Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tears and Sighs of Relief.

Last post, I was waiting. I'd loaded the kiln to the brim with new work ans was looking forward to posting pretty pictures here. When I lifted out the first three bowls on top, I couldn't believe my eyes. I wished for the best. My wish was not granted.

I worked hard on these bowls. Throwing and trimming went especially well. I painted on the black under glaze, did the sgraffito and bisque fired them. They came through it all looking great. Then, it was time for final glazing. I mixed up the clear glaze just like I’d done before and poured it into and around them carefully tipping out the excess. I put them carefully into the kiln and closed the lid.

The glaze that was supposed to be crystal clear on all three bowls was bumpy and bubbly. This is bad.

And, I’m ashamed to admit it but I cried. I was that disappointed.

Now, here’s the point in my story when the music swells and I tell the story of problems solved and lessons learned and achievement. I'm not there, yet. But there is some good news.

This hand-built vessel that came out with all the sculpted leaves whole and the colors soft and even. This piece was another labor of love that took a long time and a lot of patience. I'll share the process in more detail in another blog, I promise. But for today, let's just say I lifted the shelf, saw it and let out a very big sigh of relief. My labors were not lost here.

And, to be honest, I did get a lot of pieces where the clear glaze did work out ok. Maybe not quite as well as I wanted, but the mugs, vases and bowls are fine and functional. Still, I am far from solving the problem of getting a nice, smooth, even coat of clear glaze over my black sgraffito. I’ve googled and emailed and asked the few people I know only to find out that, well I’m not the only one who has this problem. I've had several people suggest that I re-fire the bowls. At this point, I have nothing to lose. I'll try it and let you know how it works out.

I guess the biggest lesson learned here is this: that doing your best isn’t going to guarantee the best results. You just have to wish and wait and hold your breath. Sigh with relief when something turns out and cry a little (or swear) when it doesn't. Then, you just have to move on.

If you have any suggestions, please pass it along in the comments!

Thursday, March 21, 2013


I loaded the kiln. I pushed the button and turned the knobs to low, medium and finally, high. At 11:15 p.m., the kiln was off. The cool down began.

Now the only thing for me to do is wait.

It’s so tempting to go down there, lift the lid and peak inside. I want to see that all the bowls, mugs, vases and plates are ok. But I can’t. The kiln is still warm to the touch on the outside and a quick test of the peep hole feels very warm. My garage on the other hand is cold. If I give in to temptation and raise the lid, the difference between the temperature in the kiln and garage could cause my pieces to crack or break. And after all the time throwing, trimming, under glazing and glazing, the last thing I want is a broken pieces.

So, I wait.

While I wait, I fight between doing and non-doing.

I clean brushes. Recycle newspapers. Mop the floor. Make drawings for painting green ware pieces that are too wet to paint yet. I rearrange my studio shelves and almost break several pieces. I get the message, get out of the studio.

So, I go.

I go to yoga. I see that, maybe, it’s time to embrace the Zen idea of non-doing. How do I do that? Well, doing it or anything isn’t the point, is it? It’s time for a little R&R. So I do what I normally do. Read a magazine. Search for dinner recipes online. Redecorate my tables for spring with fresh flowers, painted eggs and, well, you get the idea. It’s not exactly non-doing that I’m doing, is it? Nope. It takes spilling my cup of green tea to wake me up to the fact that I am doing a lot that usually means I’m really running from fear.

So, I sit.

I pull a few cards from my Zen Tarot deck. What do I get? Guilt. Turning In. Receptivity. Existence. My guilt is keeping me doing. I feel bad about not working even though it’s my hard work that has filled the kiln and another batch is waiting to fill it. It’s time to Turn In, like the cards say, and watch my monkey mind swing around me with amusement. Allow me to be Receptive (open) to what really matters, that I Exist here and now.

So, I close my eyes. Breathe. Watch. Listen. Open up.

And, of course, wait.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The week the wheel stopped.

It was so hard to resist. The pull of the wheel was so strong. But when the shelves in my studio are crowded with bisque ware and green ware and there’s no more room, it’s time to stop. Did I? No. I kept throwing anyway. But when my next day at the wheel yielded nothing but lumps of yuck, I knew it was time. Self-sabotage is a mean but wise teacher.

The bisque ware sitting on the shelves was calling to me. It wanted my attention. It wanted to be finished. And as much as I wanted to get it all finished, I wavered and waffled and waltzed all around it. Why? Because the decisions I make on each piece is final. And that’s not just a little intimating, it’s scary. I’ve put energy and time and love into the forming of these bowls, vases and cups. Procrastination is a wonderful way to avoid failure. Or so it seems at the time. But I know that not finishing is just as bad.

For the last two weeks, I’ve painted, stained and sanded. Every day, I planned to get more done than I actually did. It felt like a snail’s pace compared to the speed of wheel throwing. But as I took down one piece at a time and made those important design and finishing decisions, I felt a weight lifting.

Here’s a hand built vase in the green ware stage. You can see the actual leaves still attached.

Here it is after the bisque firing. Notice the leaves are gone because they burned off in the kiln.

Here it is after all the layers of oxides have been applied, washed off, and applied again.

Now along with the other bisque pieces, it’s ready for final firing. The rest of the pieces will get a clear glaze before the final firing, which I still need to do.

The wheel may have stopped for a week but my work didn’t. It just took on a different pace and a different place. But piece by piece, it all gets done. Why do I always forget that?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

29 years ago, my life changed.

It was a long 28 hours, but finally at 9:50 pm, my daughter was born. I took one look at her tiny little face and precious fingernails and fell in love. In that moment, my life changed. Forever.

I didn’t know it then, though. I was still planning on an 8 week maternity leave and going back to my great job in advertising as a writer. When the time came to go back to work at the office, I knew the work I loved had been replaced by another stronger and more important love: my daughter. I made the choice, then, to quit my job and take on an even more important one, full time mom.

It was not a popular choice at the time. Feminism was at its height and working outside the home was considered to be the new women’s choice. But my heart knew my choice was the right one for me. It was scary to go from two incomes to one but with my husband’s support and partnership, we made it work for both our children.

In the 29 years since my life changed, I've had many challenges but I’ve never regretted choosing my children first. And even though I don’t work in an office anymore, I still write and create. Now I work in my own office or studio and I’m my own (and sometimes really demanding) boss.

In honor of my daughter’s birthday, here’s a poem I wrote about 29 years ago waking up to my new life.

Silence and darkness
Enfold me in a warm blanket
And softly creeps away to morning.
The hush springs into song as one lone bird calls to another
And the black sky lightens to charcoal, then gray.
Just as the day rises slowly, so does another
Joining the music outside is the first yawn, stretch and call of my child waking.