Sunday, December 26, 2010

great plans for the new year


I am working my way through a plan for 2011. There are some dates and goals that are already set by show dates and trips to races with 'race dave' but the schedule of what pots need to be thrown and when is a bit trickier.
The photo is of my favorite glaze in a 60litre tub and my apron, ankles and shoes.

I have found that there are some pots that people choose more consistently and some price points that everyone seems to be attracted to. I enjoy making a few mugs at a time, all different or course, and having lots of time to work on a handle that suits each mug just so. I really do not enjoy having a whole damp shelf of mugs to turn and handle before sunrise (or passing out) leading up to a show or the start of a Market season. It seems a bit like a job on those late nights and less like an art (small 'a' or not {'A}).

Part of the plan for this week between Xmas and New Years, that everyone seems to sleep through, is to decide what work needs to be done to get ready for the next year of studio life. I have already taken the old canvas off my wedging table and about a million staples and replaced it with an old piece of material that I have made all sorts of things out of. The material is a bit more fine than the last one and it leaves a very smooth impression on the clay that touches it, the stapling was again more than sufficient and I even learned from the last time (5 years ago) to pre-stretch the material all the way across the back before stretching it forward. Such small things show my neuroplasticity, hahhaa.

I also did a big clay order and clearly marked the date on each of the 18 boxes so I can use them up in order before they get a little old. I need to make a nice wooden sign to hang on the sign post that handy dave dug and concreted into the front yard for me. The old sign is plastic and says that I am riding to the Farmers' Market but I just want one to say the pottery name and be very water tolerant. I painted on a plywood one when I first started and the paint adhesion did not tolerate 6 months of rain, what?? who said it rains here.... we seem to have moved our house very close to a large lake that is now surrounding my raised garden beds.

I also have to make a 55litre batch of my major glazes, which includes getting all of the ingredients from the potters' supply, and I need to figure out the blue that I have been trying to adjust for the last few months. I am very tired of it! It shows everything from the time you hold each pot in the glaze (how much glaze is absorbed) to the dampness of the pot where it was previously dipped another glaze, just where the two glazes meet it is very thin (not taking up enough glaze) and it drives me nuts.

I also am going to go up to Ladysmith again for the clay chat with Mary Fox on the 9th of January and my new clay friend Franziska said she would come along. Race dave gave me a gps watch that shows how far I have gone and how hard I was working to get there so I have a way of measuring my progress towards better cardiovascular health. I ran the bridge loop (which I now know is 7.11 kms) and it took 51 minutes but my legs felt very stiff and sore as I had done a back to back 22km bike and then 7km run a few days before, so the heartrate results weren't very good.

On the same health vein, nurse dave and I went over to Vancouver and went to see the body world cadaver show and were reminded, from our college days, how very vulnerable our bodies are to our own inactivity and fat. It is so painfully clear how much better I feel when I have worked my body hard and how stiff and fat I feel when I have chosen not to. The $3 chin up bar in the glaze studio is very important to my upper body not curving over the wheel head as I throw and keeping my wrists pain free. I also got a thick pair of firm foam shoes to wear at the wheel to make sure that my legs are resting and not torquing my plantar fascia.

The new year is going to be a time to enjoy the decisions I have already made towards my dreams and goals of being a full time potter (for the 6th year) and of being strong in body and mind. I stole away for a few hours while over in Vancouver at the fabulous public library and scramble sketched as many cool pot ideas into my scrap book as I could! I will have to try some ideas and use the sketches to stimulate my creative juices in my regular work to continue the evolution.

I had a few sweet customers carefully say that my work has really progressed in the last few years without saying that my pots used to suck but saying that the latest work is pleasant and somehow coming into it's own.

So that is how I will end this year, with my plans and my positive decisions paying off in my pots, the pottery itself and in my physical strength and ability to tolerate and, dare I say, enjoy the endless hours in a 7 'foot' by 11 'foot' throwing studio. I have no resolutions but more powerful always is the results of the conscious work of the last year and the happiness that they bring knowing that anything is possible to those who work their asses off!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Quick Photo Update


Hello Pottery Friends,

This is a photo of the display that we set up for my Solo Show in November. Barbara Sobon spent quite a few hours on the friday night helping place the pots and Dave and I adjusted all the tables while pots left for a new home and needed to be snugged up. I have to go out in the rain and muck to take some pots to Coffee on the Moon and Black Coffee out at Whippletree Junction. The whole ride is about 20kms and we are getting about 50ml of rain today and I will have to rinse off my bike and oil it again after last night's deep clean. As I have said many times....it takes a very secure woman to wear poofy blue rubber pants out in public. I will take a photo of the extra large teapot that I made last night, it seemed to need a couple of squares on it to complete it. Stay warm and try to relax this last few days before merry ho ho!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The last few days before santa



Today was a great day with a few groups of people calling and making a time to come and see the gallery for a few gifts and gift certificates for lessons. It is always nice to have people come to the studio as it means that all of my work is on display with the new lights that I finished installing and the customers can take their time to pick up each pot and find the perfect one for themselves or a friend.

(the photo is of some flowers sweet dave brought for me, put in a vase that i made and put them on the wheel for me to find when i got home)((ps YES my studio floor is almost always THAT clean, i love my lungs!!!))

It is always nice to give the customer a little break on the price as I am also not paying to attend a Show or Market and of course I don't have to haul my work around town and the Valley. The one light that is in the gallery is poor despite any bulb that I can find (of course the one I have is very efficient but the sconce seems to contain most of it) so I was moaning about it to a friend and she suggested that I string a plain set of white xmas lights around the shelves and turn them on as needed.

I bought a box of lights and gave it a try! What a difference the lights make to the pots, now they sparkle with little points of light and it was worth the hours of nailing those tiny nails into the shelf supports and then bending them all over to hold the lights away from sight. The strings of lights are all tucked away and only a few bulbs are showing which look nice too.

I wanted to update today to let people know that they can call me (([746-6893]))to make an appointment to view the TINY gallery or just stop by Hawkes Blvd (off Somenos Road) as I only leave the studio a few times a week.

See you soon, thanks for all the local purchases this year and I can't wait to start making my new work for 2011, onward and pot-ward! The mud kind not the combustible stuff, hahaha.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tozan Wood Fired Anagama Kiln, Cedar BC


For a potter who works very hard making pots and loading kilns for a living and spends lots of long hours alone in the studio what kind of adventure day is there out there? Long hours wadding, loading and firing a huge wood fired kiln, of course!! I emailed the Tozan Kiln society last week and asked if they were going to have a firing any time soon and found out they were indeed! I went out to the Kamagawa Campus (which was remarkably hard to find) and met Ruth, Robert and Flora who were setting up to wad about a zillion kids clay works that needed to go in the kiln.

They had made up the wadding and prepared a lot before I got there and so I was there to help with the donkey work and wadding on the thursday and went out again friday to help load the Anagama kiln. They only had enough work to fill the doagie part (the first section of the 5) but it holds a lot of work and took quite some time to get ready then they bricked in the door and Flora and I spent the rest of the evening trying to heat up and dry out the huge dragon so that it would fire. I tended a tiny fire in the base on the chimney to try to start some air movement towards that end and start a draw.

I stayed and worked on the firing until 10pm, as I had to go get nurse dave from work and get some sleep so I could to get up early and pack the pots and trailer for the Market saturday morning. I smelled like a serious bushfire when I got home and spent a while with the loofa in the shower before bed and used an old firefighting trick of washing my hair and rinsing then washing again and leaving the shampoo in for a while to cut the smell of the smoke before the conditioner.

The fire was fascinating and the kiln was a work of art and history that should be a national treasure! It is a pure act of passion that built it and many small acts or heroism that keeps it alive and working. The College that allows use of the land for such a huge kiln and associated activities must see a great value in the kiln to be so welcoming!

The rest of the group of fire workers fed the flaming dragon constantly until sometime sunday morning and they all closed in the kiln (the air ports, fire box mouth and the chimney dampers) to hold the heat in as it cools down and they are planning on opening it thursday at 5pm. I will ride out to Cedar thursday after yoga and help with the tables and take down. I will also take a few more photos and put up one of the chiminea that I fired in there. I wasn't going to take it up there but I realized that the clay had been a cone 9-11 range and that it just might survive. It cost a small fortune to put the big girl in the anagama kiln which was calculated after it was inside the dragon but it will be a lovely work of art if it survives.

Now back to work and I am on to working on the down time list of chores that I haven't been able to get done during the prechristmas workathon. I am going to go get new canvas for my wedging table as I have been having to avoid wedging on two areas because the threads are all that's left and they are breaking. There are at least a box of industrial staples holding the old canvas on the table so I have to carefully decide if I am going to take the old one off before I put the new one on of if I should just cover over it. I'm trying to think about that for holding the water in longer with two layers or if the two canvas sheets would bind to each other and wear out more quickly.

I also need to make a better sign for the house studio, I have been through many manifestations but the ones made of paint on wood melt off in the rainy six months and the plastic commercial one I have up right now isn't right either. I think I want to make a new wood one (I have scavenged a few nice big pieces) but to burn/brand the letters into it and then seal the wood so it would last longer. Of course, that is completely new to me but since I was tiny I believed I could do anything so little stops me these days. Talk soon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Take a break from cash collection


The peaceful part of the work routine has returned. I experience a weird gap in my life/meaning when I am busy with all the sales and shows because, through many hours of discussion with patient Dave, we have realized that I am not motivated by money. The acquisition of cash holds no happy thoughts for me. Sure it pays the mortgage and means that I am not required to find an alternate source of the coloured bills but not much else. So when I am away from the clay and studio life I am sort of set adrift. Maybe I measure my worth in each pot that I throw, truth is an odd snack with this morning's coffee.


So, we were down in victoria last week getting the perfect sized bags to send home pottery in, and we always spend an hour or two in the book shops whenever we can and I found a book called "Art and Fear" and have been unable to process how exactly the author, David Bayles, is able to dig into my brain! He chats frankly about all the guck that has been building up in my head about whether I am actually and "Artist" or an "artisan" or whether I am a "craftsperson".....strangely the answer might be that no one cares and all theses titles are crap.


Now, I haven't read the whole book but it seems like the point he's made so far is that the only assessment of your progress in the art that you make is THE ART THAT YOU MADE. Such an interesting idea, that we need to make the work to see if we can make the work we are meant to make. The gallery owner who sneers at your work is not the person who has an valid opinion, like the woman who surveyed my table of pots and asked if I could just pick out the work in the colours that would "really sell"!!


The pot that you made last week is the one to teach or show you what you were doing and paying attention to last week. The book also makes a huge, loud statement that you are the reason for each piece of art, each practice hour you spent learning that work on the piano is a direct source of polish when it is finally performed live for others!


Anyway, I made a few really nice smaller bowls, little humble things for the morning eggs or making pesto and trimmed them yesterday. The bowls were straight from my soul and had no self awareness at all, like the best pots to make can be, they were not thinking of themselves. All too art'y' for some but suffice it to say the money is out of the way and the pots are starting to flow through me again which is such a great feeling.


This week will find me out in Cedar at the Tozan kiln to see how it is done, how pots are wadded and the thoughts put into loading the big dragon, and then I plan on staying to help with the firing as much as I can without missing the Market on saturday. I will take a lot of photos and put them up here when I get back and showered up.... as those who know about my past.....it will be interesting to be back staring into the actual fire...it's been a long time.....
PS the photo is from inside the studio, of a tiny frog, who was taking also taking a break during a huge rain storm, also notice the bike to work shirt!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Life ......and a 3400 year old mug


So the 5th Annual Solo Pottery Show was a success and Dave helped with both days, was very pleasant to the customers and packed every tub back into the car once I had carefully packed each pot into the wrapping. A lot of my regular customers came and bought christmas presents and such for the holidays. A few cute people were VERY sneaky, asking Dave and I to set aside a group of pots for them to come to the house and pick up later when their spouse wouldn't know and one from Victoria whose wife described the perfect mug for her hand and then I went and got it for her from the mass of mugs, to the astonishment of the group only to have them put it back and leave with a different pot, the husband emailed later and asked that I put the mug aside (luckily I still had it) and we will meet somewhere or I will mail it to them. Sigh, how sweet.

I went through my costs for this year and was happy to see that getting rid of the POS machine used for processing debit cards saved me a LOT of money and the fact that the new tax system has dropped my little business also meant less cost for the second half of this year. Not so much if you sell food in a restaurant as the tax increase is a few dollars on each meal out.

I realized today that if things stay relatively stable in the shows that I do and the amount of pots that I make, I am going to be able to continue potting. The studio rent (heat/lights/kiln costs) is paid for along with all the clay, glazes and supplies that I use and there is a little bit for wool and material for new clothes and a little money in case the kiln melts down or I need some unforeseen thing to keep potting.

I save a lot of money with the cycling and trailer, it also earns me a lot of respect around here in a place that rains more than it doesn't. I show up at Farmer's Market meeting dripping and wearing rubber pants with booties over my shoes, a toque and I have to blow my nose at least twice at the start of each meeting but they are all used to the bike attire and simply ignore it now. I also show up to adjudicate the new vendors who would like to join and get a few looks as though I don't belong but that soon ends when we are introduced.

If I am running a TINY business that is holding it's own in this world of 'dual-income-mortgage-payments' what does that mean for my life. Is it possible to do this? To really do this? Without charity, or pity or craziness but for real?!

I was once again really humbled by the show and thought it was very cute that one of my regular customers husband and kid came in and asked if I could recall what the wife had wanted while taking into account what they had already bought in the summer for her. Of course I knew what she had wanted! The youngster paid for half of the mug and I gave them the regular customer discount on the other pieces and was warmed spiritually by the interaction.

I came home, vacuumed the gallery shelves, did a lot of laundry and tidied everything and then unpacked all 15 tubs and found the best spots for each family of pots. I have been building shelves of all different heights and widths and a pot should look like it fits the shelf not be drowned by empty space around it or crowded by its cousins. I tidied the throwing studio today too and washed the floor again as it must be kept perfectly clean so that we don't fill up with silica and drown in our own lung guck.

Now, sitting on the couch at the end of the day, with a warm mug (too flawed to sell but not too badly to love) the rain pelting the house so loudly it interrupts conversation, and I am thinking that maybe, just maybe , on some level I am exactly where I am meant to be, doing exactly what I was meant to do.

People always joke that the two oldest occupations are... well if you don't know the saying never mind... and being a lawyer and I was going to offer a third one to add to the list. I found a blog post today that had a photo of a mug that was made in 1400BC. I have borrowed the photo and put it at the top so you can decide for yourselves about the occupations of the past.

Maybe if the earliest people were able to make sweet little pots for other people and survive then maybe so can I. Well, off to bed then back to work in the morning...maybe I'll make a nice little bowl with steep sides and a round "hara" and the perfect spout for pouring pancake batter or an omelet from... or maybe I'll make a dozen of them!

Thank you to everyone who came to the show and to Barbara Sobon who helped so much with the staging of the display and wonderful Dave who works for me for two days every year without a single complaint and all for a nice dinner and a cup of Coffee on the Moon coffee!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Where is the Show?


The photo op made me laugh! I was touching up the signs from the last few years and giving the black some time to dry and when I turned around I knew I HAD to take a picture. This is really how I feel about the show this weekend, things are everywhere and I can't seem to accomplish anything.

I went out to Black Coffee at Whippletree today and chatted with Russ who bought the coffee shop maybe a year ago and he was holding and commenting on each of the mugs he uses of mine. He was holding one of the new ones that I had delivered and he said that the mugs make him happy. It isn't common for me to blush from the inside with pride and humility at the same time. I was totally honoured that he felt so much towards my little mug 'babies' and I reach for that thought like a warm kitten lying on the couch beside me, and it re-warms me each time I find that comment.

Also, tonight I had a phone call from Barbara Sobon, a decorator and paper artist, who was offering to help me set up my show!! Who volounteers for that sort of thing?? I was again humbled and warmed all at once. Such a great day for me, I hope someone sends a little bit of positive energy to you today.

See you all at the show!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Week of my Solo Show




Amazingly the rain has changed to a bright, sharp crunchy state that sticks to everything!! It is making the roads quite challenging and a lot of confused people are driving around faster than usual and more aggressively as this reduces collisions and deaths, but it puts my cycling a little higher on the insurance rating. (hahaha)
I am putting up the Show Posters all over town at Coffee on the Moon and Black Coffee at Whippletree where they graciously babysit a small family of mugs until the public decides to adopt one of them, then they babysit my money until I ride down there on my bike to pick it up! It doesn't get better than that!!!!
I am looking for paper bags for the show this weekend and am madly packing up EVERYTHING in the gallery. There is a gorgeous huge jug that I have never taken out of the house that will be packed up and be taken to my Solo Show for the public to see.
I have already been working on different pots for next year. I threw a slab on the wedging table and slumped it over a 9X13 glass pan and then built a box into a slab/slump mould and then built up another baking pan over that. They flip over off the form by holding a ware board on top then flipping them over quickly while considering the weight carefully with the hand that holds the top board.
I will take lots of photos of the Show and put them up right away!! I hope to see you all at the Show this weekend and I don't expect everyone to buy something as it means a lot to me for people to attend the event as you would any other art show.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Craft Show update


Okay, it's Monday morning and I am having a coffee with Dave and the dogs in our usual slow morning way. I am going to unpack my weekend show tubs and then prepare a huge load of dry ware to fire today. I am also working on my speech for tonight's AGM for the Duncan Farmer's Market and I still haven't decided what to make for the potluck.

We are going to vote on adopting a new Code of Conduct that two of our very seasoned Board Members have drafted, if it passes tonight we will be able to let people know that we are very serious about being warm and kind towards everyone involved with the Market. Such huge changes in the Market since someone decided to nominate me for 'prez', and it is truly gratifying to see that I was able to withstand all the shouting until people started to really listen and now there is so much respect at the market and meetings. The real issue here is WHAT am I going to cook for tonight??

The Christmas Chaos 4 days were such a huge chunk of time and really stretched my patience! It was the endless conversation and crap lighting that wore me down and sweet Dave came in with a coffee and treat on Friday and then came to help me pack up and load the car after things were all done. The show was really good as far as sales went and I gave out a lot on invitations to my SOLO SHOW so hopefully a lot of people will attend that. Speaking of that I have to make more posters and take them everywhere on the bike and phone the papers to order the ad. I had a request from the Valley Voice Magazine to ask if they could send a photographer to my show to get a set of shots of my work for the upcoming year! How lovely, and they want an article for the December voice about buying gifts at the Market, I'll get to that when I have a few minutes.

Thanks for stopping by to catch up with me and I will upload some more photos to the blog in the coming days, now back to the salt mines, hahahahahahaa. I love being a potter!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And so it begins...


The first Craft Fair of the season for me was in Nanaimo at a large community centre and was very successful...which means that I have put away the money I need to pay rent on my studio for January! Everyone defines success differently but that is my way.

I loaded the kiln this morning and every pot fit exactly into the kiln with the last tiny bowl sitting up on a tiny stand made of two stacked kiln stilts so it is jutting up above the other pots like a tiny tower. This load will fire all day and then cool for another day and a half and be unloaded possibly this weekend before or after the craft fair that I am in this weekend.

My work and I am in Duncan this weekend for Christmas Chaos which is 12-9 Thursday and Friday and 10-5 Saturday and Sunday which amounts to 32 show hours with about 10 hours of setting up and display maintenance in the next four days. I have a food plan for Dave in that I am taking the evening to make a huge lasagna (meat free of course) that he can throw in the oven or reheat as needed. I made some jokes on my way down to the grocery store on my bike, that I had made a shopping list that just said frozen pizza!

I unloaded the kiln last night and lost only one mug and priced all the pots (which I hate doing) and paired up all the french butter dishes so they slide freely inside their mate as well as having just enough overlap of the base so it is easy to lift off. The work is strong despite the seasonal pressure and I was happy to see that the three wild teapots that went in the kiln came back out with only kiln love and not in many pieces!

I will get a few pictures before they get packed up today for the show. I can't possibly take a dozen tubs of pottery down to the show on my bike trailer so we have made a plan that I will drop Dave off at work and then go set up around 0845, giving me plenty of time. He will then get a ride to the show after work and take the car home, odd you might think that we would care where the car was or who had it as we are died-in-the-wool cyclists but his hospital in it's stupendous foresight---decided that they would not allow anyone to take their bikes into the hospital anymore!! They require you to lock your bike out in the rain to one of the old rusty railings by the side entrance, now I'm not sure but I can guess that Dave's bike will NEVER be treated as such because the shiny little guys cost more than most people's transport.

With the show season underway and my damp rack empty but for two very funky teapots I was feeling a little lost (as most workaholics do I'm sure) so signed up for a Level II Yoga and had my ass handed to me as I haven't done any yoga in quite a while. It was with amusement this morning that I observed my hamstrings and lats screaming as I bent low to put the bottom shelf in the kiln this morning and I can't wait to get on the bike to go get another ball of "capricio" wool to knit into my project this weekend at the show, and feel what my quads have to say about last night's yoga!

Monday, November 1, 2010

My article was published!!

Hey web-world,
The BC Potters' Guild has published the article I wrote! You can find a profile of me at the link: www.bcpotters.com the November Newsletter was 18 pages and I was page 8 and part of 9 with my show poster on the ad page. And now I must get back to work.
I have taken a few sets of before and after photos to show you guys and will download them onto the computer later.
The first show of the season is this weekend.....already!!! I am at the Nanaimo Professional Show, Friday (set up + 12-8pm), Saturday (10-5pm) and Sunday(10-4pm).

I have to go out to the Salish Sea Gallery in Cowichan Bay and collect my work from them this week hopefully tomorrow to fill out some of my shelves and tables for this month.
Back to work, tonight I will price the ware that just came out of the kiln.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Huge Bowl Belly Flipper


The rains are here. That deep, thick and warm heavy rain arrived tonight. I was outside loading my bike trailer with pottery and display elements when it started lightly and then began to really roar. An invisible flock of Canada Geese hooted and honked over our neighbourhood. The darkness swallowed their bird outlines but the noise made me stop loading the kiln and strain in the dark rain to see them.

The small kiln named Sputnik II, put in another fine firing and I was there just in time to watch the kiln sitter trip. I unloaded her and was stunned at how little work actually fits inside now that I am used to the new big kiln. I unloaded the big (yet unnamed) kiln of a bisque load on Wednesday, and counted up the pots to find that it was the largest firing yet topping out at 100 pots. The extra top shelf covered in lids and tiny bowls brought the number to a new record.

I actually have a log book of every firing and the number of pots in each, running back through the past a few years! Now that's organized....or anal but I hate that term as Freud was a cocaine drinking moron who I was forced to study during my BSc in Psychology. I also hated the statistics course that I had to take.....it seemed that the take home message was that a good number cruncher could fornicate any numerical data into whatever the people paying for the results wanted to see..... but I digress.

The shelves are starting to feel a little better. I lost a mug to the kiln a couple of nights ago but it will end up with a pretty little strawberry geranium in it and find a new life that way at my SOLO SHOW that is a month away!!!!!!!!!

The wet shelving is full with a new group of huge bowls that were thrown from 5 kilograms (about 11pounds for you yankees, haha) and they are really tricky to dry out because at some point they must be inverted once the lip is able to withstand the weight of the whole bowl. It works best to have a board ready and then hold the board and bowl together against your belly, then you hug the huge bowl towards yourself until the board can be taken out from under it and the bottom of the bowl ends up right against your belly. Then you carefully get the board ready and lay it on the lip of the bowl and holding the bowl against your body and then switch both hands to the top board. Bend your body forward until the weight comes into the board.

You might be trying to imagine this odd manoeuvre and wonder why it needs to be done this way.

A few reasons pop to mind, when I ask the amazing Dave to help with those huge bowls he starts to sweat and run away as he imagines the bowl hitting the floor and me going bananas. Also, the other reason relates to the wet weight of the bowl is too much for one hand to be under the board.

In closing, I will just say that I flip huge bowls like this all the time and if you see me walking around with a huge dried clay circle on my shirt you will now know what I have been working on.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Some days it is work


Today it feels like work. I got up and loaded the kiln with almost everything that I glazed yesterday and started it firing early in the day so that the sound of the down-draft kiln sucker wouldn't keep Dave awake. I reclaimed the usual bucket of scraps and sludge from the day before and wedged it into balls with some slightly stiff clay out of the box. I built three larger teapots up and squirted black clay slip onto one of them, carved the wild pattern into another and made tiny "dot flowers" on the third.

I made lunch for Dave and his buddy and then was back to work with the wedging and throwing of some mugs which didn't last long because the clay was a little too wet leaving a little too much clay lower in the pot, a rookie problem which results in heavy bottoms and lots of trimming.

I rode into town on the bike and went to the grocery store to get some more food and checked on my mugs at Coffee on the Moon. I hauled the food back up Sherman Road and made the boys beef dip and a veggie burger for myself.

Then it was back downstairs for some more clay time before I take a little time to update people on all the preparation I have been doing for the christmas season and my Solo Show. I am going to get some sleep and then I want to take in the show at the local "Cowichan Valley Arts Council" storefront where Cathi Jeferson has her huge pieces installed for this month. It would appear from the note on the door that the Council is unable to continue to rent the space and will discontinue doing so. More on possible solutions in a future blog. For now, I am off to bed and hopefully the clay I wedged and bagged today will be a little stiffer so I can throw it into mugs and berry bowls in the morning. Night all.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mary Fox Discussion Group


It was a beautiful Island afternoon with the warm moist air surrounding me as I checked the tire pressure on my bike and then went inside to close the plastic sheeting that surrounds my wet work shelving, not that my pots would dry out too much while I was away for a few hours. I had no idea what to expect once I got to Ladysmith and finally met the infamous Mary Fox.

I have been a potter-for-a-living for the last four and a half years and have run into all sorts of potters from all walks of life with varying levels of, shall we say, interpersonal skills. I was told that the "club" in my area was not running this year, that they were not accepting new members and a few months later that they don't allow new potters into their show because I would have had to be a member all year to join the show. (pause) I also had a potter stop what she was doing in the gallery she belongs to and look me straight in the eye and tell me that she was just sure she had seen a pot of mine in a thrift store!! I turned and walked away quickly to avoid further ugliness.

So you can understand my trepidation with the 27km bike trip to meet Mary and a few others with clay under their proverbial fingernails!

The ride was perfect, no flat tires, despite the broken glass along the highway, meant that I arrived as planned about 15 minutes before the 1pm discussion was to start. Mary was alerted to my arrival by a beautiful small, white dog named Judy who I soon found out, had a wonderful little bunk-bed right beside the wheel close enough to get clay splatter on her! Mary opened the door and welcomed me in with a wide smile and assumed I was there for the clay chat despite my neon yellow cycling jacket, helmet and gloves. I was immediately put at ease and I knew this afternoon would be spent among friends.

As I gobbled up the most beautiful studio space I had ever been in, I bent over to realize that she actually had so many finished pots that they filled every carefully designed drawer at the bottom of each shelf. Stunned at the sheer volume of work that was there I heard Mary say to the next people who came, Joe and Pam, that we were going to sit outside and have a fire with our discussion so we all wandered through the throwing studio and into the courtyard in the back to find a tiny fire pit made out of a few refractory bricks.

The preliminary discussions of how we were all related to clay began straight away and I was amazed to meet two people who actually work on the same pots! No one comes into my studio without a few days warning and for a short lesson only. Valerie and Rose-Lynn came in next and we all found a seat around the fire and started to chat openly about clay, art, getting an art education, the current clay art we are seeing in galleries, the craft and the endless work that is clay and many other strands of conversation that are too numerous to mention. Sharron joined us after a long drive up Island and brought some photos of her many wonderful clay works, she also added to the conversations about an "Art" education having recently finished her own adult studies.

The major questions about life as a working potter were fielded by Mary but she is so comfortable with her life's work that she is not defensive about being the source of all information. She has spent a few lifetimes already learning about her decorative lithium and copper glaze that, in all it's outer beauty, seems to have been born in a completely different time and galaxy and in order to work with it at all she has had to learn a whole different language just to ask it a question. Now, anyone who has made a few glazes from scratch, knows that there is a certain amount of magic put in the tub with the kaolin, but the work she has done developing this unique line of decorative pieces deserves a medal (or metal, hahaha, you decide)

The special beauty of this discussion group is that we weren't trying to DO anything, we weren't planning a show or working out a teaching or firing schedule, we weren't trying to jury a new show or gallery hanging, we were just there to talk. It was an amazing break from the endless hours that most of us spend alone in the studio working without time parameters (except the number of hours to the kiln finishing) or days of the week (except for the number of days until our respective studio sales) We were able to talk and listen with respect for each other and the clay so everyone seemed to feel safe and open, the way I would imagine the clay workers would have been a hundred years ago as they loaded a huge beehive kiln with the season's work they had all made together.

I have searched long and far for a safe place to talk and listen about the life I have chosen, without commitments towards how many pieces I will have ready for this event or that one, just an afternoon out of the studio with people who share some of my love of/obsession with clay and after quite a few attempts where I was not quite able to relate to others, at Mary's I felt relaxed and at home, as though I could just as easily have put down that trimming tool and stood up to answer the door or go get girl guide cookies for everyone.

As I rode the 27km home to Duncan, I am totally sure that I was glowing with potter's conviction, that I was truly on the right track for myself because other people were able to do this work and survive in today's world full of mortgage payments and walmart.
Now, a few days later I am on the back porch of my home with a group of "just the right moisture to trim" ovalated baking dishes calling my name and the bottom of my favorite coffee mug showing, and the sun is shining on my hands, and it just struck me. The clay conversation group at Mary Fox's studio is kind of like plugging in to a solar charger for your pottery batteries, it was a welcome break from the studio but also a good charging up that only a common purpose and true kinship can give you. As potters we get used to, and have clearly chosen, a life full of vague discomfort, from the long hours of work to the many stools that we have tried until we find one that is just right (usually with our own adjustments however barbaric) and to find a place and time with such comfort and rejuvenation was, almost...indescribable. But, I tried.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Working towards the Show


I am throwing a fresh run of pots that should be ready for my Solo Show on November 27/28. It is the first year I am having the show for two days, the last four years I have rented the Clements Centre for the saturday and then Dave, Sarah Hall, Amy Grue and Sean Reid have come out to help me put up the signs and unpack all of the pots and set them up on nice tablecloths in a way that makes sense. I thought about all the work that Dave and everyone had to do for the show when I was in Edmonton with Dad, and realized that it was time to have the sale for two days. Some shows like to have that sense of urgency, in that if you aren't there on the right day and time you will miss out but other people have suggested that a lot of people now work on saturdays. This will be an experiment and I will learn a lot from it either way.


I have to decide whether I am going to do the Providence Farm Christmas Show or go back up to Courtenay for the weekend show where I stay at the Riding Fool Hostel in Cumberland (I actually slept 13 hours straight there last year!! and was almost late for the show) I have been having a good year at the Duncan Farmer's Market and will be back there for the last few Saturdays in December for those late night local shopper people! Well, I must get back to work downstairs as the sun has come out and it is 22degrees so the pots are drying quickly making more room in the damp cupboard and more room to put fresh work. I also have to make a small batch of the raspberry glaze that I have complained about for the last few years for a special order of tiny cups that I threw a few weeks ago, this person wants the new batch of cups to be EXACTLY the same as the batch three years ago. Enough said, pottery evolves even more that I do.


The new post it note memo on the wedging wall of my studio (that I look at all day) says "CLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY!!" which I saw on the door of a pottery workshop on some one's blog, it made me laugh. Thank for reading again.


PS check out the huge up-side-down dog in the top of the photo below, very cute.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wine and Culinary Festival Tour @ Hilary's Cheese Sept. 18 & 19, 2010


I hauled my tent and tables and one tub of pottery out to Hilary and Patty's Farm to set up for the tour this weekend and had a good time finding all the hills. I left one of the tubs empty as that saved me about 50 pounds so the trailer only weighed around 175lbs. I hadn't ridden that far "under load" and was a bit afraid of the hill that plows skyward just before you turn off to the farm (after 'golf course hill' and 'that section on Koksilah' that anyone on a bike will remember well).
I met a very nice cyclist on Koksilah (coke-sigh-la) which has a very long slow hill, he chatted with me all the way up the hill and made it go by a lot faster. He had ridden all over Duncan from Cherry Point and was on his way back to his boat to motor back over to Salt Spring Island. We chatted and laughed until I had to turn right and he turned left, it is so funny that cyclists tend to be lovely people who will share a little, I could go to the gym and jog on the treadmill beside someone for an hour and never make eye contact let alone talk about life and our greatest accomplishments.
Just after we parted company I turned up the hill to find out that it was brutal and had me flopping the handlebars around like a frantic fish! I got to the top and was soaked with sweat and that was only with 175lbs good thing I hadn't brought the whole set up at once. I cycled/hauled out another tub full and some odds and ends for the sale, Saturday morning and was again soaked but I had a change of clothes and have learned to take some time at the end of the ride to cool down before I change into dry clothes as they soak up the sweat well too. I changed in the beautiful farm house and set up the display of pottery for the day in plenty of time before the show started at 10am.
Hilary (Mr.) came over later in the day and let me know that I was welcome to use the farm shower at the side of the house tomorrow if I liked and that I should take a look to see if there is a bar of soap. I was floored at the generosity and hospitality of the owner who was swamped by customers, vendors and cheese demonstrations, that he would take time to think that I might be uncomfortable and that I might like a shower!
What consideration and on a completely different topic he makes really amazing cheeses and the whole family has great taste in pottery!! I used a french butter dish making lunch there last year and seeing how well it worked was the reason I started to make them in my own studio. Thanks for everything Patty, Hilary and Bronwyn.
http://www.wines.cowichan.net/ check out the site for more info ((I am listed under "some of the finest crafters in the valley" ;0)

Friday, September 10, 2010

BACK TO WORK


Photo is approximately half of a dinner set for a wonderful family that was well received and took 6 months to finish, with a few spares just in case.
The trip to Pencticton for Ironman and Calgary, was highlighted for me by going to the Highland Games in Canmore with my sister who was there volounteering to flip pancakes at 5am. We went much later in the day and walked through to see the groups of pipers interact and march together which was truly amazing, the 5 groups of pipers followed one leader and looked seamless. Behind us was a little line of tents set up with all sorts of items that fit in with the celebrations like kilt stores and special cookies.


My family simultaneously pointed out a potter who had a display of lovely dark pots with cut away sections that made Celtic knots out of the negative spaces! They were amazing. The potter had one eye fixed on me once I picked up the first pot, they were REALLY light and well thrown and balanced, she had been doing this for a long time!! I asked her about how long she had been potting and it turned out 40 years would about cover it. She was warm and friendly and we instantly started to chat and compare notes, she had worked an outside job for the first twenty five years or so before her husband quit to stay home with the kids so she could go 'pro'.


She was everything that I had found in the first few potters I had met up in Bonnyville, Alberta back in 1996, warm and full of fun stories about pots and life 'building our own boxes' instead of thinking inside them. My family was over watching the event and Dave turned to check on me just as I was saying goodbye with a long, firm hug which he must have found surprising as he looked puzzled... didn't I just meet this woman??


It was such a warm meeting and welcome from another potter who would actually understand what my days are comprised of. I told her that I attend the weekly Market and she was appalled by the amount of work that packing and hauling and setting up and taking down and laughed out loud when I told her that I haul everything on a bike trailer, very well packed of course!! She told me all about the country-side tour group that she was part of that encouraged all those city folk in Edmonton to get out and see what the countryside had to offer. She offered to help out with starting an art tour of my area and I smiled thinking of all the tours we have here for food, wine, art and culture. If you want to meet her too click on http://www.potterybyheather.com/ and visit her studio next time you are in Alberta.


I have arrived back at the studio to find that I have no where near the pottery I need to have to be ready for the fall season and the generous display case at the Clements Center is going to be used for a community living display soon so I need to take the display down today. I have to change out the mugs at Coffee on the Moon and Black Coffee at Whippletree Junction and then get to work for the next 6 weeks. I also have to decide whether I should rent the Centre for just Saturday as I have done the last 4 years or rent it for both Sat and Sunday, I also need to decide whether it would be a good idea to invite another artist to join me in the show, who would I invite and what would I charge them.


I have an interview of sorts at the Chemainus Theatre Gallery and Gift Shop to see if they would like to have my pottery in there on Wednesday at 1030 and have to have a plan for the presentation. I also need to make up the pamphlets to hand out so that people will attend my show, I need new business cards from a new printer, and I need to harvest a few hundred pounds of fruit and veggies from all over to fill the freezer so we can eat all winter. It looks like the next blog update will just have a photo of a blurr or activity or maybe a photo of me sleeping on the floor of the studio (or maybe of sleeping in my own bed on a drop cloth covered in clay bits taken by an always supportive husband laughing as he gets home from work late).


I will send some updates soon and thank you for reading me.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Christmas Shows in August


Okay, not quite what you might think. I am working through the craft show schedule just now trying to figure out where I can go and make my mortgage money during the christmas season without losing my shirt! How would anyone separate myself from my shirt, you ask?? The craft show ((that a fellow vendor at the Farmer's Market runs, who is very nice and sells onions and carrots with the rest of us every saturday)) has the audacity to request $720 for three days in a stall that is 10 feet by 6, almost the smallest spot they offer.

A quick calculation adding gas and food for the 125 km round trip gives me a rough total of a thousand dollars before I have sold a pot. Then you take into account the fact that clay and glazes cost a lot of money, not to mention how much of the christmas bonuses paid out to the executives at BC HYDRO comes in the form of the massive kilowatt charges that my kiln gobbles up making mugs!!

If I sell my art work for twice the price I pay for raw materials (not that that is how I figure it out) I would actually have to sell $2000 worth of pots in those three days to take home $500. Again, read previous blog rants, the money goes from your carefully guarded pocket into a lovely mug, then into my hand and then gets torn in half and given to "ENTER NAME OF RANDOM CRAFT SHOW HERE" and then bc hydro and I arm wrestle over the last few coins after the mortgage has bitten off what it could chew!


This is the real reason that I have my own show every year. This year will be the FOURTH annual Trial By Fire Pottery Show and it will be on the last weekend of November 2010. I rent the Clements Centre (who uses the money to help disabled persons and their families) and pay for some advertising and use the free ones and then each person who comes out to buy the perfect little jug for cranberry sauce {that goes in the oven to keep it hot while you mash the potatoes and then goes in the dishwasher once the sauce has been licked off the outside so that you can get on with the family stuff} I can buy more clay and stay in the mud through another winter.


I have found a couple of Christmas Shows that are affordable and well organized and have a decent of return on your investment. I will post an official list of shows where people can come and find me during November and December this year. So far I am in Christmas Chaos and the Providence Farm Christmas Show both in Duncan both very nice shows and well organized although the Christmas Chaos Craft Fair has absolutely NO WEB PRESENCE and doesn't even ruffle a feather in google.

I am going away for a while with Dave to support his Ironman Triathlon in Penticton and look forward to seeing some family during and after the event. We are going to make a trip out of it and stay with my sister in Canmore for a few days and hopefully have some nice chats over a cool beer with both of our sets of parents and siblings. For now I have to trim and handle some mugs that will dry slowly in the damp shelves while we are away and harvest the chick peas and set them in the sun to dry so I can plant them next year and grow some more. Then I have to pack for myself, the dogs and for the cat to stay here, while trying to encourage Dave to remain calm and laugh a lot so as to avoid turning into "race dave" which he hasn't been doing for the last few years. I must add lastly that I will try to relax while I am away as I have realized that working for 25 cents an hour from home has turned me into a bit of a work-a-holic who might just need a vacation with my super fit husband.

The beautiful photo was taken last winter during one of Dave's hundreds of training rides by his dad, Lloyd. So there, it does snow a little here if you get up the 'mountains' high enough!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Deep breathe, in through your mouth, out through your nose


I found my trip over to Salt Spring Island to be many things and the daily phone calls home were a testament to the variety of days I had. The course started with the usual introductions and "tell a little about yourself". Each person said what they do for a living and how they are involved with clay. There was a software designer, a couple of office types and some very well travelled others whose stories would fill the afternoons while I was dishing fresh bruschetta onto local chevre smeared across a crisp bread. I have to say that I really enjoyed sitting in the shade and eating (as I love to do) listening to people talk about clay and life. When it was my turn to say something, I introduced myself as a potter who works full time (plus a part time job as a potter, hahahahhaha) about 50 hours a week and that I sell my work at Markets and a gallery and a few coffee shops. Everyone was suitably impressed and ooohhh'd and aaahhh'd that they just can't wait until they retire in a year of two and really go for it.

As the days wore on, however, there was a certain amount of distance growing between myself and the group who were all at least 25 years older than I am. It started with the ease with which I throw things. Not just small things but after you have made a zillion pots with care and attention they all get lighter and more pleasing. I was asked to make a set of various shapes and made the assigned work in the morning before we broke for lunch. It was actually a little embarrassing to see others struggling to center their second attempt at "the cylinder" after we came back from the garden lunch break. I was challenged to throw an enclosed donut on the wheel and gave it a try, as I had never made one before, it was exciting. It closed for me and I wet trimmed it and cut it free from the wheel head and picked it up!

One of the skills that our instructor was trying to get across was the reduction in water use. Every beginner uses litres of water on each piece because they feel like their skin is sticking to the clay, which of course it is, but this takes a long time to get used to. The plan was to practice using metal or plastic ribs (the shape of a capital "D" cut out of stiff material) on the clay to compress and stretch the clay without using water for the sticking. It was a little ironic though because I will throw all day and have a dry catch bin at 10pm when I call it a day.

I was interested in using the Laguna B Mix, Cone 10, as I have never thrown it before and I have heard it is really buttery. It was as soft as they say and I soon realized that the reason you needed to throw with ribs and slip instead of water was that it had a bit less wet strength than my usual Plainsman clay. The other thing that became painfully obvious the morning of the second day, was that it also became rancid over night, as I gagged after dipping my sponge into the throwing water I would be re-using. I have smelled humans decomposing, cadavers full of formaldehyde and necrotic tissue on people who were still very much alive but this powerful black sludge would be proud of it's smell amongst them all.

I was camping on the gorgeous property and so was up at 7 and over making breakfast and coffee and reading a pottery book a full hour before the rest of the class would arrive. Once the class was over each day, I would find some more food (glorious food) and sat and read books about pots and potters until I would have to brush my teeth by the light of my cell phone and pump up the air mattress in total darkness as the wind up LED lantern would only last a few minutes with each winding.

I learned some really great ideas about how to be a potter in the future, the instructor was 78 and could work just as hard as I could (I'm 32) she walked every day and the food producing part of her garden was the same size as mine and she was replanting for the second go round of peas this year. Her garden was also surrounded by another huge flower garden that would grace any magazine cover that ever took a look! She had retired from her life as an academic from Alaska to Salt Spring in the early '90's and had pursued potting full time, after almost 20 years of potting starting in '72.

I tried things that I would have never tried to make because they may or may not be successful and most things need to be dried/soaked/reclaimed and wedged back up by hand if they are terrible. Her magic pugmill was a thing of beauty and I spent three hours on the first afternoon helping the studio assistant re-work the clay from that day. It could really work clay back up and if you got the wet and dry stuff balanced just right the clay was workable. It was however full of crap. I was very surprised how many times everyone was stopping each day to bellow or groan about a chunk of "sh*t" in the clay that was ruining the item they were working on. I didn't figure out of the little black or beige lumps were in the boxed clay or were a part of the pugger or just random bits from the studio.

I was also weirded out by the plywood work surfaces that were everywhere, the slightest contact with the sticky wet clay would leave bits of wood in everything. I have a piece of canvas on my wedging table and once a piece is thrown it goes onto a drywall batt (that a new house construction waste pile was kind enough to donate) that has a very strong edge of duct tape. The only bits of junk that end up in my way are tiny (though largely infuriating) bits that break off my sponges. Too many sponge bits and I cut a new synthetic sponge into 4 pieces and throw the old ones into a jar that I donate to whomever wants them.

The class and trip were wonderful and I am a better person for going. On one hand I am simply more focused on being a potter and making my work and then selling it, but on the other hand it was quite disappointing that no one else understood that process. The instructor has a pension and all the other classmates were looking at clay as a hobby whereas I see it as the life blood (though quite thick and hard to pump) that is my life. I guess I thought that there would be a kindred spirit feeling there but I ended up leaving two days early with a taste in my mouth that they had all decided that I simply made clay crap that I thought would sell to pay the bills and that there was a decidedly higher meaning in it for them and they were "artists" who made clay work only to suit their whims and no other (dirty) purpose. I had to suggest that the opportunity to sell one's work was a nice way to be able to buy more clay but it seemed 'low' somehow to do so.

I had a funny little image in my head while I was there of the "clay artist" buying a box of clay and carrying it to the studio and building something out of it and carefully firing and glazing it and being excited with the result and then walking out to the backyard and standing over a huge pit that they had dug and throwing the latest pot into the huge hole. They would then go back through the studio and get back into their car (i hate cars) and drive to the pottery supply place and buy another box of clay and repeat the cycle with all the pots until they too were cast into the huge pit of their pots that were made purely for the amusement of the artist.


Frankly, I will keep making pots that are lovingly referred to by complete strangers as "everyday pottery, that you would just take for granted" hearing that at the festival I was at on Monday made my heart grow two whole sizes. Imagine the perfect mug, whose shape settles into your hand as though made specially for you, the glaze is smooth and pleasant to the tongue and lips and you make tea or coffee each morning for that perfect mug that you bought from some woman at a Market, or the lidded casserole that you bake brie in for girls night at your house, or maybe you have a huge bowl that you make bread in for special occasions, you really didn't have that much money but it has been a beautiful part of your kitchen for years and years. If all I ever make is pleasant pots that really work for people and last for years, I am deeply satisfied, others may happily continue to fill that hole in the backyard while I take your $20 bill to the store and buy more clay to make another pleasant pot.

On my studio walls there are sticky notes with sayings on them and this one fits here well:

"We can do no great things , only small things with great love." ~ Mother Teresa
PS Hello to Charlene an artist trapped in a cubicle which pays for her home, welcome to the conversation!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trip Prep



I have been throwing a lot lately trying to get a little bit ahead as I have committed to going to the Sidney Market on thursday evenings and two of them fall inside of the workshop that I am going to on Salt Spring Island from July 19-31. I will make the trip back by bicycle and ferry to get here in time to throw a load of clothes in the washing machine and jump in the shower and then load up for the trip down to the show. I will then sleep in my own bed that night (which happens to be my birthday) and then ride back to Crofton at 5am to catch the first ferry off our island to the othere island and back to the pottery course.


I am really looking forward to getting away for a while and reading some of the books in Judy Weeden's vast library of clay literature. Mainly I look forward to not doing production for a few days and just working with clay in a way that doesn't relate to a customer, also I am looking forward to not having any lessons, the last few months seem to have been filled with other people's kids who range in age from 6 to 16.


I might also be away from the Market and all that it entails, but it depends on how things are going with my sales whether I might come back for a few. It is funny but I am really starting to feel like I am attached to the Market and have committed so much time and thought to the good governance of the society with all it's foibles! The one true beauty of pottery is that you can put on the radio and be fully engaged with the first person account of the second world war that you are listening to or you can work in silence and be truly in the moment, in yourself and in your own space like other jobs I've had don't allow. You can also put your old Moxy Fruvus CD in and yell along to the words while you load the kiln and despair about the destruction of our planet. That came out sort of sad sounding..... I am finally very happy, I love my job and what it allows for. I can come upstairs at 230 and make a fresh meal for Dave that simmers and bubbles until he bumps his bicycle into the front door reaching for the doorknob, he opens the door and I am careful to watch as he pulls a huge breath of sweet smelling aroma into his nose and wonders what I've made him for dinner. You can't buy that with all the $8/hour jobs in the world.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Spend a Week in My Tree

That was by far one of the longer weeks in my life, perhaps not quite as long as the week I spent crawling around on my hands and knees in fire school learning search techniques, but long enough indeed! The bruises were getting worse every day and there wasn't any part of my lower body that I could rest against the tree to hold myself in place without pressing on a contusion. There were lots of emails coming in saying that what I was trying to do wasn't crazy but brave from family, in-laws and complete strangers!

Some pottery customers (Brenda and Brian) brought me an amazing gift basket with all sorts of fruit and snacks, even a box of danish brie that I nibbled with the crackers they gave me. I haven't had a gift box since I was starving my way through college and had forgotten how neat it is to open each jar of thoughtfulness and realize that each item in the box was carefully selected with you in mind. I lost 9 pounds in the tree week and needed a little extra food to get my strength back.

The long weekend ended with a cold rain and my coming down from my perch at 10pm to go home get a hot shower, nibble on some food and fall asleep on the couch until Dave made me get up and go to bed. I set my alarm for 4 am and was already awake as the alarm went off, in my Our Lady Peace T-shirt and out the door before 430. Dave buying and giving me the shirt with the tree on it was such a boost of support for me every time I looked at it or thought about it I felt accepted (even acting out like I was).

There was also a lot of support at the tree itself. All sorts of people came and chatted and a lady that lives on the creek that flows around the park we were in, came out for a walk the Tuesday morning and leaned against the tree and couldn't leave! There was a whole group gathered the morning that the workers came back to work. We all sat and waited and they talked among themselves, some of them talked about how they had called the municipal office when it was open and then called the mayor at home and talked to his wife. The thought of all these beautiful people calling the elected municipal counsellors at home during the long weekend made me laugh, maybe it wasn't just my weekend that was ruined by the decisions they had made to randomly cut trees down, maybe the people who actually approved of the plan could have a very long and tiring weekend!! (hahahhaha)

The City counsellors that had come to talk to me and see these gorgeous trees, worked through the weekend trying to get a consensus to ask the Municipality to sit down with them and find a way around the trees. There was a meeting scheduled between the two groups of politicians for the Wednesday. When I was told that meeting and was assured that no more trees would be cut until after they had talked, I assured them that I really appreciated all the hard work but that I wasn't getting down until I had a written letter proving that they would not cut anything down.

So I sat. I read aloud from a James Herriot. I adjusted on my bruises.
The assembled group stood, handed me tea and apple cake (made from local apples) and one of the naturalists, Genevieve Singleton, lent me a book about the ecosystem that lives around and under the Garry Oak trees full of beautiful photos. They chatted, took photos, shot video and everyone waited in the rain.

My little red cell phone rang in my zipper pocket, I answered, "Tree phone, Hilary speaking!" and it was the Mayor or North Cowichan. He told me that he was just stepping out of an unrelated meeting and had found out that the baseball people had found a way to work around the existing trees. I listened and wasn't sure what to say. I was happy but I guess I had never actually thought of what I would do if we won. I thanked him and then said that I would get down when I had that in writing. He explained that his staff was sending an official press release to all involved and the papers as we spoke!

I hung up and yelled for everyone to focus on me for a minute and then yelled that I had good news. A huge cheer went up from the group and everyone hugged the person beside them. What a lovely sight from way up there to see all these strangers embracing and laughing and in their own small way...winning.

They had done it! Each phone call and every email was counted and answered and applied the pressure that it was intended to. Each one of them owned this victory, they had become "public pressure"!

I got a group of rapid fire calls from the press and they said that they would bring down a copy of the press release that they had received, for me to read. I agreed to stay for a few photos and an interview and then started to undo my shelter and all the ropes that were securing my things.

It was funny how little a person really needed, mostly it was the support that everyone showed for the tree and the reasons that I was up there. My amazing husband was shocked when he called a while later and I told him I was back on the ground, I think he really expected to have to call all his friends to try to raise money to bail me out of jail. I handed my tarp and tea and backpack down to the helpful hands of the people who were waiting.

I climbed down and was hugged.

They took pictures.

They smiled and laughed and answered questions and dispersed slowly, very satisfied.

I was feeling a little lost, like I had been pushing against a huge brick wall with all my might and then the wall just disappeared.

I fell over, emotionally and felt kind of shocked. I automatically packed all my bits and pieces into and onto my back pack and decided to walk out through the middle of the construction site. I wanted to say good-bye to the foreman who had to worry about me on his site for a week. He stopped the machine he was in and walked over to the mucky road that I was on and grinned really wide. I had made my point and no one had gotten hurt or even really been confronted. I asked him if he had heard the news. I wanted to know if the politicians had told the only people that really mattered in this struggle, the guy with the plans and the chainsaw. We walked out to the paved road and he made a silly attempt to show the other construction workers that he was hauling me out by my arm. We had a good laugh and walked on.

Once at the edge of the construction site, we both instinctively turned around and looked back across the 30+ acres to admire the grand old tree glistening, maybe even sparkling in the pre-noon sunlight, her canopy full and strong.

A small breeze fluttered all her south facing leaves. She was saying thank you. She was tall and strong and staring me right back in the heart. She was saying.....nothing. As if she had always known that she was only alive by the mercy of her neighbours.

That day, that week, I was her neighbour. Then everyone was a good neighbour, they gave a damn, a phone call, an email, a gentle nudge to their friends, they pushed back.

Then the sun broke through the clouds and in a way that only happens here, the fresh rain really did sparkle off of every surface of that grand old tree.

Just a tree....my ass!!! (pun intended)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Tree Sitting


Okay, that was a very weird and painful week! I was having a pleasant morning sleep-in with my husband Dave, when we were awakened to the sound of chainsaws. It sounded like the neighbour was cutting his house in half, long, sustained high rpm, chainsaw noise. I was raised in a house that afforded Saturdays to the delicate art of cutting up wood and chopping it and loading the old pick up and then sharing tea and ginger snap cookies.

This was not the short sounds of slicing a tree into fireplace sized logs. I listened for a while in bed and then heard a sound that was also a new a terrible one, a tree hit the ground and shook the whole area! My mind raced to the park behind our block that was to be under construction to build a large baseball park. Surely they weren't cutting down those giant grand old oak trees that give the entire park it's validity. I have taken every island visitor to this park and the gravel pathway allows the dogs to run wild without vehicle traffic and the less mobile to still walk comfortably.

I had some toast and coffee and listened to this chaos and then told Dave that I absolutely had to see what was going on! I threw some clothes on and went to ask the first person I saw with a reflective vest, what they were cutting down. The lovely young lady that was directing traffic was a bit shocked to encounter my questions and I was off across the mucky, sticky ground that had been scraped clear by the bulldozers to find the contractor, in no time.

I found him in the job site special: large, white, company work truck with the window open and papers everywhere. He was a warm, friendly man only a few years older than I am with an easy smile and the firm handshake of a hard working honest man. I asked what they were cutting down and he simply got out the large area maps and showed me.

This proposed ballpark is (I'm guessing here) at least 40 acres and has a gigantic Garry Oak in the back right corner of the one side. It is a magnificent specimen, rounded, full canopy, a huge, tall behemoth, starting with a trunk thick with age, that has to be 800 years old! She is beautiful! He laughingly assured me that no one would get any where near that huge old tree as it was set aside from the beginning due to it's high public profile and stature. The crew had lovingly named the old tree the 'hanging tree' as anyone who got too close to it would have been hung. (hahahaa, he smiled wide at this)


I asked about the other large oaks just behind and further from us and he brought a strong, caloused finger over the map to the place where the survey showed two small circles that had a computer line to the words "remove existing tree" which caused me to catch my breath short. I asked him if he had seen the trees and he explained that there was a project that he was working on in Nanaimo that was halted by someone discovering a Garry Oak with a trunk the size of a pop can!

He was shocked by the Municipality suggesting that he get the faller to cut all the trees on the slope, some of which had trunks that were 6 feet across. Someone had given the workers the 'heads up' that once the public sees trees fall down they go a little crazy so they should get there and get them cut down as close to the 7am noise bylaw as possible.

As nice as this man was to me, I knew that I was going to have to do something serious about this situation. I told him that I was going to go home to get a ladder to climb the tree, I wasn't sure what he thought but he smiled and waved goodbye. I went home and raced all over the house to do something to get this tree cutting stopped before they killed any more of these monster trees. I called the muni office, the MLAs (both of them), the municipal parks and rec guy, the Sierra Club, the environmental protection branch of the government, the MP and then in desperation the editor of the newspaper. Strangely enough, the editor had a few moments to talk when all others were way to busy to talk to me, he sent out a reporter and I was to meet him by the park.

I tore through the house putting things into the red backpack that had seen me through many difficult situations; rope, water, sleeping bag,nut bars, leather gloves, a tarp, wool toque, old wool sweater....I was running out of ideas and really had no idea what I was packing for! I was jogging with the back pack by the time I saw the reporter and was right mad that it had come to this. I lead him onto the pathway takes everyone right by these huge trees.

He asked what the backpack was for and I said that if I told him he would be an accessory. That only stalls a real reporter for a minute, he asked what my plan was, what I was thinking, what I was going to do, and then followed me to the tree that was next to be cut down and took a look at all of the stumps already cut. When his eyes came back to me I had tied a rope to the back pack and was (unceremoniously) clambered up to the first bifurcation in the tree. I hauled the back pack up and started to get to know my new home.

I honestly had no idea what I was doing but I really thought that they wouldn't cut it down with me in it. Yup, that's as far as I had thought this thing through! The car was at home and I was supposed to be picking Dave up from work later that day, it was looking like he would walk home with no explanation.

So there I was in the arms of a beautiful 800 year old tree, shaking from the natural fear of heights, and absolutely no plan what-so-ever!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Philanthropy, Cobble Hill Cross Country Mountain Bike Race 2010




First, I would like to reference the photo here from a local mountain bike race that we held this weekend on Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island. I have been involved with this group of cyclists for as many years as I have been on this glorious rock/island. They have encouraged me up the mountains and laughed when I ride off into the bushes and fall over from my own uncontrollable laughter. They have also straightened my handle bars and checked for broken bones when I have really crashed hard and stayed down for a while!
I am honoured to create the four, first prize beer steins for this race, which I volounteer and really enjoy making. I also have had a few really cute comments about trying to win a stein during the rest of the year when I have met up with people who were at the race and will be returning. The reactions that I got from both the race organizers and the racers was uplifting and humbling, I can't wait to make some more work for the next race we hold.
Donating pottery, in this case, warms my heart and makes me smile in the studio on a sunny afternoon, as I am trying to use a syringe full of runny slip clay to turn a line and blob of clay into a bicycle shape that will still look like a bike after it is covered in glaze and fired twice.
Now that is a donation! It starts in my soul and I actually laughed out loud (yes, as always, I was alone in the studio at the time) making the steins and remembering the precious afternoons I have spent on the mountains: riding, watching Dave race, cleaning up after the races and leaning on the car after a good ride hashing over how I finally rode that bridge or log that I have been scared of for--ever!
This year's Cobble Hill Cross Country Mountain Bike Race drew out an elite crowd, some pictured above, the likes of Melanie McQuaid and Drew McKenzie and other famous racers including Wendy Simms and Norm Thibault who showed the adoring crowd what real mountain cyclists look like in action, not the bumping into logs and bouncing back and "oooofffffff" noises that we normally see (looking down, that is, hahahahahhaa).
The little bike club that I happily support is not only a non profit but allowed Dave and I to take the cheque for their donation to the food bank here in Duncan, and give it to the manager there and get a little sunshine in return from her, she must be 80 years old (oh to be so involved when I'm 80!!).

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Arts Funding Up-side-down


I attended the local art show here in the valley and was struck by the odd approach that arts funding users have taken. I think that if money from the government is being assigned to the "arts" whatever that means, that the general public thinks that the artists might be getting at least a portion of it. In fact, that is not happening.

Money comes in as a grant from the government (insert your name here) and the arts council uses it to pay rent on a building and staff costs to open the doors and answer phone and email. Now, as an idea this makes sense, a place for artists to set up a show and rotate through a whole community giving time for every artist to show their work to the public. What is missing here is any money going to the artist as VERY FEW items are sold from these installed shows and the commission paid out on a sale is between 30 and 60 percent off the top.

Lets say a $200 item is sold and the price was based on the artist's time and supplies (too numerous to list here) not to mention the talent, skills and education already invested. There would be a tiny cushion of money to buy more time (literally and figuratively) and more raw materials. With the $100 taken from the artist to pay for the building rental (etc) that doesn't leave any money to start the next work. The same work of art at $300 (just mark the price up to reflect the gallery cut you might suggest) would not sell, as we all know the market drives the price of the art, and that would leave the artist working two or three shitty jobs to pay their own rent. We haven't even touched on the fact that art needs to sell for a profit (read "retail" here) to keep anyone doing it.

I don't think that you, the government, wants the arts funding money to end up in the pocket of fat cat property owners but that's exactly where it ends up! One tiny wage is paid out to an office assistant and the rest goes to the very rich who can afford to own buildings in the downtown core where a gallery might survive, and the rest goes to (also painfully well off.....conrad black....need I say more) advertisers. Around here we have wonderful small papers that incite riot in the letters to the editor section and have biting criticism of really crumby local issues, but still, was that where the money was said to be going?

Arts funding should be spent having a large show or two a year, like the Ladysmith Arts Council puts on every year. A small fee is charged to cover the costs of the tent/hall rentals and the artists happily pay that. A small army of rugby players/band students who are fund raising for a trip somewhere or other, move all the tables and get a nice donation. The beauty of this type of show is that the artist is standing out there IN PERSON and meeting the public and when you select the perfect mug/carving/painting/basket you hand the bills to the person who desperately needs them to buy food and keep a roof over their head!

This type of event is exciting for the public. There is lead up and stories about the artists that you can meet if you attend the show and it is like a special trip to another world where people do what they want all day, a far away place from where the customer lives working 9-5 slinging hashbrowns at A&W.

I have had about a million people walk over to my stall and gaze over the pots only to have their eyes settle on me frantically knitting a warmer garment as the leaves fall around me, and say...'it must be such a wonderful life to be a potter...you know... full time'. I smile and put down the knitting and decide if I think they have any intention of buying anything before mentioning that I personally squeeze thousands of dollars out of the skin on my finger tips to pay the mortgage.

I also almost never start the bitter diatribe about how nowadays all houses require two incomes and a rentor, to stay afloat (not to mention $2000/year in property taxes) and that almost every artist I know has a full time job to support their habit, or as I call it: my life affirming work.

I understand the drive of a local small arts group to have a tiny gallery of rotating shows from the obscure to the grotesque on a monthly basis but this thinking is quite flawed. All of the money goes into building rental and trying desperately to create interest in the gallery, it also tires out each and every volounteer artist who sits in the window and waves to anyone passing by to come in and see the show. If anyone does enter the gallery, they politely walk around and try not to react to what they see and then drop a quarter into the large, truly oversized, donation jar by the door and leave, never to return.

A big, sexy show a couple times a year when everyone pulls together and works hard to make it into an event is a much better way to go. So the next time you consider the systems of thinking that surround you and SPEND YOUR/GOVERNMENT money, try to turn it upside down and look up a local artist who would really appreciate that money to buy a loaf of bread or some seeds to plant veggies to eat. After all, we may not have any money but we do have the early morning all to ourselves to weed the garden and watch the sun dance accross the grass towards our humble ambitions.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What Does it Mean to be Human?


Being human is both the most simple and the most complex thing that we do. Humans create. Apart from the beautiful crow that was building it's nest in the downtown of our tiny city yesterday, creating has to do with making something that is unique to the person and the moment in which it became. We create a scrumptious meal for ourselves and loved ones when we try hard and even grow a little basil in the window sill just to compliment the perfect spaghetti sauce, smile as you pick it and drop it in the pot next time.

Humans plan. We think about things that do not exist or are not occurring and devise ways to make them or cause them to occur. I wanted to have some money to buy a smaller table that would fit on my bike trailer because the large, heavy one that I had was too large and too heavy to be useful at the market. I was off the bike for a few weeks for medical reasons and used the car to haul my work and tent etc to the market. I found that my display was much easier for the customer to touch and handle when there was more space between the pots. This is another sign that a human is present: humans learn. I watched, learned and then made a plan. I told some people that my large table was for sale and then once it sold, I took the money and bought a new, smaller table that I can now take to the Market.

Humans chose. Every time we open our mouths we make a choice to spread the warmth and love around that we have inside us or to spray hurt and anger onto those who cross our path. Being married is the largest continual choice that I make, it is made up of millions of tiny choices over years and years that build up a respect and comfort with my husband. A strong idea that I have learned over the last 7+ years of wedded life is that humour and playfulness are the most creamy salve that one can give their partner and their relationship in general.

Humans love. We have two Border Collies and anyone who has spent a lifetime or two with a wonderful dog who looks you in the eye every time it contacts you knows that other creatures are capable of love. Humans love in ways that are complex, silly, absurd, deep and painful. Love can mean bringing some one's possession inside late at night when you realize that they have long forgotten it there. Love can mean that you gently tell a friend about the many disastrous consequences of their obesity on their own life and that of their unborn child. Love can mean taking an old dog to the vet to be euthanized because each breath causes so much pain that he no longer wags it's tail when you say his name and rub his heaving belly.
Like I said, it's complex.
Being human is the hardest thing we do, it is a million choices and if we learn and plan as we go along, it can be the most rewarding gift we will ever get.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Maureen Wright Scholarship Judy Weeden Workshop


I have now read the letter six times! I can't believe that the scholarship group awarded me a bursary of $200, that has never happened before. I applied to attend http://www.judyweeden.com/ 's summer workshop in July and then rode over there to meet her. She accepted my application and I paid the deposit to hold my space in her course. Judy suggested that I apply for a bursary to help with the costs of attendance and so I did. A long letter later and a month of waiting added up to me not hoping for a reply from the North-West Ceramics Foundation when today it arrived.

I will put the letter on my studio wall right now and send Judy a cheque for the amount of the bursary tomorrow! The course is $600 and I am able to camp out on her property and ride over so the ferry isn't too expensive (cars are ~$70, bikes are $11) I might have to come back for the Sidney Market on the Thursday evening and the Duncan Farmer's Market on the 2 Saturdays but a workshop with her will be such an opportunity to mature my work. I can't wait. Now to find the other $300 that I need for tuition and a bit of money for food....I want to start packing up the camp stove and sleeping bag right now, but it's only April!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fresh Teapot with slip clay decoration

Photo was taken by Sarah Hall. Her photostream is availlable at: (lots more pottery pictures there along with her wonderful pics!!)
The teapots continue. This teapot was just out of my "damp shelving" that is completely sealed up in plastic to slow the drying time of the fresh work. In the summer it is like a desert around here and then in the winter the rains keep the ambient humidity between 70 and 100 percent. The teappots are a lot of work with the thrown bodies and lids on day one with the spouts thrown and handles pulled on day two for them to be trimmed and built up on day three. They are very popular at the Market and I pack them very carefully to get there. The big teapots get an extra, small handle to help the wrists of my customers with more friends than forearm muscle! (hahaha)