Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A romance story

A new year is here and the advice I recently received for the coming year was "romance the details as you revel in the big picture". This may be important because I've been toying with the "big picture" idea about how to make the making of everyday things more important and relevant for our everyday lives.

Is it even possible in your local area to acquire all your everyday items from a local producer? I've been wondering a lot about this lately. For me the question started with food and expanded to the other items I use on a regular basis. Food is a really good place to start though, because it's incredibly important that communities can feed themselves. I lived in Seattle during the 9/11 attacks and had small taste for how quickly the shelves of the grocery store become depleted when air traffic is completely grounded for a few days (and it wasn't pretty). That was a short-term problem, but what if it wasn't? Where would your community get their food in a long term crisis? Where would you get your 'stuff'? [Note: Here in Nova Scotia the amount of locally produced food on our communal tables is somewhere around 13%. That's a long way from food security for a province dominated by a rural landscape and with a strong agricultural history... what do you think happened???]

But that's really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to locally-produced goods. A dollar spent at your local pottery, textile producer or farmer's market will bring a lot more prosperity to your community than one spent at the big box store. Those dollars that get passed around the community increase everyone's well-being. A portion of the dollar spent in my pottery studio will go to a local carpenter to help with repairs to my space, then move on to perhaps the massage therapist, to the local mechanic, to the farmer and so on. When those dollars leave the community through stores like Walmart, they only thing left is minimum wage jobs without benefits. The rest lines the pockets on multi-national corporations. And those multi-national corporations are so powerful now that they direct government policy and even have a HUGE influence on how 'good' government policy gets enacted (i.e. climate change commitments come to mind, but I have lots  more I could share). And, at least here in Canada, these companies are frequently given the latitude to police their own activity!... all under the guise that they provide important socio-economic benefits for our society and that our well-being is in the best interest of these companies... but, think about it... is that really where the socio-economic value in your community comes from? Can you envision a different reality? What if the socio-economic strength in your community came from a breadth and depth of talent and diversity and self-sufficiency?

I'm romanced by a modern twist on what I imagine life was like before the extensive high-speed road systems that cover the modern landscape and before air transport became a normal way to move goods around. Each community with their farmers, coopers, blacksmiths, educators, doctors, hunters, tailors, textile manufactures, lumber mills, potteries and so on. How did they really work? Can a community really support itself? Economists keep telling me "no"... but they haven't convinced me. They seem to be hung up on 'volume'. But, at the heart of the 'volume' argument is the assumption that you, dear consumer, will only pay the lowest price for your 'stuff'. To get the lowest price it needs to be mass-produced, efficiently at a low cost (read offshore where wages are meager and environmental issues are over-looked). We (the tax-payers) then subsidize this by off-setting the transportation costs to move the stuff around. Do you really think it's possible to make a coffee cup in China and ship it to your community in a bunch of packing material and sell it for $2? You may only pay $2 plus tax at the counter, but we have paid (not just figuratively, but literally in real tax dollars) much more to make this possible. The price you see is an illusion, a slight of hand.

Is it possible to change this reality? Can a community take back the production of it's "stuff" and would it make us more prosperous? If you have some personal experience with this, I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, November 1, 2010


It's interesting to me how themes seem to develop in my life. Does this happen to you, too? If I had to identify the one that seems most prevalent now it would be 'perspective'. Lately, everywhere I go I am reminded of the variety of ways of seeing and experiencing the world. Even my horoscope for the week seemed to be on board with this theme, providing me with the advice: "Don't turn your focus into a white-hot beam of piercing intensity; relax your focus into a soft-eyed enjoyment of playing around with the possibilities." I have definitely been guilty of white-hot intensity so it's good for me to be reminded of the joy of play and divergent thinking from time to time... but this new "perspective" seems to be a more natural state for me, so I'm happy to indulge.

In the studio in the past couple weeks I developed a new perspective about one of my glazes. I'm not sure what to call the glaze; 'amber' seems to be winning out. I was actually aiming for a deep rich mahogany brown colour, so I was disappointed with the result initially. The first pieces with this glaze seemed stamped with my unrequited expectations and I didn't really like them.

Baking and/or Serving Dish with amber glaze

There's a good chance I would have abandoned this glaze; finished off the bucket that was mixed up and then tried again to get the colour I wanted. But, in an effort to fill up my kiln with glazed ware so that I could submit a commissioned piece, I took a bowl and poured this amber glaze over it quickly and placed it in the kiln. I wasn't expecting, when I pulled this same piece from the kiln, to be pleasantly surprised by the results. This time, I noticed the playfulness of the glaze. The way it varied with my movement during the application and the mysterious way it pulls other colours around the pot.

Small Serving Bowl with amber glaze and wisps of misty blue.
This new perspective about this glaze encouraged me to keeping playing with it. I used it on many of my most recent work and will continue to explore the possibilities.

(Another) Small Serving Bowl with amber glaze. This time with wonderful brown effect.
 I've also discovered how well this amber glaze pairs with the black glaze that I just made (I actually got the colour I wanted that time.) So, I think the two colours might find their way on to the same pieces.

A sampling of pieces with the amber glaze and one black tea bowl.
This contemplation about perspective has inspired me to explore this theme in my pottery production a bit more deeply and purposefully. Looking through my sketch book, I can see now that it's been a theme that has been bubbling beneath the surface for a while. I feel full of ideas, thanks to a small bit of playfulness and a slight change in  my perspective.

If you're interested in seeing more of my pieces or maybe even buying something, please visit my facebook page. cheers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Back in the saddle

Growing up with the name Horsman, I think I've earned the right to use references to horses even if I don't actually have one [Note: If you're confused, my name is actually pronounced horseman, sometimes even spelled with the "e" and I especially dislike the alternate pronunciation that some people apply quite innocently I'm sure.] But back to the point of this post and why it's been so long since the last one.

I must confess that I have been struggling with finding a style or technique that really feels right. I've been trying lots of things out, both functional pieces and also things intended purely as art work. I've been reading all sorts of books and doing lots of internet research. For a while I decided to stop reading and researching and just to play with the clay, but then I became obsessed with rearranging my studio. For some reason things just didn't seem to be in the "right" place and it was really bothering me. A fortune cookie at a local Chinese restaurant confirmed my affliction by saying "You are sensitive to your surroundings." I was reading this cookie wisdom inside the grey cubicle walls where I was working at the time, but even after leaving that job to work with clay full time, I still find that I am sensitive to my space. BUT... and here is the crux, I don't always know how I want the space to be. I've got lots of ideas. Too many really!!! It's another affliction that plagues me in both interior design and in pottery design.

Just a couple days ago, I came across Kristin Muller's take on personal style (in The Potter's Studio Handbook). She says that "Discovering personal style is part of the intellectual journey of an artist.".  I stumbled upon this quote about the same time that I actually felt like I was having  bit of a break through. I had just moved from feeling overwhelmed by the nearly infinite possibilities and I am starting to feel rewarded by the research I've been doing. I've got a couple distinctly different but very appealing [to me] "styles" that I plan to work with over the next year.

I like the idea of staying with these for at least a year. A full circle of seasons, ending and beginning and ending. I'm anxious to see what the year will bring. Now the busy work begins.

I'm not sure what most people envision when they think of the life of a potter, but I'm pretty sure it probably doesn't resemble how I spent my morning. First, bent over a bucket of reclaim clay that I was trying to mix by hand only to discover that I should have tried standing up much sooner as I was now nearly permanently fixed in that position with clay up to my elbows. Later on with dust mask and safety goggles, electric jigsaw in hand, ready to attack a piece of scrap mdf board that I was about to turn into a new slump mold. It was a pretty productive morning: three new slump molds, one more bag of recycled clay another on the plaster to be prepped tomorrow. If this is how you picture life in a pottery, you're probably a potter yourself.

While wielding the power tools this morning my mind drifted off to my horoscope this week. Probably not the safest thing to do, but it happens. I'm not really into astrology but one in The Coast always seems to have something that I can relate to.  This week the message was essentially 'Isn't it time for you to circle back and reclaim an early part of you that got lost along the way?' All appendages still intact, I began to reflect on the seven year old me. The girl who had completely filled in her math note book with beautiful doodles all through the margins. No blank space was wasted. Everything was adorned with some kind of personal embellishment. Despite the fact that all the math work was done accurately and on time, my teacher's response to this was to keep my behind after school to completely rewrite everything in my scribbler without the artistic additions. I'm sure she had her reasons; though even at this point in my life, I'm still not quite sure what her point was. This was probably the first time I was really punished for something at school. So that got me thinking, what else had I been punished for... oh yeah, drinking from the water fountain without permission on the way back from the library when I was 10. Geez they were strict, eh??? The punishment for that was 100 or maybe 500 lines of "I will not drink from the water fountain without permission." or something like that. I don't recall exactly, but what I do recall is that I quickly developed a solution (although I'm sure I didn't invent this myself) of using multiple pens fastened together so that I could write multiple parallel lines at the same time. Bingo! This was the solution to a small problem I was having designing the slump mold. Problem solved. Thanks to Mr. Steeves and the water fountain incident. I'm sure with time, my inner child will solve the rest of my problems too.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Slow Food Ware

I am a huge fan of slow food.  If you haven't heard, the movement called "Slow Food" is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

In part, slow food is an awakening to the pleasures that food produced locally with traditional farming techniques can offer. There is an incredible range of diversity and flavour in the heritage of our food production, but it's being lost with the transition to large-scale farming. I prefer to enjoy the dozens of different varieties of tomatoes, picked fresh, each with different and intense flavours (in season) over the few varieties of tomatoes grown for their unique characteristic ability to be transported all over the world rather than for their taste. We have sacrificed a lot for the convenience of having any food in any season and especially we are sacrificing greatly for the production of "cheap" industrial food.

So with that in mind, I enjoy making functional dinner ware and I especially enjoy a slow food meal served on hand-crafted pottery. No two pieces of hand-crafted pottery are ever the same. And this is a beautiful thing. It is real life. It is beauty in the imperfect, beauty in diversity. 

So while even the most industrial pottery and ceramic production hasn't become as disconnected from its roots as standard food production has, there is something quite fitting and maybe even more satisfying about eating a slow food meal on a hand-crafted plate or bowl, if you can.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Metal Head

It's funny how things influence our thinking without us even being fully aware. I would never have guessed that in the midst of a summer, enjoying the sun, making functional pots and working in the garden that these sheet metal inspired forms would be part of the work I would produce. I suspect these unusual (for me) pieces were inspired by metal roofing work that was happening outside my studio.

The vase above is imprinted with the seed pods of poppies. 
5" tall by 4.5" wide electric-fired, gun metal glaze (not food safe)

Vase "Sheet Metal Study No.2"
8.5" x 3" electric-fired, gun metal glaze (not food safe)

 Vase "Sheet Metal Study No.1"
6.5" x 3"
electric-fired, gun metal glaze (not food safe)