This winter holiday season was the first where I said – “I have a lot of stuff, I think I need to focus on more of a cohesive collection to present.” I guess I’ve reached that point in design where I want to keep coming up with new concepts, but presenting them all at the same time makes for a less than harmonious effect. Thus, the idea of Seasonal Collections came to me as I was trying to figure out my Etsy Launch for 2018. That got me to thinking back on new designs for 2017.
Spring Dogwoods: The first inspiration for 2017 was visiting Shepardstown, West Virginia in April. Located in the Shenandoah Mountains, I was at the National Conservation Training Center for work. It’s a beautiful campus, right on the Potomac River, and it was a good few weeks ahead of us for spring. I grew up in Virginia, and had forgotten how much I love that time of year, which seems to go on forever in the south. So many things were flowering, the weather was perfect, and I was able to get some much-needed outdoor time. The dogwood trees were in full bloom, and I came home inspired to develop these harbingers of Spring into a design.
Spring Fiddleheads: These guys poking up out of the ground are one of the true signs of spring in Vermont – even if they don’t make an appearance until more around May. The tightly furled fern frond can be picked, cooked and eaten, and are a local delight. I’ve made some larger fiddlehead pieces in the past, and focused this year on a design that built on what I had already done, and could transfer to smaller wares like mugs. I made a few prototype mugs (because you really don’t know what will work until you make it) and invited my girlfriends over to pick the design they liked the most. The prototypes all went home with them.
Summer Nautilus: I love these spirals that occur in nature. Fiddleheads and nautilus go hand in hand, displaying the Fibonacci spiral or golden ratio. I did some experimenting with glaze and wax resist last year for the nautilus platters, and carved the spiral design into bowls and mugs as well this year. These are a perfect beachy companion to existing designs of mermaids and sandpipers. We were so happy to get some coastal time on the Cape and in Maine this summer, and these pieces remind me of those days.
Fall Cedar Waxwings: Things going wrong are usually the driving force for change and innovation. I am in love with my most favorite glaze, Lynn’s Gray. It goes with everything, has beautiful color, gloss and depth, and I use it on A LOT of pieces. This year, it did not love me back. I tried a different bisque firing temperature because it was bubbling sometimes, and it literally fell off the pot. Sometimes it got fussy, and decided to drip on the design. I had problems with handles cracking at the attachment point, and the glaze only highlighted those flaws. That made for a lot of frustration and contributions to the “free to a good home” bin. It also made for some different decisions for new designs, like the cedar waxwings. These colorful birds sport blue/gray, rust, yellow and bright red on their wings. The goldenrod shino glaze was a perfect (well behaved) compliment to the design, and a lovely autumn hue. I enjoy seeing these guys in the fall, gleaning fermented berries from trees, and getting a little goofy.
Winter Cardinal on White: I’ve done cardinals in the past, but with other glaze colors – mostly the Lynn’s Gray. My problem-child glaze was too risky this year as I was gearing up for holiday shows, so I tried a full wash of white with just the red on the bird. I LOVE it. It was a huge hit at the winter shows, as people have a special place in their hearts for cardinals, and the red and white is so Christmas-y. The white glaze over the black underglaze I used has a hazy bluish wash to it that reminds me of snowy days in Vermont.
One of the things I like about living in Vermont are the distinct seasons. I find myself getting restless, and know there is a new season around the corner, complete with new activities, new life, and a different attitude. I love the idea of rolling out these designs in seasonal collections. You will see these being promoted throughout the year on the website, Etsy and on social media. I’m really looking forward to establishing more of an on-line presence, and to developing some great new ideas for next year. Thank you for a wonderful and successful 2017, and here is hoping for a happy 2018 for you all.
I have to say that 2016 was a very good year for N3 Pottery. It started with a solo show at my favorite restaurant in the world (Black Krim Tavern) and ended with an invigorating and profitable holiday season, with so much fun in between.
Bertha the Burro
Breakfast with Bertha
Camper Display, MRV Craft Fair
Rob and I, enjoying the moon rising in Chatham, Mass
One of the very best parts of 2016 was rehabbing my vintage 1974 Burro fiberglass trailer: Bertha. The vision here was to have a great place to stay at remote shows, and to also use it as part of a display in select local shows. So it needed to be both comfortable, convertible, and very cute. My friend Lou was a hero in this process- he rewired that baby (he convinced me this was a good idea after uttering “I wouldn’t sleep in this thing with it plugged in”), and made it beautiful with his mad woodworking skills. Some of my other favorite Lou-isms included “You may want to replace the water tank…unless you want legionnaire’s disease” and “Are you ok with the cat piss smell, or do you want to come clean this thing again?” It took a lot of gutting, cleaning, and sewing too, but I love the finished product. Thanks Lou!We took that camper on some adventures! Car loaded up with pottery and Burro loaded up with camping gear, I probably was pushing some maximum weight limits. But we had some amazing shows and some amazing fun in New York, Cape Cod, and coastal Maine. From a creativity perspective, coastal shows opened a whole new line of design: octopus, air plant holders with driftwood mobiles, nautilus shells and sand pipers. I’m in love! Plus, for this mountain dweller who misses the coast, what a wonderful excuse to plan some ocean time. It’s a dream come true to have my art and passion for travel align so well. The Burro also made an appearance at my home-town Mad River Valley Craft Show in Waitsfield, Vermont. We backed the camper right up to the edge of the tent and used it as part of the display. The bed converted to a lovely maple table to display a four-place setting, and the couch to a small bistro table and seats. Being the terrible procrastinator that I am, the week leading up to the show found me manically finishing my sewing projects (I prefer making pottery, believe me, and don’t look too closely at my seams). It was a huge hit, and if I had been selling my camper that day I would have been all set! Best I could do was sell some camper themed pottery…which also went over very well.I must give a huge shout-out to Rob, my partner-in-crime for these adventures and Sherpa extraordinaire. From diving to successfully catch wind-tossed vases, to setting new records in pack-up times, this year would not have been half as fun without you. Thank you for driving, schlepping heavy boxes of pottery, finessing Burro living, cooking, collaborating on driftwood sculptures and just generally making everything better. Thanks also to George and Cindi – my dad and stepmom – who have helped the last few years during holiday show madness. I think more people may know you than me on the Vermont craft scene!And thank you to everyone who I met at shows this year, who keep N3 Pottery alive and vibrant, and who support this passion for making cool things. Thank you for a wonderful year, and I look forward to seeing you in 2017!
G r o w i n g
I hung my first solo art show yesterday at the Black Krim Tavern in Randolph. It took about five hours to install, and about five years to make happen. Setting up events like this is a bit like training for a marathon. You toy with the idea for a while, you talk about it a lot, you think about it a lot, and then you finally commit. You spend a ton of time preparing, and in the process you gain strength, knowledge, and maybe even a little wisdom. You are sure to make mistakes, but with that event on the horizon, you just keep plugging away. I am showing three brand new, large format wall pieces at this show. Who knows if I would have ever brought these pieces of my imagination into reality if not for this opportunity. I'm so grateful to Sarah for being patient (we really did talk about this for five years), and for offering up this space! To learn more about the stories behind the wall art, click on the images below:
N o t i c i n g
I had a recent conversation with someone who knew of my career as a wetland scientist but was just becoming familiar with my artwork. They made the observation that it’s rare to see someone with a science background interested in art as well, the disciplines being so different. I just couldn’t agree with that statement 1) having several very talented colleagues whose arts range from music, to writing, to painting; and 2) I thought there was more in common between science and art than not, namely the occupation of noticing.I actually get paid to notice. As an ecologist, it’s my job to notice how things work together. I notice what type of physical environment is present, and how that translates into ecosystem functions. I notice what is working and not working in a particular system. I notice the rich diversity and beauty that a healthy ecosystem provides. It’s my job to protect that, and it’s a job worth doing. We aren’t separate from our environment, and taking care of it means taking care of ourselves as well.The work I produce is also a product of noticing. Carving the delicate wing of a chickadee, a subtle frog in the grass, or a heron taking flight means intimately getting to know the shape and character of each creature. It’s a different type of noticing, one that involves making something that comes from an internal place of knowing, as well as the external observation. That intimacy also applies to the clay itself: the texture, the tactile experience of throwing and shaping, of monitoring the level of dryness and form. Every piece is its own little science experiment, and believe me, not all of them turn out well. But when they do, it’s magic: noticing is transformed into something more tangible. It’s the alchemical ambition of turning lead into gold. Or more practicably, mud into beauty.In a world full of distractions and ever increasing complexity, it’s a somewhat profound experience to just slow down and notice. Nature has always been a place where I can have that experience. I feel profoundly lucky to be in a career that allows me to use these powers of observation to protect something I love. Art of any kind allows for the same experience. Whether it be the word that perfectly captures a thought or feeling, or a shade of color that perfectly captures a sunset. For me, science and art overlap. I think as a society we are more inclined to protect what we love. It’s no mystery why you might see wetland and nature themes throughout my work. It’s because these things are a part of me now, after years of noticing and protecting. And my hope is that the art I produce will inspire others to also notice (and fall in love with) the magic and beauty of nature.
Photo Credit: Lisa Vander Meulen
Big Happenings for 2014
November 26, 2014
I originally imagined this area of my website to be some sort of blog, but really, who has time to do that kind of regular writing? I think I’ve spent much more time doing than “musing” this year, and subsequently N3 Pottery, as a business and creative adventure, has grown in leaps and bounds.
The Kiln Cometh
At the end of 2013 I took the plunge and showed at a high stakes/high rewards show, and a couple of other shows for the holiday season. N3 Pottery’s sales at the Craft Vermont show, put on by Vermont Hand Crafters, was an unprecedented success for the business. It also meant a production rate that had the studio I was using gently pushing me out of the nest to spread my wings and become more independent. So I invested in a 7 cu. Ft. electric Bailey’s Kiln, the most energy efficient one I could find, just under the wire at the end of 2013.
The kiln arrived on a snowy January day aboard a truck that could not make it up my modestly sloped driveway. There was a sand shortage in the state, so I was out throwing wood chips on the driveway in anticipation of the truck arriving. We ended up unloading the 6’x6’ box at the end of the driveway and pushing it up to a level spot, using my ice cleats for traction. Old rugby training paid off I guess. I then took the whole thing apart, took it downstairs and reassembled it in my freshly painted and shelved basement studio. It’s a good way to get to know your kiln. With only a little bit of re-wiring, and the installation of a new switch box, I was up and running.
So 2014 was the year I had control over my process from beginning to end. I spent the year getting to know my kiln, the types of risks I was willing to take or not take, the drying process in my new studio, and how my favorite glazes reacted to a new firing process. It’s been amazing, and I feel like my only limitation I have right now is time. Pesky mortgage and full time job…
I also added a few shows to my roster this year, including the Festival of the Arts in the Mad River Valley, the Okemo Beer and Wine Fest, and a few others. I think the trick will be to find a good balance of production and shows. I have to say in terms of pure fun, both the Okemo Beer and Wine Fest (selling within the beer tent, woot woot), and the Siptember Fest at Mad River Glen (where I got to just attend, and the Hop Shop did the selling for me) were the winners. It also compelled me to start a Hop Art line of stein sized mugs, IPA specific tumblers and a bit of wall art.
Art. What is it good for?
So the other very cool thing of actually being able to evolve towards a profit deriving business, is to work that extra income into the context of my life at large. Now that I have the equipment I need, what does making pottery and selling it mean? First and foremost, it allows the opportunity to continue to take risks and to be creative. I’ve really been enjoying the larger format wall art this year, and experimenting with glaze layering. Having control over my production from start to finish has added a whole other dimension to my work and has also upped the quality of the work. Second, profit means I have more disposable income to put towards another great love – travel.The universe conspired to make sure I knew I was pointed in the right direction last year. Soon after deciding to pass up some other opportunities in order to throw myself more wholeheartedly into my art, Vermont Public Radio called me to say I had just won two free tickets to anywhere in the US. No kidding. With the extra income and tickets I was able to take over three weeks off and do a tour of the northwest that I’ve been dreaming of for years. Me and a friend I’ve known for almost 20 years hit up five national parks; tasted all that the west coast had to offer in craft beer; went snowboarding; hunted for oysters and clams; captured Orcas, humpbacks and sunsets on film; and acquired some amazing stories. It was a life affirming, kick-ass adventure. It makes me want to do more. More pottery, more adventures, more of the things I love to do. I’m crafting my life to head in that direction, and it makes me grin just to think about it. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I’m very grateful to what this aspect of my life had afforded me. I feel fortunate that I have people in my life who support me, and have customers who share my aesthetic vision. I’m excited to finish up this year, and see what the next brings.
And Now for Something Completely Different...
June 10, 2013
It’s great to be in a place where I can experiment and push myself. It’s easy to get caught up in the production and business ends of things, but the creativity is what I’m really drawn to. I can already feel this experience pushing me in different directions with new ideas and new techniques. I can’t wait to see where it will lead. Call for artist indeed.
Ok, maybe not completely different... but different enough. I answered a couple of "calls for artists" this spring for causes dear to my heart. One was for the Birds of Vermont Museum, which requested bird specific art for the re-release of the “Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas.” This is a citizen based atlas generated from countless volunteer bird surveys. While I am not a dedicated birder myself, I know many people who are and certainly enjoy them in nature and in my art. If you have never been to the museum in Huntington, you are in for a treat. One man’s life-work is displayed in the wooden bird carvings. I found it quite touching. I carved images of kestrels, the tufted titmouse and red-bellied woodpecker into hanging plates, and finished them off with custom glazing. It was a challenge to do something so detailed and specific, but I’m really happy with the work that was admitted to the exhibit. This show runs through October 31, 2013.
The second was for a show put on by Art + Soul Vermont to benefit the ECHO Center. I love that place and their mission – celebrating the environment, culture and history of Lake Champlain and the surrounding watershed. Any work that sells is split 50/50 between the artist and ECHO. I wanted to do something a little different, and worked on a nine piece glazed wall display that depicts the Adirondacks and Champlain, called “Lake and Sky.” It was literally an “outside the box” piece: hollow boxes that have an internal hanging system, and are glazed on the bottom and sides of the box. The effect is 3-D tiles that reflect tons of light from the front and from the sides. There is no sgraffito on these, just glaze, so they are quite different from my usual work. I’m really happy with the forms themselves and will likely use them for future wall hangings. These are located at 91 College Street in Burlington at the law offices of Dunkiel, Saunders, Elliot, Raubvogel and Hand by appointment through the end of June.
I’ve always been keen on aesthetics. Even as a kid with my stuffed animal display, and later in high school when I was rocking the 80’s inspired pastels in my first self-decorated bedroom, aesthetics have been important to me. When I was in my 20’s and I had just moved to the Mad River Valley, I spent a stupid amount of money reupholstering furniture that was worth only a fraction of the fabric to create “The Lizard Lounge.” Leopard upholstery and black and white photos of jazz musicians can go a long way! Buying a house in my 30’s has been an ongoing experiment, with some associated aesthetic misadventures. Let’s just say that red, gold and green belong on Rasta tams and in Mexican restaurants, not as adjacent wall colors.
So when it came to creating spaces for shows to display my pottery, it’s been a fun challenge. I came up with some basic criteria after 1) having displays that looked more like garage sales than art shows; and then 2) overbuilding and overspending. The criteria I came up with are as follows:
The display should parallel where my business is. Spending 3x more money on displays than the business makes in a year doesn’t make much sense. So, no, I didn’t order a tricked out kit off the internets.
The display must be flexible. 10 x 10 foot booth vs. 6 x 8 foot booth. Wall tiles vs. Bowl set. Indoor vs. outdoor. The core display must be able to handle all of these scenarios.
The display must be a solo mission. As much as I would like a full time booth Sherpa, I must be able to load, unload, carry, erect, assemble and then the reverse, by myself. And do all this in a reasonable amount of time. This means lightweight pieces that break down and fit back together.
The display must be able to fit in my car. Which right now is a Mazda M3 hatchback. Technically, a compact car. Yowza
The display must be cohesive and unobtrusive. As Bruce Baker (Craft Show Display Guru) says, if someone is noticing the display and not the work that’s in it, it’s not a good set up.
The display should further the N3 Pottery branding and show the pieces in the best way possible. To me this means tapping into the natural world through color, and the use of natural materials. It also means using multiple horizontal levels to add interest, bring products closer to the eye and hand, and maximize display potential without making it feel crowded.
The Art of the Display
December 10, 2012
Setup at the Waterbury Holiday Artisan's Boutique
It just so happens that I have a unique skill set to bring to this endeavor. Those skills include knowing how to sew, having a very rudimentary knowledge of carpentry (I own and can use some power tools), having absolutely no pride in my carpentry, being handy with a staple gun (a throwback from my reupholstering days), and having easy access to scrap wood from some home improvement projects.
I started with my big purchase last year – four tables that are 4 feet long, by 2 feet wide, with adjustable legs that go up to counter height. I went with sage green burlap and sewed “closed” table clothes for each. This means they have an overlapping opening in the back, but all four sides are sewn together so they don’t flap around in the wind. The material is inexpensive and durable – and there is invisible storage underneath once the tables are set up which is important! It saves a trip hauling empty boxes to and from the car. I liked the neutral color and the natural look. Some decent sewing prevents it from looking too cheap (at least that’s what I tell myself). The four tables mean I can set up in a bunch of configurations, using all or just a couple depending on the space. This year I did Art in the Alley, and the display changed from week to week depending on the space I was in (uneven pavement makes for some challenges).
In order to add some variation in planes, I found some cardboard boxes that stack within each other and painted them green. I also cut up a birch sapling that was wide enough to fit a mug on into varying heights. This brings the outdoors into the display, and two pieces next to each other on a different vertical plane feels much less crowded. When dealing with breakable art, people tend to not want to touch displays that feel crowded. And if they don’t touch, they don’t buy.
Folding Wall, displaying 4 piece Plate set
Smaller booths tend to generate innovations. The Moretown Artisan’s Sale is a great event that I’ve been a part of the past two years, and the space is 6’ deep by 8’ wide. Last year I created a shelf unit that fits on one of the tables that allows for a wrapping and bagging area behind/underneath. I also came up with the “folding wall,” that is a wood frame reinforced with chicken wire and covered in fabric. It attaches to a sturdy L-shaped shelf, and folds flat while not in use. Its beefy enough to hang plates from, and creates a wall to cut down on visual distractions in order to highlight the work.
This year, I had a fairly large volume of work, so created a second folding wall, with shelves on the inside and mug trees that attach to the frame. The wire mesh will be able to hold heavier plates, but this year held ornaments for perusal outside of the L-shaped table configuration. It’s a little snug, but will be a flexible addition in larger spaces.
Lighting has become an important element for these indoor holiday markets. In addition to the lamps that are for sale, I’ve also added spot lights and under counter battery operated LED lights to highlight those dark corners. And I will be a fan of white Christmas lights till the bitter end. No matter what time of year. It’s just how I roll.
The display materials take up about half the room in my car, as the tables fold in half, the fabric and display stands pack up into two bins, and the shelves and walls fit flat on top of those. This leaves the other half of the car for packing in the actual pottery. It takes around 1.5 hours to set up, and 1 hour to break down, which isn’t too bad.
I’m sure the display will continue to evolve as my art and production move forward. Given my car limitations, it may be a mix and match depending on my inventory, rather than additive. In the meantime, god bless burlap, paint and staple guns.
Front of the shelf
Back of the shelf, storage etc.
New folding wall shelf, Moretown Artisan's Sale
Goodbye 2011, and Good Riddance
Moretown Artisans Sale, 2011
Zilla, in the midst of his own natural disaster.
There are so many things in Vermont that inspire my work: a vista, flora or fauna, or just a feeling that a certain place invokes. I feel like capturing it in art helps me understand it a little bit more, and makes it even a little bit closer to my heart. Sometime when I see a really beautiful view, I get panicky knowing how temporary it is. The ephemeral light, the changing seasons, and my own ability to really see something means it really is just a moment. Carving those images and that feeling into clay makes it a little more permanent for me.
Julie's Camp on Lake Champlain. Inspirational, to be sure!
"Single Track" is a work in progress, inspired by the Perry Hill Mountain Bike Trails in Waterbury. These trails are right around the corner for me, and are our go-to place to walk the dog, mountain bike, or snow shoe in the winter. The tile set is a bit of a compilatation of all the things I love about this trail and others.
I also take a lot of inspiration from what I see when I'm driving around Vermont. The combination of farmland and forestland is really quite breathtaking. I've got a special place in my heart for haybales, so this time of year you'll see me rubbernecking to catch another iconic view of Vermont's landscape.
(AKA, Where I'll be this Hot Summer)
Shelves, a dog bed, a faux sink , a fan club, and a cold beer. Who could ask for more?
Here it is, the fabulous basement studio. This 8 x 12' room used to house sport and camping gear, and came complete with unfinished walls and a moldy carpet and subfloor. Now it has a painted concrete floor, warm yellow walls, plenty of shelves, and a fabulous new Bailey Pottery Wheel! I have no running water down there but I'm making do with buckets and a water container.
The studio was completed April, and as the days grow hotter I'm thankful for a cool place to go, especially since my "real job" office gets up to above 90 degrees in the afternoon on a regular basis (thanks State of Vermont, that makes for a productive workday!).
Zilla is my Quality Control Officer. Thankfully, he works for table scraps. I'm digging the Bailey Wheel and workstation - there is a slick drain system, as there is a built in spash pan. With the tight space and lack of running water, its a great setup for me.
What’s in a name?
So where did the N3 in N3 Pottery come from? The simple answer is there are three “N’s” in Shannon, someone else in the studio that had my initials the time I started, and I needed some kind of identifier on the bottom of my pot, dammit. Depending on how long I have to answer the question I might also add:
· Three is a mystical number of balance, the holy trinity, a sacred number for both stooges and muskateers, and the number of siblings in my family.
· “N” is often used in calculus equations as a placeholder for SOMETHING. So, it’s something to the third power, you get to choose what that something is. Like, “wicked cool” cubed (that’s three times wicked cool).
· N3 is somewhat of an ode to my favorite bar in graduate school: “Three Needs” in Burlington,
· “ENTHREE POTTEREE” really has a nice ring to it.
· I do a lot of sgraffito work, which is removing clay slip to create an image. So its “Negative” art in 3-D (N3) in the sense that I’m subtracting from rather than adding to something to make an image.
· I made a wicked cool potter’s symbol out of it, so I’m keeping it!
I thought I would take some time to talk about sgraffito which is my favorite part of the process of making my pots. According to wikipedia: “Sgraffito and sgraffiti come from the Italian word sgraffiare ("to scratch"), ultimately from the Greek γράφειν (gráphein) "to write". Related terms include graffito and graffiti.” It’s the process of removing or scratching away material to create an image, instead of adding material like you would to draw or paint something.
When the slip dries enough so that it isn’t sticky, but isn’t so dry that it gets powdery, I start thinking about a design. This is called a “leatherhard” stage of green ware. Greenware is unfired clay. I start by sketching what I want onto the pot. Sometimes I trace images from paper directly onto the pot, or freehand in pencil. I also can skip this step just start carving, but I tend to have better results with more planning.
These mugs still need to be fired twice, once in a bisque fire and once in a glaze firing. I'll apply glaze between the two firings, which is NOT my favorite part of the process.
After I have a thrown pot, when it is dry enough to handle and has been trimmed, I coat it with a slip (liquid clay) or underglaze that is a different color than the clay body. Most of the time I’m using a white clay body, and my slips tend to be a little on the “hail mary” side of things (ceramics is all about recycling so I’m constantly collecting shavings from other sgraffito projects and turning them into new slips with variable results).
Now the carving begins. It’s a little tricky in that I’m working on the areas that will not be the lines in the design, but the area around it. I’m manipulating negative space to make the design move into the foreground. I think how the material is taken away really adds to the overall effect. Sometimes I’ll remove the slip in straight lines, or in Van Gogh like circles depending on the design. This gives kind of rhythm to the piece, and adds more character than a flat background might.
On these chickadee mugs, the slip will fire a gray color. I will paint on black underglaze to highlight the black caps on the bird. The final touch is my potters seal on the bottom of the cup.