Fat, Juicy Tiles

I like making almost anything out of clay, and tiles have always been a small part of the body of work I make. For many years I’ve filled all the random spaces left on a kiln shelf after the pots are set with small 2″ square tiles. And they’ve ended up in showers and kitchens and fireplaces all over these parts. I’m now making a more serious effort to make bigger and more massive tile with Jason’s help. (In fact, he does most of the work…I’m just the guy with the big idea!).
3″ and 4″ sq. before the edges are cleaned up.
This is a perfect way to use up reclaim clay. We dry it then bust it up into small chunks and add an inch or so of sawdust before saturating it with water in the mortuary tub behind Jason in the photo below.
We’ve made a bunch of wooden frames and this batch is being pressed onto a sheet of backer board. I love the grid pattern and the random letters that result. They are 1/2″ thick. I’m not really sure if there’s a market, but if I like ’em so much, there must surely be a few like-minded folks.

A Tale of Two Capitols (part 1)

Last week two buyers for the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond, Virginia, visited LibertyTown with the idea of seeing more of Trista Chapman’s work in our gallery. They were enthusiastic about ‘discovering’ my birds and my functional pots as well, so Jason and I drove down yesterday for a visit. Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Washington, D.C. was the capitol of the North. My home here in Fredericksburg lies between the two, 50 miles in each direction. I visited D.C. today, but I’ll write about that tomorrow.
Jason hasn’t lived here long, but he knew about this amazing little place about 30 miles south of here called Squashpenny Junction. We took the very brief detour off of Rt. 1 and there it was amidst a crisscross of train tracks, engines and rail cars. (The name of the business is really evocative…who hasn’t put a penny on a railroad track to see it squashed into a thin oval disc)As happens more often than is possible, it turned out that I knew the proprietor of the shop next door from many moons ago in the ‘Burg. The place is chock-a-block full of “stuff” and we didn’t dare go in for fear of losing the day. It is the classic maverick Americana. Their biggest customer comes every few months from Seattle, 3,000 miles away!
Richard was tending Squashpenny for his lady friend. The Folk Bank is his business, right across the road.
 The Museum recently completed a major addition and renovation and it is fantastic! This ‘dumpling’ by Jun Kuneko is part of a small sculpture garden. I love his work and it’s always very cool to see work one admires in person.
Jason’s artistic view
The most exciting piece at the Museum is “Mocha Dick” (wool felt, vinyl covered fabric and internal fan, 10’x14’x52′) You’ll never see a bigger felted project and it is wonderful. Mocha Dick is the real-life albino sperm whale that inspired Melville’s Moby Dick.
Like any adult whale, it is covered in scars and barnacles. The deeper seams are actually zippers!
I left behind 5 bird pots and we shall see if customers find them amidst the usual museum store stuff. It’s a nice opportunity.

Spouting Off

Making a teapot that pours well is really important to me. The spout needs a large ‘collecting’ area. As you pour, a large amount of liquid is being forced into an ever narrowing spout. This creates velocity and helps the tea ‘spring’ from the spout rather than dribble.
Lots of small holes works best. The purpose of this is not so much to strain the tea (you still need a nice silver tea strainer to catch the stray leaves!) but to keep the loose leaves from getting into the spout and clogging it.
After making cups and saucers that no one will use I needed to make teapots that could collect dust with them. I’ll show you photos of the finished ones next time. You can see one with a spout added in the background, looking naked without it’s handle.
DON’T let the taper expand towards the end if you really mean to use it! Add that to my pet peeves list.

I could drive you crazy with all the nuance that I believe goes into a ‘proper’ teapot, but with Ray Finch looking over my shoulder every time I make one, expectations are high!
I use my cut-off wire to describe the arc that I then cut off with a knife.
Then I coax the cut part into a deeper curve, like the opposite of making a lip on a pitcher.
This gives it a jaunty angle to apply to the body of the pot.

I’ll also show you how to cut the spout at the tip next time. Another essential element.

“Blogger” really sucked tonight.

Join Me for a Cuppa…

A cup of tea, that is. Seriously. Anytime your in the area, I would be pleased to take a break for a cup…or two. I make these rarely, because who do you know who uses them? A word to the wise…if you are making saucers, be generous. Space is needed for a biscuit or two or more.
If you happen to be visiting after hours, I may be serving smokey scotch from a flask like this instead.


The weather continues to be curious, several climates a day but always the rain! Mold is growing everywhere and I am under assault by blood-sucking mosquitos in the studio. There seem to be particular times of day that they need to feed. Not that they can slow me down. Pots are still flowing and I was pouring a lot of slip. Here’s my set up, all of which is on a turntable. The pot is sitting on a bottle which keeps the rim from touching.
I pour slip while the pot slowly rotates and I use a brush to ‘collect’ the dripping bits before I turn it upright.
Combing takes a few tries to get the right feel. This is the first one. A little stiff…
This is a small flask. That’s called ‘rilling’ on the neck. 
The crazy weather has also produced spectacular skies. These two photos should be stitched together for full effect.
 And our own Hannah McAndrew has made the big time here in the U.S. with a nice photo in the latest edition of Ceramics Monthly! Well done, lassie!

Pots and Peeves and the Natural world

Small mugs – 3/4lb.

The air is cool and clear and my energy  is high. I had a ‘stay-cation’ last week…spending a lot of my time in the studio instead at the beach house that I rented at Buxton on the Outer Banks. Hurricane Irene removed serious chunks of the rather delicate road leading there, so, no holiday at the beach. I would most certainly have enjoyed myself, but I was completely happy to make lots and lots of pots and stay away from LibertyTown. I aim to keep up the pace as I’m hoping to fill the kiln twice before the year passes.

Large mugs – 1 1/2lb.

So, I have more pottery pet peeves than I would ever admit, but here’s one I’ve probably blogged about before. As Hollis recently referenced, I call the little ball of clay that I place at the apex of the handle of a mug a “dustcatcher”. I think that the phrase comes from an old college professor. I like both the look and the feel of this, but it drives me crazy when potters put a great big honking ball of clay at that point. I admire subtlety on this subject! Here below is another way to accomplish the same idea. Instead of a little ball of clay, I place a tiny coil across the width of the handle, then blend it in with three strokes of my thumb.
I’ve been giving the bees their space for a while. After losing the old queen and observing as a new one slowly re-envigorated the hive, I then learned that they got a lot meaner in the heat of the summer and suffered from a few (maybe more than a few) stings. I’m not overly allergic, but I certainly have a strong reaction! This is the hive with the top ‘super’ set aside. You can see all the bees down the middle…I’m waiting for the autumn honey flow and hoping that they will eventually spread out towards the edges, storing more honey for the winter.
Look real close to see two young deer. I got to watch them for a long time.
The woods as I drive in to the studio are full of these mushrooms. I’ve no idea what they are, but it’s almost spooky! If you look closely below, you can see them spread all over. These woods were logged about 10 years ago and there are stumps at the base of all of them. We’ have had some serious rain for this time of year… 
For those of you have stayed with me here to the end, I’m pleased to announce that Ryan Poe has completed the film about me and my kiln and pots etc. and he has entered it in the film festival held in France every other year. We are planning the world premier for later this fall. Stay tuned!!!

Mice vs. Birds

If you click on the photo to enlarge you will see big chunks chewed from the belly of this Bird! My studio is full of clay!  When I ate meat (35 years ago) I did enjoy breast meat…
Insulation layer for the salt kiln floor. I salvaged these giant soft firebrick (3″x9″ x24″) from a funky old defunct factory that converted carbon from one form to a more oxygenated form. We’ll be slowly putting this together through the autumn.
We have gone from summer to early winter in about a day.

World’s Smallest Wood Fired Kiln

Nicky and Todd tending the fire

Or, would you believe, a small test model of a bread oven. I did some consulting and provided a kit of materials, but Helen and Todd built this cute little ‘Cob’ bread oven last week-end and made some lovely bread this weekend after drying it out. Room for improvement, but lots learned and how cool does it get! The ‘Cob’ is just clay I’ve dug around my studio…it’s an ancient riverbed and is perfect for this use…good clay and plenty of sand. They mixed long-ish wood shavings instead of straw into the clay, made a form of dampened sand and then covered it with the Cob.
Butter Dishes…or…hatching eggs?
I promised that I was done with birds. The proof follows below. But these are the last ones that I finished last week.
This is a better photo of the piece that I showed earlier last week.
Lidded jars and vases.
This is the proof…
I really liked the form of this extra large ‘ginger ‘ jar and I kept feeling like it was naked without a bird on top. So I kept placing this bird form on and off for a couple of days, trying to erase the what if’s that have been feeding the bird frenzy. In the end I left it off and now I’m officially done with birds for now and back to classic pots. This looks a lot different now that’s it’s done, I’ll show you next time.
All the rain has produced fungi everywhere. 4 distinct kinds on my walk today.

Stealing Back to that Same Ol’ Used To Be

I’ve been seriously obsessed with the birds for about a year and a half. I’ve made about 125 serious pieces. I’m ready to give it a rest and return to making boards and boards of useful pots. I need that satisfaction.
I am planning on firing the wood kiln twice more before the year is out, which gives me the chance to shake the cobwebs off and make those pots fly off the wheel.  I”m never going to be a great big pot maker, but I like the form of these below. I just don’t know what a big pot should feel like…how much it should weigh? These are 8 – 10 pounds. The two on the left are vases. I’ll make one more batch of these right away (which probably means next week! Tomorrow is First Friday and I have a couple of things left to finish and Sunday is Ellie’s birthday, blah, blah…).
Speaking of First Friday, come on out and see Trista Chapman’s wonderful and colorful earthenware pots and silk screen prints from the folks at ‘Itty Bitty Press’!
22″ high

To wind up my bird frenzy I undertook to make a tree with a few bird perched on top. Some of the first things I ever made in clay were tree-like and I’ve long thought about making them (trees) in clay,
trying to figure out how to defy gravity. Once the birds came along this was inevitable. The coarse surface and throwing of my sculptural work will be set against the rich crackle slip/ash glazed birds.


Next Up- A Plague of Locust?!

In between the earthquake and the hurricane we had a crazy thunderstorm in town with winds that reached 57mph as measured at UMC. We are becoming accustomed to the fine covering of leaf and branch that is everywhere. More trees and more chimneys were damaged, but, like the photo below, we are still standing and feeling fortunate. This is right around the corner and remains in this precarious state…it is hard to reach.
Irene never quite lived up to her headlines. It was more like an intermittent but fierce rain and wind storm that lasted 12 hours or so. Anti-climactic, really. We are to be rewarded now with a week of mild and cloudless days. Sounds boring.
My new bat for platters…a full 1″ thick x 15″w. Hoping it won’t warp?
Another Bird/Book piece
Theodore Roosevelt

This sweet old boy is Theo. He must be 15 years old or more, he’s stone deaf and still as wiley as ever. He now resides at the ‘Washington Avenue Home for Old Cats That Need Spoiling”.

20 Miles from the Epicenter!

Most people speak of the noise that came along with the earthquake…my first thought was that a big transport plane was passing overhead as it was a low deep rumble of noise. As I think back to the moment, I also realize that some of the noise was my house, creaking and groaning as it was being racked back and forth. Lots of chimneys came down or will come down around town. A couple of pots hit the ground at Libertytown, and it seemed like every painting was at an angle, but mostly we are unscathed and have an excellent story to tell.  There was a gas leak in my neighborhood with many homes evacuated for a while, but all is well on that front. I’m not worried about it, but I am looking forward to checking on my kiln this morning.
“Where were you when the earthquake hit?” is already a common greeting!


Let me be the first to say that the earth really does move…so does your house…I ran out as fast as I could, feeling quite sure that it was about to fall on top of me. They say it lasted 30 seconds…I couldn’t say. It was thrilling…and overwhelming to get a taste of the complete absence of control we have over ol’ Ma nature. All is well…minor breakage and every frame askew.


I am slowly getting obsessed with making books. And like usual, I’m playing with different sizes, from mini to (eventually) maxi. I made these tiny ones first, partly to work out the different elements that make up a book. My plan was to create a book as a pedestal  for the birds, using titles that might even suggest that irony ensues. 
These are petite…and solid. Up to 3″
Now I’m building them bigger, from slabs, with internal structure to keep the shape from sagging.
This is the first slab built (as in hollow) book. I showed it previously, before adding the bird.
Once I looked at the two together, I felt that I had to cut an opening and make the bird a lid. I guess that makes it an inkwell?
There is a classic photo of a German (or is it Belgian?) salt glazed flask that I have long admired. Like most of my best ideas, it starts in medieval Europe. I’ve had it in mind to make some for years. That’s the great thing about a long career in clay, plenty of time to get to most of the intriguing ideas that tickle one’s fancy.
Here’s the newest one. Even bigger.
There are butterflies and dragonflies everywhere, even by my wheel.

A Little Handle Tutorial

Last week I posted photos of these serving dishes and Ron wrote asking for more details. I do love finding ways to add handles to my pots and I’m particularly interested in the seams that result by not blending them in. This type of handle exaggerates that idea.

So, first make yourself a plate…or platter…or bowl. Wide rim optional.
Get some handle clay.
Pull a handle. I usually pull enough to get a bunch at a time. I didn’t this time. (It’s just a demo, y’know). 

My thumb makes the groove. This is 4″ long.  

The handle is fatter where it meets the rim and tapers on the outside edge.
As I push down I am forcing the clay to divide equally on the front and backside of the rim.
(My other hand is usually supporting the backside but it’s holding the camera here!)
First it looks like this…
…and then I refine it like this.
This is the backside.

There is no reason that you couldn’t blend all these seams in and get just as nice a piece. Just different!

400 Little Ideas

Who doesn’t like a rainbow? This being my 400th blog entry, it seemed appropriate. We get some fierce-some thunder and lightening storms here in steamy Ol’ Virginny and it’s not unusual to see a rainbow…even double rainbows! Always a sign to stop and take a slow breath. Or drive into a parking lot, dash out of the car and take a quick snap…
I just finished a series of 11 bird vases…these are the silliest. 
I’ve been planning to make vases for a while but got my motivation to start after seeing a pot on Jenny Mendes’s blog
 It was an interesting (and colorful) spark.
I have been slowly finding my way into making books out of clay. I’ve made a bunch of very small ones which i’ll show you another time. This one is about the size of a fat paperback and is hollow. My idea is to have a bird or two sitting on a book as a base…even stacking ‘books’ for a taller base. I have cot a nice size hole in the bottom half of the cover and I’ll make a bird lid to fit. I guess it becomes an inkwell?! This is a case of an idea that comes as I develop an original thought…I hadn’t thought of the book as a vessel. My original plan was to attach a bird to it permanently.
I used to have a slip I called ‘old leather book’…I’m hoping that I can recreate it.

Green Grass, Pet Peeve and Urban Agriculture

 I couldn’t resist trying to capture the ‘green-ness’ out at the studio. This is remarkable in August. In spite of some crazy heat and humidity, we have had sufficient rain to keep the grass from turning brown. It makes it a tiny bit more bearable to be spending the summer here. 
from my notebook of ‘lists, etc.’
I carved some new stamps, small ones for small pots. I am always mystified that so many potters mark their work in ways that are difficult to read…or impossible to read…or they use some random symbol…or an illegible signature. I have used a tiny sprig for my own stamp for a long time, but I have changed it over the years and I’ve tried to keep track of those changes and when  they changed. I made a special stamp for the year 2000 and since then I have returned to lower case letters…I carved djf into the very first pot that I made. I was reading e.e. cummings back in those days! I have different sizes to go with the scale of the pots.
Urban Agriculture
I have this tiny side yard and for reasons unknown, corn sprouted in the midst of grass, heat pumps and lumber. I think that I remember my friend growing corn here more than a dozen years ago…could it be self sowing after all these years?!

An Homage to the Other DF

A couple of cool candlesticks flanking “Doug’s Jug”( tallest is 17”)
In case you think that all I do is make beaks, bird feet and turn thousands of little balls of clay into feathers, I submit the following pots to calm you down and provide some balance for anyone who has had enough of my avian flu. I’m still making the birds (over 100 now!) but it feels great to fill up boards with wheel thrown pots. I was thinking of Doug and Hannah’s visit when I made the ‘jug’ in the middle. I grabbed a few leaves from around the studio and learned that it takes more patience than I had today to really cover the pot. Still,  I’m hoping that this new blue/black slip will be a winner.
I haven’t made these serving dishes in a few years. They used to be a standard  part of any making cycle.
I’ve made a bunch of these, with plans to stack ’em even higher.


If two is good then doesn’t it follow that four is better?!

Still picking blackberries!

Mongolia…or Bust!

My godson, Hugh (Toff and Georgie’s son), is leaving today on a rally with a few pals for the next 10 weeks or so. They’ve bought a used ambulance, retrofitted it for the journey, raised thousands for charity and now today is the day to make it real. The lads will be writing a blog if you’re curious to follow their adventure. Safe travels!

Catching Up

The summer is flying by and the best I can say about the weather is…it’s not as bad as it could be! I famously despise the heat (what would you expect from a boy from Buffalo, NY?) and I continue to imagine myself picking plums in England. Still, I am getting out to the studio early when I can and the pedestaled bowls here are some of the fruits of that labor. I’d like to make some giant ones, but I may wait until I’ve put these through a firing. I worry about them warping.
You can also see a bird on a pot that hopefully looks like a silo..I’m going to play with a series of birds in/on architectural forms. I’ve been putting feathers on a batch of wee ones while watching the women’s World Cup…fantastic competition!
peaches and blackberries…m-m-m-m-m
The summer bounty of produce is wonderful. I took Jason, Beth and Lucy to visit with Warren Frederick and Catherine White and joined them for the beautiful lunch you see below. A beautiful country home and studio, stimulating conversation and a very warm welcome made for a lovely day. Our pots and aesthetics couldn’t be different, but how great is it that pottery can be so diverse and inclusive at the same time. Lots of food for thought.
lunch at Warren and Catherine’s
I continue to be be amazed at the mentality that is still fighting a war that ended 150 years ago. The losers never let it go!
only in Virginia…

If you are following this here blog in North Carolina you might get a visit from Jason Hartsoe, my assistant, and Lucy Bresson, his friend from France via Ireland. They are both keen young potters and I’m sure that they will find a warm welcome.

A Hatful of Blackberry Goodness

My studio is in the far corner of a 65 acre country property and blackberries might just be the biggest crop that we harvest every year. They have become my favorites of all the berries (including Chuck and Halle).  Bright pink smoothies and blackberry crumble or blackberry jam with bay leaf – m-m-m-! And corn and tomatoes are on the cusp!
After some frantic months I am finding a little time to get back to the studio. Last time I started a making cycle I was overexcited about making birds. They were new and unknown. I still find them interesting and I will continue to make them for a while, but some of the bloom is off the rose. It’s working out the ‘problems’ of a new idea that get me most excited…now it’s time to refine and push some of the things I’ve explored. It is a different energy. 
All that is a long way to say that I haven’t quite wrapped my brain around a master plan for firing #11…I’ve made a list of the usual suspects to make and I know that birds will be in the mix (I’m making a bunch of wee ones at the moment) but I don’t have an overarching plan/theme yet. It leaves me a bit uncertain at the wheel. 
This is not an unusual state for me to be in. I like a good plan. Years ago I used to try and (like the old Communist Party) have a five year plan.  Sometimes it just takes a few days on the wheel for a path to be revealed. Meanwhile, it is a certain act of faith that takes me out to the studio these days. Waiting for illumination…

June Update

I will be putting many of the newest birds on sale this Friday at Libertytown. If any of you readers out there are interested you should let me know…last time I sold them all in 24 hours! Beth designed this new extra large banner for the show…we’ll use it to announce each firings arrival.
My Homage to Myself
I visited Charles and Ellen  this week south of the city by about 20 minutes. They are planning on building a wood burning kiln and I thought that I could be of help. The only book they had to work from was Rhodes’s kiln  book…circa 1950’s! I do think I helped a bit. Charles has been building cool things on his property for a long time…gazebos, gardens, towers, a nymphorium(!?) and this gorgeous dovecote. It’s not something that we Americans get to see very often. I know them from my days in England. This really is a beauty, although I don’t believe that it’s ever seen a dove!
I’ve also been helping a visiting ceramic artist from Cuba who is teaching a course at the University of Mary Washington. They are having trouble firing the old Alpine gas kiln. Another relic of the ’50’s!
This is the entrance to the Arts Department at the University of Mary Washington

Marie’s Pie Plate Choices.

Marie N. has been a steady supporter of this here blog for some time….all the way from Texas! It being pie season, I’ve ben promising to show her a selection. here are my 3 favorites from the last firing, my dear. The first is a little warmer of a color than appears in the photo. Next will be some teapots for Sara L. in Michigan!
kaolin slip/combed w/black dots

Kaolin slip/black glaze brushed

Crackle slip/amber glaze