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#

Carbon Nation and my kiln

Just watched an eye opening documentary film called Carbon Nation on Netflix and it got me thinking about firing the kiln for my pottery.  What is the cost in money as well as impact on our atmosphere?  What are the best choices for reducing CO2 emissions?  Is it using an electric kiln?  Sure if the source is wind generated electricity or from solar but not if that electricity was created by burning coal in a huge power plant?  Coal is by far the dirtiest burning fossil fuel.  So what is the sustainable thing to do when designing a kiln and deciding what the heat source will be?

What about natural gas?  It comes to the house already.  It’s convenient and relatively inexpensive. I can have it run out to the kiln pretty easily and it is cleaner burning but there are issues with how it is collected and the damage that process does to our environment.  I would also have the cost of special burners which are a sizable chunk of change.

What about propane?  It is widely used around the globe for heating and cooking.  Simon Leach and others use it for their kilns successfully.  I could use inexpensive weed burners which are only $20 each from Harbor Freight.

What about an oil drip system using reclaimed vegetable oil from restaurants?  Biofuels are all the rage now.  Would that work?

What about an oil drip system using waste oil from garages?  Too toxic to deal with and still uses petroleum oil which keeps it in the system and burning it is a dirty burn.  Giving the waste oil an easy place to go seems like it would encourage more use of it.  What we really need to do is have electric cars that plug in and get our electricity by wind and solar.

What about wood?  Burning wood releases CO2 but how much?  If I am using wood that is thrown away by someone else it’s being reclaimed and that’s a good thing keeping it from the landfills.  And maybe they would give it to me free for taking it off their hands.  Win win.  Nothing beats the look and feel of wood fired pots.

What if I used natural gas and wood?  The gas could be the main heat source and wood for the effects.  Less wood means less ash?  Does it mean less CO2?  And will the pots be as beautiful as they would be from an all wood firing?

Is methane an option?  People have been collecting their own on small scale farms.  Manure from just a few animals creates enough methane for heating and cooking for a family of 5.  That is if you can get past the idea of using crap gas.  How much is needed for a cone 10 firing?  What kind of burners work with methane?  How large must the kiln be to support this family and a pottery?  How often must it be fired to have enough pots to sell?

Maybe landfill gas could work.  It sounds complicated in terms of delivery and burner type etc. but may be worth checking out since landfills are everywhere there are humans.

What about a solar kiln?  Remember the magnifying glass from childhood held over the leaves until they ignited?  On a larger scale would this work for a kiln somehow?  I suppose you could have solar panels collect energy and run an electric kiln for bisque firing.  Some potters single fire their pots thereby reducing the need for a bisque firing.  It seems like that would mean less CO2 but wood firings are usually a lot longer so there may be no significant savings.

And what about all that heat that comes out of the chimney?  There must be a way of harnessing it to create electricity for the pottery or storing it, or even selling it back to the electric company.  In colder climates duct work could be set up to collect heat from around the chimney.  In simple terms, the heat could boil water and the steam could rise up to turn something and that could produce electricity.  If the kiln was fired once per month could it produce enough energy for the month?  Or could it produce enough to pay for the firing, creating a break even and thereby increasing the profits for the pottery?

Currently the cost of firing is my largest expense.  My clay was given to me by John from The Clay Studio in San Francisco, CA when they went out of business as well as twenty 5-gallon buckets of glaze that work with their clay.  That’s about 3,000 pounds of clay and 100 gallons of glaze!  Thanks John!  My main kick wheel was $40 off craigslist, the other kick wheel was free.  The broken electric kiln I fixed up and intend to convert to propane gas was free from Clay People in Richmond, CA. I make some of my own tools and the rest were given to me.  Essentially the largest cost for me has been time.  It has taken a lot of time to gather all these things together so I could make pots. In fact their was six months without making pots at all, working and gathering and searching and it felt like I was sick.  I was aching to get back to clay.  If I had the money I probably would have gone to The Potters Studio in Berkeley, CA and become a member.  The community is supportive and I learned from being around other potters.  It would have been too easy to just throw and trim and stick it on the shelf for someone else to bisque, then use the studio glazes (some of which I love) and put it on a shelf again for the big gas kiln which someone else would fire.  In the long run it is better for my development to do it all on my own and learn each aspect as I do it.  Even though I watched a lot of videos and took a couple classes, the real learning was when I got my hands on clay during my practice time outside of class and after that on my own just doing it.

So check out Carbon Nation and the other links in this post and let me know what you think.  Maybe there is a new kind of kiln yet to be invented.

Much gratitude for all the free stuff and thanks for reading.

C#

Emerging Artist

drying clay in the winter sun

drying out clay in the winter sunshine

Emerging artist.  emerging artist?  emergency artist?  emerging from what? from where? What is an emerging artist?  I guess it means becoming known on the scene.  I like this idea of always beginning.  Each pot is a new beginning, each session of kneading is a new beginning, and each washing up.

A beginner is always searching and learning something new by doing it.  Theory can get your mind going but really, doing it is where the learning begins.  There are so many forms I want to make.  It is endless.  I want to make and sell pots that people can buy and use.  I’m more attracted to green than blue, more to red and brown than purple, orange and black to me are better than pastel anything.  I like creamy milky satiny white and yellows.  I like transparent jade greens and deep translucent emeralds more than muted olive green.  I like browns.  I like reds that are warm and irony more than reds with blue.  I want to make pots that look as if they just took a breath of fresh life, and glaze them in such a way that maintains fluidity like water.

Ok so I am emerging.  I am emerging from an old tired career that was suppose to be a means to an end and somehow has become what I do and have done for far too long.  When you do something for so long it gets routine and boring.  It is not the beginner’s experience.  I want very much to start fresh like a spring flower and bloom in the sunshine of newness and learning.  An experience of trying something new every day is invigorating and challenging, encouraging me to resist judgment and frustration with a gentle intention of freedom, forgiveness and fun.  If it is not fun why do it.  Warren Mackenzie says that making pots ought to be fun.  I’m with him.  I want to have fun and enjoy what I do.  It will not be easy and it will be a long road.  The road is long anyway so making pots has just as much of a chance for me than anything else.  More of a chance because I love doing it.  I’ve been there and done that, and there and that don’t appeal to me anymore.  I want here and this instead.  ooh I like!  Been there done that, now I want to be here and do this.

I made a little piece of music the other night on my computer and found myself enjoying the first 20 minutes and then it became something else.  Something I did not enjoy, something that was trying to be something it was not.  It became a searching and sifting through process instead of a creating one.  My process of songwriting used to be free and flowing until I involved a computer and production.  Even when it sounds cool or hip or funky etc. it sounds like everything else.  When I used to just sing to write the song, it was more real and unique and more human and less machine.  I think making pots needs to be this way as well, fast and free.  To spend too much time on a single pot can take all the life out of it.  I want to always improve my throwing skills so I can let it all go and just make pots, like an actor rehearses lines, memorizes blocking, studies the scene and then lets it all go for the performance trusting that the work has been done.  It is like that with making pots.  Learn technique first and then let it go to be free and trust that the time spent on the basics will always be there for me to tap into.

This winter sunshine is a gift. It’s helping to dry out my clay chunks so I can slake them down.  It’s keeping my glazes from freezing and feels good on my face.  I’m filled with gratitude for everything that has led me to this moment.  All the ups and downs are part of the journey and this moment is where I want to be doing this.

Be here do this.

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#