Friday, July 31, 2009

Ready for Decals

Well, fortune was smiling on us yesterday, and here are about 30 pieces ready for decals (they're what we have that didn't get underfired or overfired).

Strangely, because of the firing error, even the pieces that were fired to temperature (cone-10 reduction) didn't get a reduced look - they actually look like they came out of an electric. But, it turns out to be pretty decent for decals - bland, but they won't distract. We may try some other tricks to add visual interest.

We've been getting images together all day and we'll have a decal firing this weekend. Check
back with us next week for pictures!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

In Suspense

So, if you didn't know, Carrie works as an assistant at a community studio, and we use the studio's kilns for our work. Well, while she was over there glazing last night, she heard some distressing news - the gas firing we have been waiting for seems to have gone "boink."

I don't quite understand what went wrong - Carrie really should be writing the blog today - but it involves some bricks in the wrong place and a resulting temperature mishap. To make it short, everything at the top of the kiln is underfired, everything in the bottom is overfired, and we won't know how badly until it's opened tonight. The studio owner isn't optimistic.

Neither are we. After all, we have most of three weeks' worth of work in that kiln. These are the pieces that we were going to use for our first (ideally) successful series of decals (you've seen the misfire with the last test round) and if things are as bad as the owner thinks, it will be even longer before we manage to get a decent collection of Sparkling Bros. pots.

Keep your fingers crossed for some salvageable pieces!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Scraffito Action!

Because of our setback with decals, it will be a while before we have anything to show you in that area. So, we're back for now to the tried-and-true scraffito/underglaze combination that has served us so well in the past.

Here is a bowl Gabe has decorated with images from a comic strip he's been working on. "The Homunculus" is inspired by certain William Blake images, particularly a painting of the god Los creating the world from a glob of blood. "The Homunculus" is a kind of cartoon creation myth.

As you can see, the drawings have been accented with colored underglaze on greenware. The effect we're hoping for is a watercolor-like translucency similar to Blake's watercolor prints.

Most of the Homunculus' poses are drawn from figures in Blake's prophecies, turned into a blobby, infantile character.

Previously we've used underglaze on bisque, but after seeing David Gurney's trees of life, which he colors at the green stage, we decided to try underglazing bone-dry. We'll see what happens.

We'll show some more drawings soon. Anyway, this bowl and some others will be going into the kiln, so come back to see more images.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Living in the Blogosphere

Sofa City Sweethearts, an Etsy blog, just featured one of Old Cat Died's items, a bowl titled "Goodbye, Tiny Porkpie Hat." Thanks to Sofa City Carrie and here's to returning favors - go check out her blog!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Favorite Cups

Pete Pinnell’s musings on cups and the reasons he loves particular cups prompted me to think about our favorite vessels, the ones we use every day. So here are a few:

Gabe’s favorite teabowl

I use this red cup, made by our friend Carter Gillies, every day. I generally use it as a teabowl, though I sometimes drink cold water out of it as well. Carter’s form is particularly comfortable, and he has a habit of pressing in an indention for one finger which always falls in the best place to balance the cup. It’s got a good weight, and as Pinnell says of one of his favorite mugs, it forces me to stop a moment and think about what I’m drinking. Before I bought this one, I had never used a teabowl before, but I found it really appeals to me and I’ve started using another that Carrie made – the “Quack” cup inspired by one of Eva’s favorite words.

I’ve been clumsy with this one and it has some small chips in the foot, but somehow they make it more personal to me. Someone (I can’t remember who) told me when I was a kid that a thing doesn’t really belong to you until you damage it. That was probably just one of those things an adult tells you to make you feel better when you break something, but it has stuck with me, and I still follow it – I don’t feel a pipe is really mine until I’ve burned the rim or scuffed up the finish, for instance.

I also like the Quack cup because its wide mouth allows the tea to cool off quickly. Some people would hate that, but I don’t like really hot tea, and I enjoy having the last swallow be cold and easy to drink down. There’s something satisfying about finishing the cup in a gulp rather than a sip, like finishing up hard work in a coup.

Carrie’s favorite mug

Unlike me, Carrie likes her coffee HOT. If it doesn’t scald her tongue, it’s not satisfying. So she enjoys using this mug by Bekke Broadhurst, another Good Dirt potter. It’s a simple wort on stoneware with a wide bottom, narrow top, and cool tab on the top of the handle, all of which contributes in a practical way to a hot but comfortable cup of coffee.

Our favorite drinking cup

Another cup by Carter, we use this cup at almost every meal and all through the day. Like Gabe’s teabowl, it has Carter’s distinctive wave in the form and the finger indentation for grasping.

Carrie’s favorite wine cup

Carrie hates glass wineglasses – she says they feel too fragile and make her nervous. So her favorite wineglass is a teabowl made for her by Sheila Bradley to demonstrate throwing and slip-trailing techniques. Even though it’s made for hot drinks, the rounded shape actually works well for red wine (Carrie’s preference), allowing you to warm it in your hand and swirl it around like a small snifter. And it’s pretty and delicate, just like a crystal wineglass. So who says you have to drink wine from a glass?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We were mesmerized by this video interview with the master potter and theorist Pete Pinnell. It’s an older video, but it’s the first time we’ve come across it and we thought it worth sharing with others who had not seen it.

You really should watch it, but just to summarize, Pinnell begins with a capsule history of modern art’s movement from abstraction and detachment at the turn of the 20th century, to the 1960s engagement with politics and public life, finally turning to the need for art to engage with private, daily life as well.

Pinnell argues that pottery, being something both beautiful and functional, is the ideal medium for artists to engage with daily life. To simplify, objects that we pick up, serve food from, put to our lips, and put in our mouths, land higher on the hierarchy of intimacy than any other object in our lives – many of which we may look at but not touch, touch but not taste, etc. They are, therefore, in the perfect situation to speak artistically to us on a daily basis, and to speak to us with a variety of sense languages – touch, taste, and scent as well as sight.

I’m grateful to Pinnell for his observations on how pottery communicates. It finally gives me a way of thinking about why we at Old Cat Died feel so strongly about narrative pottery and finding ways to communicate our own personal images and stories into our work. I am a Romanticist and rhetorician by trade, a writer by craft, and while there’s a lot that I don’t know or understand about pottery (Carrie’s been in it for quite a few years now, but it’s new to me), if I understand anything, it’s communication.

Many potters want to think about their craft in strictly utilitarian, practical, or scientific ways, and while the chemistry and physics of pottery is fascinating, and the perfection of form is an honorable pursuit, it seems that too few really give any thought to what their work communicates. Even those of us to concentrate on surface decoration often confine that consideration to practical details like color, balance, smoothness, etc. Few of us think about what is being communicated beyond whether it is “pretty” in some superficial way.

That’s where narrative comes in for us. By foregrounding storytelling, even when that storytelling is simplified and abstracted, we make communication primary. That priority does not have to come at the expense of form or composition, either, though sometimes it may obscure or distract from other elements.

The mistake made by many potters who concentrate on surface decoration is to disregard or short-change the form. But a good piece of pottery should treat all aspects equally. The whole work has to communicate; the whole work has to be beautiful; the whole work has to be well-formed. If one element is lacking, the work is incomplete. And to us, at least, if a pot doesn’t tell a story – about life, about someone, even just about itself – we are not interested.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Old Cat Died Giveaway!

A special promotion from Old Cat Died: the first Facebook fan to make a comment on the blog gets this house free!

If you're not already a Facebook fan, go join right now! Right now! Seriously! And get a free house with titties on it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

First Decal Experiments

So, we've done our first batch of decal experiments, but we didn't exactly get the results we were expecting. The problem is not the decals themselves at all - they came out quite crisp and clear. The problem was with the cups themselves.

We high-fired (in gas reduction) slipped redware, expecting a mottled, sepia look something like old daguerreotypes. But it seems a bad batch of slip made for a much different look.

The problem can be seen most in this one. The iron from the clay body leached through the slip and created these hideous rusty blotches. The Purple Myrtle cup is so bad the iron obscures the image.

The Hector cup came out the best, in my opinion, but Carrie doesn't like the color - she thinks it "looks like someone threw up all over Hector." But the decal is clean and the iron in the clay body didn't leach through so badly.

Notice the leaching here on the Sparkling Bros. logo.

And here, to a lesser extent, in Carlo's Dream.

This little cup with the OCD logo looks pretty good, being of the "so-simple-you-can't-screw-it-up" variety.

At any rate, we know what went wrong with these, and the whole process has been a learning experience. If we've learned the right lessons hopefully the next attempt will be more successful.

Feel free to share some of your own failure stories - learning from others' mistakes is the best way to learn.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Craftsmanship and Cheap Products

In light of some of the conversation we've had here and on other pottery blogs, I thought it would be worthwhile to post a link to an interesting book review article in Salon today.

It's nothing that most of us have not heard or thought about before, but stated very succinctly in a digestible format (a book review).

Not to be a shill or anything, but it's probably worth checking out of the library for any of us who think of ourselves as craftspeople, artisans, or artists.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Sparkling Bros. Carnival

After much delay, we will soon begin featuring The Sparkling Bros. Carnival on pottery! Since we don't want our fans to feel behind, I thought I'd take a moment and introduce some of the characters.

Hector is the stone-faced hero of the strip. A life-long show person, Hector grew up performing in a rinky-dink theme park and found his niche as a capable and unflappable carny. Whether feeding the two-headed alligator or fighting a raging hot-dog wagon fire, Hector can't be shaken. His only weakness - his unrequited adoration of Purple Myrtle.

Purple Myrtle, the Sparkling Bros. bearded lady/fat lady/sex goddess extraordinaire, is the object of Hector's shy desire. She sings opera (but only in secret), always comports herself with grace and dignity, and always packs the house.

Frank is Hector's best friend and partner. He's fun-loving, lazy, and probably drunk most of the time, unless he's just a little off in the head. They may be opposites, but Frank and Hector complement each other like Spam and ketchup.

Cassandra, Mistress of Fire, is a juggler and fire breather, and just a few ink-hours away from taking over as Tattooed Lady.

There are many more characters to meet, but it will have to wait until we see some pieces. Hope you're all as excited as we are!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Our Imagery

Since we have some new mugs out of the kiln, I thought it might be fun to give a little description of where some of our imagery came from. We prefer images from our personal lives and stories, and images that have some personal significance to us. We're always looking for a balance: too personal and no one can respond to them - too disconnected from our own experience, and we can't give them any personality and life.

"How Does Your Garden Grow": we've already talked about the fertility goddess figures and their influence on our work, but this teabowl incorporates one of my longtime fixations: Stonehenge. Partly it's in debt to Blake, who incorporated what he thought of as "Salisbury Plain" imagery into his prophecies long before New Age kooks caught on, but part of my fascination is personal - ever since seeing pictures of Stonehenge in a "Mysteries of the World" book as a small child, I have had dreams about the monument. So, it has a tendency to show up in my own drawing.

"I Could Birth a Watermelon": Something Carrie's midwife actually told her. The midwife probably meant it to be encouraging, as in "Don't worry about giving birth, you'll be able to do it," but Carrie found it a little 0ff-putting - after all, it's not exactly a compliment. Eventually, it became a joke she would tell people. Now it's a slightly cryptic message on a mug. Ah, the course of art.

"The day Mom squeezed the canary": not one of our stories, but my mother-in-law's - a sad, true story from her childhood. Growing up in a big, loud Italian family in Brooklyn, one of the favorite parts of her and her sisters' lives was their little yellow canary, Pretty Boy. Someone (Nana can't remember who) trained the bird to fly from its cage and land in their hands, one of those cute things people train birds to do. One day, though, her mother called the canary over and, in a moment of "don't know my own strength," grabbed the bird too tightly. "Nancy Ann and me just screamed," Nana describes; "We called her 'murderer'." It was the end of Pretty Boy.

"this pier lights our carnival life forever": Growing up in New Jersey, unsurprisingly, one of Carrie's heroes was Bruce Springsteen. She has pretty much every Springsteen album on vinyl, and many a Sunday morning has been spent blasting "Born to Run." (Why Sunday? Why not?) Springsteen inspired a fascination with Asbury Park, carnivals, and suburban decay, and living on the Jersey shore inspired a love of piers and boardwalks. All of those come together in this teabowl, with its Springsteen quote and image of (as usual, me) driving a bumper car.

We hope our imagery gives people a sense of connection to us. We've talked so much recently about pricing and selling, and it seems that one of the best ways to create customers and fans is to make meaningful relationships.

As always, we love comments. Any similar stories for your pottery, or images you love?