29 December 2009

guests in the shop

I often throw out an invitation to those people who express an interest in making something out of clay. not necessarily coming up for "lessons"...just a simple project they had in mind.

a couple of weeks ago while working at the bookstore with my friend greer...i commented on her clay pendant and then carried on to say that if she was interested in making them...it could be a pretty simple project. being 23...done with college, light on the domestic obligations and pretty ambitious.. she got right to work.

instead of using my stamps/texture objects...she borrowed my lino cutter and picked up some pink erasers and after querying her friends about their 'spirit animals' proceeded to carve a load of beautiful rubber stamps.

when she arrived here...we rolled out a slab and she got to work....and did a mighty fine job.

it's always fun and a little strange to have someone in the shop working alongside me. how nice to be able to chat a bit with a person instead of the dogs. i usually have on just music or a book on tape or a tv show. leif rarely visits the studio for more than a few minutes...i'm not sure why. i'm considering removing a work table and putting in a small couch but that might facilitate entirely too much relaxing and cat nap taking and daydreaming. we'll see.

02 December 2009

This time of year the studio starts getting stacked up with finished pots, pots that didn't quite work out, freshly thrown ware, dried work and general clay mess. Tea mugs and wine glasses and snack plates don't make it back to the kitchen at the end of the day.

Slop buckets get backed up as I fall behind with clay recycling and this is the season for knocking things over in the shop because it's just too cluttered.

I also notice that the stacks of misc. in the house get bigger and dishes linger near the sink longer. This morning I realized that I have subconsciously been avoiding work emails and phone messages..hmmmm. I am a firm believer that chaos breeds more chaos, like a bad virus.

So..back to scheduling 101 for the next 3 weeks. Get the monkey off my back and the boxes that I "cleaned" out of the closet either back into the closet or off to the goodwill. I straightened up in the studio yesterday for an hour and got my floor clean the way I like it. I work better when I'm not surrounded by mess but that is difficult right now.

I adore the holiday season in general but work wise it can make me a little nauseous.

May the force be with all of you "makers of things" with orders to fill and shelves to stock.

11 November 2009

crocks r us

I'm loving the crock/giant vase making. I do have to pay close attention in order to get the handles on before the rims dry out but they seem to have survived. I hope to put some of these in my etsy shop if anyone is interested. I seem to be having a difficult time keeping the store up to date and stocked with pictures and descriptions. ...it's been added to the list.

Holiday production is under way as well as wedding registry roundup. I also took my first wholesale order yesterday which seems like it will work out well. It's just 48 mugs for a local coffee roaster to sell at their 4 valley locations so nothing crazy. They will let me put my business cards in the mugs so that will be great. Now, to get them made asap.

I also made an urn for my Grandma Betty who passed away on Friday. I'm so happy to be able to do this for her. I would love to keep a nice selection of cremation urns available. The funeral homes just take grieving folks for a ride with their selection....ridiculously overpriced.

I'm off to glaze pots for the day and grind shelves from the last firing and mix up new glazes. I hope to fire on Sunday and then again on Thursday.

19 October 2009

snug as a pug....or something like that.

I've been anxiously awaiting the end of my scrap buckets of cone 6 stoneware so that I could completely clean all of the red clay out of my pugmill and start processing the scrap from my new high fire porcelain and stoneware. Thursday was that day. Of course I had 19 other things that I probably should have been working on but when duty calls....

I bought my Venco de-airing pugmill about 8 years ago I think. It's one of those luxuries that some potters afford themselves to recycle clay and in some cases...avoid wedging. (kneading the clay to get the air bubbles out). I treated myself because it was in the "pre-mortgage" glory days of extra money. I think it was about $2300 or so. Since I had it apart, I thought some of you might be interested in how it works (or not.) I'm a bit of a machine freak so I love this stuff. I usually take it apart about twice a year to clean out the screen which ends up full of gravel bits, sponge parts, earrings, etc. It usually takes a little over 2 hours and involves bleeding knuckles.

LinkAfter my slurry has dried for a week in a plaster tray (see 'clay management) it is fed through this hopper in tennis ball sized chunks. This screen catches any big items (needle tool) that may have fallen into the slop bucket.

It then passed into the auger chute and through this smaller screen which catches the bits of gravel chunks, etc. It then continues through the auger where the vacuum pump attaches and sucks out all of the air so there are no bubbles in the finished clay (that's a good thing).I've had some trouble with the old gasket leaking a bit so I pulled it out last year and now each time I crack open the barrel, I reseal it with this goopy gasket product that seems to do the trick.
The pugmill is anxiously awaiting some smooth, white cone 10 clay.....maybe this afternoon.

14 October 2009

artist questionnaire..

When did you consider yourself a professional artist and when were you able to dedicate yourself full time to that pursuit?

i suppose when i started selling pots a little over a decade ago. when i look at them now, it is a sincere effort not to cringe but the people who bought them, enjoy them and that is really all that matters in the end.

How long have you been in this studio?

almost 7 years in this shop..we built our home here at that time.

Is your studio separate from your home? Is that what you prefer and does that affect your work?

my shop is about 150 feet from the house. it leads to a very intimate home/work relationship for me that is nearly impossible to separate. i'm in the shop throughout the day and night most every day. having your studio at home, to me, means integrating your work into the flow of your everyday.

Did you have a plan for the layout of your studio or did it develop organically?

leif tried diligently to get me to do a work flow layout when we were designing my building, but i've just never been a great planner.

we've already added on to my shop and i could use about double the space. i think i was going for cozy and am now interested in a bigger, more open space with an area for clay storage, hand building and a small gallery for finished work. (not asking for much, am i?)

Has the studio location influenced your work?

i don't see how it couldn't...i live in the forest near glacier national park. i see few, if any, people in the course of my day. i love living in the woods...love, love, love.

Please describe a typical day, being as specific as possible. For example: What time to you get up? When do you come to the studio? Do you have specific clothing you change into?

i get up when i wake up for the most part, which most often is between 7:30 and 8. it changes with the seasons and daylight hours. i usually drink tea or coffee and am on the computer for at least an hour. then clean up the house and maybe work outside and usually in the shop around 11am. i'm in and out all day...very a.d.d. in that regard. my work and housework are intertwined.

my clothing is usually an eclectic combination of cutoff overalls over leggings, several shirts, maybe boots if i'm in the mood. i really have to have be 'feeling' my outfit for some reason :)

working alone does not foster the most cohesive clothing choices, plus nearly everything that i own is stained, torn, or just plain tired.

Do you listen to music, the radio, or TV when you work? If so, what, and does it affect your work?

i listen to music (satellite radio or cds) depending on my mood. i also watch a few t.v. shows (oprah, charlie rose and sometimes martha stewart). at night, the t.v. definitely helps me to keep on working (we get 4 channels,thank god one of them is pbs). i also listen to books on c.d. and talk on the phone. a couple of weeks ago, i set up my computer and skyped with a friend in san francisco while trimming pots. it was great fun.

Do you have any special devices or tools that are unique to your creative process?

not that i know of...my wheel, kilns, and pugmill are tools of the trade. my hands are the most important tool and that's why i freak out if i hurt them (which is a regular occurrence).

Are there specific items here that have significant meaning to you?

in my shop, i imagine that the most meaningful objects are those things related to my friend susan who taught me so much and passed away 2 years ago. the ravens that she sculpted watch over me and a few pictures of us on the walls. also, tools that she bought for me.

Do you work on one project at a time, or several?

Several....i'll start throwing a new series while the previous set is drying. my work is not very complex or heady so it's more a matter of timing than mental focus.

When you are contemplating your work, where and how do you sit or stand?

i usually take a hard look at my pots when i put them on the shelves in front of my wheel and sit back down in my chair. if i need to tweak the lines, i'll stick the bat back on the wheel and touch it up. (a bat is the plastic disk that attaches to my wheel, that the pot sits on).

How often do you clean your studio, and does it affect your work?

i am a chronic shop cleaner....clay dust and glaze drips are my enemy. that doesn't mean i'm the neatest person in the world, but i mop and sponge several times a day. my shop is small so being clean is important.

Do you have assistants?

i often dream of an assistant to do some of the more tedious tasks but then i remind myself that i still love the process and that moving clay slop, mixing glazes, loading kilns and pugging clay are an important part of the pot making.

Did you ever work for another artist, and if so, did that have any effect on the way you work?

i have never worked for another artist but think that being an apprentice would have improved my learning curve. i love to chat with other full time artists who make their living selling their work. we are a small crowd for sure and i love getting a different perspective on the creative process as well as the business end of selling our work.
Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?

"ain't is a blessing to be doing what what you wanna do?" is a shawn mullins quote that i have painted on the door of my shop and it's the truth. hard as it is sometimes, i wouldn't have it any other way.

What advice would you give a young artist that is just starting out?

i find it curious that so many artists advise choosing another path...because it can be so difficult to make a living selling art but i firmly believe that with the right approach, strong work ethic and proper business training..it is possible earn a living but i think it is a tough road for studio artists. selling on the internet has cracked open the market though for those that can keep up.

06 October 2009

making a plan..

cup o tea...check. one of the 19 notebooks that I use...check. calculator...check.

It's "make a plan before you spontaneously combust" day. I gotta say...I do love to plan and make lists and schedule my month a bit. Even though it rarely comes to exact fruition, just by putting pen to paper, I tend to feel loads better.

Currently, I've got special orders written on scraps of paper floating around or just written in my head. I've now deleted the phone number for a woman in Havre who ordered mixing bowls....I thought for sure it would stay in my caller i.d. but ummmm....not. I'll track her down but how ridiculous. Sometimes the planning just gets away from me and then I feel overwhelmed and start having dreams about being late for concerts and planes and totally unprepared.

I already feel better as a result of writing that I'm going to make a plan, even though I haven't done a thing yet. Sigh.

22 September 2009

final tweaks and we're hot

A quick update for those that do not follow on facebook as to the tweaking of the kiln.

First...I took apart my door and car bed so that we could lift it up (way heavy) to get the rails in. Also, I could rebuild the door with the car in place to make sure and have a tight seal where before it was losing way too much heat around the front and also not reducing well in that area because too much air was getting sucked in during the firing.

I bought 1/2" angle iron for the rails and rolled the car up on it so that it fit well. I then welded the rails together with strap steel so that they would be parallel ( I seem to have a problem with parallel). Leif drilled holes through the strap and rotohammered into the concrete so that we could drop bolts through the straps and hold the rails in place.

I rebuilt the bed much tighter to the walls and then the door. raw fingertips because apparently I am also allergic to gloves :). and those bricks are rough. The door fits mucho bettero now. Before, I was stuffing the obvious leaks with kaowool...not so good.

During this time, the new retention tips arrived and were easily attached to the burners with a 2" coupler. This lengthened the burners substantially and is where the difficult (perceived) task came about. The plumbing (black pipe) had to be completely taken apart and revised to that the burners sat properly at the ports. We paid the plumbers 1000 dollars for the initial work and I was not in the mood to have them back so we tackled it ourselves.

Getting everything unscrewed was the toughest part. Leif and I and 2 pipe wrenches and a bucket of sweat got the job done. .then off to the hardware store for me and back to the lookout for Leif. I got my pipe and pipe dope (to seal not to smoke) and put her all back together. (not hard at all). Called the propane company ( the woman was NOT psyched that i did it myself) and had them fill the tank and test for leaks. A-OK was the word...(visualize the heidi happy dance).

I finally got the load glazed and she's off and running as I type. crap....I just realized that I am sans kiln god/goddess for this firing. better get on that...i really don't need to piss off that crowd.


09 September 2009

kilnbuilder report and the work begins

so...if you read my last post, you may recall that i was a little on the nervous nellie side waiting for donovan (masterkilnbuilders.com) to take a peek at my kiln. i really was prepared to do some explaining (make excuses) regarding certain elements like the damper that doesn't quite close off the chimney and the strange look of my stack and exit flue but alas....no explanations necessary. there was no audible laughing or snickers and he was very complementary...blush.

that said....there is still work to be done. the first thing he noticed was that my ancient venturi burners did not possess 'flame retention tips'. i totally thought that i had them. (their function is to create turbulence at the burner tip, which mixes the air and gas and keeps the flame right on the tip, reducing the chances of flash-back into the burner tube.)*
essentially...they will make my flames much more efficient and cut down on firing time. i'll let you know when they get here. they were $300+ but should prove to cut my propane use considerably.

the tips will just screw on to my burners with a coupler but the challenge is that we have to extend the pipe on both sides. i'm a little hesitant to mess with the plumbing but it must be done.

the second task at hand is to rebuild my door and car bed and install the rails for it to ride on. i thought that because the car was soooo heavy that rails were unnecessary if it rolled smoothly on the concrete but donovan said that it jostles slightly every time it is pushed in and eventually really gets off kilter..i got the 1/4" angle iron yesterday and rolled the car onto it and then welded strap metal between to hold them parallel and today we will rotohammer holes into the concrete and drop bolts through the strap to secure the tracks. that way, we can lift up the tracks easily at any time by pulling out the pins.

next...i will use a level across the front of the kiln shell to make certain that all the face bricks are flush to facilitate a tight seal with the door. i've already completely unstacked the door to move the car around...(i forgot how many bricks it took to build the door....200+).

all the pots are done for the next firing so i just have to get this work done and glaze and should be good to go. the only part i'm dreading a bit is the pipe work....those things thread all different directions it seems.

31 August 2009

the kilnbuilder is coming...the kilnbuilder is coming.

yes...i do feel as if this is my 'paul revere moment'. i believe that donovan and colleen will be the first clay people to see my kiln. the first people who own their own kilns to see mine..the first people who even know what a kiln really is to take a look at mine in the flesh.

donovan owns 'master kiln builders' and that is his profession. he builds fancy ones for famous clay people and big ones for universities and community clay centers along with ones for regular old studio potters. he welded the 'car bed' for my kiln which i hauled back from minnesota in the back of my subaru. i had a friend of my parents weld on my v-groove casters and one other piece that i wanted to be 'perfect', and then i welded everything else. it ain't pretty, but it's tight. thanks to sheila and mark for the embarrassingly long possession of their millermatic mig welder.

i feel that my kiln turned out pretty well. there are some glaring design/implementation issues..i.e. my damper, bizarre chimney stack and door but overall...not bad for no 'in person' help. I had great advice from kurt wild of wisconsin who talked me through the flue building and actually wrote a sample script for me to deal with the propane people.

i am just really looking forward to some help tweaking things. my bagwall (hard bricks placed inside the kiln where the flame enters to direct it upward (and off the wares) before it exits down at the bottom) for instance...i really don't know how tall is should be (or why for that matter) and my exit flue dimensions and probably 10 other things i haven't considered.

they are coming for vacation and to do some work at the archie bray foundation in helena so the focus will be on fly fishing, hiking, and camping but i will be grateful for 5 minutes with them discussing the details of my kiln. stay tuned.

11 August 2009

the business of working at home

People often ask me how many hours a day I work in the shop and I usually don't have a good answer for them. Working from home has nuances that are too subtle to explain.

For me, having my shop 75 feet from the house means that work and home are very difficult to separate. I very rarely am in the studio early or for long periods of time. Usually, I get out there around 11am and from then on, it's make some pots...throw in a load of laundry, make more pots...pick weeds, trim yesterday's pots, walk the dogs and get the mail. It really is just all in a day for me and I seem to be unable to distinguish between homelife and studiolife...they are one.
Today, I spent my morning on the computer, then washed the windows and then stacked wood. I checked on the plates from yesterday to make sure they weren't too dry, pulled a few weeds, did the dishes and now blogging. I'll be out to the shop by 1pm and then at some point walk the dogs. I usually work until 9 or 10pm with a break for dinner or visit with Leif if he's home. The one indulgence that I seem to consistently allow myself is that I wake up whenever I wake up. I am an avid dreamer and hate the mental jolt of the alarm clock. Leif gets up around 5 or 6 most days but when he's gone...I've got nothing to disturb me until the sun hits my face. I'm up early for glazing days or kiln firing though....no choice about that.

I often wonder what it would be like to have my studio at a separate location where I arrived, got my work done and then went home. That will have to be left to wonder though....I've created my life the way it is and I'm sticking with it...stay tuned.

03 August 2009

this weekend, i decided to remake my flue which measures about 4 feet between the back of the kiln and the chimney. i made it this long so that the chimney would not pass through the roof.

shockingly....i had a design error in my damper slot (who me....not thinking ahead??) so i knew i had better tend to it now before it's december...(also..friends are coming to visit this month and he builds kilns for a living so i figured, might as well fix the most embarrassing elements, right?)

after a firing is complete, the kiln needs to be buttoned up so it can cool slowly which means the damper should completely block off the chimney so that the heat stays in the kiln. not so much with my design....i can't even tell you what i was thinking. it has about 1/2 inch gap on either side when it's fully in.
in this picture...the damper is the black slot about 3 feet up from the ground. my camera battery charger is in limbo at the moment so i can't take a closer picture.

so the first two firings...after i reached temperature (usually sometime in the middle of the night) i would climb a ladder to the top of the stack and cover it with a piece of kaowool and a kiln shelf...dangerous business as the stack was burning hot. since i've added a couple of feet to my chimney, climbing is no longer an option..it's just too tall. the last 3 firings, i've just pushed the damper all the way in, plugged it with kaowool and hoped for the best.

i decided that the best remedy would be to deconstruct the flue and add a slot where i can drop in a kiln shelf that will completely block the channel.

since the flue was the last thing i made and didn't quite have all of the proper materials...it doesn't hurt my feelings to give it another go. the high refractory mortar that i made ( portland cement, sand, redart clay) hasn't held up that well...it is much better in the stack. i also used some commercial fireplace high temp mortar/crack seal but that isn't faring any better. i think that the 'good stuff' only comes in a 5 gallon bucket (which i don't need), but i will check today at the fireplace/masonry store.

i think i've got it figured out...it will still look a little 'homegrown' but that's how i roll. i'll update on how it functions as i usually only understand design flaws when something is in use.

28 July 2009

staying up late

over the past ten years, i have spent my fair share of time fighting to stay awake as the kiln plugs along, running out to the shop to check it every fifteen minutes. praying for the cone to bend, NOW dammit. i also have to get up often in the middle of the night to turn up a bisque firing. if leif owes me favors (we play cribbage for favors), it is a small slice of heaven to poke him in the shoulder in the wee hours and have him run out for me. sometimes...if he's really out of it, i can convince him to do it even if it's not his turn.

i hate trying to stay awake...it is painful and i'm sure kills brain cells. 2 days ago when i fired my big kiln for the fifth time...i purposefully started as early as possible so not to suffer the late night drama. i shut her down at the blisteringly early time of 10pm and then leif's plane was hours late....we went to bed at 3am...not good. as i was driving to the airport, feeling sorry for myself i was shocked to see so many people who apparently regularly stay up this late as a part of their job. the flight attendants and crew were waiting on the curb for their shuttle, the shuttle drivers (several of them over 65 i'm sure), rent a car folks and the dude at the parking toll booth were all on the job. i now am remembering that my mom used to drive railroad crews and she would get called in the middle of the night to transport people. all i have to do is check a kiln for crying out loud...she had to keep a suburban full of big rr boys between the yellow lines while having terrible night vision.

i'm feeling less sorry for myself now...at least i get to be at home while i'm trying to stay awake and nobody dies if i doze off for a few. as i enter into my second decade of potting though, i am making an effort to get my work down in a somewhat normal time frame and not trying to pull crazy hours before a deadline...i'll keep you posted.

24 July 2009

selling pots

(the above totem is by my friend susan nebeker and i posted it here because it just makes me happy.)

tonight i'll be selling my pots at the west glacier farmer's market....it's only the second time i have participated but it seems like a good venue for the amount of work involved. it is only a couple of miles down the road which for me makes it very appealing. i don't really care to haul pots all over the valley for other markets. at the last one here, i sold a totem to a nice woman from california which made it well worth my time. there are locals who drop in but it is predominantly tourists who can't resist the lure of the white tents. the woman next to me last time was selling homemade pies for 11 dollars and the line was constant until she sold out.

selling and marketing are two areas where many artists lose their way. to be a self-employed potter means that you not only have to have the ability to create the work, you also have to have a little business sense so that you can make a living. it's definitely tough and a constant conversation with people in the arts.

i have always refused to really 'market' myself....i figured that if people liked my work, they would buy it. this approach has worked for me for a long time but what i'm learning now is that you can't always count on that (especially when people are holding their wallets a bit closer). It helps to really get yourself out there so more people have an opportunity to appreciate it and also to educate the public, as much as possible, about the value of handmade objects.

currently, i sell in my own retail space in whitefish (located in the bookstore), a co-op in kalispell, a lovely gallery in bigfork, a gift store inside glacier park and then i'm working on my online etsy store. heidihaugen.etsy.com i have been struggling with inventory for months now but feel as if i'm getting into a bit of a rhythm with my new kiln and porcelain adventure.

it has been rough to be low on product during the busiest tourist months but that is the way my cookie crumbled this year...tis the nature of the business. enjoy.

21 July 2009

working alone..

after bitching about not having a clay posse to call my own...i must say that for regular work...i prefer to be alone and at this point, cannot imagine sharing my studio space with another potter.

i spend the majority of my time by myself, with the dogs. leif is gone for most of july and august at his fire lookout (speaking of alone time..) and the rest of the year is a carpenter with a serious addiction to hockey playing. we live in the boonies and i usually go to town once or twice a week.

i see neighborhood friends here and there and go to post office to get the mail and maybe to the glacier mercantile for a tootsie roll but there is usually not much 'people time' in my day. i also do the occasional customer visit or "show and tell" for the neighbors' relatives.

i've functioned this way for quite a long time now. i work at the bookstore in whitefish 4 days a month which is where i lease retail space for my pots and conduct a good portion of my business. it is also where i talk endlessly and meet up with my mom and friends who drop in.

i am a very outgoing and social person in general but fell in love with being alone at 19 when i was a nanny in boston with 2 small children. i am so thankful to have learned to appreciate being by myself at that age...i feel it has served me well. i definitely think that spending so much time alone has fostered some rusting of my social skills..which actually can be funny to me and leif later. (i.e....'i can't believe you said that'...or 'you got all red when they started talking to you'...')

my intention with addressing 'aloneness' stemmed from my creation of a heidi haugen pottery facebook page and how odd it is...along with this blog....to keep in touch with people regularly about my daily goings on. it makes me think about my life differently when i am allowing others a glimpse into my dysfuntional functioning.

i don't talk with too many people about the details of my work...it's just too much information most of the time and requires too much explaining. i don't even talk with leif very much about it..funny. that's why i need to hang out with my distant claybuds a couple of times a year and now that i've discovered lots of other clay artists blogs, i'm feeling a touch more connected.

i'm acually heading to town now...taking grandma to her 'lunch bunch'....she's 93!

16 July 2009

know thine kilns

so yesterday i was checking on a bisque and when i looked through the peep, i could tell there was no heat up top. as i looked closer....i could see that the first element was not glowing. the load had been in for 10 hours so i just shut it down.

my big electric kiln is a skutt 1227 that i've had for probably 9 years. i have screwed up this thing from one end to the other over the years, beginning with wiring it backwards when i first brought it in my shop...that lasted for a year with super long firings before i figured out how to read the wiring diagram in the manual. the upside of so many mistakes is that i am able to rewire this thing in my sleep...also on the positive side is that i have not died of electrocution at some point.

i change my elements once a year (100 firings) and don't keep extras on hand. i do have other replacement parts handy and that was a treat today as i just replaced the wires that connect the element pigtails to the switch. i like to use split bolt connectors because i suck at crimping but sometimes they don't foster the best connection. anyhow....kiln breaker off...opening all cover boxes to make sure nothing major has come apart (or melted), notice that the connectors are discolored, replace them, tighten everything up and wahoo....when i fired it up, elements back to buzzing and hot.

my best advice to beginning clay folk is to learn your equipment. understand how it works and don't hesitate to jump in and figure it out (breaker off/ safety first). i live in the sticks so there are no options for repair people to come and change out my elements. knowledge of your machines is a very empowering thing...maybe you'll have an easier learning curve than i did but once again...i seem to learn best after i screw something up first.

14 July 2009

missing bowls

bowls are probably the form i enjoy making most. they are also the best selling item (next to mugs) and especially big ones this time of year for wedding gifts. i have not been making too many of for the past 2 months or so because i just haven't felt like i've found a great liner glaze for this porcelain. most of my glazes are crazing and i must say.....not a fan.

the celedon and yellow salt are hanging in there pretty well after more silica and now the shaner's clear should be another option. anywhichway...i'm back on the bowls and couldn't be happier.

the cakestand adventure continues and they are improving. wider bases and stoneware instead of porcelain. they're enjoyable and easyish to make. they just take forever to dry.

these are totem birdbaths waiting for the bisque fire. i've sold 3 totems this month which is great. i need to crank out a ton of beads and other components before the summer slips away.

12 July 2009

where's my posse?

i have really just begun to discover the amazing blogosphere that is out there. i especially enjoy the writing of other artists and getting a glimpse of their everyday lives in the studio. it is so refreshing hear of their struggles and successes and to know that i am not alone in this world of 'clay as a career'.

i live in the sticks....which i adore and enjoy working alone. our 'urban area' is a valley that includes more than 4 towns and a population of less than 60,000. i love living here, it is where i grew up and where i am most comfortable but i must say.....i totally miss having a clay posse of my own. i am soo jealous of the clay folk that live near other clay folk that they enjoy. i most often travel to meet up with my potter people....portland or minnesota. fyi..that's really far. the internet has lessened my isolation but i dream of having a regular gang of clay friends that hang out and offer critiques and good creative energy, and endless technical discussions about glaze chemistry and kilnbuilding.

there are some lovely artists here but i have just not found more than 1 or 2 that are really in the same space as i am...and it seems like people are just so busy. david shaner worked down the road from me (35 miles or so) and i've heard stories of their potter's coffee hour...i just missed out by a couple decades or so.....what a treat that would have been.

i'm going to do my best to start gathering what flock i can find and start handing out potter posse badges...


11 July 2009


so i've used the same chair at my wheel for almost 10 years. it has cracked in 1/2 twice, the rails keep popping out and now it has lost a very important screw. it has earned retirement but finding a suitable replacement is tough. my neighbor gave me a sweet little chair that i thought i could just switch out but oh my god, no. the new one feels like concrete on my butt and it's a different height. the old one has those awesome carve-outs that make it soo comfy..having the proper seat at your wheel definitely affects your throwing.

take care of your chairs, people.

25 June 2009

another firing and a new glaze palette

so i fired my big girl for the fourth time last week...once again it was fun and exciting and longish and offered a billion new lessons.

i had 5 new glazes in the load and with such a big kiln and no super successful glaze base as of yet...i just make up 5000 gram batches (1/2 a 5 gal bucket) and go for it. it is challenging to glaze so many pieces (150-200) when you only have a vague idea of what it might look like.
in the last firing i had great success with a double dip on the outside/single on the interior, of m.davis shino so of course i loaded up on that....anytime that i think i have a glaze cornered enough to be moderately successful, i get burned. it fell off the pots in patches....all of them and did not blush in the dry spots (with the exception of 3 pots) so all of those went in the shard pile. at first i thought it was my lame dust sponging job but none of the other pots had glaze issues like that so i'm thinking it was the double dip not adhering.....my best guess at the moment.
i had also dinked with the bag wall which will be put back immediately.....first, the flames were shooting across the kiln instead of bouncing up and i also think it was the source of the larger than "normal" amount of brick dust that blew around and stuck in the bottom of many pots. i will vacuum out the brick gropple before every firing from now on.
i also learned in this firing that oddly enough....i had not been opening up the gas valves on each burner as much as i should have (thank you leif)....one of those things i had locked in my brain....i only turned up the gas until i couldn't hear/see any more effect on the flame and even though it was only 1/4-1/2 turn, i called it good. i had leif evaluate the burners and he cranked all of the knobs around an entire full turn....i almost fell over....it did kick it out of the stall and next time, i'll open those babies full up early on and see if i can fire in under 15 hours.
after overreducing and stalling out last firing, i tried to keep it in light reduction with a heavier one for 15 minutes around cone 9 1/2. i also cleared it out (oxidation/damper wide open) at the end for 10 minutes. the celadon was fair to good, yellow salt with turquoise did not overreduce and turn entrail pink ( i kept it to the bottom/front of the kiln) so that was good. the glaze tests were promising...just a little tempering of the turquoise, more sieving of the 2 cornwall stone glazes (bumps/chunks all over) and no more tan on the outside. as i sit here....i cannot recall what the victoria green stain looked like...yikes..i will run and check.
i don't know if adding a couple feet to my stack had any effect at all...i'm going to restack the bricks on the car bed to fit cleaner and perhaps a little of the door. i delivered all of the pots that were successful the day i unloaded before i took off for san francisco.
home now and anxious to fire again but must throw 200 pots first....better get after it.

10 June 2009

the importance of well-oiled machine

so my hip has been bothering me for a couple of weeks and i've been trying to get to the bottom of it. i usually blame our bed but i also realized how much i have my foot up above my waist (ridiculous, yet true). i put it up by the heat vent when i drive (again, ridiculous but i've never been able to sit properly...always feet up), i put it up when i'm on the computer and i very often put it on top of my slop bucket when i'm throwing. sooooo....i've been keeping my feet on the floor and my hip was feeling better until last night. i made a midnight run out to my shop to turn up the bisque (25 yards from the house)....i had on my dansko clogs (the only shoes that fit with my footie pajamas on) and took my first stride to run back and holy god did my hip muscle pull like i had snapped it. yucko. so after limping up to bed, i lay thinking primarily about the effect this will have on tomorrow's workday.

anytime i am injured....my mind always races to evaluate how my pottery will be affected...not, can i walk....but can i throw pots, load a kiln, etc.

take my feet, but leave my hands alone. i grabbed a stick from the burnpile last week (obviously not noticing that the part i was reaching for was smoldering)...blistered my finger but not in a place of throwing importance...that really could have set me back.

so...my hip is pretty damaged for now but i can walk and it doesn't hurt to sit at the wheel (thank god).

there is really no point to my point other than it cracks me up a bit and makes me realize that i love what i do...

enjoy your day and be mindful of your body..

19 May 2009

firing the new kiln

Sometimes I still find it surprising how little I know about firing a gas kiln...it's not that I've had loads of experience but somehow, i guess i thought after 10 years of potting and firing gas kilns here and there with others, that the baseline knowledge would have been in my psyche somewhere...not so.

i have now fired my new kiln 3 times and from each i have gathered a tremendous amount of information. probably the most from my may 5 firing.

I had more pots than the previous loads so the stacking was a bit tighter but still only about 3/4 full. it seems that i have been under the gun each firing and am also so excited to get after it, that i have yet to fill her up. previous stacking had been too heavy at the bottom and very loose towards the top. i believe this has contributed to my uneven temps.

i had just been in n.d. for a week with potter girlfriends and fired a big kiln with power burners (i have 4 venturis) and we had a discussion about reading reduction out of the bottom peep...i had been relying primarily on the top for backpressure. this firing, i tried my best to get back pressure out of my bottom peep to no avail. i was reducing like crazy...i could smell it and was getting about 10 inches out of the top. what i did not realize is that reducing can stall out the temp which it sure did. it took me hours to gain 50 degrees but i just kept tweaking and waiting so the time passed quickly. only after i reviewed my log did i realize how freakishly long it took. i mean...at 4am, when i finally shut her down, i knew it was wayyyy too long and especially when i checked my propane tank and found i had used around 100 gallons of propane (ugh).

soooo.....i added another 2+ feet to my stack (picture above) and next time will chill on the reduction a bit. i did get beautiful shinos and my celadon was lovely. i need to figure out my temp/reduction unevenness though from top to bottom.

i reread a section in Vince Pitelka's studio book and noted the following tips for the next firing:

-no big adjustments to primary air (on burners) ( i was tweaking them a lot)
-when turning up the burners, open the damper slightly to allow things to equalize and then slowly close it
-cool bottom.... try damper out
-cool top.....try damper in
- at least 10 minutes of oxidation cleanup/clearing at the end. ( i had some bubbling and only cleared it for a few minutes) (again.....4 a.m.)

i'll fire again in a couple of weeks and update after....

07 May 2009

catching up...

o.k...once a month posting is not going to cut it....especially when i have so many things to talk about. i think so much when i'm working and then wow is it tough to get in the blogging groove.

so my potting life has been a little more challenging as of late as i transition from electric firing and stoneware to porcelain and a gas kiln. there are so many things i love about porcelain but warping and plucking not so much. i made a bunch of cake stands that i loved and did not anticipate the drooping rims....i'm going to try to find a nice white stoneware that will work for handbuilding and cakeplates. i'm concerned about them matching my tea sets though so we'll see.

i drove to beach n.d. last week (11 hours) and had a mini workshop of sorts with 3 friends. i adore being with people who can stand to talk about clay and technical glaze/kiln stuff for hours. i don't get too much of that around here so it's a treat. we made pots, pit fired, glazed and fired in tama's big, beautiful car kiln. she and her husband run an amazing pottery business....we had many a discussion about pricing/who we're making out work for/ how to make a living...etc. needless to say, my prices will be taking a small hike.

i fired my kiln again this week. third firing and the most challenging yet. i swear the only way i learn things is by doing them wrong. no matter how much i read or who i talk to, it just doesn't sink in until i mess it up myself.
so i was shooting for heavier reduction, a faster firing and a more even distribution of heat work....stay tuned for the debriefing.

tonite i have an opening reception for 'chicks with wheels' the show set up was last week and i finally got most of my pots there last night....(see kiln saga post to follow). at this point, i was just happy to have some decent new work to show. thanks to my friend colleen's window idea, i was successful. my artist statement was a bit crabby and negative but that's exactly how i felt...sometimes the public thinks that we just play in our studios and 'how fun it must be..' i just wanted them to know that it's damn hard work and a lot of the time...not so fun. i toned it down a bit last night though so i won't seem like such a grump. (thank you to the gallery manager for letting me redo).

o.k....back to the shop to fill orders and make another kilnload of pots so i can fire again.

01 April 2009

waiting for spring...

so....it's still totally winter here and other than being darn tired of gray skies and continuing snow...i'm getting into spring production. april and may are busy clay months for me...getting summer inventory started and into stores. i like to work under pressure and deadlines....i get more done that way but it is a relief to get shelves stocked and ready for visitors. i have an account with a great gift shop in Glacier Park, the Montana House, and she will take as much as i can get to her. i'm in 2 co-ops and have my own retail space to stock in whitefish. i sell to tourists and locals equally and am now selling online (heidihaugen.etsy.com) as well and between the three, continue to move pots out the door.

i also have a gallery show with 4 other women that opens the 7 of may. i have big ideas but not an excess of time, especially since i'm new to porcelain and gas firing....we'll see what comes out. i'm planning on working big....i feel like i haven't really pursued 'big' pieces other than special orders and would like to see where that takes my work.
i tweaked my back while snowblowing last week (don't run over a blanket with the snowblower and then yank it really hard to remove it). my back is a lingering issue for me but when it's out, it is a painful reminder of how much a potter uses her body in the shop and how limiting it can be when something hurts. it's getting better though and fortunately it doesn't hurt to throw....just loading the kiln and moving clay.

20 March 2009

clay management

i live in western montana and am fortunate to have the 'archie bray foundation' about 4 hours away in helena. i've thrown many thousands of pounds of their cone 6 oxidation and it has been a very good clay for me. i'm now using their abf porcelain and this order also bought some high fire sculptural clay to use on handbuilt work for the outdoors. it feels nice and i'll test it out this week.

people often ask about the my clay supply/system...i'll offer a brief rundown of my process. i order clay in 50 pound boxes from the bray and have it shipped on a truck to a town about 30 miles away where i drive and have them load the pallet into the truck. then leif and i unload it one box at a time and it is stored in my shop. 1000 pounds of clay is only 20 boxes so it tucks nicely into a corner.

i keep 2- 5 gallon buckets next to my wheel where i put all of my scraps and throwing water. when those are full i transfer the slop to my plaster 'bray trays' and then the slop dries out for a week or so and then i run it through my venco pugmill. i usually pug about once a week for 20 minutes or so. it's been a smooth system for years. ( i must point out how valuable i think pugmills are....not necessary but ohhhhhh so wonderful.)

now, though, i've got cone 6 clay, and 2 varieties of high fire clay that i'm trying to keep separate and will have to completely take apart and clean out my pugmill before i start running the porcelain through. ( i usually clean the screen and barrel on my pugmill about every 6 months anyway). i don't blunge the slop or do anything special and i'm interested to see if the porcelain will be more sensitive...my guess is that it will take a bit more finesse.

today i picked up 1500 pounds of new clay and organized my storage area a bit...

it's nice to have a good relationship with the bray and also with the trucking company....they have been so good to me. historically though, when i was younger and didn't know any better...i would hop in my subaru and drive to helena and load it up with a 1000 pounds of clay as the salesperson shook their head and turn around and head home....seriously....had i not heard of shipping companies??? if you follow me for any length of time, you will learn that i rarely do things the easy.efficient.smart.proper....way the first time, it's just not my nature but i'm still trying to learn. one day....i will share with you the story of heidi building a kiln....it is long and funny but has a great ending.

enjoy your weekend.