Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Which Austen heroine are you?

I am Elizabeth Bennet!

Take the Quiz here!

Apparently, I most resemble Elizabeth Bennett. "This is flattery indeed," but I think there was something wrong with the test...

Bongo's sweater vest

In wool and nylon sock yarn--possibly the smallest project I have ever knitted.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's National Novel Writing Month again, and once again, not satisfied with trying to whip out 50,000 words in 30 days, oversee our two homeschooling teenagers' education, keep up with other responsibilities (let us not say those bad words launder, clean, cook) and get a reasonable amount of sleep, I've decided to add making another Chris Baty doll to the list of things being finished this month.

Chris Baty, as you probably know, is the founder of National Novel Writing Month. Last year I designed a doll that (sort of) looked like him and sent it to NaNoWriMo's home office, thinking they might raffle it off or in some other way use it to raise money for the cause. The doll ended up putting in an appearance at NaNoWriMo's annual "Night of Writing Dangerously"--a six-hour-long writing marathon held in San Francisco, NaNoWriMo's home base, where I have since learned it was a big hit.

Nothing like a little recognition to get an artist going to ridiculous lengths to repeat such a success! When I was told, two or three weeks ago, that the doll had been referred to by Chris Baty himself as "topping [his] list of all-time surreal NaNoWriMo moments" (and I checked it out--these are almost his exact words: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/history#yearelevenleven) I immediately started work on the next edition of the Chris Baty Look-Alike Doll. Fortunately, I had saved the plaster cast I made of the original sculpture, so coming up with another one was just a bit simpler than the first time around. Unfortunately, my resculpting/painting skills being what they are, this one doesn't look quite like last year's edition. I gritted my teeth and finished him anyway, because, after all, last year's edition didn't look exactly like the real person either...

Because I started so late, this guy didn't get finished in time to make it to this year's Night of Writing Dangerously, which took place yesterday (21 November) but I was able to send pictures before the event to Lindsey Grant, NaNoWriMo's Program Director. "Little Chris" will probably be making the trip to San Francisco sometime this week, where, we hope, he'll be put to some use in helping to make the world more interesting for would-be novelists.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Portrait of the author as a potter

Here's me at the wheel in the pottery studio at One of a Kind Gallery in Bristol TN. See earlier posts for more details.

Friday, October 8, 2010

National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it has come to be known, is a 30-day online challenge taking place every year in November. The goal? To write at least 50,000 words within the span of those 30 days--and to get them successfully counted and registered on the NaNoWriMo website before midnight on November 30.

Are you ready for this challenge? It will--I repeat, it will change your life. As a three-time participant and two-time winner in this great yearly event, I'd like to invite you to consider giving a mere hour or two every day this November toward cranking out 50K words of whatever you consider to be a novel (the definition of "novel" here is quite loose--see the NaNoWriMo website for more details, and the official "rules"). Though what you will end up with is not, strictly speaking, a "novel" by most normal standards, what you will have to show for all those hours of blood, sweat and tears will be a spectacular 50,000-word writing exercise. And rumour has it that some participants do, in fact, go on to edit and publish the "novels" so created. I've never done it myself, but supposedly some people have.

Highly recommended is the NaNoWriMo "handbook," No Plot? No Problem!, available through Amazon.com and on the NaNoWriMo website. I got mine secondhand and saved a few bucks--and as you can see from the photograph at the beginning of this post, it has been well-read and much used.

NaNoWriMo runs on donations. You can get a miniature halo around your username whenever it shows up on their website, by contributing as little as $10 to the cause. Some of us contribute things other than money. In this motivational short video from last year's event, a papier-mache doll looking somewhat like founder Chris Baty wearing his signature Viking helmet appears to contribute its two cents' worth (in speech balloons) to the discussion on how to beef up one's lagging word count towards the end of the month. You'll have to guess who contributed the handmade doll, which later on was featured in a NaNoWriMo silent auction fundraiser attended by hundreds of enthusiastic participants from around the world.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Watch this potter at work!

This is the same Yorkshire potter who did the centering demo on the YouTube link in my previous blog post. In this one he demonstrates how fast he can whip out seven small bowls without stopping. The William Tell Overture played in the background adds a special touch.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The light touch

During the following week, I toyed with the idea of never going back to another pottery lesson.

Perhaps I'm just not cut out to be a potter; I just don't have whatever knack is needed. Perhaps, in my case, it's like juggling, which I've been trying to learn, on and off, for the past eight or ten years. Perhaps I don't need to add another skill to my handcraft repertoire. And besides (and this was definitely a mere side issue) it's embarrassing trying to do something and failing, miserably and in public.

On the other hand, Ed had said he thought I just needed to lighten up a bit. Perhaps it was worth ONE more effort.

So the next Tuesday found me heading to Bristol once again. Ed greeted me in his usual cordial way, then pointed to a different wheel than the one I'd used before.

"That's a much more expensive and better one. Try it," he suggested. I found an apron, filled a bucket of fresh water, chose several of the more essential tools from a large bin, picked up a cube of clay that Ed had sawed from the main block with a piece of wire, and settled in for another couple of what I hoped would not be frustrating hours.

Press hard to center it. With the wheel spinning, I dipped my hands in the water bucket and pressed down hard on my clay. The irregular contours tossed me back and forth as the clay revolved, resisting my efforts to get it all lined up in the exact center of the wheel. Press harder. Bits of slippery, wet clay sheared off from the lump and worked their way in between my fingers. I shook them off into the scrap bucket. Anchor your arms on the edge of the wheel frame. I bent in and tightened my grip.

It will fight you, but you're gonna win in the end. The words of my first pottery teacher, demonstrating the use of the wheel for the class at the seniors' center, came back to me. Hmmm. Is this what the prophet Jeremiah was talking about?

From across the room, over the chatter of the other students, my second pottery teacher addressed me.

"Looking good over there, Barbara."

"Um, I think it's still a bit off-center," I replied, staring at the cone-shaped object going around and around in front of me. I thought I could detect the merest hint of a visual "wobble."
How near perfection is "good enough"?

"Once it's off the wheel," he said, "no one will ever know." Really? That's an interesting thought. I bent over the wheel and stuck my thumbs into the middle of the now-well-enough-centered lump of clay, "opening" it as I pressed down and outward to create a hole.

Remember, light touch. Gently, I drew the hollowed object upward, then eased it outward, enlarging it. I dipped my hands in water again and again to smooth the clay's surface. Water ran down and pooled in the bottom of the pot. Don't let water remain in the bottom of the pot. The clay will absorb too much and then crack during the drying period. I soaked up the puddle with a sponge, then dipped my hands in the water bucket again. The lump of clay was beginning to look like a bowl.

By the end of that class, there were three newly-turned objects on the shelf with my initials scratched on the bottom.

Here's a YouTube video of a Yorkshire potter showing (repeatedly) how to center the clay on the potter's wheel. When I watched this video, I re-learned something my first teacher had taught us but which I'd forgotten: Always take your hands slowly off the clay. Moving quickly can throw it off-center and you'll have to do the whole thing over again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The potter's wheel

Recently I was able to start taking some "throwing" lessons in a potter's studio, One of a Kind Gallery of Bristol, Tennessee.

I'd been able to play around a bit with a potter's wheel in a community seniors' centre class in Kingsport, a couple of years ago, but (even with basic instruction and a demo from the Clay Class teacher) had never really produced anything much more than a few lumps of soggy clay--all of which, after half an hour or so of being pounded and smoothed with wet hands, were considerably smaller, though not noticeably shapelier, than they had been before I began working with them. This was disappointing. I'm an artist, right? I should be able to conquer the potter's wheel! Besides, think of all the gifts I could make for friends and family! And--stranger things have happened--I might even be able to sell my work someday!

I mulled over my failure to learn pot-throwing quickly and easily, while the huge block of raw clay I'd paid for at the Seniors' Centre sat quietly and unused on its shelf in the Clay Room for so long that they finally moved it to a permanent storage spot in the closet.

Then I met One of a Kind Gallery shop owner/potter Ed Lockett at a craftsmen's fair last Christmas. Admiring his hand-thrown coffee mugs, I asked casually whether he ever gave pottery lessons. Yes, he did. He had a classroom setup in the back of his shop, where he could accommodate six or seven students at a time. He gave me schedules and prices. It didn't sound too impossible, though I'd probably have to wait a few months till I'd sold a few more portraits and dolls.

Ever since, I've been nourishing this secret hope that a few "real" (structured) classes in this art would make a potter of me, or at least a slightly more advanced student-practitioner.

This fall, it looked as though my secret hope might be fulfilled. When I called Ed to ask about when the current season's classes would be starting, I learned that he had one slot left in the Tuesday evening group. The class had already had the first of five lessons in the series, but it appeared that one of the pre-registered students wasn't going to be able to make it. This meant there was one wheel just sitting there, unused. I could come for the last four classes and then make up the one I'd missed when the next series started. Did I want to come just to observe and see if it was something I'd like to be part of? Did I!

Circumstances intervened; I showed up for the next week's class an hour late, wondering if this was going to work after all. However, within minutes I found myself wrapped in a clay-stained apron, seated in front of a wheel, one foot on a speed-control power pedal, the other propped on a brick, as I tried to center a lump of clay on the spinning surface before me.

I produced a small bowl during that first half-lesson, although since I had neglected to mark it and didn't remember exactly what it looked like, we weren't able to locate it later on. The next week I came back ready to try again. This time, I failed to produce a single pot, cup, bowl or plate, or, in fact, any recognizable object whatsoever. All that was left of two hours of unceasing effort was a pile of damp clay scraps, a bucket of muddy water, and enough clay splashed on my face and arms to give evidence of my activities that evening.

"I'm just not getting this," I told Ed, throwing my clay-caked apron in the studio's laundry bin as I prepared to leave. "I don't know why it's so hard. I've worked with clay before, you know."

"I was watching you," he told me unexpectedly, "and I think you're pushing too hard. The only time you need to use strength is when you're actually centering the clay on the wheel. After that, only a very light touch is needed."

more later...

Friday, March 19, 2010

This is what my "craft room" looks like at this very moment.