Potter’s Book Club: A Potter’s Workbook by Clary Illian

Posted by on Sep 30, 2011 in About Me, Books, Workshop | 1 comment

If I formed an actual book club for potters, Clary Illian’s A Potter’s Workbook would definitely be on the reading list.  It would be great fun to work through the assignments with other potters and then have a group discussion. Illian defines A Potter’s Workbook as  “a utilitarian pottery workshop in a book…designed to help students who are learning to throw pots, potters who know how to throw but feel the need for greater understanding, and skilled craftspeople who enjoy thinking about the objects they love” (pg 1).   And, I found it to be all of that and more. The chapters are organized by concept and pot shape.  Each section has an assignment and lots of black and white photographs of leather-hard pots are used to illustrate various solutions to that assignment.  Illian provides tangible advice about aesthetics and gives ample consideration to function for each assignment.   She offers beginning potters practical instruction for basic throwing such as which hand should be dominant when making bowls/cylinders and she challenges advanced potters to use proportional relationships to design successful pots.  I think her discussion of handle placement is the best I have ever encountered; and, I have often relied on her guidelines when choosing where to put handles on new pots. When I began pottery, I was overwhelmed with learning basic throwing skills; but, at this point in my pottery journey, I want to make my pots more distinctively mine.  Illian says that “noticing your concerns and continually defining and refining them [will] give birth to personal style” (pg 89); and, that as you are working through your preferences, your style is evolving on its own.   She emphasizes the benefits of drawing and language for learning to see pots and identifying desirable elements in those pots.  She promises that these skills will help a potter “to succeed intentionally rather than by happy accident” (pg 81) – in which I am very hopeful. A Potter’s Workbook celebrates the wondrous complexity of form.  Many of the commentaries have caused me to be more mindful when I am making pots and provided me with vocabulary to I analyze them with after they are thrown.  It would be a worthy read for any potter individually or in a group....

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A Bit More About Workshops

Posted by on Aug 17, 2011 in Workshop | 0 comments

Before I leave the topic of workshops, I had a few more thoughts I wanted to share. In addition to time and money, there are several things to consider about going away for a workshop.  The first is distance.  Basically this is an issue of logistics.  If the workshop is too far to drive, potters must consider how to transport tools (usually requires checking a bag) and how to transport pots (usually requires a lot of bubble wrap and UPS).  I flew to a workshop in Pittsburgh and it was well worth the minor casualties my pots suffered.  Otherwise, driving is preferable because you can take all your tools and pots can be easily transported when leatherhard. Another consideration is whether to attend a workshop alone or with other potters you know.  I have attended workshops alone and more recently, Julie and I travel to workshops and room together.  This works for us.  However, it is a lot of time together so if you choose to travel to workshop with company, be sure you are comfortable with them.  I also attend workshops by myself (usually because the topic doesn’t interest Julie).  Don’t sacrifice what you want to do because you are afraid to do it alone.  You will get more out of a workshop you attend by yourself than you will get out of a workshop you attend with some one who puts demands on your attention. Workshops have a rhythm.  After you check in, there is studio orientation when you are shown the studio space, select a wheel, and get clay.  Once those formalities are done, the instructor explains her process/aesthetics and demonstrates a form.  After the demo, there is time to practice the techniques.  Typically, there is another demo after a break or lunch and then more time to work.  Take the breaks when you need them (even if they are more often than the others seem to need).  If the studio permits after hours work, potters often come back the studio to continue working on class projects or their own projects.  Again, work at your own pace.  I have learned to call it a day even if the studio is still available – I am happiest when I am balanced.  If the workshop is long enough, there may be a bisque firing.  My advice is to avoid rush drying and take leatherhard pots home to be fired.  It isn’t worth loosing work because you rushed the drying.  The last day is often a day reserved for a critique and studio cleaning, which means that there isn’t much time to work.  So projects should be finished before the last day if possible.  The critique may be scary but it is often worth overcoming the fear. If you have the opportunity to take a workshop, it can be well worth the time, money, and...

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Pottery Hangover

Posted by on Aug 15, 2011 in A Bit Off Center, Workshop | 0 comments

I am recovering after a great week-long workshop at Arrowmont so I took yesterday to rest and piddle around the house (although I did unload and reload the kiln).   Workshops are fun but they are a lot of work.  Arrowmont is one of my favorite venues for workshops because I stay on campus (in a renovated old house) and meals are available in the dining hall.  Not to mention that the pottery studio is big and bright.   So it is a very pleasant place to be. The session was conducted by Kristen Kieffer and she focused on surface decoration.  This is where I want to make changes in my pots so the workshop was timely and applicable.  We practiced several surface treatments: stamping, slip sponging, slip trailing, and underglazing.  Kristen was generous and took time to explain what she does to her pots and why she makes those choices. She has made an instructional DVD of her surface treatments which is available for purchase.  I watched it last year and found it informative and well organized.  The workshop covered all the aspects she discussed in her DVD.  It would be a useful resource for potters at any level. There are several things that I learned from the workshop but perhaps the concept that is rolling around in my mind the most is that I need to actively seek ideas for my pots and consider ways to implement those ideas.  Kristen showed us her sketchbook and images that she was working to introduce in her pots.   This is the work that I have not been consistently doing and it is something I want to...

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Workshops Part 3

Posted by on Aug 11, 2011 in About Me, Workshop | 2 comments

There are many pottery workshops available for all skill levels.   When no classes were available to me locally, I started attending a few workshops a year in order to keep acquiring skills.  Now I find them to to be opportunities for inspiration. This is the final post in a series where I have conveyed my impressions and evaluations of some of the venues where I have attended workshops. Arrowmont, Gatlinburg TN – Arrowmontis an Arts and Crafts School located in Gatlinburg.  I have taken two one-weekworkshops at Arrowmont.  Because it is an Arts and Crafts School, it hosts workshops in several media.  The pottery studio is quite large with lots of windows, several wheels, plenty of tables, multiple electric kilns, salt kiln, and wood kiln.  It hosts accomplished contemporary potters that draw attendees from all over the US.  There are several galleries on the campus and a well-stocked supply store.  On-campus lodging is available and a cafeteria offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I stayed in a dorm on campus and had meals in the campus cafeteria.  The lodging was basic but comfortable and the food was very good.  Most of the attendees stayed on campus and ate in the cafeteria, which gave us a lot of opportunity to meet them.  I really appreciated that I didn’t need to change clothes for meals and that I didn’t need to figure out where to eat each evening because it allowed me more time to focus on the things I was learning.  The studio is open until 1 am, so you can work as long as you can stay awake.  Although Arrowmont is in heart of Gatlinburg, I didn’t see any of the town – I was too busy on campus to leave.  This is a great place to take an extended workshop and I am looking forward to returning. Accommodations – Very Good Meals – Very Good Studio Space – Well Equipped Value – Very Good Likelihood of returning – Very High Emerge, Greenville NC– Emerge is an art center and host to the Pitt County Arts Council.  It offers classes and workshops in several media.  It is also is my local art center.  I have taken several classes in pottery and drawing.   Emerge has recently begun to offer workshops from local and NC potters; two of which I attended. The studio is well equipped with tools, bats, and wheels.  Meals and lodging are the responsibilities of the attendees but there are several restaurants within walking distance from the art center.  The studio closes at a designated time so it is unavailable for use after hours.  There is a sales gallery that hosts art from regional artists.  Parking can be a challenge but there are places available. Accommodations – Not Available Meals – Easily Accessible Studio Space – Adequately Equipped Value – Fair Likelihood of returning – Good This is not an extensive review of venues where pottery workshops are offered.  There are several others (such as Penland, Haystack, Anderson Ranch, John C. Campbell Folk School, etc.) that offer workshops on a regular basis.  Don’t be intimidated.  Look for a workshop in an area that is accessible for you and hosted with a potter whose work you admire.  Making the investment in yourself as a potter will definitely pay...

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Workshops Part 2

Posted by on Aug 8, 2011 in A Bit Off Center, Workshop | 0 comments

In general, potters are a very generous community.  Information, ideas, tips, glaze recipes, firing sequences, etc.  are graciously shared – especially at workshops.  When I first began taking workshops, I didn’t expect the potters to be so open about how they made their pots.  I am glad I was mistaken because I have greatly benefited from their accessablilty. As I have been getting ready  to go to a week-long workshop, I was thinking about all the workshops I have attended.  So in this series of posts, I am reviewing those venues. Claymakers, Durham NC – Claymakers is a private studio that offers several workshops a year.  I have taken a couple weekend workshops and one class at Claymakers.  All of which have been very good.  The studio is very inspirational – there are lots of high quality bisque pots on display.  It is a great space for throwing and hand building – lots of wheels and tables.  The studio closes at 5 so it was unavailable for working after hours.  Most of the workshop attendees were local potters who belong to the studio or take classes at a nearby community college.  There is a small sales gallery that hosts several potters’ works.  There is also a small but well-stocked supply store.  Food and lodging were the responsibilities of the individual attendees.  However, there were a few restaurants in near proximity to the studio so lunch was manageable.  Parking is limited at the studio but wasn’t a challenge since I took classes on the weekends when the lot across from the studio was available.  Claymakers is short drive from me and often hosts workshops by exceptional NC potters so I expect I will take future workshops. Accommodations – Not available Meals – Easily Accessible / Very Good Studio Space – Well Equipped Value – Very Good Likelihood of returning – Very High Odyssey, Asheville NC – Odyssey Art Center is focused exclusively on potters and is associated with Highwater Clays.  I took a week-long workshop a few years ago.  The workshop was really wonderful and came at a significant time in my pottery development.  Odyssey hosts exceptional potters every year that are worth meeting.  The attendees come from all over.  The studio is huge with lots of space and wheels.  They even provide cinder blocks to accommodate for height.  There is a small sales gallery with work available from excellent contemporary potters.  And, since Highwater Clays is located a few minutes away, there is ample supply shopping available to the attendees.  Lodging and meals are the responsibility of the attendees.  But, they offer a brown-bag lunch option that is supplied by a near-by café.  This was really fun since it gave us a chance to sit around a table and chat – and the food was excellent.  Odyssey also supplied water and trail-mix during the day and arranged for a masseuse to come in the afternoon to give back massages for a fee.  The studio was open late and available for working.  We stayed at the bed-and-breakfast, which was owned by Odyssey.  It was very charming and convenient for the workshop.  But, Asheville is a wonderful town with a variety of places to stay.  Parking was a challenge at the studio since it was limited to the street.  I would certainly consider taking another workshop at Odyssey. Accommodations – Accessible and exceptional Meals – Easily Accessible/Very Good Studio Space – Well Equipped Value – Very Good Likelihood of returning – Very...

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Posted by on Aug 5, 2011 in About Me, Workshop | 0 comments

I began taking workshops as a means to supplement my pottery instruction.  After I exhausted the local resources, my options were limited because I knew I didn’t want to take classes at the university.  So I did two things.  First, I started throwing with other potters who were as passionate about clay as I was.  This is how Julie and I started working together.  Second, I started looking for workshops that addressed skills that I wanted to develop. Because I am preparing to attend a workshop this week, a lot of people have asked what pottery workshops are like.  For the most part, they are like adult arts and craft camp.  It is really exciting to find a community of people who share a common passion.  For the first few workshops, I was nervous about my skill level and I was very intimidated by the other potters.  But, I quickly found that my skill level didn’t matter.   All the advanced potters had been where I was and understood the challenges.  I found that to be reaffirming. It was exciting to hear about their clay journey and recognize some of the same challenges and victories.  I was intimated by the accomplishments of the instructors but I have found them to be very accessible and generous. There are two basic types of workshops – demo and interactive.  Demo workshops tend to be shorter.  You watch a potter work and have the opportunity to ask questions and meet other potters.  These workshops can host a larger number of attendees and have lower tuition.  Interactive workshops can be offered over a weekend or longer time period.  The instructor demos projects that you work on and receive help with during the workshop.  There are fewer attendees; and, in addition to tuition, there are also lab fees. If you can take a interactive workshop, it is worth pursing.  And if you can take a weeklong workshop, there are a lot of good ones to choose from. The success of a workshop is based on the mindset of the attendee, appropriateness of the topic, the quality of the instruction, and venue.  Because the first three criteria are variable, I will share my perspective of several venues that I have had the opportunity to attend in the next series of posts. Cabin Fever Reliever, Columbia NC  – The Cabin Fever Reliever is multiple workshops in various media that is hosted by the Pocosin Arts Council.  It is held in February in Columbia, NC on the Albemarle Sound – a beautiful and inspirational venue.   I have had the opportunity to attend the past two years.  The workshops run from Thursday to Sunday.  The instructors have been exceptional and it was well worth the time and expense.  The studio is a large multi-purpose room dedicated to the potters for the weekend and is available for working at all hours.  Workshop attendees come from all over – some traveling quite a distance depending on the instructor’s notoriety.  The accommodations are basic – 4-H camp bunks.  Meals are provided – which is helpful since there isn’t much convenient to the camp but it is basic camp food.  In the evenings, the instructors give presentations, which I really enjoyed because I got to hear about other media.  One other benefit is the sales gallery.  Attendees are encouraged to bring wares for sale.  This gives everyone a chance to purchase some fabulous art and also to sell work. Accommodations – Adequate Meals – Basic Studio Space – Large and light Value – Very Good Likelihood of returning – Very Good Lee Arts, Arlington...

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