Category Archives: Studio

How I Photograph my Pottery

The three most important things about selling on line are 1- the photograph 2- the photograph and 3- the copy.  Let’s face it when someone is scrolling through thousands of available products you have about a 60th of a second to catch their eye and then you have a moment to get their attention.

peeking through the curtain

 

 

backstage

 

 

 

 

 

When I first opened my  online shop one of the first things I did was search for something that I also  make.  For example, a teapot.  Then after scrolling through the first five pages I jumped to page 12,879.  I found photos that were dark, out of focus, and swamped by the fussy background.  In order to eliminate the problem of too dark and fuzzy is to use a tripod.  You can shoot at very slow shutter speeds to allow enough light in without moving during the shot.  Auto focus has been a real help since my eyes aren’t getting any sharper but if you have the option to shoot in different modes you may need to set the focus area.  It’s important to try to focus in a mid point of a 3-D item so the whole item is in focus not just the front on the rim.  Using a small aperture (the bigger the f-stop number the smaller the opening) also creates a bigger “depth of field”.  This means that more of the item, front to back will be in focus as opposed to just a thin front to back slice being in focus.  Of course the smaller the opening, the longer the exposure time to get enough light making a tripod essential.

Disclaimer here, I don’t know anything about cell phone photography, smart or otherwise.   I use a digital SLR camera and I learned with film cameras.  I’m sure someone out there has come up with a tiny tripod for phone cameras.  No matter what camera you use, photos are still all about light so let’s start there.  I like to use natural light and I often shoot pictures of my Greenmen outside on the east side of the house in the afternoon shade.  I tack a piece of backdrop onto the wall with a hole at the screws for hanging the piece.

shooting outside, creating my own shade

One of the drawbacks of using natural light is conditions are not always optimal.  An overcast day on the shady side of the building is best.  However you can create some overcast by tacking a large piece of semi sheer fabric at the top of the backdrop for the piece and drape it over you and camera to diffuse the sharp reflections that occur on a bright sunny day.  I have also used a canopy with poster board covering the gap to create more shade for my green man photos.  If you look closely you can see the reflections of the trees in the background.

everything reflects in a dark shiny surface

 

the backdrop is attached to the ceiling on a roller

my table with backdrop, curtain and tripod

Most of my items are smaller than the Greenmen and I shoot these on my table with a translucent white backdrop that is hanging from the ceiling and can be rolled up when not in use. I also hang some sheer white fabric in front of the table to give a uniform look to the highlights, eliminate reflections and bounce more light on the subject.

The light comes from a west window so I shoot before the sun gets too low. I can also open a door if the light is dim , for example on a rainy day. I also use a piece of white poster board on the dark side to bounce more light back onto the shadows. A few highlights and a gentle shadow are fine and help show the dimensions of the piece. If you don’t have a window handy a lamp will do. You may have to try different white balance options to find the one that gives the truest color balance.

If the item has a shiny dark surface using a piece of black fabric or paper in front of the item will eliminate reflections of every item in the room.  Cut a hole or a long vertical slit for the camera lens to peek through.

Greenman on a white background with a black cloth hanging in front to eliminate reflections

I’m able to make any adjustments needed using the photo app that came with my computer, color balance and exposure are the most used along with cropping, fill up that screen.  Think of your photograph as another work of art and really look at it.  Keep notes and keep trying, you’ll get better.

 

Green Men/Women

The featured image above is the green man that inspired a custom order.  The customer requested a happier visage, most of my guys look somewhat stony.  I did do a winking green man many years ago I’ll try to dig up a pic before I finish this post (it was taken in my pre digital days).  Most of the green man facial features are limited to eyes, nose and mouth.  I often spend time working a dimple or crease only to have it disappear under the leaves.  I still do all the foundation work because it defines the lines that I will follow later.

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When I do a custom order I usually make at least two, the fire goddess can be cruel.  This is contestant number one for my customer to choose from.  He is larger, has darker green glaze because of the thickness of the glaze.  I think he looks like he has just gotten a joke or he is about to tell one.  The next three photos show close ups of him showing the definition in the leaves.

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Contestant number two  is a little smaller, and a little more triangular in shape.  The glaze gets thinner in some spots and lets the leafy details shine through.  I poured this glaze onto the piece while I was holding it over a bucket to catch the overflow.  I used the same procedure for both, but the results vary because it is very difficult to see the different thicknesses until the piece is fired.

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DSC_1171As you compare the two green men consider that I hand form each face.  I think there is a strong family resemblance mostly in my magnificent noses but they come by it honestly.  I will end this post with a gallery of green men and women that I have made.  enjoy

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Greenwoman with matte copper glaze and all Maple leaves

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one of my early Greenmen with a matte green glaze

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the first Greenman with multiple green stains fired on

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Bacchus with stains, no glaze

Another custom order from Decadent Greenman

Scarred Woman

Scarred Woman

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Bacchus with light green glaze and red grapes

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Sacred Oak Greenman with all oak leaves showing the four directions in a light green glaze

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Paw Paw leaf Sun Greenman

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Winking Greenman

 

 

Working with a Diva

Let me start by admitting that the reason I work alone is because I am a diva.  Well that felt good, but of course any one who knows me knows that’s no secret.  But the Diva that I refer to here is that little black cat, Liz.  If you’ve been keeping up you’ll know that the little………… cat …………………. sorry I was trying to come up with some PG adjectives for her.  I failed.

you weren't busy were you??

you weren’t busy were you??

is this seat taken??

is this seat taken??

Long story short, she’s been confined to my studio during the daylight hours for the sake of the Hummingbirds and Barn Swallows.

 

 

 

She doesn’t seem to mind.  In fact I usually have to wake her up and kick her out at night.

 

 

 

 

I decided to try and exploit her for some photos of my little cat food dishes.   Anyone who’s ever hosted a cat knows that they are the masters of exploitation, so try to stop laughing long enough to see the results.  I started by offering food, the good stuff!

OH YUMMY! WET CAT FOOD!!

OH YUMMY! WET CAT FOOD!!

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You know, it’s rude to watch people eat.

 

That was a start, what else ya got

That was a start, what else ya got

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She made quick work of the food and moved on.

What's in this one?

What’s in this one?

A clean cat is a happy cat, you don't mind a few hundred black cat hairs on your white background.

A clean cat is a happy cat, you don’t mind a few hundred black cat hairs on your white background.

Oh wait I missed a spot

Oh wait I missed a spot

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, after a snack and a bath she was bored with the whole thing, and sauntered off.   I kept shooting the pottery and just as I was finishing up, she waltzed back onto my table and settled in for a nap.  So I started putting dishes in front of her and clicked away with my camera, and after all that I got my picture.DSC_8421

If you’d like an autographed copy just contact me.

Who let the cat OUT !?!?

The usual cry around here is “Who let the cat IN!!”  This spring however we have had to lock up Liz for the sake of two Bluebird,one Tree Swallow, and three or four Barn Swallow nests.  Oh yeah, let’s not forget the Hummingbirds.

she looks so sweet

she looks so sweet

We live on an 80 acre farm with several out buildings including a huge barn so all nine of the cats live outside my house.  There are exceptions for illness and old age but they are only allowed in my pottery studio and the breezeway.  As long as they don’t break anything.

Liz lounging in the barn doorway, now that's a breezeway

Liz lounging in the barn doorway, now that’s a breezeway

Most of the cats have had their summer of carnage when they were young but usually some strategic mouse traps at the base of the bluebird houses, a well thrown glass of water or letting the dogs out kept things under control.  But Liz is a holy terror.  She hides under the red poppies to grab unsuspecting Hummingbirds.

I love red flowers so do Hummingbirds

I love red flowers so do Hummingbirds

She also thinks it’s a great good game when the Barn Swallows dive bomb her.  She waits for them to swoop into range and tries to grab them out of the air.  Barn Swallows build their nests in the most unreachable spots you can imagine, not even a coon could get them.  Yet they insist on putting themselves at risk and of course if the parent dies…

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Barn Swallow nest stuck in a corner of the porch roof

Most cats outgrow this penchant for birds, they get harassed too but they keep their head down and move it along.  They sleep under the car instead of on top of it and I even had one old cat, Floyd that laid out in the sun and let the Mockingbirds slam right into him.

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Floyd and Trip, two old cats

So we’ll see who wins this battle of wills.  My plan as usual is to feed her till she’s too fat to care.  It’s worked on most of them so far.

dry cat food again?

dry cat food again?

excuse me

excuse me

perhaps you didn't hear me before

perhaps you didn’t hear me before

The real question is what level of damage can I stand!

Then I remind myself, baby birds are baby birds,

cats are cats

and clay is dirt.

Time?  That’s all I have.

PS.  Cali was another holy terror (she nailed a squirrel when she was still a kitten) but these days all she wants is IN !

Cali blending into the clay

Cali blending into the clay

 

 

 

Don’t count your chickens…

Well I was planning to write this post as My New Medusa, but the kiln goddess decided to take me down a peg.  After many years of experience and many hard learned lessons I apparently needed a refresher course in the perils of firing damp pottery, the importance of providing air holes to places that need them and taking the time that is needed to dry out an item that took two weeks to make.DSC_7893DSC_7892

Indeed my outdoor walls are festooned with Green Men that died in the glaze kiln.  I like to think those aren’t my fault but seriously, is there any one else  in the room? perhaps the cat sleeping under the chair?  Perhaps.DSC_8153DSC_8151

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However blowing a piece up in a bisque fire is ALWAYS a function of water inside the piece that is trapped when the outer skin is dryer and the resulting steam can’t escape.  But it does escape in a most spectacular way.

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In my defense it rained for about two weeks straight.  I’m kind of surprised more things didn’t blow!

Scarred Woman

Scarred Woman

Glazing Pottery

Glazing is one of the most nerve wracking and at the same time the most satisfying aspect of making pottery.  The transformation from a dull dusty finish to the shiny colors of finished pieces is nothing short of amazing.   Before we glaze the pottery must be bisque fired.  This turns the clay to stone and allows easier handling and better absorption of the glaze into the pores of the ware.  It’s important to glaze soon after the bisque fire to avoid a build up of dust and grease that can inhibit the glaze from staying put during the next firing.Photo 33In the bisque fire the green ware can be stacked and stuffed in pretty tightly.  I put enough items in this bisque fire to do two glaze firings.fired bisquewareAfter the firing everything is unstacked and laid out on the table.  I use a white and a dark brown stoneware for handbuilding.  The white cylinders hold up the shelves and must be a little taller than everything else on the shelf.DSC_7426So, we have lots of glazing ahead but first we must wax our bottoms!  Glaze melts and if it is left on the bottom of a pot and placed on a shelf and fired it will turn from art to artifact before you can say “another kiln shelf ruined!!”.DSC_7434Speaking of things getting ruined, any place that wax is, glaze will not stick.  We must be careful not to put waxy fingerprints or drips on places that want glaze.  The only remedy for sloppy waxing is a refire in the next bisque to burn it off.  So with one hand for the pot and one for the wax we press on.DSC_7450I usually start with the accent glazes in multi colored items.  These accents can be covered by a dip in another glaze, or I might cover it with wax to make it stand out more.  I do many many test tiles with different glaze combinations to see what works and then I WRITE IT ALL DOWN!!  It is so important to keep records of firings, glazes, how applied, how thick etc.  It really cuts down on the clinkers!DSC_7459

Things start to get more organized as we glaze.   I am currently having fun with a line of glazes, Stroke&Coat by Mayco.  They come in a rainbow of colors, won’t run or react to each other, can be mixed or laid one color over another.  I also use them to sponge onto some of my big bucket glazes.DSC_7452These Victorian house bird feeders had accent glazes painted on to shutters, doors etc then wax on the color, then dipped in my half filled 5 gallon bucket of “white enamel”.  I use a sponge to dab off any white glaze that sticks to the wax while it is still wet.DSC_7542These turtles have been dipped in “lemon yellow” glaze, the one on the left has a layer of stroke & Coat orange underneath.  After wiping the bottom of their feet they are loaded in the kiln.  Everything gets on last once over with a wet sponge to remove any specks of glaze on the bottom.DSC_7549We then load the glaze kiln, where nothing can touch, and must be about a 1/4 inch away because as the firing progresses everything will get larger, and then shrink to a smaller size than when we started. DSC_7460Hello Alice, we are in wonderland now.Photo 9After 8-10 hours in a hot kiln and another 12 hours cooling off…..DSC_7470DSC_7471Magic has happened!DSC_7767All that was dull and dusty is now shiny, bright and new again!DSC_7539I like to play around with possible combinations, the roof and porch are not attached so they are interchangeable.  The leaves in front are awaiting a copper wire to transform them into Woodsprites.DSC_7554Having a cat wandering through makes life so much more excitingDSC_7731A formal picture and a posting online completes the cycle, time to clean off the table and begin again!

 

Green Man a how-to-tutorial

I recently got a commission to make a Green man and I took the opportunity to document the process.

I make my green men and women using basic hand building techniques.  I start with a large lump of clay 5-6 pounds and I form a shallow bowl just like a large pinch pot, slowly pressing into the lump and squeezing until I have an oval shape that is 1/2 – 1″ thick, and the sides are 2-3″ tall.  The bowl shape is about the size of a large face.  I go large because fired clay shrinks with each firing and I want them to be on the monumental side.

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Then I wait,,,when the clay is ready, and this is crucial, it’s time to start pushing, pressing, shaving and adding clay to form a face.  The clay needs to be pretty pliable but not so soft as to collapse.  The thickness of the bowl helps by giving without ripping.  How long to wait? That depends on the humidity and can be slowed by wrapping tight or loosely in plastic.  Resist the temptation to hurry the drying as this will probably just form a stiff skin on the out side making it hard to push.DSC_5402

I use photos of faces, my own face and my fingers as a ruler to rough out the proportions. I concentrate on eyes, nose and mouth since the rest will be covered by leaves.  It takes several days working a few hours each day to finish the face.  The clay is kept moist by sponging with water and wrapping in plastic during the forming phase.  This is important so the leaves will adhere properly.  It also allows for fine work at the end of the process.DSC_5418 DSC_5420

 

The leaves are cut from slabs of clay about 1/4″ thick.  I use real leaves collected in the fall, green leaves rot quickly but some have to be used green for example grape and paw paw because they don’t store well.  A large green man can take up to 36 leaves.

The assembly must be done on the kiln shelf because the piece can’t be moved once it is dry.  I add a coil of clay in a circle around the face to attach the leaves and give a little space for fingers to pick it up.DSC_5443 DSC_5445

After the piece is completely dry, it is bisque fired to cone 04.  The item featured here took over a week to dry because mother nature brought on the rain that week and even with fans I had to do a two day slow dry in the kiln to be sure.  Be careful drying in the kiln, you can dry out the skin and leave a bit of moisture inside leading to a spectacular explosion and a pile of shards.

drying...

drying…

still drying....

still drying….

After the bisque firing the piece can be handled, the dust washed off, and glaze or stains applied. One more firing to a higher temperature, cone 4, and then we wait,,,,,, for everything to cool off!

all fired up in the kiln

all fired up in the kiln

 

after the first firing

after the first firing

 

Throwin the clay

I don’t throw very often these days but I do enjoy it .  I recently broke a little pitcher that Jay uses to brew tea and I also wanted to replace Xena’s food dish so I bought a fifty pound box of porcelain and got to work.  I love porcelain for kitchen items because the small particle size makes a very dense finished product that is chip resistant especially if you give it a nice fat lip.  The down side of fine particles is more shrinkage, a tendency to warp in the fire and slump on the wheel.

gettin artsy in the photo

gettin artsy in the photo

Patience is a virtue that I don’t have much of, but to throw a successful pot, it must be exercised.  First if the clay is not just right moisture-wise don’t even bother to try.  Once the clay is ready, weighing out the lumps and wedging into a cone comes next.  Wedging looks a lot like kneading bread.  The purpose is to remove air bubbles and align the plate shaped particles of clay so they can slide past each other in the throwing process.  This is the secret to clays ability to be stretched and shaped into any form.

Pale blue band on a serving bowl

Pale blue band on a serving bowl

mini tea pot just because it's small dosen't make it easier

mini tea pot
just because it’s small
dosen’t make it easier

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jay loves his new pitcher and I have some for sale, along with a new mini tea set and a few new single serving size cat food dishes (can’t have too many of these with eight recalcitrant cats to contend with!)