Welcome!




Hello there.
I'm a maker. A designer of clay. I make functional art pieces which appear to be something they're not: vintage, rusty, dented, scuffed metal cans.
Often they take the form of Conetop Beer Cans, Lidded Canisters and TeaCans (anything with a spout, lid and handle.)
I am an inventor of the imaginary products these cans contain, frequently humorous and ironic, with packaging design to match. I regularly crack myself up in the studio.
You are invited to wander the site. Check out the photo portfolios, read a few blog posts about my process, results, encounters and reflections.
Welcome. You'll fit right in.

August 2014 Hot Out of the Kiln: The New New Kiln

Last January I took glad delivery of Blue Tsuru, my ginormous front-loading L and L Kiln. I think I  mentioned it on a webpage I no longer maintain. You might remember. It looked like this:

BlueTsuru-1

 

She was placed, leveled, wired-up and test fired.

Things went wrong.

Irrevocably.

No one’s fault, really. Shit happens.

And here we have the “18 1/2 minute gap”  while things were rectified.

Throughout I continued to make new work, sometimes firing it in my smaller kilns, but building to the first load for this one.

Fast Forward (another tape-derived term) to this month.

 

BlueTsuru-3

We did two successful low and high temp test firings, to everyone’s great relief.

BlueTsuru-5

Here’s the first bisque loading, in  which I thought would cram her full. Turns out she’s not just ginormous, she rivals the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns

BlueTsuru-4

And, since  we are paying complete attention to what the electronics, the thermocouples AND the actual temperature is on each shelf, here are the cone-packs from that firing. Not sure why the bottom did not register our heatwork witness cone goal, but too cool, especially for a bisque,  is better than too hot. These are problems we can work out!

Turns out Hot Out of the Kiln means more than ever this year.

Liz Crain – who has no words for that moment of opening a kiln after a firing. There is nothing like it. “Christmas” or “Surprise Party” pale horribly in comparison. It is its own moment of grace. A bolt of enlightenment. Every time.

 

 

Keeping Your Drain Unclogged With a Homemade Clay Glop Trap

HomemadeClayTrapGraphic

 

I have no running water in my studio. I like it that way. Being a ceramic handbuilder, I work fairly dryly and clean up often, but, even for me,  there comes a time when the water bucket needs changing. And, if you didn’t already know, clay and ceramic materials make serious sedimentary glop.

For over a decade, I have drained my bucket carefully into a sink (usually the kitchen because there isn’t one in the laundry or garage) and taken the slippy gloppity-glop stuff out to the trash and wiped the water bucket out with a rag,

I coveted Gleco Traps and even The Cink , thinking that when the laundry room got reconfigured, I would install one or the other and be relieved of a certain sort of well-founded guilt.

So, yes, it was just a matter of time for the kitchen sink to clog due to my slovenly clay glop-dumping ways, even if I was careful.

I could blame the recurring kitchen sink stoppages on the lame This Old House Plumbing or Too Much Chicken Schmaltz Down the Drain for so only so long.

Turns out, no amount of industrial-grade drain cleaner will move clay glop. No amount of plungering or snaking, either.

It means Going In:  the kitchen sink P-trap is removed with amazing swearing by my live-in plumber. It is manually cleaned – with the  full smelly reveal of my slovenliness – and replaced, with more swearing, as I vow to be even more careful.

But, no no No NO MORE!

What you see above is the explanatory diagram for a Homemade Clay Glop Trap, lovingly built by that same live-in plumber. Here are a few photos too, now that you can see how it works. And yes, it needs to be manually emptied and cleaned out when either the water collecting pail or the clay glop accumulates, but it is a straightforward job, unrelated to the configuration of the house plumbing.

Claytrap-1

The side view of the whole set-up

claytrap-2

Sort of bird’s-eye view

claytrap-3

Opened up Sort of Bird’s Eye View

claytrap-4

Close up of Inner Tube Guide into the Collecting Pail

Liz Crain – Who waited entirely too long to make a fairly simple correction to a very real problem. She has heard these called “tolerations” and just realized they are actually a form of denial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Annual Tales of the Festival

 

ACGAPAClayandGlass2014Booth23

What follows are my lovingly-curated observations from Booth 23 at this year’s annual Association of Clay and Glass Artists Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival.

Making my best artwork and supporting it with improved booth infrastructure, perfect prices and personal stamina is always a challenge.  And this year I almost did not make it at all as younger son Max fractured his pelvis and needed surgery to place pins in it only a week before. But he quickly got better, it worked out and make it I did.  It was a rewarding weekend in so many ways beyond the satisfying sales figures.  I enjoy collecting the stories to share with you, so, as I did last year,  here are the Tales of the Festival II.

What changed this year? Instead of driving 55 pre-dawn miles and setting it all up on Saturday like an early morning maniac, I and my loyal support team (family) put up the booth and tables on Friday, ate a fantastic lunch and called it good. We brought the artwork in at a reasonable hour on Saturday morning. This was so much saner than trying to pull off the historically busiest first day sleep-deprived, anxious and achy from all the loading, lugging and locating. It was as fun as camping!

So, let’s look at what went down with The Collectors, the Tribe and the Crazies.

THE COLLECTORS

It’s true, I do have Collectors now.  Some come to this Festival seeking me out. Some find my other venues throughout the year and buy more there.  Some email me with their special ideas. These are the folks who get my work and have the means and space to acquire it. My Dearest. My Perfect People.

The Jet-Lagged Loyalists: Even though they had returned from three weeks in Eastern Europe only a few hours before visiting me, this vocal and enthusiastic couple playfully chastised me for not sending them a postcard this year (Note: NO-ONE got one, what with the Broken Pelvis Incident.) They reminded me about their stellar ideas for robots and gumball machines and took home two big pieces. Loyalty like that cannot be created, only treasured. I love them dearly and promised to be a better communicator!

 

RunciblesBlergandWeakWeaselinstalled

The New Enthusiasts.  I have a thing for typography buzzwords. Some of the “product brands” I invent use a type designer’s vocabulary. It’s nerdy and esoteric. It was great to have an astonished new enthusiast start laughing raucously at it and make a purchase. She brought her husband back on Sunday, whereupon he responded to the Interrobang and Octothorpe TeaCans because he knew immediately what they were referring to!  Later they sent me a photo of the pieces they had bought installed on their ornate liquor table (see above!)  and requested a Right of First Refusal for a specific piece we all want to see get made. They feel like my new best friends on the playground. “I’m FIVE too!!!!” she exclaims, holding up all fingers on one hand. So lovely.

THE TRIBE

Facebook Friends in 3D:  The ACGA is a wide-spread and growing group, with many artist studios ringing the SF Bay Area, Silicon Valley and the North Bay. A lot of them know each other from way back and get together often.  Being both newish to the group and located one mountain range away from the epicenter, here on the Monterey Bay,  I know many of them only as Facebook Friends. It was beyond lovely to meet a half dozen in person this weekend. Whether they were in their own booth, visiting mine, or dropping by the Festival to enjoy it all, they – and their work – looked better in person.  I was pleasantly surprised at their sweet mannerisms, voices and cadences. The Presence of the Original cannot be overstated.

Booth-a-rama:  Social media or no,  I now know scores of the artists who show at this Festival. It is special to see them in their traveling habitats with their art. I both traded and bought work from several.  I yakked casually, shared confidences, pricing opinions, sold stickers and feedback about how the festival was going. There is a whole ‘nother village backstage of the village!  It is good to have the collegial interest and support. No competition, only camaraderie.

THE ADORABLE BUT CRAZY

Of course there are the visitors. SO many visitors! The economy is very obviously picking up. Saturday was packed all day long. Sunday was lively but felt the impact of the World Cup Finals.  Another telling change is that 66% of my sales were made with some form of card on my iphone card reader – the rest in cash. Not ONE check was written. A first.

Most visitors are lovely aficionados or willingly along as friends of one. A tiny few just don’t make sense, but they make the best anecdotes! Yes, an undeniable part of Festival Booth Management is suffering gentle fools.

Here is this year’s crop.

Whistling Denture Man  The jury is really out on whether this guy was crazy or just being his charming 80-year-old self. He had plenty of time while his lady friend shopped, easily sharing that the thing that was keeping him vital was building his Dream House – an all steel beauty, even the built-in furniture, he was proud to say.  I soon realized his soft but whistling speech (which sounded like the beaver in Lady and the Tramp) was probably due to his dentures. Love that. But I really took notes when he said that when he died he wanted his ashes put into an Etch-a-Sketch so his great-grandchildren could play with him.

Wandering Philosopher  When the booth is quiet, it’s an art in itself to listen wholeheartedly to someone who feels that my attention is exclusively available for them to expound on their pet theories. And it is an art to be responsive but to not go completely down the rabbit hole with them. I’m better at not being monopolized than I ever have been, but it is SO hard when that person is as unique and interesting as, say, Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie might have been on a random Sunday Art Festival in the Park. This Very Tall Lanky Spirit told tales of his life, his travels, his jobs, his politics, his bons mots, his children, his passions. When time’s up with folks like this, and there are others to greet, I want to practice Kindness. Like Ram Dass said, “We are all walking each other home.” Especially the Wandering Philosophers.

 

EndofACGAFestival2014

 

I leave you with the view from from the chair I finally sat down in after packing it all up on Sunday. The curb was full of other artists’ cars. We were fully packed, I had done my check-out, and there was nothing to do but wait for a spot to open up. Another artist and her entourage were doing the same. They had wine, but no corkscrew. I had a corkscrew AND cups! She sat in the other folding beach chair and we all spent an absolutely wonderful hour in the slowly emptying park getting cozy and swapping tales. It was as peaceful of an end to a long and fruitful weekend as I could never have imagined.

 

–Liz Crain, who gets better at the fullness of this Art Festival Life only by living it.

Hot Out of the Kiln for July 2014: “OUT OF THE WOODS”

Here’s something wondrously new for me: my first three-artist invitational exhibit. I’m sharing the photos and this post the day it opened.

Out of the Woods 5-72dpi

You’re seeing work from the three of us. The provocative paintings of Courtney Johnson, the charming ceramic and bronze animals of Paula Wenzl Bellacera and, from me, the Amador County Series beer cans and some great new TeaCans.

All will be at the Fine Eye Gallery (in Sutter Creek, CA) “Out of the Woods”  Fine Art Series from July 1, 2014 to August 31, 2014.

You are invited to take yourself out to the charming Mother Lode for a visit. I will be going later this month to see it for myself. (Maybe even drop off replacement work!)

 

Out of the Woods 1-72dpi

 The Title Wall: SO Proud!

 

Out of the Woods 2-72dpi

One more gallery shot.

–Liz Crain, who is proud to return to Amador County as a professional artist, having lived there for 12 years as an earnest and dedicated wannabe.

Kudophobia’s Evil Twin

 

gold star

 

 

Kudophobia means Fear of Praise – or even Fear of  Glory!  I’m not sure it’s an official word, but it’s certainly an Official Fear.

I have a bit of it, at times, being more familiar with my decades-long learning and artistic struggle and less with any sort of  praise-worthy attainment.

I sense that most creatives experience something similar, especially when, after the searching, they start to bring forth the work they have imagined from the beginning.

It might go like: I think I am totally NAILING my ideas and STICKING their landing as well, but I am so used to NO-ONE noticing, I am unsure what approval means.

So, it’s awkward.

Or – even awkwarder – when you:  Buy a piece. Ask for an interview. Offer a show. Request a commission (But read my thoughts on that. as I am getting wiser.)

Kudophobia, in short,  brings out my most flagrant unchecked uncertainty and self-consciousness and in the face of it, I anxiously self-check and awkwardly hide my light under a bushel.

I’m better at NOT doing that than I ever have been, but it is still part of my world. The Devil You Know is a friend of mine.

I am also studying the feeder beliefs to this and I have discovered that at the root of Kudophobia is its Evil Twin: Atelophobia, (which is most definitely a real word.)

Atelophobia  = Fear of Not Being Good Enough.  AKA: The Imposter Syndrome. The fear of being found to have feet of clay, being only human, being a one hit wonder. Being “Merely Clever.”

Elizabeth Gilbert has at least assuaged this one with her first TED Talk, one I have nearly memorized and have mentioned here before. The cure for Atelophobia – and consequently its Evil Twin Kudophobia – is in knowing that we are NOT geniuses, but rather we HAVE them, at our service.

But only when WE show up and do our parts as well. Check your Ego at the Door! Ole!!!

Whenever I feel the old anxieties I try to remember: my joyful job is to do the work only I can do. What happens afterwards is not in my control or of my doing. Effusive Acclaim or the Suckitude of Being Discounted and Overlooked, even Criticized = Same Irrelevancy Factor.  And Same Phobia Fighter.

–Liz Crain, who now wishes to discover the Phobia Fighter for Plutophobia, the fear of wealth.

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Out of the Kiln for June 2014: Available Artwork

ArtworkArchivePPscreenshot

By now you know this monthly quick post is often NOT about what just came out of the kiln, but instead is about the Latest and Greatest in my square centimeter of the artful fish tank.

So, whaddawegotthismonth?

Well well well, it’s a new PAGE right here to help folks buy my art called, appropriately, Available Artwork.  You can check it out by clicking on the link or in the right sidebar.

I put it together because people often ask me where to buy my work, or what I have in the studio for purchase right now,  and I have had no clear and easy way to help them out.

(Just for the record, I am uncomfortable with the Buy It Now button, which manages to seem both hard-sell and needy at the same time.)

So this new page is a composite of links to my beloved galleries, to my expanding Online Store (Etsy for now), to my Events Calendar, where you might see me in person,  and to a couple of ways to contact me.

But, wait, what’s this other link?

It’s my  Artwork Archive Public Page. And it’s the best way yet to enjoy my most recent available work and see the details about each piece – including the retail price.

I don’t know about you, but quite often I want to know the price of something before I let myself fall completely in love with it. You’re probably no different. So both Etsy and this Artwork Archive page lets someone – anyone! – know where it all stands.

Right now the page features a mess of TeaCans, but I expect to add Conetop Beer Cans and Canisters very soon. So it will not look like this screen shot for very long.

I also expect to keep it up to date. That’s important. That is what will make it viable.

Between the new Available Art webpage and the Public Page-Within-That-Page, I hope to have covered a bit of need to be Out There in a new way.

 

Hacking an Ikea Cart

IkeaCArt5

Here’s a sweet small Ikea rolling cart. This gray one was bought – a little dented and scratched, but fully assembled and discounted by 40% – in the AS IS section which is by the checkout at most Ikea stores.  It was my second cart and even if I didn’t exactly know how, I knew it would be an asset.  It has found a home rolling around among my three kilns holding my stilts and small props and shelves. Sweet indeed!

But I really want to tell you about my first Ikea cart, the powdered turquoise one that we appended.

Let me roll a short photo essay and show you how, with a bit of lumber, canvas and staples, the lil cart became one of my most versatile pieces of studio furniture.

IkeaCArt4

 

Above is the basic cart.  I assembled it myself and it was only a little wonky  – which has since settled out: SO proud! I was originally looking for a smallish moveable cart for a sculpture project. I expected to just balance the larger wareboard on top, but my Dear Husband Mark orchestrated the perfect solution. So I guess it is not officially MY hack, it’s his, but I get the daily benefit and approve!

IkeaCart2

 

Take a thick piece of plywood and cut to the size you want that’s bigger than the cart.  Measure and cut some scrap 2x4s to made a stable center insert for the top shelf. Bevel the ends to fit the rounded corners.  The shelf is secured by the 2x4s, but still removable. And if you need to hide something, that top tier still has a secret space!

Optional, but nice: Since my board was long and the sculpture was too, Mark added some 1x4s at each end so the plywood would not tip when removed from the cart and set on the table or floor.

 

I added a stapled-on canvas top made from some stylish ticking I’ve had since my first ceramics class:

IkeaCart3

 

Here’s the cart at work in my studio:

IkeaCart1

 

I quite often move it to one side, or even angle it for better access to the glaze closet. It earns its keep. The two bottom shelves hold dish tubs of  currently needed tools and molds. I always know where they are. And I forget what is under the plywood in the top tier. Guess I should look soon.

–Liz Crain, who values efficiency, ergonomics and multi-use tools almost as much as planning ahead and finishing before the due date.

 

 

Hot Out of the Kiln for May 2014: Saratoga Rotary Art Show

SAratogaRotaryArtShow2014

 

Research and Development Department Report (Since the Kilns are Quiet at the Moment)

In my year of stepping away from most festivals and exhibits, which is letting me go deep and often into my studio work, I find myself having time to become plenty curious. Curious about where to take my art-making, curious about how to speak of it, curious about how to represent.

And Completely Curious about places and events I have heard of but never attended where it might fit in. So I have been taking myself out to few of them.

Today’s jaunt was Over the Hill to the venerable Saratoga Rotary Art Show, always a one day event the first Sunday in May.

I have heard other artists speak well of its organization, its attendance, its good sales. I read up about it online, of course, and decided to visit.

It was a lovely spring morning on the west side of the Valley of Heart’s Delight where I grew up (aka Silicon Valley), and I was able to walk the entire event – 200 artists, a dozen food trucks, entertainment stage,  kid’s artshow and more – twice before it was starting to get crowded. I knew a few of the ceramic artists there and picked their brains. It was completely good news.

Now I have some pondering to do. Is this something for me and my stuff?

I’m not deciding right now, but it is going on the Seriously Consider List.

Liz Crain – Who loves feeding her imagination with Artist Dates.

 

Getting the Signs Right

 

LCCbanner

 

Here’s to all those mandatory white booths at outdoor art exhibits. It coordinates the look of the festival, but it can un-orient a visitor. The artwork might be memorable, but, really, in an ocean of 10x10s arrayed in semi-meandering quasi-suburban tract rows, what sets one booth apart from another? Might as well be Cubicle Nation, Artisan Style.

As a visitor and at times the artist in one of those booths who wants to get found and remembered, I have taken a tiny step to address this sameness: descriptive signage on the outside valances of my EZ-Up.

In this case these inexpensive vinyl banners  (weather resisitant, hemmed and grommeted from Banners.com)  not only feature my name and my medium, but also – and here’s the point – suggest what a ceramics aficionado might find within.

The Hard Parts?

1. Boldly naming and claiming my niche well enough to choose a phrase or intriguing tag words.

2. Deciding whether or not the banners should have my web address.

3. What “flavor” the banners should suggest. (I went with warm with a vintage feel.)

There you have it: I am a purveyor of TeaCans – Canisters – Beer Cans. And if you’re not quite certain what those are, you’re invited to come take a look see!

–Liz Crain, who has taken years to study the 10x10s of fellow ceramic artists in order to discover innovative,  effective and secure ways to configure and present work in the weekend festival context. It is different for potters than it is for sculptors, and since she is a hybrid, has felt particularly challenged. But as of now, the signage bit she understands. It’s protecting against windy days, unattended children and ham-handed day-trippers that is confounding.

 

 

 

 

Hot Out of the Kiln for April 2014: TYPORAMICS

Handwavium Canister, 2014, Liz Crain

Handwavium Canister, 2014, Liz Crain

This is to introduce you to a concept and a word I wish I had invented. But no, that honor and distinction goes to Academy of Art University in San Francisco Graphic Design MFA candidate Flora Cruells Benzal.

She defines Typoramics as the place “where ceramic art and typography meet.” And is creating her thesis-including-book around the artists who practice it.

A woman after my own heart in SO many ways: ceramics! graphic design! education! synthesis! word coinage!

I will let Flora’s description on her Typoramics Facebook page do the rest of the honors:

Open to all artists that use type as part of their ceramic artwork
Typoramics is a thesis project created by Flora Cruells Benzal for the Graphic Design MFA program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA.
I need help from my fellow ceramic artists. I am starting the final push to finish my MFA in Graphic Design and now I am working on my thesis.
My thesis deals with the convergence of typography in ceramic art. I want to explore how ceramic artists use type on their work. How do they chose what type to use. If they know how to chose type. If they have any knowledge of typefonts to begin with. Anything related with typography on their ceramic work.
I am looking for people to send me images of their work; to send me thoughts or comments on the subject. I am open to everything and anything. If you know of other artists that work with type and their medium is clay, I would love to hear from them. Please pass the info along.
At the end, my thesis will involve an interactive website along with a great catalogue that will showcase some of the images that you have submitted and some of the thought process that involves the use of type on your work.
I would appreciate any feedback, contacts, ideas, suggestions that you may have in order to make my thesis a success.
Many Many Thanks!!
Flora

You can also find more of Flora here and here and here and here.

How about it, all you typoramicists out there? Find Flora and help out!

–Liz Crain, who can come close to Flora’s creativity with “Ceramigraphics” but that’s not nearly as sassy-sexy as Typoramics.

 

Book Review and Double Giveaway Drawing: A First Time for Everything

InnerHero

This post – my first official book review and giveaway -  is both an indirect and direct result of the book pictured above: Inner Hero Creative Art Journal: Mixed Media Messages to Silence Your Inner Critic, the second book by certified creativity coach Quinn McDonald.

I’ll break it down:

 

Indirectly:

I follow her blog, QuinnCreative  and appreciate her truthful, sometimes pointed, often profound writing.

I am a fan of Quinn’s first book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art, because of its freeing “Create Imperfectly” guidance.

I have personally worked with Quinn, an insightful, empathic creativity coach. She gives homework.  In one of our phone conversations I was grousing about the clay not letting me do what I was attempting, feeling both thwarted and flummoxed and in need of a different perspective. She kindly admonished me: “You go right back in your studio and apologize to that clay!” I did and it helped me move past my misunderstanding.  I still apologize whenever I recognize I am getting bossy with my materials.

I enjoy and admire Quinn and support all of her efforts: books, writing, workshops.  I look forward to whatever she will manifest next.

 

Directly:

I am a proud Artist Contributor to the Inner Hero book, and that is why I have two copies to give away, Dear Readers. (Details at the end of the post.)

I worked from the advance description of the book’s scope in order to make and write about my artwork in the ways Quinn requested.  I needed to describe and name my Inner Critic (Scylla, a meanie of mythic proportions, but then aren’t they all?) I also needed to ID and write a description of an Inner Hero of mine. I chose The Synthesist, who I named Maya. With her help, I am able to combine disparate elements and forge anew.

My small part of this book was completed over a year ago, so as I read the finished work, I appreciate the depths to which Quinn takes her concepts.  We have many Inner Heroes, she explains, and we may call upon any and all of them, depending on the particular vulnerability our Inner Critic is harping on. Quinn spends several chapters – the heart of the book, really -   describing art-making and writing practices for creating “mixed media messages.” Make them utterly personal, she advises.

And, here’s the lasting genius: All does not end with those personalized exercises. Your art and writing create an interactive tarot deck of personal Inner Hero cards to consult.  Ignoring or abolishing our Inner Critic probably is not possible, so what about an ongoing a dialogue? Sometimes that Inner Critic is telling a truth we need to know,  but not in a way we can comfortably accept. The enjoyable methods the Inner Hero offers help us develop ways to interact and work with the darker side of our creative selves. As Quinn writes, “Your journal, writing, art, wisdom and creativity all come together.”

Perfect case in point: I consulted my Inner Hero Deck to write this blog post. I felt I needed to write perfectly  and that meant Scylla was entering in her finest Perfectionist Robes and Headdress. I grabbed my Inner Hero Scribe card.

We worked it out.

Here’s How to Enter the Inner Hero Giveaway Drawing: Leave a comment on this post by Tuesday March 25 saying you’d like to receive a copy of this book!  Feel free to say why as well. The next day, March 26, I will randomly pick two Commentors and announce it in the Comments as well.  I will include my email address and ask the winners to send me their snail mail address.  I will send the books  -  postage paid by me – as soon after that as I can.  Bon Chance, let the Good Comments Roll!

–Liz Crain, who believes it was Katharine Hepburn who said that if one did not engage with one’s fears  – often generated by that Inner Critic – one got soggy. Ew.

 

Hot Out of the Kiln for March 2014: A Burning Question

500TeapotsBooks

 

What is a teapot?

(That’s the Warm Up Question, not the Burning One.)

I know this much: In the world of contemporary ceramics there are both functional and sculptural teapots.  The sculptural versions – which still reference all the right parts: body, spout, lid, handle – you might not perceive as teapots for all the imagery masking them. If you have never paged through the two Lark Books, 500 Teapots and 500 Teapots, Vol 2 – pictured up top – well, you will find it all there, straight-forward and not-so.

To be completely honest, throughout my ceramics classes and workshops I balked at teapot projects of any sort. Not interested. (Actually exasperated!) To fulfill the assignments, I made desultory objects that I did not enjoy or respect. Precisely NONE of which I kept.

Then one day in my home studio I got interested in making a ceramic version of an old red gas can: rippled sides, wood handle/wire bail assembly and dented, rusty painted surface. I was loathe to call it a gas can, even if it was. I liked the shape and found dozens of others to emulate, but the gas-petrol-oil monikers always gave me pause. I did not want to seem as if I was venerating something I was not.  My explorations most definitely were not about Pop Art,  products, or politics, but always about the fun and un-traditional pottery shapes and the dented/rusted surface.

Yet, for lack of any other description, I continued to refer to them as ceramic “gas/kerosene/petroleum/oil cans,” for that was their lineage. Stranger still, even if I did not want to make dinnerware,  I made sure they were usable, food-safe vessels – some of the handles excluded.

And…I had a teapot blindspot.

DadsGasCan01

Fast forward to July, 2013. I’m showing my latest faux metal works, gas and oil cans included, at the ACGA Clay and Glass Festival in Palo Alto, and who introduces himself but Sonny Kamm, soon joined by his wife Gloria. They, of the renowned Kamm Teapot Foundation Museum. They were funny and charming as they told me they admired my “teapots” and wanted me to email them more imagery so they could select one or more for their collection.

Huh? I make teapots? Sonny and Gloria’s perception gave me more than just a pause, it erased my blindspot and changed a long-held prejudice I did not know I had. I began to see what was laughingly obvious: body-spout-lid-handle = teapot!

If I never place my work in the Kamm Collection (still working on that one…) it will be OK, because the Kamms gave me new eyes and placed me in a ceramic tradition.

Now I need new words.

So here’s the Burning Question for Y’all: What do I call them? My working title for them is Teapot Cans. (I just don’t want to leave the can world behind!) But I have also called them Can Teapots, Teapot Style Cans and simply Teapots, but that last one feels misleading, like I’m leaving something out. Any additional thoughts and angles? Words, phrases, snippets? Your comments and feedback are sincerely requested, here on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter if you got here from there. I will read and play with it all. Thank you!

–Liz Crain, who was told by several early boyfriends she was too stubborn and replied to every one, “No, I’m NOT!!!”

 

 

 

The Apron

Ur-apron

My first clay studio apron is done for. Look at that threadbare hole with the wood floor peeking through right in the Solar Plexus Chakra!

For that matter, look at the stained and faded rest of it. It used to be as blue as the bottom hem. Looks aren’t all that crucial to me – it’s an apron, after all, and I am more into how it functions – but it cannot do its job now either, and that’s the truth brought home after its last washing. So, I am retiring it to Ragsville, which is actually Fine and Fitting.

In the beginning of my clay work, I did not wear an apron. Too busy. Too cool. When my All-in enthusiasm wrecked a few favorite shirts (Iron oxide wash, I’m lookin’ at YOU!) I found something to strap on in defense: this denim delight. I wore it constantly in the Cabrillo College clay lab for nearly a decade and, like my high school gym clothes, I took it home every weekend to wash.

The demise of this apron got me to examining the other aprons hanging on the back of my studio door. Looks like I will be wearing them more often. And all of them have a story nearly as rich as the one I am letting go of. Here are just a few:

Jasper-apron

That original blue denim apron is about 15 years old.  Thinking it was old and shabby about 10 years ago (hah!), I used some birthday money to buy this overpriced chartreuse fancy thing at a local art supply store. It was too stiff, too thick, too long, too precious. The neck strap was one continuous piece that slid through the sides and became the ties. A nifty conceit, but it kept slip-slidin’  down my body until I pinned and then finally sewed it into place behind those snazzy copper buttons. Still it remained largely unworn. What made it mine was a special day when fellow potter Jasper Marino brought his silk screen into the clay lab and offered to screen print a few of his custom ceramic-based designs on anything we brought him. What an opportunity! It took this apron from stand-offish to MINE and I like it a lot! Plus, with washing, it has softened and become a good friend.

UCB-apron

Here’s a gift apron that has seen some pretty good use. It is a shorty, and the binding wrinkles the body, so it feels cheap. But it is a souvenir and features the artwork of the noted Richard Shaw of the UC Berkeley Ceramics Department: a signature trompe l’oeil assemblage person on the wheel, So the graphic is cool, even if the apron has a functional deficit or two.

Nepenthe-apron

Another commemorative apron. One I bought for myself, trying to avoid the problems of the green “birthday trophy” apron above. While I adore the colorful logo – the Phoenix speaks to me strongly – and I quest for the romance of Nepenthe in Big Sur,  it’s another (made in China) shorty with curling binding and pockets both too high and too deep. Function counts too, people!  I choose it over the UCB Richard Shaw apron, though, because of the personal meaning. Funny how particular this all is.

K-apron

I will diligently work on wearing a hole in this one in the next 15 years. Because it’s not really an apron, it’s a mantle. Made of lovely and colorful Guatemalan cotton, sewn true, supple and strong with no design gimmicks.  Just the right length and just the right pockets. I used to enjoy seeing my Cabrillo College mentor Kathryn McBride wearing it. After she died, it eventually found its way to me and for at least a year, it hung decoratively on my studio wall. There was NO WAY I was going to sully that precious artifact with my mundane splashes and brush wipings.

Yet, with the passage of time comes new understanding and often new behaviors.  At the beginning of this year, during my annual studio dedication, I spontaneously took that apron off the wall and put it on, intentionally assuming the gentle energies of my mentor. I was completely clear that it was not her, not her talents, not her temperament that came to me, but that the powers I was aligning myself with were in support of me right now and going forward. Maybe it’s the equivalent of Dumbo’s feather, but I don’t care. I can’t say I have worn her apron that much since my assumption, having that old favorite still around and all, but today, its hole told me everything I needed to know about transitions.

–Liz Crain, who once felt one way about things and now feels another.

I Just Deleted 10,789 Picture Files

 

Photoshoot

And, yes, it was on purpose.

Since I got a digital camera, like you, I have been taking lots of photos. And not really curating them. They were overwhelmingly of my artwork – in many angles, backdrops, settings, styles – and took up the lion’s share of the room. But, as a full service artist,  I also had a lot of backstory, process, documentation, activity, marketing and adjunct photos.

None of it was very well organized. The folder trees were serendipitous. I knew where to find stuff by rote – most of the time. I promised myself I would straighten it all out “Someday.” And that Someday proved to take a couple of months to execute.

I was wise to stall on this. If I knew what I was getting into – and I blessedly did not – I might have never attempted it.

I sat down and proceeded with the first folder, deleting and rearranging, file by file, as I encountered each sub-folder.

I slogged untold hours – whole evenings until I couldn’t see straight -  through my PICTURES folder.  I clicked DELETE 10,789 times.  That’s 20.11 Gigabytes, gone. (It took the Recycle Bin about 30 seconds to get rid of all of them, though, which was humbling.)

If you have a seven-year backlog of untamed picture folders, I both recommend and caution you from attempting this. It’s a life-changer, beginning, middle and end.

I have a select few suggestions and observations.

Methodology: Each time you sit down to this task, set a goal: # of folders and/or working time period. And stop when you reach it.

Intense work needs rewards. Have a few, preferably with serotonins,  like chocolate.

Record the numbers of Files, Folders and Gigabytes before you start and, if it helps, check them at the end of every session so you can see where you have been. This is important for not only efficiency, but also because this work is NOT like cleaning out a closet. While physically moving things has an immediate and tangible reality to it, when you clean out electronic files, nothing really changes shape. There’s no physical heft and it becomes an intellectual exercise,  a Sisyphean leap of faith. The way to translate that is with those file/folder and gigabyte progress numbers. It’s all ya got.

Ask Yourself: Each time you find yourself stalling over an image, wavering, repeat:  “Does this photo tell MORE of the story? Even if it is of the plain backside of a 3D piece, if it adds more information about the work, it’s a keeper. If it’s repetitive, redundant, boring or, heavens, out of focus or frame, poorly lit, or otherwise not remarkable, DELETE! But if the only photos you have of certain pieces are bad shots, well, keep some of those as pure archival documentation and call it good.

New Habits: I first began to take and keep too many photos when I became an Etsy Seller in 2009. On Etsy, there are five photo slots to fill for each piece, and it is highly recommended that you fill them.  For the shopper, those photos ARE your product. I took all kinds of views to find the perfect five, and I then got busy and never went back to clean out and straighten things. Now I know optimum views and angles and am more efficient. I also find myself assiduously deleting the poorer files immediately.

Take Away: This giant task was effectively a seven+ year review of my body of work. Because of what I saw and made decisions about as I cleaned, I have a greater appreciation for my maker’s journey and have made connections throughout it. I even found a dozen or so misfiled folders I was glad to relocate.

And I am thrilled that I am done.

–Liz Crain, who’s become more circumspect,  efficient, and better at storytelling with a camera. And she’s also resting her Delete finger.

Note on Comments:  Begone Eastern European Hackers! Let’s try opening my new posts back up to Comments, which I have missed. I’ve clicked the Settings I think should do that. It may or may not have worked. If not, please feel free to comment on the Facebook link, if that’s how you got here, or email me at lizcrainclay@gmail.com, and I will get it right next time.  Thanks.

Figuring Out What an Electric Firing Costs

OverallKilnformula

 

Yes, it involves some arithmetic. Some dividing and multiplying, even. But you can DO this! It’s NOT Rocket Surgery, so unroll those eyes and get empowered.

I did this for each of my kilns a year ago and for me, it ended the anxious little mystery of how much I was spending on each firing, and I happily discovered it was about 1/3 of what I guiltily thought it was.

As rates fluctuate, I probably should do it twice a year as a general practice, but right now I want to know because I have a new and bigger kiln and I want a reasonable guesstimate for it before I even fire it the first time.

The Big Idea is to discover how much electricity your kiln uses, for how long, at whatever rate your electric company charges you. In these examples, everything is laid out generically, and then there’s a Real Numbers Example as I apply the formula to my new kiln. Grab a calculator, a pencil and some scratch paper and come along with me.

FIRST: Gather your kiln’s numbers

kilnfaceplateinfor

 

Look on your kiln’s ID Plate, somewhere on its outside.. (Or in the Manual if you have it.)

You need the Volts (aka Voltage) and the Amps (aka Amperes) numbers. Don’t worry about what they mean if you don’t know. You only need the numbers. Get them first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SECOND: Find out the Kilowatts of your kiln

A AmpsandVoltsequalsWatts

 

Multiply your Amps and Volts to get Watts. Divide by 1000 — or just move the decimal over three places to the left — to get the Kilowatts.

Notice the red writing: it’s the real numbers from my really new kiln.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRD: Get real on your firing time

BFiringTimeAdjusted

Figure out a firing length. I go with the highest temp and the longest typical firing time I am likely to do. In my case it is a normal speed Cone 6. I actually timed my old kilns from start to when the kiln sitter fell. You can guesstimate. You can see if your kiln’s manual talks about it. My new kiln’s binder did, so I used that.

You need to reduce the firing time length because all the elements are not on for the entire firing, so the kiln it not at full juice. Most of the sources I read when learning about this formula suggested an Adjusted Firing Time of about 60% of the actual firing time. So multiply your chosen firing time by .6 to get the How Long number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOURTH: A Baby Step Calculation

CFiringTimeandkWh

 

 

You can find out how many kilowatt hours are in a typical firing by multiplying your Kiln’s Kilowatts by your Adjusted Firing Time. Save this number for the next step.

(And you arithmetic champions can go for the Triple Dog Dare and skip this step for the final one, in which the product of all three of the magic numbers you have gleaned is revealed.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIFTH: Get your Electric Bill and pick the highest rate they charge you

Electricbillbreakdown

 

Yes, this is the most tedious reading, but down there at the bottom of my Energy Usage is the number I seek: the highest/nearly highest rate I am charged. I only fire my kilns at night (Off Peak) so I used the $0.33201 per kilowatt hour (kWh.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIXTH: Kiln Kilowatts x Adjusted Firing Time x Energy Bill Rate = COST OF A FIRING!

KWhXEnergyBill Rate

 

That’s it: Your three numbers (OK, two if you did the Baby Step) multiplied together, give you the dollars and cents cost of your electric firing.

See, not hard….and SO worth it!

The whole of it is below. Didn’t want to scare you off with that image first!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 THE NUTSHELL

InshortCostofFiring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

–Liz Crain, who wholeheartedly believes in understanding even the sticky parts of this clay stuff. She also knows that if you multiply your kiln costs by the number of times you fired it in a year, it will tell you how much to reimburse the Household Account. And if you divide your firing costs by the cubic footage of each kiln, you will see it is eerily the same for each of them.

 

Additional note: For the time being I have sadly had to discontinue Comments to my posts. Too much dreadful spamming, peppered with small and annoying hackings! I have taken all the updating and firewalling steps I’ve been advised of and I hope to reinstate your part of this conversation soon. Your Comments are Manna to me in the wildness of the internets! If you came here from a Facebook link, by all means leave a comment before you leave my  FB post. If you subscribe or just found me however, you may email me at lizcrainclay@gmail.com    Thanks for stopping by.