Woodfire Weekend!

Ok, so remember back when I was trying to decide whether to go to Arrowmont or to a woodfire in Alsea, and I chose the woodfire? I just got back from the firing weekend. I absolutely made the right choice, it was awesome!

First, and most importantly, the people were really cool. Everyone was super welcoming and by the end of the first day I felt like I’d known them all for…well, for more than a day.

Second, the food was fantastic. I made a quinoa/tabouli salad–used the Moosewood tabouli recipe but subbed quinoa for Bulgar. Came out really good. But the highlights of the weekend were…it’s hard to say because all the meals were great…the curry with prawns and sweet potatoes, the chili verde, and the ribs (I don’t usually like ribs, but they were really good!). Oh, and the pumpkin-pie-squares with pecans on top. I’m getting hungry just thinking about all the great food!

Third, the location was wonderful. Jay’s property is southwest of Corvallis, past Mary’s Peak. Hiked up the hill one day and got some wonderful views of the coast range. Plus the weather went from rain on Thursday and Friday to balmy sunny days on the weekend. Not too warm, but cloudless.

Of course it wasn’t all fun and games, there was a lot of work too. When I first arrived, I helped Sandy clean out the kiln. It had to be vacuumed out, and all the stuck-on wads chipped off. Throughout the weekend we were constantly hauling and splitting wood too (with a fancy power-splitter!). But everyone chipped in so the work was not too grueling. Spending a few days working hard felt good, since I usually spend my days at a computer.
The hardest part is now–waiting until Friday to unload and see how everything comes out. It takes all week for the kiln to cool enough to unload, and the waiting is torture. But I’ve seen work from previous firings and I have no doubt that I’ll get some lovely pieces out of this one.

See more pictures from the firing here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76363470@N00/tags/diggermountain/

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Why Volvox?

On my website, I talk a little about Volvox aureus, and why I named the site after these colonial microorganisms, but this morning in the shower (where I do all my best thinking), I was giving it more thought. Decided I’d dissect the idea a little deeper.

As you may know, I studied Biology as an undergrad. Actually, I’ve studied biology my whole life – my parents both work in science/natural resources. Though my current career is not related to biology, the upbringing and education certainly shape my mind-set and artistic aesthetic. I like the idea that the name of my work connects my science background and my artistic expression.

The name Volvox comes from the Latin volvere, which means to roll (the ending –ox turns volv- into a personal adjective). There’s the obvious connection to wheel-throwing of course. Also, many of my forms are very round—more than just radial-symmetry from the wheel. My thrown forms tend to be somewhat spherical (teapots and vases are more short and round than tall and narrow). Even my hand-built figures tend to have an overall spherical bent—toes are made from little balls, human forms tend to have round bellies, etc. I’m not sure why that is. I’m just drawn to circles and spheres. They’re very aesthetically pleasing, relaxing, satisfying forms.

Of course Volvox were named rollers for a reason. They’re spheres within spheres. The parent (or grandparent) colony contains daughter (sometimes granddaughter) colonies. The spheres basically just float around, photosynthesizing and dividing until the daughters get too big for their britches, at which time the parent sphere breaks open to release the daughter colonies into the world. That’s sort of how I feel about learning pottery. I started by taking classes, where I was part of a community of baby-potters, not ready to be on our own. After a while, I became a parent of sorts–still within the grand-parent pottery class, but starting to share my experience with others. This year, leaving PCC to join Radius has been a sort of release from the protective sphere of the classroom.

Pottery is a communal activity beyond the classroom. We all produce our own work, but we depend on other potters for a lot. Think this is something I’d like to explore in a separate post.

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On becoming a (very) small business owner.

VolvoxAureus recently became Volvox Pottery LLC. Yep, I decided to register Volvox as a business.

My reasons for registering Volvox were mostly financial. Now that I’m paying studio rent, I can write off the expense if it’s for a business (I haven’t heard of anyone being audited, but according to the IRS, I have to show a profit in 2 out of the next 5 years). It also keeps me from getting personally sued if my pottery hurts someone somehow (my boss’s idea).

I didn’t realize there would be unintended (positive) consequences of creating a business. My attitude has changed. Now that Volvox is a business, I’m thinking much more about my future as an artist and how I can be viable as an artist and a business. I’ve said before that I want my work to be more coherent, but that’s even more important now that it’s more than a hobby. I think more about getting work together for a show, and what it will take to get my work into a gallery, or find a space where I can show it myself. I have cards, and I actually give them to people. I twitter pictures from the studio to show my process to anyone who might be paying attention.

At the same time, I’m trying hard not to put the cart before the horse. I know I can’t afford (and am not really ready for) my own private studio space with all my own equipment. Given that I’m only just starting to bisque my own work, I still have some learning to do before I can go off on my own. But I can’t help but think about what it would be like to have my own studio, and of course the gallery I’ve always wanted. Forming Volvox Pottery LLC is a step in that direction and makes the possibility of having my own art-related business seem a little more possible. Someday.

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My first electric firing

Most people who study ceramics in some sort of organized manner probably learn to operate an electric kiln pretty early in the process. Not me. I’ve done wood firings and Raku, but until last weekend, had never bisque-fired my own work. It’s always been so easy to have someone else do it for me!

Once I decided it was time, it was pretty easy to learn. I took a class at Georgies, which gave me the basics, then asked someone at Radius to share a kiln with me and teach me how to use it. Not hard at all!

We started later in the morning than we probably should have, and ended up using a manual kiln instead of computer-controlled. This required me to do the last turn-up at 1am, which was not ideal. But otherwise, it was just a matter of loading (Mariana is a pro at fitting things in with no wasted space!), and slowly turning up the temperature at pre-planned intervals. I didn’t have a single cracked piece! I can’t wait to do it again. :)

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ice + clay = bad

I’ve heard that it’s bad to let clay freeze. It doesn’t get that cold in Portland very often so it’s never been an issue before. Let me just settle any doubts in anyone’s mind. It is bad to let clay freeze. On Saturday I tried to throw from a block of clay that sat in my car during Snowpocalypse 2008. The ice crystals caused huge cracks to form through the middle of the clay (or that’s my theory anyway). I couldn’t just mush the clay back together, there were tons of air bubbles all through the clay, which will require a huge amount of wedging (like kneading) to remove, and I’m a super bad wedger. In case you don’t know – air bubbles are bad. They make it really hard to throw because the clay gets all wonky and off-center, plus they can blow out during firing. Best case, it cracks the piece. Worst case, it takes out other pieces with it. Grrr.

But the good news is that I finished a big piece I was working on. The one with the big feet that I twittered a partial picture of. If you want to see it done, I guess you’ll have to come to my show. When I have one. Hopefully someday…

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