Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

I'm not great about keeping New Years' Resolutions. Two years ago, I resolved to:

  • start an Etsy store
  • come up with a way to take decent photos of my work
  • build a gas or soda kiln in the back yard
  • learn to repair plaster walls, and
  • devise a more practical winter studio.
I did set up an Etsy store at the end 2011 (probably so I could say I had kept at least one of that year's resolutions), but I never followed up on photographing my work, so never put any items in the shop. Instead of building a gas or soda kiln in the backyard, I decided to come to terms with oxidation glazing, with good enough results that I'm now aiming for a spray booth instead of a kiln. The cracks in our plaster walls are mostly hidden by furniture or picture frames, and global warming seems to be solving the winter studio problem without any effort on my part.

This year, I made just one resolution: to be more like my Schroeder. This means:

  • Be active. Schroeder plays a few rounds of fetch up and down the stairs every morning. I hope to run a 10-mile race or a half-marathon.
  • Play games with the boy. Schroeder and E play fetch. E and I play board games, card games, and catch.
  • Strive for excellence.When someone tosses a knit carrot your way, why simply catch it when you could drop it in or behind a laundry basket and practice tugging it through the mesh holes? I will strive more often for good rather than settling for good enough.
  • Remain positive. Perhaps someday Schroeder will finally paw his way through the glass walls of the aquarium and eat the fish. Perhaps someday I will finally repair plaster.
  • Be curious. Schroeder needs look no further than an empty box to find wonder and delight. What empty boxes await me?
Wish me luck!

Solstice lights

At sundown on December 21, E solemnly lit the Solstice Elk. In a minor key, with a meandering melody and awkward phrase length that evoked the awkwardness of our inquisitive meandering forebears, we improvised a new song: "Solstice Elk, O Solstice Elk, we welcome your presen[ce/ts] and the return of the light."

The Solstice Elk is a practical beast and an evolving metaphor. He has a key to the house and uses the front door; no chimney entries for him. (This was all news to my mom, who was joining us for Solstice for the first time.)

Solstice Elk with antlers ablaze

The Solstice Elk was generous this year. Among the treasures he left between the fish tank and the fireplace were a big box of Space Chips...

Solstice loot light
...and a joyful re-purposing of otherwise unused ear plugs.

AND...E and S both built me spray booths! (At first, I thought S's was a gas kiln; you can imagine my surprise when I unwrapped it.)

Having maxed out on our traditional arbitrary Solstice menus (most recently, homemade noodles for, um, longevity; previously, veggie sushi and hybrid cousin cake for, um, health and nuts), we started a new tradition: tomato bisque with homemade pesto, reduced saffron cream, and warm crostini (for, um, vibrancy and contentment). S, who has lived in the U.S. for 23 years, finally suffered such strong German Christmas cookie withdrawal symptoms this fall that he went into a baking frenzy and made 150 Plätzchen in four varieties, so we ate some of those for dessert.

Three days later, on Christmas Eve, our Solstice lights reignited on a grand scale when our backyard compost pile went up in flames. We're grateful for alert neighbors who saw the fire before we did and came banging on the door, and we thank Durham's finest for putting out the fire; they said they could see the smoke plume all the way from King's Sandwich Shop downtown. On the bright side, no one was hurt, no buildings were damaged, and we had been intending to replace the fence eventually anyway. On the down side, even though the event provided some good visceral excitement, I can't, in good conscience, recommend trying this at home.

Generally not what you expect to see in front of your house

Generally not who you expect to see turning your compost pile

The ghost of fences past

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Summer recaps finished: Penland and flutes

Warm November flew away, and barely-cold December is also on its way out, so here's my last summer catch-up blog. I'm sure I'll never catch up with autumn blogging, so I'll spill the highlights right away: (1) our determined angel fish laid new eggs every 2-3 weeks and the young fry got eaten by their carnivorous tank-mates and parents every darned time; and (2) Schroeder lost his carrot, causing distress and consternation, but my mom knitted him a new one and everyone is content once more. Ooh, and (3) I worked towards coming to terms with glazes fired in oxidation, attempting to mimic the variation of reduction-fired surfaces by spraying layers of different Claymakers' studio glazes à le Steven Hill, and it's going well enough that I recently bought a used compressor and spray gun, with hopes of building (and, by extension, finding room for) a spray booth for my home studio; but that's a story that lacks photos and will have to wait until 2013 for blog development.

So back to the summer. I spent the last two weeks of August at the Penland School of Crafts, taking a class entitled "Shape Shift: The Pot," taught by Jim Lawton. I had been meaning to take a Penland class for almost a decade, and the stars had finally aligned between a class I was very interested in, two unencumbered weeks, and manageable kidcare. At Penland, I learned a lot about darting, making holes, and assembling well-proportioned altered pots, worked intensely from morning to night, met a lot of interesting and talented people, ate super duper well, and happily jogged almost daily along beautiful mountain roads (only getting lost once, when what I thought was a 180o-sum turn on curvy roads turned out to be only about 85o, and a 3-mile trip turned into 7 miles, so that I missed breakfast on the last day).

One of my Penland classmates, Joe, is a glass artist who was honing his clay skills. We had a shared interest in clay instruments; I showed him how to make ocarinas, and he showed me how to make a flute. It took until late this fall for me to finally attempt making a flute; the initial results are played below, with a chickarina for comparison (apologies to Beethoven for the flubs). Ocarinas are easier to play, although the tone quality and range aren't as good. Both flutes were tuned by ear; maybe next time I'll pull out my tuner. As with the chickarina, some pitches +/- can be replicated with multiple fingerings, which helps some with the tuning. It would probably help too if I actually knew how to play the flute. As it is, I feel disturbingly light-headed after playing these things. I'm sure good tone quality and hyperventilating don't always have to go hand-in-hand.

There are assorted online guides to making clay, wood, and PVC-tubing flutes. Handouts for assorted college-level acoustics labs tend to go into more precise detail than I was interested in, so I followed the suggested measurements in Barry Hall's book, From Mud to Music, which offers the same hole-positioning advice as this website by Mark Shepard. The detail that can't be stressed enough is that hole size hugely affects the tuning. After some trial and error, I abandoned the distance-of-finger-hole-from-mouthpiece measurements and relied on hole size to enable comfortable finger placements. But maybe that's part of why I have to hyperventilate when I play.

Another lesson I took away from Penland was to register for more workshops at Claymakers--way cheaper and way more convenient to get to than Penland (although the food and scenery, of course, can't compare). Thus I enjoyed a late-summer workshop with Susan Feagin (Penland's clay studio manager) and a mid-autumn brush-making workshop with Kent McLaughlin.

And now for some pastoral Beethoven...