of the mark left when I just go for it without any hesitation, nice and fluid.  Confident.

Finally I put a bold and thick handle on the jugs.  One of the jugs was still soft at the belly but not the rim.  The rim provided good attachment but the belly caved in a little which made the join look sloppy and contrived.  I tried to save it but it kept getting worse and worse so I let it go. I will make more.  The jugs were 3.5 pounds of clay and could have been a little bigger and less thick in the base.  I was unhappy with the shape of the big bowl I made the other day so I let that go as well by cutting off the rim and creating a whole new design.  I like what it has become as a result.  I figure it is like learning guitar.  Slowly and correct will be the better path in the long run.

My hands and wrists are sore today and my lower back is aching.  I imagine I will get stronger as I practice and it will help heal my wrists.  As long as I am mindful of how far I am pushing myself it will be ok.  I do believe it is about technique and skill and not about physical strength.  Centering large amounts of clay can be physical but it can also teach me patience.

I’ve been resting for hours and I really want to go out there and check my clay.  I think throwing more often for less time is better than one marathon session.  However, during this middle of the night adventure time drifted away from my awareness.  I was doing my thing totally immersed in the task at hand, learning and loving it with passion and momentum, when all of a sudden I heard the rooster crow, and thought, it must be time for a nice little cuppa.

I cleaned up, made some earl grey tea, and greeted the sunrise with delight and gratitude.


Anne Mette Hjortshøj – Paying Honest Attention

Another great short film from Goldmark Gallery! Well Done. Anne Mette Hjortshøj – Paying Honest Attention is so inspiring.  These films all have such a great vibe about them.  I watch them over and over and then go make pots.  They calm me down and lift me up all at the same time.  They give me something to aim for and affirm that I am on the right path.  I feel an earthy connection to the potters featured in these intimate glimpses.  I want to be this kind of potter making pots fired in a wood kiln, living this kind of life in the country, growing organic food, working outside in open space collecting materials locally to use in or on my pots, living a life inspired.

I love the look of Anne Mette’s pots. The fluid nature of the clay in the lugs for the handles of her teapots, for example, look as if the clay is still soft and the handle has lifted it up in the center. The colors and patterns are fantastic.  I like how she makes and uses stamps for adding patterns of texture for the glaze to run over or collect in or break over and edge.  After seeing her beautiful pots and then watching the video it came as no surprise to me that she fires with wood.  Most of my favorite potters fire with wood.  There is nothing better in my opinion than a wood fired pot.  There is so much going on with color and surface from the flames and ash and salt.  You can look at a wood fired pot a hundred times and see something new each time.

I love the way Anne Mette talks about making pots and the process of learning with Phil Rogers. It’s very clear she holds him in the highest regard.  He is one of my favorite potters and an opportunity to learn and work with him would be a dream come true.  I really enjoyed reading his book called Throwing Pots back when I started my clay journey.

So check out the film and the links and let me know what you feel.

I’ve added Goodreads on the bottom right so I can share what books I have read or want to read.  If you have read some great pottery books please recommend them to me.

Thanks for visiting my blog.


First 3 teapots ever

C# first 3 teapots

Cameron Sharp Pottery first 3 teapots

I just uploaded a photo of my first three teapots.  I have been wanting to make some for a while so this is awesome for me.  All three are different.  The first has a deep lid that fits in a gallery with lugs for a cane or wood handle, the second has the lid fitting over a lip with a pulled handle, and the third was inspired by one that Simon Leach made in one of his videos.  It’s for green tea and has no lid with a handle on the side.  I’ll be doing some videos where I talk about the process of making and critiquing my work, so look for those in the future on my YouTube channel at Cameron Sharp Pottery.  I think it is important to be able to do that and decide what worked and what did not or what I like or don’t like to learn what can be done next time.  For example the 3rd teapot has a spout and handle that are too long for practical use.  I think a shorter handle would give more leverage lifting a pot full of tea and the spout could be made to the same length as the handle for balance both physically and aesthetically.  And it would take up much less space on the counter or in the cupboard.

Thanks for visiting.