Wednesday, June 27, 2007

the Chicken or the Egg?

This post is a long one because I have three confessions to make.

First on the list, I don't have a kiln. There, it is out (*sigh*). I'm embarassed to admit this. Yes, yes, I know what you are thinking. "How can you be serious about ceramics and not own a kiln?" I have a personal rule and that is, I have to "earn" my kiln. Until I truly and honestly believe in my work, I will not pony up the bucks to buy one, period. The fact that I don't have a kiln speaks volume about how I feel about my own work so far (thus, my second confession). This has been my thought pattern for quite a while now. Does an artist ever get to a point when he feels confident in his art? He must, right? He has to believe in his work before he can even fathom that others will too.

Now onto my third confession, I have been having endless problems with glazes for years. Because of my "kiln situation", I fire my pieces at two local pottery facilities . Each facility is impressive in its own right. You can see photos of one here. We're talking about a combine inventory of 4 gas and at least 8 to 10 electric kilns (I have lost count). There is ample room to dry, glaze, throw, carve, etch, and do whatever else you can imagine to your clay. I am very lucky to have such resources where I live. All of this goodness, comes with one catch, both facilities fire in cone 10 (reduction) or cone 06 (oxidation) ONLY, and nothing in between. This fact presents a big problem in my process. I happen to love working with porcelain and I prefer to paint designs using bright colorful glazes (no dipping). That type of glaze don't exist in cone 10, at least in my experience with commercial ones. They do come in cone 06, but they consistently craze (crack) on porcelain (i.e. not food safe). I've tried all sorts of work arounds but to date, I am still nowhere closer to where I want to be. If only I can fire at whatever range of temperature I need, all my glaze troubles would be solved.

I guess you're seeing my dilemma now, right? It's the age-old question. What comes first? the chicken or the egg? Or in my case, the kiln or my art? I need a show of hands please. Which way should I sway?

The picture above is that of a raku kiln taken by my friend, Natalie, earlier this week at our pottery facility.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Linda Bloomfield

While home bound by a 24 hour flu last weekend, I came up with a fabulous idea! Each month, I am going to write about a ceramic artist, whose work has inspired me and challenged me to re-examine certain aspects of my own designs.

First on the list is one of my all time favorite ceramic artists, Linda Bloomfield, from London, UK.

Her ceramics are thoughtfully and perfectly hand thrown. Each piece is made to be handled and used everyday. Its beauty lies in its simplicity, purity, form, and elegance. Linda creates utilitarian ware at its best. Her colaboration with Ruth Cross to add the crocheted cosies is unique, ingenious, and oh so functional all at the same time!

Linda's work inspires me to spend more time on the pottery wheel, to really think about the shape of my pieces. She reminds me that less is more and that I should design pieces with strength and good form to encourage daily use. After all, what are tableware for? but to be enjoyed and used everyday.

The photos are from Linda Bloomfield's website.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Colorful Tassels

As you know, I have a love for all things "rooster". Last year, I wanted to buy this tassel from It was priced at $29.99, but after shipping costs and tax, was closer to $40! Being a cheapo and a creative sort of person, I decided to make one myself. First, I needed wooden tassel heads. I surfed online and found a store in Berkley, California that sold some in a variety of sizes. I then went to a local craft store and bought an assortment of bright colorful threads meant for embroidery. Armed also with permanent magic markers, I set out to make some tassels and had a lot of fun. Below are pictures of a few. They turned out quite popular and I ended up giving many to friends as Christmas presents. These tassels were about 7 inches in length.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I'm sure anyone who has worked with clay will agree, the moment you open the kiln to get the first peek of the finished pieces is always filled with nervousness and anticipation. No matter how long you've been doing ceramics, that feeling never goes away. It is such a long process to have a piece made and there is no guarantee that your hard work will pay off. A simple bowl like the one pictured above usually takes me about two weeks.

Here's the process in a nutshell. I start with a ball of clay and throw it into a bowl on a pottery wheel. Next, I wrap it up in plastic and let it slowly dry to a leather hardness. This may take up a few days. Once it is leather hard, I bring it back on the pottery wheel so I can trim the bottom of the bowl and add signature stamp. After the piece is completely dry it is ready to be bisque fired for hours up to approximately 2012 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, I glaze the bowl using one of the designs from my sketch book. This step may take up several hours depending on the detail of the design. Once the piece is glazed, is is placed in the kiln for another firing to about 2228 degrees Fahrenheit for several more hours. The bowl is then allowed to slowly cool over the next 24 hours before the kiln is opened. It is after this second firing that I often find myself with my heart in my throat praying to the kiln god.

This time around, my heart sank to my feet. The glaze bubbled for some yet unknown reason. What happened? I don't remember doing anything different with this batch. I'll need to do research on the web (*sigh*).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Giant Trees

We made it back from a weekend in the Sequoia National Forest late last night. After a much needed shower to wash off two days worth of dirt, sunscreen, and sweat, I finally made it to bed at 2:30am. These late nights are starting to be the norm instead of exception (note to self, NOT good!). My dear friend, David, was the leader of this trip. As usual, he was as thorough as can be, but most notably, had more energy than the Eveready Energizer Bunny. If left unchecked, he would try to fit a 13 mile hike with ridiculous elevation, then cave exploration, then rock climbing, then another 6 mile hike, and if we all brought headlights, a moonlight hike, all in one day! Luckily, we out numbered him and was able to force him down to only 3 activities per day and enough time to eat meals in between. Nevertheless, I was exhausted when I finally made it into my tent on Saturday night. I pulled out a book on mold making and slip casting but my eyes failed me. I must have dozed off after the first paragraph.

The Sequoia National Forest is an unbelievably beautiful and magical place. It houses the biggest trees, in terms of volume, on earth. To hike through the giant sequoia grove is like a scene straight out of Alice in Wonderland. The trees are over a thousand years old, 200 feet tall, and have a base circumference of about 100 feet. Most have visible black scars from withstanding hundreds of forest fires. I was also in awe by the many species of colorful and delicate flowers everywhere. They seem to thrive in the filtered lights coming through the trees. If you happen to be on the west coast and have some time, please consider visiting the Sequoia Forest. You won't regret it, I promise.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Weekend Awaits

It's Friday and the weekend is almost here. Yay! I'm leaving work early to head out of town for some camping and hiking in the Sequoia forest. It'll be some place far far away from my beloved pottery wheel. Ideas will have to wait to be realized. That's ok for now. Some fresh air and beautiful sceneries will spark even more ideas. I'm leaving you with a picture of a pencil holder I made recently. This piece was greatly enfluenced by my admiration for Ambrosia Porcelain. Their work is so adorable. You can't help but want to pick one up and touch it with your bare hands. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

More to Come...

I've decided 2007 will be a year of discovery, to test new glazes, new techniques, and new designs. Everything is an inspiration of sorts, especially our garden. It's quite small but full of plants and a few trees. We've had this garden for almost three years now and I constantly discover something new and amazing. Life evolves in a garden, no matter how big or small. It attracts all kinds of creatures. I once stayed up late into the night to watch a family of six raccoons, a mother and her five babies, playing on the grass. We have a couple of dove nests, but unoccupied at the momment. The hummingbirds, white butterflies, and bumblebees love the salvia shrubs and visit them often. So without question, you will soon find butterflies and hummingbirds on my ware, as well as many of the plants and flowers. I have a lot of work in progress but nothing finished to show you yet. Please stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Precious Studio Time

The weather has been especially lovely these past few days in Southern California. Beni, Natalie, and I met up at the community studio on Monday evening just as the sun was setting. We left the door wide open to let some cool breezes in and immediately got our hands soaked in mud and glazes. As usual, we chatted away as we trimmed, throwed, and glazed pieces after pieces. Before we know it, the clock ticked 9:30pm and we had to clean up. The hours seem like seconds when you are with dear friends doing what you love.

All of these greenware are lining up for the kiln.

A staff member was loading the gas kiln. We have 3 gas and 4 electric kilns at the facility.

Natalie was busy throwing a bowl.

Beni delicately glazed the top of her bowl.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Window Shopping

Window shopping for handmade items on Etsy is so much fun! The theme for today is mug or cup. Here are some of my favorite finds:

Cynthia Vardhan's white tea set $70

Deb Babcock's cup on leaf saucer $29

Jeanette Zeis's vegan cup $16

Cynthia Guajardo's celadon porcelain mug $16

ngdesigns porcelain cup with black dots $35

Please note, the photos from this post are not of my own. I gathered them from by their rightful owners.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Handles and All

Last night I stayed up pass midnight to trim and put handles on four mugs and a pitcher. This is what happens when you have a full time job making websites all day, come home to tend the garden, feed the cat, eat dinner, clean the kitchen, hang out a bit with your honey, and then do some pottery. Needless to say, it took all of my will power to get out of bed this morning at 5:30am. In fact, after the alarm went off, I must have dozed off again because I dreamt that I was in the shower only to be awaken thirty minutes later and found myself still in bed! I rushed through the morning rituals, but skipped the breakfast, and jumped into the car with my hair completely wet (*sigh*). I'll tell you what makes all of this madness worth it, the sight of those milky white porcelain greenware on the kitchen counter where I left them last night to dry. I don't know what it is about ceramics but it makes me crazy, crazy happy that is.

The "peppa studio" stamp you see on the base of these pieces was hand-carved by a kid in Vietnam. I bumped into him at a street corner in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) this past January. He was no older than fifteen. He occupied the entire corner with a display of all sorts of wooden stamps he had carved by hand. I asked him if he could custom make a stamp for me. I then attempted to draw this chili logo on a napkin. He gladly took on the job for a mere $4 (U.S.) and told me to come back that evening. True to his word, the stamp was an exact replica of my drawing. I wish he had a business card. I would post it here to share with you. To this day, I don't know how he carved those tiny little letters. Maybe he had some automated tools in a shop somewhere?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Cranking Them Out

To my surprise, I've been fairly productive despite a hectic week. Over the weekend Greg and I jumped on a red-eye flight to the east coast for my brother's engagement party (yahoo!). It was a non-stop celebration all day Saturday. Early Sunday morning (6:30am to be exact), we were back at the airport to catch another 6 hour flight to L.A. What did I do as soon as I reached home? Yep, you guessed it, I got on to the pottery wheel and made a few things. Lined up on the rack to be fired are 2 pitchers, 6 mugs, and a large platter. I'll try to post pictures of them when they're completely fisnished.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Glazing Night

Once a week, my friends and I get together for a few hours to glaze. It's a good way for us to catch up on each other's lives. Over time, I find myself looking forward to these sessions. Nothing is off topic. We discuss glazes, designs, ceramics, boyfriends (or exes), mountain biking (we do quite a bit of this during our spare time), and upcoming trips/vacations. We also surf the web or look at books for design inspirations and talk about ceramic artists that we admire. I, for one, hope these sessions will continue for years to come.