Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Plasticville / New Year Type Post

These are things from Plasticville, which is a play town and electric train set dating from 1947. My dad had one of these when he was growing up, and when I was a kid I got to play with it too. Aside from my dollhouse, this was definitely my favorite toy. I liked to arrange the town, then rearrange the town, and keep doing that because that was the best part. And of course running the train through it and imagining the people and driving the little cars and crashing the train into them and building hills out of pillows and seeing if I could get the train to go up them and then it would derail and of course this meant that I had to rebuilding the track elsewhere and imminent domain would claim the houses nearby and I could rearrange the whole thing again.

As it turns out, Plasticville was originally manufactured in Philadelphia, but in 1984 production moved to China. I arrived in Philly knowing that this was going to be a momentous transition and immediately threw myself into over-thinking it, as I am wont to do. I've had a hard time selling my work. Even with (relatively, they're still one-offs!) affordable prices nothing seems to go. I usually resort to selling things for $10-20 to get rid of them and make more things, and I was starting to feel a bit redundant. Why continue making stuff if no one would buy it? These things are meant to be used, or at least looked at! Of course I can't compete with the prices of high volume manufacturing, but I was slipping into the trap of it.

I decided to stop thinking for a while. I have a full time job that keeps me away from the studio, it has nothing to do with clay or really any other part of my life. This has proved to altogether be difficult yet illuminating as I could cut about 40 hours of guiltless time out of the studio in which I was forced to step away from my work.

Still, it was not enough and I would find myself pin-balling aimlessly about my studio trying to resurrect a state of mind and a body of work I no longer felt connected to. It was troubling to pay for a studio that I did not much feel like using and in the end I found that by indulging in a 3 week binge of total mind clearing / tv watching / joy reading that was able to shake off the vestiges of whatever the hell I was doing before and look at my practice with a more objective eye.

I need to make things that are cheap to produce. They must relate to American culture in a visually broader sense; spanning a spectrum from the types of tableaus we physically and mentally avoid to those we intentionally seek. The objects need to be closer to the whole picture of the United States. I will continue with the theme of the knick knack, the undervalued thrift store object. I must aim for wit and optimism and hope it lands somewhere near contemplation. And I must simplify, which is by far the most difficult. The more complex the object is conceptually, the less likely people are to put the effort into truly understanding it. But I will still consider every minute detail because, honestly, I just can't help myself.

I have more plans, but I'll start slowly. I'm not exactly a New Year's resolution type girl, but it would seem that this has been a longer time coming anyway. Knowing that I have more time ahead of me than I've ever had in one studio allows me even greater clarity as to the level of what I could finally accomplish, and I've actually admitted to myself that I am, in fact, a dutiful planner and enjoyer of organization. That anarchy phase was totally ridiculous.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Utilizing Waste

The ceramic process creates a lot of waste. Whether it's substandard products or manufacturing waste, even studio potters are not immune to the issue. I've run into more than one person that is too stubborn to reclaim their waste clay and instead throws it out, or dumps a contaminated glaze down the drain (yikes) or simply throws it out without firing it first. Almost every studio I know of disposes of their sink trap waste. This last one is more understandable for me since it's smelly and tends to hold less aesthetic value to the average community studio student. While people have told me that some studios offer a "waste glaze", this does not tend to be a viable option in many places and thus the continuous disposal of material.

I've been trying to incorporate as much of this material into my practice as possible. While it's not always usable as a decent clay body since the material is extremely short and I do receive a lot of (justified) complaints about the smell, not to mention the issue that this material get its smell from a host of bacteria that may contain serious things such as Staphylococcus, I am able to use it successfully as a slip as I can only disturb a small amount of the bacteria at once and use all of it at one time. Once the material dries, the bacteria are much less smelly. I'm still looking for a way to get rid of it altogether, but this will require something costly and possibly spacious and I'm all about keeping my costs down. Also, if any of the bacteria remains, will be multiply and spread through all of the material again so it's kind of an all or nothing deal.

While trolling the internet (after accidentally getting to work an hour and a half early, oops) I found some research surrounding the use of this sort of material in an industrial setting. The company starting to manufacture some of these materials in the form of tiles is called AluSiD and although their website does not seem to work, a lot of good information on David Binns's website. The following is an excerpt that is quite helpful as an example of both aspect of my concept and the materiality of the pieces in a utilitarian sense:

"Aesthetics materiality and ‘place’
As well as providing a sustainable alternative to traditional stone cladding, the material offers a number of other unique aesthetic attributes. Materials have philosophically and historically engendered a strong association with ‘place’, the origins and configuration of such materials being increasingly germane to genuine sustainable aspirations. Traditionally, the majority of construction materials were sourced locally to the site of construction; not only meaning minimal energy was required to transport the materials, but use of local materials (stone in particular), imparted a unique aesthetic character to any given location, strengthening the sense or identity of place. Using local materials therefore, clearly plays a crucial role in helping characterize “placeness”, contrasting with repeated use of the same imported stone that offers no localized identity, rather creating a repetitive, bland uniformity across many developments; hopefully avoiding the concerns of the architect...

The researchers have found that any second-quality casts or waste trimmings and sludges from machining may be directly returned into the production process, avoiding any manufacturing waste, thus satisfying the desirable objective of ‘closed-loop’ manufacturing. Through testing, the material has been shown to have a life cycle similar to existing construction materials such as common brick. If however dismantling was necessary, the product may either be re-used or easily recycled. This would entail simply re-introducing it into the original manufacturing cycle as a raw material rather than the more common process of ‘downcycling’ to less valuable products; further enhancing the eco-credentials of the materials.
Whilst the material will inevitably incur energy consumption within production – transportation of waste to point of manufacture, processing and return to site, the embodied energy is predicted to be significantly lower than imported stone, with the advantage of zero production waste."

David Binns and Dr Alasdair Bremner, with the help of School of Design at the University of Central Lancashire, are definitely on to something interesting here. There is a growing push (necessity?) to develop as much closed loop manufacturing as possible, especially from locally sourced material and although these objects tend to carry a higher price tag due to research costs, and arguably because the clientele that are interested in buying things like this tend to be more affluent, this is not necessarily the end all be all of this mode of manufacturing. With time the costs should be driven down, especially if it becomes more popular. As for myself, I try to incorporate as many free materials and cheap low fire clays mixed with small amounts of other materials to improve the aesthetic and make them more unique. This helps keep my cost affordable, although then I am traversing the slippery slope of selling art for a lower price which usually translates to it being less important. Why are people such idiot consumers? If this article about Art Basel is going to teach us anything, it's that a high price tag and a pricey, name brand education does not automatically translate into good, well crafted art. Just expensive, self glorifying, self indulgent, shittly made art. Perhaps more affordable objects can be part of the answer in that they create a less exploitative atmosphere. Or perhaps I'm just an idealist who would like to think that people care enough about the interests of others to think a little less about their own personal gain and more about the greater good. Or maybe I'm just tired and grumpy and I need a coffee.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Some patterns from my bedroom, ignore the car hair. I would glaze patterns onto my ceramics but it bores the life out of me so maybe in a few years I'll think about that or something.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

04 Surfaces

A few days ago I unloaded my first 04 kiln with the new glaze palette. I'm definitely pleased with a fair amount of the work and I'll hopefully get around to photographing it properly early in January. In the mean time, here are some the more detailed surfaces. In other words this means they are the ones that aren't food safe and are the most chromatic. I'm still missing a few glazes from my ideal range but this comes with time, testing, and patience. The latter of which was quite limited today. I don't want to turn this blog into a bitch-fest about working the service industry but for real, some days customers are so goddamn ridiculous. Quick example, one of the less agonizing interactions of this sort today:

C: "I want a chai latte!!"
J: "Ok, sir, what size?"
J: "What size chai latte?"
J: "Yes, what size would you like that in? This is our medium." (holds up grande cup)
C: "Whatever." (throws credit card on counter instead of in my outstretched hand and rolls eyes)

So today I only worked in the studio for a short time before I grew weary of waiting for things to dry in molds. I then purchased a bottle of wine and biked home. Tomorrow is a new day and I only work 4:30am - 10am. You read that correctly.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New Glazes

Working full time in Coffee Land and as many hours as I can in the studio has meant that my blog has fallen very far down on my list of priorities. Since many of my shifts start at 4:30am, I now go to bed by 10:00pm and this greatly cuts into the hours that I normally use to troll the internet for interesting things, edit photos (that I haven't been taking anyway) and generally fiddle about with Blogger.

However I am happily in the midst of redoing my glaze palette. (Yet again, I can't help myself! I just love glaze, even the mixing and testing.) Tomorrow I'll be loading a kiln with the first round of new pieces from here in Philly and I'm very excited! These are pictures of some of the new surfaces. Admittedly test tiles are not the best indication of the true nature of glaze, but as I always tell my students, the tiles are made in the same way as my pieces and the glazes applied in the same manner of brushing so hopefully it's pretty close. This is the first time since my BFA that I've actually tested the new recipes before applying them to the pieces. I couldn't really explain why I did it, maybe having a real job has made me want to act more properly in all areas of my life. Or not, since I've taken to rebelling in small ways. If I have to wear uniform clothing that's fine since I will be getting health AND dental insurance, but then I find myself wearing blue mascara so here we are.

At any rate, I look forward to tomorrow as I have the day off and can sleep in, take a shower and not immediately go back to smelling like coffee, and then have a nice leisurely bike ride to the studio where I'll set up my new shelves and organize my studio. It's reached a point now that I am glazing and can no longer tumble stack my bisqueware all over the floor that I either had to break down and buy some shelving or just stop doing stuff in my studio. It's going to be great, I'll have some much more floor space to make a mess of!

I'm going to make a half-hearted attempt to be better about blogging but probably not until the new year so don't get all excited, or whatever. Stay tuned for subsidized housing garlic boxes, pit mine candy dishes, and oil refinery candle holders.