trying to get started

Every time we get ready to do a wood firing, there is a hesitation and resistance that engulfs us when faced with exactly how much work we need to do. Everyone always see's a potters job as working on the wheel, but in reality, that is probably only 10% of what we do. Drying, trimming, cleaning, bisque firing, cleaning again, signing, waxing, painting, glazing, cleaning again, stacking and then firing; all these things weigh heavily upon us like an insurmountable summit ahead of a weary climber. Of course, when you are motivated, when you are under the gun, go go go, and working without thinking about how much is left to do, then it's not so bad. But in the winter months, when business is slow, there aren't many shows, and really you just want to hibernate, well, that's when it's hardest to get started. Here are some pictures of my work in the process of being decorated and glazed, something I did today, although I should have done a lot more. 

In these photo's you can see some of the mess and chaos of the studio right before a firing. Work is piled up all over, glazes need to be remixed and passed through a sieve (this can be a real pain, especially when certain glazes, like copper red, settle and turn into mud/glue at the bottom of the buckets), all my brushwork is done by hand, and then dipped into the clear glaze, and each layer of glaze (outside/inside) needs to dry completely before the other one can be applied. All in all, it's exhausting, and we're worn out even before we've loaded the kiln. Although, we'd never admit to any of this of course because being an "artist" is all about expressing ourselves and 'living in the moment' :p Fun romantic ideas which are usually so far from the truth.



Bits and Pieces

by Joseph Panacci

Was it born, was it made, or was it more likely bits and pieces coming together slowly.

Yanagi talks very eloquently about the old Korean potters making everyday rice bowls without any thought to them. They were simply made to be used everyday, and sold very cheaply. They were not trying to be artists, but just trying to make a living.

My newest mug with our local farm glaze, chattering and new handle.

I wish I could go back to a simpler time, when you produced work that was natural to your surroundings, only using materials available locally. Today it is not possible to be a “Unknown Craftsman” for our minds are contaminated with too much information, and our world is now wide open. We have access to everything, skills and knowledge to learn any technique, raw materials from all over the world, etc. 

I believe we as artists/potters are more like bits and pieces of the past, trying to find our unique style in a wilderness without any direction. My mind is contaminated with images and information, too many historical references, examples of pottery from the Greeks, Romans, Chinese. Koreans, Japanese, English, African, etc. All very distinct and beautiful. So how can one potter today be original from the past? Not easy to be sure.

New mug with a darker clay body, with the same clear glaze inside and overlapping.

Within the last year I have developed a new mug form, handle, and texture. very different from my regular mugs of the past. The bits and pieces came together slowly, at first I liked the foot ring that my friend Robin puts on her mugs, and I did try something similar on my sanity mugs at first. Later my son Peter was working on faceted mugs, and needed some ideas on how to make a handle for them. I showed him one technique of using a coil of clay, squaring it, and then twisting it to reflect the faceted sides of his mugs. At the same time I was developing a new robust form for my mugs and wanted to use coil/slab build handles, and not pulled handles otherwise I would just repeat my regular handles.

Robin's Mug 

Peter's faceted mug

I slowly started by flattening a coil of clay and then twisting it and flattening it again. Then I tried to stretch it longer and get it thinner, my form for the new mug slowly became more robust, and I started adding deep chattering for texture on them. I have also taken into account how they are to be glazed and fired in the wood kiln. Now I'm using stoneware and porcelain clay, and leaving the outside of the stoneware mugs unglazed to let the flashing and heavy reduction do their magic during the firing, and the porcelain mugs glazed with the farm shino glaze. 

Freshly made handles, ready to be applied onto the cups.

Close up of the new handle, it's form and line, each one unique, is what makes them exciting for me.

Were these mugs “born or made.” I like to think they were more likely an evolution of bits and pieces from my experience and influences around me. All coming together slowly, as the distinct styles from region to region and country to country of the past.

"Naked" porcelain showing the flashing from our wood firing. 

"Naked" porcelain showing the flashing from our wood firing. 

I've also applied this new handle design, with some beautiful results, to my large pitchers. The copper red glazes flow beautifully along it's line, creating truly unique and stunning effects.

I've also applied this new handle design, with some beautiful results, to my large pitchers. The copper red glazes flow beautifully along it's line, creating truly unique and stunning effects.

New Work from the latest Firing!

Here are some pieces from the newest firing! I was extremely happy with the new celadon glaze my father mixed, it's a lot more stable, less crazing, AND the oxides came out nicely :) Again, the brown and black glazes are made from local clay, right from a farmers field here in Norfolk :) Among the pieces are a simple decorated tumbler, large, medium and small bowls, a sake bottle and cup, and a normal tea cup on it's own. ~ Peter