Make Your Own Pottery Tools: DIY Spinner Disk

You really don’t need a lot of tools to make pottery, although having the right tools make it easier and more fun. Something every potter struggles with, especially when they’re starting out, is centering the clay on the wheel. But even after the clay’s centered and the pot thrown, it has to be trimmed. That means centering it again, and trimming it without distorting it.

One tool that makes trimming pots a little easier is a spinner disk. It helps to hold the pot steady while you’re trimming and distributes the weight guarding against pot distortion. Although you can trim without this tool, once I saw spinner disks like this one and this one, I wondered whether one would make trimming my pottery a little easier. While there is no substitute for a well-designed, well-made tool. I try to make my own tools if I can get away with it, especially if it’s a new gadget that looks interesting, but might not really help me too much.

Here’s what I came up with

I had a double sided cap that came with a prescription. One side is child proof and the other side is not. But you could use any dual purpose cap you might have lying around, like this one, or any cap where the center spins and the threaded outside part remains stationary.

Center your pot to be trimmed on the wheel and place the cap, top down, in the center.

Then put something inside the lid so you can hold onto it while you’re trimming. I used a smaller cap that fit into the lid.

Some other items you might try that are lying around the house are fidget spinners, small massage roller balls, or anything else that will spin freely while you hold it on the top of a pot and trim. If you have an old water bottle with a closure like this one, that might work too. All you need is something that spins with the wheel and a top that remains stationary that you can hold onto while you’re trimming. Raid the junk drawer!

You Can Do a Lot With Lines and Dots

Wondering how to decorate your pottery with slip? Make a ton of bowls and experiment! I’ve been decorating small terra cotta bowls with slip and commercial underglaze. I have a lot of bowls to screw up, but my hand is getting steadier and steadier. That’s what practice will do.

I got the needle-tipped squeeze bottles from Amazon. I used to store them with straight pins in the tip. I don’t recommend it. The tips clog and the pins rust. Instead, remove and clean the tips when you are finished and store the bottles with the sealing caps that come with the set. I can’t believe how much easier this makes them to use.

I used some donuts I cut with my Silhouette Portrait 3 in this bowl. Dots and lines followed.

I used a Mayco Designer Liner for the black outline in the above bowl. I will cover these bowls with clear glaze after they come out of the bisque fire. It’s low fire pottery, so they will be fired at Cone 04. Now I just have to come up with ideas for the rest of the bowls!

Flag Day in Philadelphia

I volunteered for another Color Wheels last weekend and the theme was Flag Day. We parked the Color Wheels van outside the Museum of the American Revolution, and set up tables with art supplies and blank flags to decorate.

Now you might wonder what Flag Day is and why we celebrate it in the United States. Even though we didn’t have an official flag when the Revolutionary War, started, the Continental Congress soon got around to designing one in 1775. Legend has it that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag, right here in Philadelphia. Some say that this story originated with some tall tales perpetrated by her relatives in the 1870’s. There is a paper trail showing that she was contracted to sew flags for the US government in 1777. More information here. The Betsy Ross house, where Ross purportedly lived when she sewed the flag, is only a few blocks from the Museum of the American Revolution.

Most of the people who dropped by to make flags were from out of town. And interestingly, I didn’t see many kids try to reproduce the American Flag. A couple of flags I recognized were the flag of Suriname, and the flag of Israel.

Do you see a flag in the pictures that you recognize?

To learn more about Fleisher Art Memorial, who sends the Color Wheels van all over Philadelphia, press here.

Women in Art: Emma Amos

I am going to start this post about Emma Amos in the middle. Last October, I saw the retrospective exhibit, Emma Amos: Color Odyssey, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We are all familiar with Paul Gauguin’s topless portraits of Tahitian women. Growing up, I was given to understand that those women walked around that way all the time. Only it wasn’t true. By the time Gauguin got to Tahiti in 1891, “[i]t had been thoroughly Christianized and colonized. The women were not walking around half-naked. … They tended to be wearing … Christian missionary gowns.”

That made Amos’ painting, Tightrope, pictured below, really resonate with me. It’s is Amos’s depiction of the difficult balance she had to maintain as a Black woman, artist, wife, and mother. The t-shirt she holds is a reference to Gaughan’s painting of his 13-year-old Tahitian wife. For more information on Tightrope, and her other paintings, I recommend Arianna Richetti’s excellent article, Emma Amos: The Story of the Postmodernist African-American Artist.

Tightrope

The vulnerability Amos displays in tightrope brought to mind a passage from a novel by Lorene Carey that I read a few years ago. The protagonist of The Price of a Child is not an artist, but other aspects of her life are uncomfortably similar.

"Mercer pulled her arm tighter over Mattie's shoulders. She thought      of Pryor's long fingers and how she hated him to touch her breasts. Why her breasts? They had always been hard, just getting past that part. Especially when she was pregnant or, worse yet, nursing. She could wall off from the waist down and not make herself mind so much. Maybe her breasts were too close to her head. She couldn't wall off from the neck down which is what she tried to do." Lorene Carey, The Price of a Child: A Novel, 1995.
My Work Suit

How a Black female artist must present herself to be recognized as a painter working. Note that the suit is a pseudo transformation of Amos into a white man. Beading Yoda, who knew Amos, told me that she was a member of the Guerrilla Girls.

All I know of Wonder

Amos often used fabric to frame her work, as she did in the above painting which contains a bathing scene, a female figure with multi-colored skin tones and a black male bather that evokes classical Greek imagery. Amos said, “Every time I think about color, it’s a political statement.”

X-Flag

Before you pass this off as derivative of Jasper Johns, take a closer look. Amos has depicted an American flag backed by a Confederate flag. There’s also fabric, and photographs of children playing and Malcolm X.

Flying Circus is a triptych that is part of Amos’s Falling Series, that is partly a commentary on Ronald Reagan’s social spending cuts in the 1980’s. Amos saw falling through space as both frightening and liberating.

There are some enlightening and instructive videos on the Color Odyssey exhibit from the Georgia Museum of Art. To view them, press here and here.

Bob’s Garden. Again!

While I am busy playing with my Silhouette Portrait 3, and finding ways to use it with polymer clay and in the pottery studio, my neighbor Bob has made some changes to his urban garden, and more flowers are blooming! How do you identify flowers if you don’t know anything? Try a Google image search. You can upload pictures right from your phone, tablet or computer.

The Allium flowers have opened!

Touch Me Nots

Canna Lilly

The turtle might live in a cage, but his spirit runs free.

Adventures in Using a Die Cutter in the Pottery Studio

i am the happy owner of a Silhouette Portrait 3 die cutting machine. What does a Silhouette Portrait do? It cuts materials like vinyl and sticker paper into any shape you can think of. I am not interested in making stickers or greeting cards. I want to design and cut shapes to use for ceramic surface decoration with slips and glazes. and to make templates for polymer clay shapes.

Here’s my first foray into decorating pottery.

I started with some greenware terracotta mugs I threw on a pottery wheel.

That’s my Silhouette Portrait 3. It’s the smallest of the Silhouette die cutting machines and the least expensive. I work small and didn’t want a big machine. I bought it on Poshmark, of all places. You can find more than clothes on Poshmark and I have been very happy with my purchases there so far. My Portrait 3 was new in the box and my savings were considerable. Another great resource is videos by Design Bundles on YouTube. From there, I learned about sources for less expensive supplies and accessories to use with the Silhouette. Plus a lot of tips and tricks for using my die cutting machine.

I am interested in making my own designs rather than buying them. So I have been fooling around with Vectornator, which is a vector-based graphic design software. Vectornator is free and I use it on a iPad. (Procreate, which is a raster-based program, is another option.)

I’m totally new to the software but I’ve been having fun with it, drawing simple shapes which I save as png files and send to my computer which is connected to the Portrait 3. One of the problems I have found with learning to use Vectornator and the Portrait 3 is that most of the written explanations start in the middle, and assume a lot of knowledge. But if you are patient and watch a lot of videos, you will get the hang of it. And watch Design Bundles’ videos.

Above is a flower motif I drew on my iPad and loaded into the Silhouette software. I am using the basic software that comes with the machine because it accepts png files without the need to upgrade.

To use the Silhouette, you line a cutting mat with whatever material you will be cutting ( I used copier paper above), and the machine cuts out your design. The beauty is that you don’t have to be good with scissors and that you can cut as many flowers, circles, shapes, stencils, or what have you as you need. You can save your designs in computer files and access them whenever you need.

Here’s my first few projects. I painted and screen printed greenware with underglaze. (I made my silkscreens previously with a photo bulb and emulsion, but you can make screens for printing with the Silhouette. )

I wet the shapes with water, adhered them to the mug after the underglaze had dried, painted over them with a contrasting color of underglaze and carefully peeled them off.

Here’s the same thing on a different mug. Note that I am using scrap paper to make the cutouts. it works fine. Newsprint is too thin and a nightmare to peel off the cutting mat.

After bisque firing, I coated the mugs with glossy clear for the glaze fire. Some interesting results. I will definitely be trying more surface designs with this technique.

Bob’s Garden Spring 2022

My neighbor Bob is at it again. He’s been planting and tending a big container garden up and down our South Philadelphia street for many years, and he’s gearing up for Spring and Summer, 2022. He gets his plants from all over and doesn’t know what a lot of them are until they come up. Others, like the lily pads, he brings back year after year. I made an attempt to identify the plants this year and had a little success. But this is just the beginning. He’ll be planting more as the months go on, creating a wonderful urban oasis in the midst of asphalt and the steamy sidewalks of a South Philly summer.

Lilly pads

Purple pansy

I think this is a Clementine tree

Princess flower

Garden pansies

Gardenia

Areca palm

Corpse flower. This one is pollinated by flies and it STINKS when it’s in full bloom

Allium flower

I couldn’t identify the three remaining plants, although Google tried to tell me that the one below was grapes. I don’t know much, but I know these are definitely not grapes!

I thought this might be a chlamydia until a friend informed me that that was the name of a sexually transmitted disease and not a flower.

I am dying to see what this one looks like when it blooms. Maybe it is some kind of tulip.

If you’d like to see pictures of the garden in years gone by, press here.

Art That Infuriates People

I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art recently with my friend Christa. I like to look at art with Christa because she knows so much and has such an interesting perspective (the same reason I like to watch movies, which can be anything from Mad Max to Macbeth, with my husband.)

I’d heard of Cy Twombly, but didn’t know much about him. I still don’t know a whole lot, but I learned that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is home to one of Twombly’s major works. Fifty Days at Illiam. We saw the series of ten paintings after seeing the fifty-year retrospective of Sean Scully. Scully’s work was technically and artistically brilliant, but I found it lacking in emotion. Perhaps this is just me because apparently, Scully “sees art devoid of emotion as dishonest.” But what is art supposed to mean anyway?

When we entered the room that houses Fifty Days at Illiam, I saw nothing but emotion. We all know the story of the Trojan war and the story of Achilles who was so incensed when Trojan Prince Hector killed his besty Patroclus that he lost all control. Fifty Days at Illiam captures frenzy that led to a chain reaction of violence that ended with eternal night.

Shield of Achilles
Achilles wants vengeance

How’s that for emotion? Red and black and images that could pass for male genitalia or cannons depending on your point of view. Probably the former since this was the Trojan War and not the War of 1812.

Compare this battle scene with this one. Achilles kills Hector, Paris kills Achilles and havoc is unleashed.

Like a Fire that Consumes All Before It.

You can see all the paintings here, and learn more about Cy Twombly here.

Now I have heard that a lot of people don’t get Cy Twombly. Maybe because some of his materials included crayons, glue, and house paint, and he scribbled across his canvas. People probably say, “I could do that.” Maybe. But they didn’t. Or if they tried, their work didn’t have the color, the emotion, the audacity. John Waters said, “Cy Twombly is my hero because in the beginning his work so infuriated people.” Twombly’s work doesn’t infuriate me. It moves me.

ArtSci Designs

I made my way to the home of ArtSci Designs this weekend for an open house and to see the beautiful polymer jewelry that my friend Terri makes in her Conshohocken studio.

Terri is a scientist who spends most of her days looking at the microverse through a scanning electron microscope. She translates the microverse into art you can wear. Here are just a few of her creations: bracelets in a color for everyone. She makes other kinds of jewelry, too-earrings, pendants, and necklaces mixing in sterling chains and findings, semi precious gems and handmade glass beads.

Terri has a lot of shows scheduled in the Northeast in the coming months. Follow ArtSci Designs on Instagram here, or Facebook here, to see where she’ll land next.

Why Are There No Great Female Artists?

I hear the question, “Why are there no great female artists?” less these days than I used to. That only means one thing to me: That it’s less socially acceptable to ask the question than it used to be. Instead, we ask “Who are the most famous women artists of all time?” That’s not the same thing as asking who are the greatest, or best women artists of all time. I am sure there are plenty of great women artists we’ve never heard of. Do we equate great artists with famous artists or vice versa? And what makes a piece of art famous anyway? There’s a great New Yorker cartoon captioned, I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. As for me, I like art that challenges me, engages me and draws me in. I don’t have to think it’s pretty. I don’t have to understand it, at least right away.

What passed for art education in high school taught me that African Tribal art was primitive and that Cubism was sophisticated. I know now that that’s hogwash, but it was really driven home to me when I saw an exhibit of the work of Emma Amos at the Philadelphia Museum of Art which had one of her works entitled “Muse Picasso.” I didn’t get a good picture of “Muse Picasso” when I was at the museum, so I Googled the term for an image. Here’s what my search turned up. I love Picasso, but there was nothing about Amos’ work. Bupkis.

I was expressing my frustration to Beading Yoda, when she told me that Amos had been a neighbor and close friend of hers when they both lived in Greenwich Village years ago. Beading Yoda had suspected that Amos was a member of the Guerrilla Girls and later learned that she was. I remembered that I’d seen an exhibition on the Guerrilla Girls at the Tate Modern in London. I did manage to get a good picture of this poster.

I will post about the Emma Amos exhibit in the coming weeks, and about another great exhibit of Suzanne Valadon’s work I saw at the Barnes Foundation. While you’re waiting, here are posts you might find interesting, on Mildred Greenberg and Christina Robertson.