🎶The wheel in the garage keeps on turning….🎶

🎶Don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow, 🎶

🎶but this pot on the wheel will be burnin’🎶

I recently (within the last few months actually) had the opportunity to make some pots with the Hippie Dad Bonsai, Doug Marcum (one of the most tolerant Facebook groups out there is run by the Hippie Dad, check it out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/136023253927585/?ref=share)

I got on the wheel, made a round pot, and squashed it into a free form oval. It seems happy so far.

I used a “chattering tool” to get the texture, for those wondering. It then dried and Doug “bisque fired” it.

Not bad so far.

Still a happy pot. Now for some glaze. The base coat.

Doug taught me that it needs like four or five coats. So I put 3-1/2. Just because I’m a contrary SOB.

I also made a pinch pot. Went red with it.

Amaco brand glaze this time.

On my first pot (technically not the first pot I’ve made, but those first ones were in several classes we held with my bonsai club), I threw some red crystal thingies at it. Very satisfying.

Kinda like red pepper flakes on a pizza pie.

On the pinch pot, I added some green (it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas).

It should come out awesome, right?

They need firing. More on that in a few.

In the interim, I attended a class with Cosette, with the CFBC, the Orlando bonsai club.

Made another pinch pot and used a rock to texture it.

Then I went crazy and made an….odd… pot?

It should be cool, if it doesn’t explode in the kiln.

I tried to make some interesting angles and shapes, using scraps and whatever leftover and unintentional shapes I could find. Much of my work involves serendipity.

But, dear readers, you’ll have to wait until June to see if these two make it, and what glazes I choose. If any.

In the meantime, the first two pots (which are technically not my first two, but I explained that already) were fired, and I took possession of them.

The pinch pot:

You’ll notice that the green didn’t make it. A failure (mostly). But is it?

I didn’t put enough glaze with the green, true, but it’s usable, and I shall use it. And it was my fault for not putting on enough, and my ignorance is why it failed, not to be blaming Doug. But this brings me to an interesting topic I’ve been thinking of for a while.

Let’s talk about Vincent Van Gogh.

Without looking it up, can anyone tell me who Vincent trained with? We don’t remember him much but his name was Anton Mauve. He gave Van Gogh watercolor paints and taught Vincent about color. The irony is that a guy by the name of mauve taught Van Gogh about color. Look up the color. I’ll wait. Kinda like a muddy purple, right?

Anyway, Van Gogh worked with Mauve for a while and learned some of the artists trade, as an apprentice. Meaning, how to make your own paints, how to stretch canvas, the after care on dried pieces, etc. all that.

But it wasn’t until Vincent went to Paris and began working with the Impressionists where he began to really become his own artist. The colors, the techniques, the shapes and capture of light and dark. These were impressionist ideas. Technically, Van Gogh was considered a post-impressionist.

But, going back to the Impressionists, they were known for painting outside, called “plein aire”. Most painting at the time involved painting in a studio, with light coming into the studio from windows or with lamps (no electricity). And the craft of painting involved the mixing of your own paints. It was two inventions that gave us the Impressionists, and, in my opinion, the freeing of “Art” from tradition and turning “art” from a craft (portrait painting for money) or art as decoration (do you have something with wheat fields? It would match my drapes so much better) into “Art” with a capital A. What we’ve come to call “art for Art’s sake”. It no longer was about the business, and making what was popular or what was acceptable to the “Salon” or what sold. It became an expression of the artists soul. His or her ideas about how we see the world, or how they saw it.

The second invention (to go out of order? that spurred and freed (or one could say, destroyed) the concept of art as a commercial endeavor (portraiture painting) was the invention of the photograph. Artists were no longer needed to show us what a person looked like. That story isn’t important to the narrative I’m building, but I’ll probably return to it in a later post.

But, the first invention, the biggest innovation that gave us modern art is….premixed, available to anyone, portable and stable, paint, in tubes. Easily used, mixed, and recapped for tomorrows work.

Previously, an artist would take linseed oil, pressed from nuts, and collect various pigments, like cobalt (yes, radioactive cobalt) or reds from berries or what have you, and mix them in a slurry. Now, if you’ve ever made anything, like peanut butter, you’ll know that oil tends to separate soon after mixing, so paint made in this way was temporary and not usable past a few days. Not to mention an artist wondering why the mix they made yesterday, using the same recipe, didn’t come out looking like the one today.

What premixed paints gave us was the ability to have the same colors, from tube to tube, shelf stable paint, easily portable (to go on a plein aire session) and, more importantly, it gave the artist more time actually painting and not having to waste that time cooking up a paint recipe.

Now, you are asking yourself, “Damn Adam, you’ve gone off on tangents before, but I can’t see where you’ll be able to bring this back to bonsai, what’s the deal?!”

Well, my patient readers, here’s the bonsai application. You noticed (above) I showed you the glazes I used on my two pots. They are commercially available glazes out of a jar. I have no problem with using them, and I don’t think that one has to mix their own glazes to be considered a “real” pottery artist (not to say I’m at that level yet either. I’m an artist, though, and I’m dabbling in clay and glazes at the moment). An artist uses materials, and, through practice, begins to master these materials. Just the clay and the minerals in the clay could take a lifetime to master, never mind trying to mix glazes. If someone before you has done the work, put in the research and time to create a glaze that performs the way you want it to on a particular clay body, then the “Art” has been served.

Now, next, I’m going to say something that could trigger some of my readers. I’m not calling out anyone specific, but I’m sure some will think I am. Here we go:

There are those few ceramic artists out there, who mix their own glazes (and don’t get me wrong, they are true artists, their work speaks for itself) that act as gatekeepers, looking down at other ceramic artists that use glazes out of jars.

That’s like if Mauve, the painter no one remembers, saying that Van Gogh wasn’t being a genuine painter because he used the same paints that Mrs Robinson, down the lane, uses to paint her apple and orange still-lifes to give herself a hobby, while her husband is off all day, working at the counting house, tallying the debts and monthly bills of her neighbors.

Branching out further, it’s like the wood carver using mallets and chisels, saying any type of electric power carving is invalid. In bonsai, we could go to the extreme by saying an artist isn’t genuine unless he is spinning and annealing his own copper wire, making his own pots, crafting his own tools in a forge, etc. I mean, don’t you know that there are YouTube videos on how to make your own lime sulfur, why are you buying it ready-made? Or, to bring it home to the subject at hand, going out with a shovel, digging up clay, drying it, pounding it out into a dust, removing anything you don’t want, maybe adding in other minerals, reconstituting it, wedging it into usable blocks, etc. all the things that they do at the factory for you, put it in a box, and you buy it to to make a pot.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t understand what each glaze does when putting it onto this or that clay body, or how it reacts in an electric kiln, or gas, or even a wood kiln. Or mixing two separate glazes from different bottles like I did on the pinch pot and failed miserably on.

The “Art” is in how you use the tools to get a desired result, whether it’s with a hammer and chisel, copper or aluminum wire, or bottled glazes and hand mixing your own. All those things are tools. If you get your result, the thing you intended, then you are practicing “Art”.

The blue and red pot came out the way I wanted it to. I knew that the blue was a form of glaze that has brown, white, and blue characteristics that I wanted to manifest in the finished product. I knew that I’d need texture to bring out those variations, so I added texture. I had researched what the red pepper flake would do, and it came out just right. Could it have been better? Probably, but it was my first attempt. I could’ve mixed my own glaze, just the same way I’ve made my own wood stain in several of my woodworking projects (like this one where I dabbled in different waxes, or this one, where I used rusty nails to make the stain). But I knew what this glaze did, knowledge gleaned from thousands of potters before me, to get the result I wanted.

And that’s all that matters now, isn’t it? I made it, it came out the way I wanted it to, and I did it for its own sake. Is there more for me to learn, should I pursue pottery as another art? You bet there is. But I will stand on the achievements of those who have come before me, and use the tools and knowledge they have given the world, and me and you, to do it.

Now, with all that said, and just to contradict myself, I always stretch my own canvases when I paint. You’re just not a real artist if you buy pre-made ones from the arts and crafts store…….

I’ll update on the other two pots as I finish them, either here or on my social media accounts.

2 thoughts

  1. I also see this a lot in my profession (photography).

    What we call “pixel peepers”, your version of perpetual intermediates, are always quick to ask what camera you use, talk tech specs, and then are taken aback by my answer to “why did you buy that camera?” (Mine isn’t the top-of-the-line-has-everything-you-won’t-ever-use)

    “Because it looks the coolest.” The camera is just a tool, it’s what you do with it that matters.

    “No one ever asked Shakespeare what kind of pen he used.” -Forgot who said it.

    Potters, photographers, and bonsai practitioners, are like any others that combine craft and vision. You aren’t paying that price for the pot or tree, you are paying for the years, if not decades, of trial and error, blood, sweat, tears, and knowledge, that got them to that point to produce a thing of beauty.

    Rant over, carry on, msg me you address so I can send you some stickers.


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