Friday, March 14, 2008

The Quarter Trick

This is a little trick that I picked up from my friend Jordan Taylor for throwing platters. I find it extremely useful so I thought I would pass it on to all of you and maybe you'll find it useful too.

The quarter trick solves three problems that arise from throwing platters:
  • Instead of having to both wedge and center one large mass of clay, you can break it down into two pieces which reduces the strain on your body
  • It helps you more easily judge the thickness of the floor of the platter and adds consistency if you're doing multiples.
  • And it allows you to compress the floor of the platter REALLY well so you don't have to worry about any future problems of cracking.
So here is the quarter trick:

Wedge up and center your first lump of clay. This piece is going to be the floor of your platter. I used 8 lbs of clay which gives me a slightly narrow but thick foot (great for putting holes into so you can hang it). You can vary the weight depending on the ultimate size of your platter. But I find that the 8 - 9 lb. range works for a variety of sizes of platters since the size foot isn't necessarily that different.

Center your clay and compress the heck out of the floor. Place a quarter in the center of your centered clay (I use a 1974 quarter).

Wedge up your second piece of clay and place it on top of the quarter. I tend to use between 8 - 12 lbs. of clay for this second piece, depending on the ultimate shape of the platter.

Open up the platter and establish the curve.
TAKE OUT THE QUARTER!!!!
And clean it off so it doesn't become part of your reclaim. (I speak from experience on this one.)

Then finish off your platter as usual and be aware of the thickness of the floor.


This platter isn't actually the platter that is throw above. That platter is sitting in my studio waiting to be trimmed. But this platter was thrown in the same way.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Surface Decoration Techniques: faceting with a wire.

Faceting the walls of pots is a great way to change the surface of a piece. The facets can be highlighted with atmospheric firings and glazes that break on high points. There are many ways to facet a pot - wet or leather hard, with a wire or a special faceting tool, with a straight wire or a curly wire. Each choice will give you a different final look. I do have a personal preference for faceting while wet. If you facet right on the wheel after your piece is thrown, you can still alter the shape while pushing out from the inside of the piece and you can "re-throw" the lip which is great for a drinking vessel! And if you happen to go through the wall of your pot, you can still re-wedge the clay and try again.

Below are images of a sample cup of wire faceting techniques:




top left: a curly wire that I made that you can see in a previous blog post.
top right: a Bill Van Gilder Wiggle Wire.
bottom left: a Mud Tool straight wire tool.
bottom right: a Mud Tool curly wire.

And below you can see the finished result of the sampler cup:
clay body: Lillstreet Soda Clay
firing: soda fired, c. 10 reduction
slip: top half dipped in Bob Briscoe's Slip for all Occasions
glaze: rutile blue

This is part of my "Surface Decoration Technique" series.
I have been creating, soda firing and documenting simple straight sided cylinders with a variety of surface treatments for examples for my classes and this blog. The original idea was to create demos to show students that aren't specifically "my pieces." The fun result of this project has been that it's given me an excuse to return to things long forgotten and to try some new techniques.
Watch out for upcoming tutorials with lots of pictures and slip and glaze recipes.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

How to: make a cut off wire

I have some issues with the standard cut off wire. They can break and it usually isn't easy to replace the wire. Sometimes you need a longer wire to cut off a big platter. And sometimes you want something different from you wire - either a thinner wire or maybe something that will add texture.

To make a cut off "wire" that fits your needs, this is what you need to get started:
  • A pair of corks. I prefer the rubber wine corks.
  • A drill with a small drill bit.
  • A wire of some sort: fishing line, thin wire, a stretched out spring.**
Drill a hole into the center of your cork.

Thread your cord, wire or spring through the cork. If you're using fishing line, thread it through multiple times and tie a couple of knots. If you're using beading wire, use a crimp bead. If you're using a spring or other single ply wire, twist the wire after you thread it through the cork.



An added bonus: they float!
Next blog post will have some images of the wires in action.

**Some ideas for "wires:"
  • Fishing line of whatever thickness you prefer. You can find it as hardware stores, Target, craft stores, sporting good stores, etc...
  • If you prefer to have an actual wire, beading wire is perfect! There are a bunch of different brands out there. Look for multi-strand braided wire. You can find it at craft stores and anywhere they sell beads. Or you can find it here.
  • To make a wavy texture wire, you need to find a spring that is made from a thin gauge wire that will be easy to stretch out. I have found the BEST springs at one of my favorite stores - American Science Surplus in Chicago (and they only cost 20 cents!). Unfortunately, they don't sell the exact wire online, but you can get a package of assorted springs from them here, and I'm pretty sure that you can find something that'll work in the package.
Check out some more of my "How to" posts. If you have any suggestions for future tutorials, send me an email or add a comment!

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Happy Soda Firing

I fired last week. When I'm done glazing, but before I load the soda kiln, I sit down and roll hundreds of wads for the bottom of my pieces. It always takes a ridiculously long amount of time. Time when I'm feeling a bit anxious about getting things done on schedule. When I was rolling my wads for this last kiln, it was a sunny day, and the morning sun was hitting them in the most beautiful way. I took this picture to share with all of you. My happy spin on a less than fun job.

Wadding Recipe
for the soda kiln (pretty standard) (by volume):
  • 1 part EPK
  • 1 part alumina hydrate
  • medium grog to taste (not really, but you know what I mean...)
I roll my wads ahead of time and put them in a plastic container (the ones from the local Thai take-out place are the best). Then I glue them to the bottoms of pots before loading (Elmer's glue). Breaking up the wadding into steps keeps my hands cleaner and helps me avoid the problem of getting wadding where it doesn't belong.

A shot of the front of the kiln. It was an interesting firing. I reduced the amount of soda that I added by about 25% or so.
(new) Soda Mixture:
  • 1.75 lbs. of soda ash
  • 2.25 lbs. of soda bicarb
  • 4 lbs. of whiting
Mixed together with 1/4 of a 5 gallon bucket of wood chips. Mix together well, then add enough water (while mixing) to the consistency of oatmeal cookie dough. I add it on an piece of angle iron through the ports on the front of the kiln when c. 9 is soft. (More on this in a future post.)

Below are some tea bowls that I got out of this firing.


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Saturday, November 10, 2007

How to: Make a texture roller for clay

This project is instant gratification. Something that is not that common in the world of clay. With this texture roller, you can use it as soon as the hot glue has cooling, which is very fast. It's a great project to do in a class, or on your own so you have a custom tool that no one else has.

Supplies:
  • a roller of some sort (cut up pieces of PVC, empty rolls of tape, couplings for PVC, plastic rolling pins from the dollar store or craft store).
  • a sharpie.
  • a hot glue gun. They only cost a couple of bucks.
  • extra hot glue sticks.
Draw your pattern onto the rolling pin. It's easier to work out the pattern before with a Sharpie than it is later with the hot glue. Think about some sort of connected pattern, they tend to have the best results. And don't go overboard with the lines, you'll regret it later. And remember that the hot glue line aren't going to be perfect, so just go with the imperfection.

While you're drawing, plug in your hot glue gun. Make sure that you do it on a surface that you can toss when done, like newspaper or cardboard. When you're done drawing on your design, start gluing. Be a bit heavy handed with the glue. If the lines are too thin, they won't show up on the clay as well.

After the glue seems cool, start rolling away... The first attempt might stick a bit, but after there is some dusty clay on the roller, it won't really stick.

If you're not a hand builder, a nice use for one of these textured slabs is in the bottom of a thrown and altered casserole.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Useful web tools for the potter

There are some great web tools out there for ceramic artists that are simple, straightforward and easy to use; not unlike a good pot. You probably aren't surprised that I spend a lot of time both in my studio and online. When a question or problem arises in my studio, I head to Google.

I have put together a collection of these (free!) tools that I use to make fast work of some of the less fun parts of clay- like glaze chemistry and shipping.

Get ready to do some bookmarking!

calculations for the ceramic artist:
Celsius to Fahrenheit calculator and vice versa
weight conversions (grams to pounds, etc...)
basic glaze calculatorMetric/Imperial Converter
metric/ imperial converter from Clayzee
volume calculator - how much does that pitcher hold?

shipping:
compare carriers on iShip. Figure out the best deal on shipping your pots.
USPS postage calculator
UPS time and cost calculator

firing information:
Orton Cone Chart - pdf download
firing temperature color chart - pdf download
firing chart - what happens to clay

other helpful things:
this to that - tips of what sort of glue you should use (surprisingly useful)
picassa - a FREE photo organization program that makes it easy to edit, print & upload images. A program that I can't imagine owning a digital camera without.
doodle - create a poll and figure out the best time for a meeting. I have used this a lot when organizing meeting times for an organization (like a guild or co-op).


If you have any web tools that you like to use, send me the link!

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Simple Tweaks to a Better Wheel Set-up

I have seen too many potter friends suffer with back problems over the years. It's made me be very conscious about the health of my back and my efforts to stop any problems before they begin. Every potter who throws at a wheel has a different set-up. Although mine is based on a pretty traditional set-up, I have tweaked it enough to be both a more efficient work space and back friendly.
You might notice that there is a 2nd wheel in the background. I have a throwing wheel and a trimming wheel. I love being able to move back and forth between the two wheel and not have to clean up and change the set up. I keep either my Giffin Grip or my foam bat on my trimming wheel. I have it set up in the corner of my studio so I do not track any clay trimmings around my studio.

I know many potters who throw standing up to alleviate any potential back problems. For me this just creates another problem from being on your feet all the time. I think the most important thing I can do is to constantly change my tasks (throwing, trimming, wedging, decorating, glazing, paperwork, cleaning, etc...) and my sitting and standing positions throughout the day. Sometimes I will even give up efficiency for this.

Another thing that I did to help keep my back happy is to get a new throwing stool. After a ridiculous amount of research, I found this great stool from Creative Industries. It's totally adjustable- both the height and the tilt. It tilts your hips into your work so your back can stay nice and straight. This has made a HUGE difference for me. I also put my non-pedal foot on a brick to keep me balanced and symmetrical.

You might have also noticed from the picture the mirror in front of my wheel. I started doing this a couple of years ago and it has also made my throwing life much happier. It took me about 2 days to get used to it (I had to remember to look up!). It stops me from constantly cranking my head over to the side to see what my piece looks like. It also makes a huge difference in the forms that I thrown. I can see exactly what is happening by looking straight ahead. You can make sure that each piece you throw actually has the shape that you think it does. The result is that both me and my pots have better posture. My back and neck are straighter and my pots end up having more lift.

I feel like I've lost a lot of time over the years looking tools on the other side of my splash pan. To stop this problem from continuing, I built this little shelf on the right side of my wheel. All the tools I use regularly are kept right there- nice and easy for me to find. (The mini-Altoids tin is perfect for a pair of bat bins). The tools in the picture are on the list of "clay tools that I cannot live without." (I'll talk about that in another post.) This little shelf mean less bending forward trying to search for the clay covered rib that has slipped under the splash pan.... My throwing bucket sits right in front of the shelf also for easy access (I'm right handed).

I realize how much I miss my tweaked space when I am teaching and do not have this set up.
A couple of (cheap!) things that you can do, even if it's in a shared space, like a classroom:
  • Tilt a standard throwing stool by sticking a 2 x 4 under the back 2 legs. You can even drill into the wood about 1/4 - 1/2 an inch so the stool won't accidentally slip off the wood.
  • Get a mirror. A hardware store, thrift store or Ikea are all great places to find a mirror. The just lean it up against whatever is in front of the wheel- shelves, a table, a wall. You'll really see a difference in your throwing, and your back might be a bit less achy.
  • Keep your tools and water bucket on a stool next to your wheel. You can keep the stool clean by putting a bat on top of the stool, and tools and bucket on top of that.
update (10/29/07)- a post from John Zentner about his standing wheel set-up on his blog pots and other things.

update (10/30/07)- another great post from Anne Webb at Webb Pottery about her favorite tools and her wheel set-up.

update (10/30/07)- an article from the archives of Studio Potter magazine on back problems and potters.

update (10/31/07)- a post from Jeanette Harris about tools that she can't do without.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

How to make a bat gripper

I went through a period of time early in my ceramics career where I was a tool minimalist. It's something that I think every potter should go through. I had 3 tools that I would use: a wire tool, a wooden knife tool, and a basic wooden rib. I was even flexible with what tool filled those 3 slots. I like the idea that it was really about how I moved the clay, not the tools or gadgets. And I also like the idea that wherever I was in the world, I would be able to throw a pot- regardless of the tools. This idea has also led me to using many different types of clay, and to throw on different types of wheels. It makes me a portable potter. So even though that's my philosophy on clay tools...
..I LOVE TOOLS! I know how to work with the fewest possible tools, but I really enjoy working with many tools. It can allow you to do something with greater ease, or achieve a new surface, or just make you happy because of its cleverness.
At some point over the last 5 or 6 years a little boom of new tools popped up, many as a side business from a potter who was making cool tools for themselves. I'm happy to be a potter during this period. I love trying out different things, and sometimes (many times) I get hooked on one. I am going to be sharing with you some tools that I really love, and some tools that I make myself in the tool section of this blog.
A tool that I really dug was the Bat Grabber.
I loved it for teaching when I was working on a wheel that had worn holes for bat pins to stop the wobble. I also loved it under the little square bats that tend to lift a little when making a tall piece in my studio. But it had a problem where it would start to erode over time (you can see that from the pictures). And then they stopped being made (the material was no longer manufactured). So I had to do something to fill my need of a new Bat Grabber and here is what I did...
I got a roll of rubbery shelf liner. The cheapest one I could find; but I think that any would work. You can probably use a rug pad too.









With a Sharpie, I used a bat to trace out the circle and to draw in the placement of the bat pin holes. I made both a 14" circle and a 12" circle. Just because.









Then you cut it out, including the holes.
To use it: dip it in some water and squeeze out the excess. Then stick it on your wheel head, and use a bat on top. Circular, square, plastic, wood or foam covered. They will all stay a little bit more secure with this do-it-yourself bat gripper.









(Don't forget to make pots when you're not making tools...)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Surface Decoration Techniques: wax resist and underglaze/ slip inlay

This is the first of many posts in my new "Surface Decoration Technique" series.
I have been creating, soda firing and documenting simple straight sided cylinders with a variety of surface treatments for examples for my classes and this blog. The original idea was to create demos to show students that aren't specifically "my pieces." The fun result of this project has been that it's given me an excuse to return to things long forgotten, or try something new.
Watch out for upcoming tutorials with lots of pictures and slip and glaze recipes.

Wax resist and underglaze/ slip inlay
A great way to make a clean line without too much mess, step by step.

Step 1: Paint slip on leather hard piece.
I used several porcelain slips (grolleg mixed with Mason stains) on Lillstreet Soda Clay

Step 2: After the slip dries (no longer tacky), paint wax over entire surface.
Step 3: Using a small loop tool, carve in your lines.
Step 4: Paint underglaze into the carved lines.Step 5: Wipe away any excess underglaze.
This is a great way to get make a nice clean, sharp line in the leather hard stage.

The inside of the piece is glazed with a simple matte black glaze, and soda fired to cone 10 in reduction.
Because the line is inlaid, it's protected from the soda and doesn't "bleed" when hit directly.

Some close up images

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

How to: Mix two different clays

This is a problem that comes up all the time- two different clays that need to become one. Maybe you have some clay that's too hard and some clay that's too squishy. Or you have some stoneware and some porcelain (a great mix in the soda kiln!). It's really hard to just wedge them together, and it's a lot of trouble to put it through the pugger- especially if it's just a small batch.
This will save your wrists from some stress and get out any aggravation that you might have at the same time.
Slam down onto your table (or wedging board) one type of clay on top of the other.

Then slice it in half through the middle.

And stack on top. (slam it down!)

And slice and stack (slam!).

Watch the clay mix together! It's very satisfying to see the two different color clays mix like this.
Keep mixing until the slices of clay are really small (even smaller than this).

Once it's mixed through the slice and slam process, then wedge.
It's much easier to slam the clay down then wedge the big hunk that well. This method is really great for clay that's too hard and too soft. It's nearly impossible to wedge those two consistencies together. And as I mentioned above, a porcelain-stoneware mix is great for the soda kiln (or any other atmospheric firing). 50-50 is my favorite mix. Through a little extra sand in for extra orange peel.
Maybe this how-to will make your wrists a little happier.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

How to: Make a Foam Bat

A foam bat is endlessly helpful for trimming large pieces, and having a soft surface to work with altered pieces on.

You will need:
*A new clean bat. I used a 22" Hydra Bat from Continental Clay.
*High density foam (it won't flatten out when you put a heavy piece on it).
*A can of spray adhesive.
*An electric knife.
*A Sharpie or any permanent marker.

Take the bat outside and spray the bottom of it with spray adhesive.

Spray one side of the foam with spray adhesive. Put the adhesive sides together and press evenly.

Put the bat, bat side up on a banding wheel and cut off excessive foam with the electric knife. This will give you a nice clean edge.

Place the bat on your wheel using bat pins to ensure it's perfectly centered. Use your marker and ruler to make concentric circles.

Until you get to the outside edge.

Then trim away!

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Monday, January 16, 2006

What is soda firing?

This post is part of a handout that I give to my soda firing students at Lillstreet Art Center. It is an attempt to explain a little bit about the history of soda firing, and tries to help answer the question, "what is soda firing?". It is not the full story, but I hope that you find it helpful.

Soda firing is an atmospheric firing technique where “soda” is introduced into the kiln near top temperature (2350°, ∆10). The soda that we use is: sodium bi-carbonate, also know as baking soda (the Arm and Hammer™ kind), and sodium carbonate, which is also known as soda ash.

“Soda ash is the trade name for sodium carbonate, a chemical refined from the mineral trona or sodium-carbonate-bearing brines (both referred to as "natural soda ash") or manufactured from one of several chemical processes (referred to as "synthetic soda ash"). It is an essential raw material in glass, chemicals, detergents, and other important industrial products.”
USGS

The soda vaporizes and is carried on the flame throughout the kiln. The soda vapors create a glaze when it lands on a piece (or a kiln post, or the wall of the kiln). Wherever the flame travels- so does the soda. When placing the pieces in the kiln during loading, you have to think carefully about when and where you want a piece to get lots of soda, or when and where you want a piece to be more protected. The kiln must be evenly loaded because the flame will travel on the path of least resistance (and therefore the soda will also be traveling on the path of least resistance). You also have to think about whether or not the piece is glazed. The soda is basically a glaze, and when two glazes mix, they can react chemically with one another and run down the side of the piece. It’s beautiful when you can control the run- but can be disastrous when it gets away from you!

What is the history of soda? Where did it come from?

The predecessor of the modern day soda firing, is salt firing. It is believed that salt firing began in Germany in the 13th century. As many things go, it was most likely come upon by accident. Perhaps some salt soaked wood (from pickling barrels?) was tossed into the kiln for the wood fuel. The salt vaporized and glazed the pieces inside the kiln. It was a great time saving measure. No need to glaze the pieces before they went into the kiln. Old German jugs were salt glazed, along with tankards and sewer pipes. The pieces that we think of as early American traditional ceramics from the southwest corner of the US were also salt glazed. Can you picture a big whiskey jug with cobalt blue decoration on it? Those were salt fired. The process that I’m talking about is wood firing with salt thrown in. The salt easily glosses up a piece and helps the wood ash flux out. Salt vaporizes at a fairly low temperature and can work its way into all sorts of nooks and crannies. In a salt firing, the salt vaporizes and the sodium chloride splits into sodium and chlorine gas. When the chlorine is exposed to moisture, it forms hydrochloric acid. The acid goes into the kiln atmosphere and is released from the chimney. The remaining sodium combines with alumina and silica in the clay to forming a glaze on the surface of the piece.

Although the previous paragraph doesn’t help sort out what soda firing is, it does give some important background information. Salt firing continued to be a technique used by potters up through the 1970’s (and is still is used as a firing method today). In the 70’s as people became more aware of the environment, they realized that the black smoke and hydrochloric acid wasn’t such a great idea. A couple of graduate students from Alfred University, NY studied sodium alternatives to salt firings, hoping to find something that was more environmentally friendly, and maybe even something that could happen in an urban environment.

The results were soda ash and baking soda. They produce carbon dioxide instead of hydrochloric acid. The soda doesn’t get into all the nooks and crannies like the salt does, but it does produce brighter and more vivid colors. Pots are usually glazed with an interior or “liner glaze” because the soda vapors won’t work their way into those hard to reach places. You can achieve a rich glossy surface that is heavy with soda, or a pebbled surface that is also referred to as an “orange peel” texture. This is often juxtaposed with a “drier” area of the clay that wasn’t hit directly with the soda. It’s all of these varied surfaces together that make up the rich look and feel of a soda fired pot. 30 years ago, when soda firing first began, most ceramicists were just trying to mimic the effects of salt firing. In the last 5 years that has changed. The true characteristics of soda firing are unique and are something to explore and achieve.

The soda vapors aren’t actually colored, but they are reacting with the alumina, silica and iron in the clay (and slips) to create the various colors of flashing, and associated textures. The resulting colors can be a range of oranges with yellow and red tones, to rich browns, golds and tans. If there is some copper in the kiln, there can be pink blushing. Or a cobalt glaze on a piece can cause a blue twinge to the soda. Sometimes the carbon from the firing can add a gray hue that can look like shark skin on porcelain.


So perhaps now you know a little bit more about soda firing.


I've included the recipe that I use for my soda firings below.

My soda recipe: (a variation on Gail Nichol's process)
2 lbs. soda ash
3.5 lbs. sodium bi-carb
5.5 lbs. whiting (calcium carbonate)
Mixed with ½ of a 5 gal. bucket of wood chips, and water

*mix the dry stuff with the wood chips, and then add COLD water. Just enough so it sticks together. It should have a consistancy similar to oatmeal cookie dough or tunafish salad.

-Add soda into kiln when ∆9 is soft. Add 1 ½ angle irons full of soda mixture through each port. Wait 15 minutes between additions. Usually takes 3 turns to add in all of the soda.

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Monday, July 26, 2004

Stacks of obsolete slides.

I have a love for functional objects...you might even say a soft spot. That's why I make pots. Pots are interactive pieces of art. Then you can get even extra "wow" out of a piece if it functions well on top of being aesthetically pleasing. A teapot that pours without dripping, or a mug that becomes one with the hand of the user, gives me deep satisfaction.

I like to see the potential function in all objects - even after they have ceased their original function. The other day I was walking down an alley (here in Chicago). I found this huge 5 foot octagonal window leaning against a dumpster. It was really lovely and was in perfect condition.

I stared at it for a while. "What could I use this for?" "How could I get this home in my hatchback?" "Where could I store it until I can use it?" "Is there someone I know that would just have to have it?" The answers to these questions were not very positive. So I made a little deal with myself and left it up to fate. I went into a store (for about 20min.), and decided that if it was there when I came back, then I would figure out a way to take it. But if it was gone... then perhaps it was just not meant to be. It was gone.

This brings me to my stacks of obsolete slides. I think every working artist must have one. A potter's stack might be a bit bigger since we probably make more pots than a painter makes paintings. (Not that I actually document all my pieces.)

Anyway.. my stacks consist of: compositions that didn't work out; extra brackets; old dupes that will never be sent into any sort of show; incorrect exposures; the accidental roll of outdoor film that was used instead of the indoor film; first and very poor attempts to take my own slides on wrinkled sheets; booth shots from an old set-up. All images that have no more use. But the time, effort and money that went into all these makes it impossible for me to ever dispose of them. It's nice that they're small because I can store them guilt-free. But now I don't think that I need to store them anymore. There is a perfect use for them thanks to one of my favorite magazines, Ready Made.


I think this lamp idea is great. Can you imagine how nicely the thick plastic mounts will hang?

So for now, I will hang on to my stack of obsolete slides. Someday I will get around to this project and give my slides a chance at a second function.

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Monday, July 19, 2004

Useful coffee stains

These clever cups have foot rings in different shapes (thinking outside of the circle), so when you accidentally leave your dirty cup on the nice white linen, you're just making it more beautiful.
Stamp Cups
As someone who is trying to make it in the world as a potter, I try to make nice pots and be confident that that will sell them. Sometimes I try to figure out some sort of clever quirk that might push someone over the edge to actually buy a piece- a nice detail that shows that I paid attention - something to show that it was handmade. This stamp cup idea is definitely not an innovation that I have thought about before, and I don't actually think that I would make something with this idea.... but at least I can appreciate the cleverness.

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