Saturday, January 29, 2011

Loaded Kiln!!!

I've loaded up the kiln for firing VIII. I'm going to fire it off tomorrow, lets hope it's a good one.

Some exciting news for those of you who don't follow me on facebook: I've started work on my MFA this spring. This has been in the works for almost 2 years but it seems the stars finally aligned and I was able to get the ball rolling. I've been teaching as an adjunct for 3 years now and in order for me to be able to teach fulltime I will need to have my MFA. The logistics are a bit of a nightmare, I'm teaching and working here and making the occasional commute to school which is 3 hours away. I probably won't have too much to share about this here but I feel I owe my readers an excuse for my occasional long absences.

I got the hat so I guess I'm legit now.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Applicable Wisdom

Here is part of a blog post that I wrote about a year ago. I had more to say but I know that I'll never get around to it. Enjoy.

In 2006 I was let go from a job and was in desperate need of more income. This happened to coincide with the middle of the housing boom and my wife had a contact with a laborer on a carpentry/framing crew so I got the boss's number and called him up to see if I could get some work. The conversation/interview was pretty interesting:
Him: You have any experience?
Me: I've only done a little bit of framing, trim is mostly what I've done.
Him:Do you know how to use a skilsaw?
Me: Yeah.
Him: Do you know how to use a tape(measure)?
Me: Yeah
Him: You sure?
Me: Yeah
Him: Monday morning at 8.

I showed up Monday at 8 ready to work with my shiny new tool belt and clean boots, in retrospect I should've rubbed some mud on them or something. Like most trade/blue collar jobs they like to beat down the new guy and this was no exception. Fortunately for me I'd heard all the practical jokes before so I didn't fall for those(grab the board stretcher out of the back of the truck.) My boss was a functioning alcoholic(like 20-30 cans a day) and a devout catholic and I started near the beginning of lent for which he had given up beer. He drove me/us pretty hard those first few weeks. The first day we were framing up walls...10' 2x6 walls and I learned quickly they had no tolerance for a guy that would only carry 2 or 3 studs at a time. 4 was acceptable but 5 or 6 was more like it. My first task was to use my square to mark all the bottom and top plates with a straight line and the appropriate marking for various types of studs and cripples on the marks that had already been laid out. So I spent a good amount of time bent over doing this. Next up was toting studs to the plates and more bending over nailing them and eventually lifting them in place. At the end of this 9 hour day I was in so much pain that I have no doubt I wouldn't have been able to sleep were it not for my sheer exhaustion. I also know that were I not in desperate need for that job I would not have returned the next day. I stuck it out and adapted, to date it has been my favorite job besides being a potter/teacher.

Along with the knowledge and experience of being a carpenter, I was the recipient of many little nuggets of wisdom from my carpentry boss, most of which are probably not blog-propriate. Some were quite profound, one of my favorite stories is as follows: We were doing a trim job in a spec house, you know, those 2000 sq. ft-ish houses that popped up like crazy the last few years? One of those. The trim work for those houses is pretty simple and straightforward: doors+casing, baseboard, closet shelves, window stools and aprons, and maybe crown molding in the living room or master bedroom. The bad thing about these dime a dozen spec houses is that the trim doesn't pay well at all, it's usually paint grade and as such can be installed by just about anyone. For a crew of 3 we had to be in and out in 2 days, 1.5 if there was no crown, if we wanted to be paid well.

I was setting up to start installing the baseboard and made the suggestion to my boss that to save time we should just miter the inside corners(as opposed to coping, google it if you're not sure what that is.) It's paint-grade, it's going to be caulked, primed and painted, no one would be able to tell the difference. He looked at me for a long second and said:"You'll know. Coping and mitering is the difference between a carpenter and a laborer. Do you want to be a carpenter or a laborer?" Enough said, and I never forgot it.

Pride in your work is of the utmost importance, without it you are just a laborer.

Good enough is never good enough.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday night blogging!

I will preface by informing my blog reading public that my frequency of blogging may fluctuate and trickle over the next few months. I'll do my best to keep everyone informed of the goings on here but serious content will probably be lacking(if it ever existed in the first place.) My PBPRRSEC ratings(Pilcher Blog Post Relevance Rating System for the Elevation of Ceramics) is gonna tank. I'm teaching 3 courses, getting ready for ACC along with committing myself to another very time consuming activity that I'll possibly tell you about later.

I cleaned my studio this morning as it had gotten to be a bit of dump. I've just finished a work cycle that spanned a month and produced about 300 pots. My shoulder is back to near perfect shape so I busted out some platters. Three fifteen pounders and three twenty-five pounders. I haven't thrown 25 pounds of clay in a long time, like riding a bike.

Here is a stack of dinner plates with some new deco. Here is my source of inspiration, and a nifty resource to look at as well.

I've decided to include more clay and glaze stuff in my courses. We do quite a bit of glaze chemistry already, starting in second semester they do basic testing and by the time they're done with ceramics 4 they can understand and modify unity formulas. We've not done too much with clay though. On the first day of class I was discussing with my 3 & 4 students what clay they were going to use. 3 out of 4 of them said they would just use the same old stuff they'd been using since ceramics 1. That sounds like complacency and taking the easy way out, we can't have that. We're going to take all of our clays individually and make test bars and fire them in the bisque, redux, salt and wood kilns. After these results come back we'll do...something, I haven't decided yet. The end result is hopefully they will begin to understand what they want in a clay body. We're also going to test some individual glaze materials to see what they do on their own. Then maybe they can stop asking me if they f4 feldspar is the same as custer, not all feldspars are created equal.

I take my shelves up to the school to grind and wash them, I'm sure that seems weird but believe it or not it's just easier. Stack them up and drive sloooow. I also stack my bisqueware in the back of my truck to transport home.

That's all for now, cheers!

Sunday, January 9, 2011


A few days ago I was throwing some pallets over a fence and I did something to my shoulder, I wrenched it somehow, a sprain maybe. Being in the business of physical labor I'm used to injury and I tend to bounce back pretty quick. This one hurt pretty bad, I've had a hard time sleeping with it. I've had a hard time working the last couple days, haven't gotten much done really. I was supposed to fire off the wood kiln on Tuesday but I can't lift a kiln shelf or chop firewood so maybe in another week. I don't think it's anything serious but it is rare that the pain stays around this long. I've realized that I'm at a point in my life where metabolism has slowed, injuries heal slower, long days are felt the next morning. I'm at a point where I need to take better care of myself, the invincibility of youth has fallen by the wayside. Saybra and I eat well but we don't exercise enough, we work too much-too long. Unfortunately an end to that lifestyle is far off in the distance. So it is. I will get back in the studio tomorrow and make some smaller items since my clay is just starting to come out of the racks, maybe do a little glazing too.

Here was the last of my clay a few days ago, 3 5# pitchers and a 10# pitcher. The deco is evolving, I like these.

These are little slab dishes that could be used for whatever, spoon rest, soap dish, etc. I make about 12-15 at a time and I decorate them all differently. It's a way to try new things without having to worry whether or not you're ruining a nice piece. These are cut from a block of clay with notched sticks as opposed to rolling out slabs. I can cut 15 of these in about 2 minutes.

When I make large pieces I use an electric wheel in the classroom. Our heat is off or broken or something so I dusted off my brent that has been tucked away in a corner of my studio for 2 years. Still runs like a champ.

Lucy of course likes to keep me company, getting to ride to the studio is one of her favorite things.


Friday, January 7, 2011

The true cost of ACC.

Breaking it down:

Bare bones booth fee: $2095
"Facilities Fee": $65
Required membership in the American Craft Council: $40
Bringing a cargo van or a trailer? "Let" us move that in for you: $300
What do you mean I can't use my own cordless drill? :$80
Electricity: $120
How many electricians does it take to screw in a light bulb? :$120
Wanna tighten your belt? :$45
Are you using your own legs to do that walking? :$100
No, you need to use one of our unionized ballpoint pens: $50
Is that Baltimore Union 486 air you're breathing? Hmmm...$$$
(okay, so maybe I made up those last four...)

I was fortunate enough to know all this going in so it's no surprise to me, but it still hurts a little. Oh labor unions...I will bite my tongue. We are fortunate enough in the south to not get ass raped like this at most of our facilities(pardon my bitter language.) But, you gotta do what you gotta do.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The grind.

There's not much to report here except more of the studio grind. I've given myself a bit of a break the last week and only spent a few hours here each day. I spent time cleaning the studio and I also replaced a thermocouple on our electric kiln, it turned out that was only part of the problem and next week I'll get to replace the elements as well. I guess that will help round out my kiln maintenance experience.

Today I footed and decorated these platters, they're about 18". The base slip goes on before they're footed, it keeps the middle from sagging in the foot ring.

I like these little dishes, there were actually five but for some reason two of them got a little too stiff to trim while under the plastic. I chucked them across the studio, sometimes you just gotta throw a pot(pause for laughter.) Sometimes throwing them across a room is more therapeutic than throwing on the wheel.

Lug detail.

Cap jars.

Today's freshly thrown work.

A couple weeks ago I made these little dollies for some of my glaze/slip buckets. I store the buckets under the lowest shelf on my ware rack. I slip pots almost everyday so to drag these out everyday tends to hurt the back. I made them with scrap from the wood shop at the univ. I had 8 casters from some unfinished project long ago and put them to use. I wouldn't recommend using the casters with brakes on them but they're what I had. I bought more of the plain ones for the other dollies. My best guess is it would cost $10-15 each to build these, it sounds pricey but dollies for 5 gallon buckets are $30-40. Yikes!