Happy Father’s Day

ready to bisque

ready to bisque

 

First off, Happy Father’s Day and much gratitude to my Dad  for the support he has given me and my pottery life.  Thanks Dad, you’re the best.

It’s been awhile since I’ve made any pots and I am missing the heat and glow of the kiln, the processes leading up to a firing, and the sound of glaze dripping off a pot.  The mystery of the fire with all it’s magic and power supports the alchemy of transforming clay into ceramic and glaze into glass.  The wet clay in my hands as it spins on the kick wheel is one of the most calming and centering feelings ever.  The clay is not the only one being transformed.

I’d like throwing pots to be even more of a daily practice to recharge my batteries and bring me to center.  I’m a much nicer person to be around when I make pots.  I have more patience when I make pots.  I am more present and a better listener when I make pots.  I feel so much more connected to myself and others when I spend time making pots.  I love the process.  For me, the love is in the doing, the making, the glazing, the firing, etc. much more so than the results at the end of a firing.  I love seeing the results too, but by then I am already making the next load full of pots.

I usually make about 80-100 pots at a time because that is about a full bisque kiln worth depending on the size and shape.  As it turns out after glazing, this same number usually fills my favorite gas kiln for the cone 10 glaze firing.  Glazing more than this number of pots becomes a chore unless the design is simple and repeated.  Space in a small shop is limited and with new pots being made all the time, about 100 to 150 pots waiting for the kiln is about all I can handle. The finished pots are cleaned up and displayed on shelves for me to study and learn from and the rest are kept in boxes ready to sell.  I’m about due to build another display shelf so I can unpack a couple more boxes.

It’s father’s day today and I’m going to be throwing some pots outside in the warm northern California sun.  I’ll post some pics next time.

Thanks for reading my blog,

C#

 

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.
C#

Michael Cardew and Douglas Fitch – inspiration

I’m very inspired by Douglas Fitch at the moment and what appears to be a country potter lifestyle.  All I am going by are his videos.  After reading Pioneer Pottery and Pioneer Potter by Michael Cardew a couple years ago I knew it was the life I wanted.  I had to begin from there.  I learned how to throw and glaze and reclaim clay and a whole lot more.  Here I am now and have just watched all the videos Douglas Fitch made of his work and life there in Devon.  There are sheep running around and ducks at his feet and birds chirping, pots being thrown and covered with slip, and other glimpses of life.  It all looks like a great way to live a life.   Ajira was living in Sidmouth when we met, but we did not venture out too much in Devon when I went to visit.  Pottery was not up on my radar at that time.  I was too busy being in love.  We spent a little time at the Royal York Hotel in Sidmouth, went to Wales, London, etc. then we were on a plane to Cape Town, SA so I could meet her family before we got married in 2004.

I would love to go back to Devon or Wales now to apprentice or study making pottery with some of my favorite potters.  I love the connection to earth and place Douglas talks about in Hollyford Harvest – a film by Alex McErlain, 2009.  Digging your own clay, using slip, firing with wood, and practicing pottery tradition are all things I am interested in doing.  Hopefully my pots will have good form with life in them and vitality.

I tell myself it does not matter where I live, but maybe it does.  Everything I surround myself has an influence on my feelings and thoughts and therefore filters into my centering and energy level.  I often use the process of kneading my clay as a transitional cleanse away from the rest of my day and into the clay and this moment of making pots.  The spiral action is meditative, physical, quiet, and warms up my arms and shoulders.  I often do this with my eyes closed to increase my awareness and my sense of touch, and to discover what is happening with the clay. The weighing up of lumps is the start of what I am about to make.  All this touching informs me of the moisture content and plasticity and awakens my sensitivity and I am ready to throw.  So being somewhere else won’t change that, it will simply be a different moment of getting ready to throw.  But maybe the rest of my life will be more nourishing for my pottery making, family, and soul.

I find it almost unbearable sometimes to be stuck here in this place wanting something else as time flies by.  I convince myself to appreciate what I have and go from that place of gratitude, but I want what I want.  City life is no life for a country boy.  I tried to be big city living in San Francisco.  I tried to be tech and fast paced and hip with music production.  I tried to be on the cutting edge but I found the constant attempt to keep up exhausting and not very authentic.  So it was not for me.  I want a peaceful quiet country side with a community of potters and teachers and friends and group firings and flowers, trees, hills, and green.  I want to walk in the woods and play in the mud with my boy.  I want to have animals as friends who visit and are not threatened by me as a human.  I want to go surfing in the sunshine with no wetsuit.  And I want to make thousands of pots and find my voice as a country potter.  I want to get on with it and yet I know that learning from a master potter will in the long run get me there on more solid ground.  For now I am practicing and learning as much as I can.

A country pottery is challenging in the burbs.  Where do I build my wood kiln?  Fire code?  Too close to the house?  I even have free bricks enough to do it but not the space.  So what?  I will find a way.  There is no stopping me now.  Too many things have come together on my path for me to turn away.

I am certainly not complaining.  I am totally grateful for all the gifts and support.  It supports the theory that if you boldly go for it, the universe steps in and provides.  I have clay, glazes, bricks, wheels, tools, bins and buckets, burners, curiosity, a desire to learn more and more, a blog, a facebook page for Cameron Sharp Pottery, a library card, and the internet.  I’m healthy and strong.  I have support of friends and family, the praise of people who have seen my pots, a friend who is tight with a gallery, the ability to make pots, and the patience to go through the experience of learning by doing, the awareness to know when to let one go and make another.  I have so much going for me already.  I simply have to continue to be inspired and make more pots.  I will trust the process of going through and not worry about what is on the other side.

free kiln bricks

Caruso gave me all the bricks from the Evelyn Kramer kiln in SF

I got about a thousand bricks from a man named Caruso.  He said I could have them if I took apart the kiln, swept up, and hauled them away.  He said the kiln I dismantled was used by his friend Evelyn Kramer.  It was a natural gas kiln made of hard and soft fire bricks with some ceramic fiber here and there.  It sat on top of a layer of concrete blocks which he also gave me.  It took me 3 trips to load and transport them in my van from San Francisco to San Pablo, CA.  He also gave me some pyrometric cones, an 80 mesh sieve and three giant wisks for mixing up glazes.  On the walls of the garage we went through to get to the backyard and kiln, were old photographs and faded pages torn out of of books and tacked up.  Images of pots by Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach, Michael Cardew, and others covered all the walls.  There were posters and flyers of The Potter’s Studio in Berkeley, CA as well as a card from the Richmond Art Center.  These were all from the seventies.  I feel honored to be taking these bricks on to the future and saving them from the dump.  Caruso said that if I had come one day later they would have been gone, hauled away by the city. So thank you Caruso for the bricks and all the extras, and for being so patient and willing to make arrangements for several trips out there to get them.

Life is a mystery.  Just when you think it’s going one way, things happen and suddenly the path opens up and the weather clears and the sunshine beams down and warms the possibilities.  The past with it’s anchors and baggage and house full of grief needs to be lit on fire and burned down to the ground to make way for all the new life that is just there on the path waiting to be lived.  Taking a few steps on this good path feels so right, so correct, so in-line with my soul and my true self.  A happy potter.

The simple pleasure of the sun warming my face is as good as it gets.

Everything can have that quality of life if I let it.

So a big thanks to Douglas Fitch for all the inspiration and the videos you post.  When I get to Devon I’ll look you up.

C#

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.

C#

Surfing

I want to surf again.  I want to get new contact lenses so I can see the waves coming.  I want to heal my back and shoulders so I can paddle out and have fun in the waves with my boy and teach him to surf.  I want to noseride, hang 5, cross step, drop knee turn, and do long sweeping bottom turns on chest to head high waves.  I want to make videos with a GoPro  mounted to my board.  Mostly I want to heal and enjoy the moments in the water and sunshine and have some fun.

I really need to get back in the ocean for my own sanity and the well being of my soul.  When I’m out there the mental chatter stops, the stress melts away, the moment expands and the rise and fall of each swell brings with it endless possibilities.  Simply floating on my board soaking in all the energy and beauty of the ocean is so relaxing and rejuvenating.  Catching waves is another level entirely.  To position myself in the peak spot, to turn around and paddle early and hard enough to match the speed of the wave, then to pop to my feet just before it breaks hoping my feet land in the right place on my board, off I go, zooming down the face harnessing the momentum into a long sweeping bottom turn, carrying all that force right up the wall of water as I take two quick steps closer to the nose, settling down the back of the board is covered with water, the rail is locked and I am cruising down the line.  Going so fast I outrun the wave, I take two steps back and dig my toe in as I drop my knee for a big cutback to get back in position.  I smack off the white water and head for the nose again this time with four little steps placing my front foot out for a cheater five.  Bliss! Thrill! Surfing!  Wipeout!  Hoot and holler I paddle back out smiling as big as my face will allow.  Yeah, I need to get back in the water.

So how does this relate to pottery making?  For me pottery making is a healing journey.  Physically, mentally, emotionally it has helped me feel whole again and soothed some of my injuries.  It’s taught me patience, forgiveness, and allowed me to begin again and again.  I learn how to be centered and present so I can center clay on the wheel.  It has taught me to let go of what just happened or what is coming up and to be focused in the moment.  If I rush it or push too hard the pot does not make it.  I need to be sensitive to the clay and what is happening under my fingers in such a nuanced and subtle way.  Every slight pressure or pinch causes a reaction in the clay.  Long board surfing is similar in that every slight lean or foot pressure or adjustment in balance can take you further down the wave or send you flying off your board.  Both activities invite me to be whole and aware.  In one I make or lose a pot, in the other I make or lose the wave.  Both journeys are beautiful and humbling.  Both journeys require focus and being centered, both allow another chance to begin again being open to learning from this moment.

There is always another wave and there is always another pot.

C#

Why all the othering?

What does it mean to be a simple potter?  What does it mean to be a clay artist?  What does it mean to be a ceramic artist?  What does it mean to be a traditional potter in a modern world?  What is contemporary ceramics?  What does it mean to be a sculptural clay artist?

Does any of this really matter?  Why is it that we try to put everything in a box?  Or assign a label?  It is very limiting.

There is always the pressure to make a living so items are made for practical sales.  However people buy art as well as soup bowls, they buy sculptures, teapots, plaques, tiles, and everything else made from clay.  Which label leaves room for doing anything with clay?  Pure art would not concern itself with sales and yet to be an artist you must sell enough to be able to have the time to make art again and again.  So at some level something must sell whether it is a pot or a sculpture or a tile for someone’s shower.  The purity can be in the making, then the practical can be in the selling.

There is the making stage.

There is the selling it stage.

Two distinct activities…  oops there it is again.  Separating into 2 boxes of activity.  Why is everything so compartmentalized?  I think in the west we are trained this way as we live our lives here.  We are influenced by what we hear.  “Don’t mix business and pleasure” We are brainwashed by big media to zone out in front of a tv and watch a depiction of other people living their lives, to get caught up in it so we follow it, talk about it with our coworkers as if it is important and these are real people, we program our devices to capture the next episode because we just cannot miss it.  Sure it is the story telling of our times, but we could be living our own life instead of watching others live theirs.  It’s 2 dimensional. flat, false, made up, contrived, and spoon fed to us so that we disconnect with ourselves, our emotions, our physical body, our being is split and separated, we become a group of boxes, we fit ourselves into what boxes are offered as acceptable.  We are forced to choose time and again what box we go into.

Even when we sign up for a Facebook page it asks are you an artist, company, product, etc.  and then when you pick we are asked to pick another box to stuff ourselves into and the categories don’t include one that is accurate or real so we compromise and pick something that is close.  But it isn’t.  Same with signing up for Paypal as a merchant to sell handmade pots.  There is no category for selling art, only art supplies.  There is no category for selling handmade anything.

Look at our history and find all sorts of “othering” in the form of classicism, racism, sexism, exclusivity, etc. We are in a constant state of war somewhere in the world with some country or group we deem as other.  Us against them, they are the others, we are not the others, those people over there who are somehow different for some reason are the ones we call other.  We are brought up to believe in competition.  Teamwork and collaboration are encouraged so long as we come together to defeat the other.  The criteria for othering is false and on the surface.  It is made up and handed to us.  The truth is we are all human beings, really we are all earth beings to take it a step further to include animals and we share the same planet.  I guess that is the big box we are all in…Earth.

I am human, I am potter, I am artist, I am son, husband, father.  I am friend, I am clay, water, fire.  I am breath.  I am I, You are you, and we are One.

I know!  Maybe I’ll make some boxes.  Square ones, round ones, flat ones, tall ones.  Hey, a casserole is a box.  I’ll make those.

Thanks for stopping by.

C#