About a month ago, some of my potter friends on Facebook were posting a promotional video for a BBC reality TV show about ceramics. “The Great Pottery Throw Down” trailer urged viewers to “join us to see who will be Britain’s top potter.” The only problem is, the pots that are shown in this clip are somewhat less than brilliant and the contestants are obviously mid-level ceramists hardly able to join the ranks of such luminaries as Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie and Michael Cardew. When I saw this, I groaned, “Why can’t they have real potters on this show?” I mean, if you’re going to dub someone the nation’s top potter, you really should start with a roster of top notch contestants, right? I was anticipating a real train wreck of a TV show. And full disclosure: I’m not a fan of reality TV. The singers are generally lousy and the judges tend to be obnoxious.
But I was totally wrong in my initial opinion of this program. After watching the first episode on YouTube I became an instant fan. The fact that the contestants are aspiring potters is a real bonus. They are average people with regular jobs who have fallen in love with the process of making pots and it really shows in the personal profiles they intersperse throughout the show. To have top-notch clay jockeys competing here would make it look all too easy. These potters are struggling at times and it really shows how hard it is to learn the craft of working with clay. And the program’s creators do a great job explaining the technical aspects of pottery along the way, so it’s a wonderfully informative show. Hooray! They are bringing the message of ceramics to the masses! Two clay-covered thumbs up from this professional mud-wrestler.
The first episode’s challenge was to make a set of nesting bowls, and it inspired me to take the challenge myself. I decided to do seven bowls instead of five (two extra because I’m a pro). They had 2.5 hours to throw the pots, 1.25 hours to trim them and 2.5 hours to decorate them. I came in comfortably under time in the throwing and trimming but I took way longer in the decoration phase because that’s the way we do it here in Wallyworld. Here’s a step by step pictorial of the process of making the set:
Friday, November 6: Throwing the pots was pretty straightforward and I started with the largest bowl first because it’s easier to go down in size than it is to go up. The real “Ah ha!” moment came when I realized that if I made them all the same height they would rise up in a graceful stack, kind of like a pyramid. The largest bowl measured eleven inches in diameter thrown and I took them down exactly one inch in diameter as I made the set. I threw them a little on the heavy side as it’s a lot safer that way. One warped or trimmed through bowl would kill the whole project.
That three inch mark on the wooden rib was all I needed to get the heights consistent, and the dog dish shape is pretty easy for me to do. I’ve been throwing the same clay body (Laguna’s S porcelain) since the 1980s and I’ve been making numerous custom dog bowls for years now. It’s a pretty easy form to throw once you get the hang of it.
Saturday, November 7: Trimming was really straightforward and these bowls gave me no problems. I got the job done in under an hour and I realized that this exercise is a lot like a pro basketball player shooting free throws. If you’re in the zone, it’s easy.
Thursday, November 12th: They survived the bisque firing just fine. I posted this pic on the Clay Buddies Facebook page with the caption, “Look who’s doing the Great Pottery Throw Down nesting bowl challenge” and it got over 600 likes. I guess I’m not the only one who is geeked about the show!
Friday, November 13th: With the kiln firing the next day, I start the process of decorating around three in the afternoon. With seven bowls, I realized that a rainbow banding effect on the rims could look pretty good and the imagery on the inside of the bowls is to be a celebration of the weird characters that inhabit my pots. Wally is on the smallest bowl, followed by the meth addict, big foot’s baby mama, the bee keeper, the space monster, the grumpy republican and one of my all-time favorites, lobster girl. If you just happened to wander upon my website for the first time right now and you’ve never seen my work before, you are probably having a real WTF moment, huh?
I really struggled with the outside color scheme on these bowls. I knew I wanted to have the rainbow colors on the rims, but how to do the outside was a real challenge. Since the bowls raised up, I wanted a “filing cabinet” effect with the character’s names on the outsides of the bowls. I think it worked really well and the biggest thrill for me was unloading the kiln on Monday, November 16th to find zero flaws in the bowls. I nailed it! That violet stain on the rim of the smallest bowl is a really fussy color to get at cone 10 and it sometimes burns off if the firing is too hot or if you get some reduction flames in the firing. I have an 18 cu. ft. propane shuttle kiln, and it slips into reduction really quickly if I’m not careful with the adjustments on the burner valves. This set is for sale for $350 in my online store and the price includes UPS shipping anywhere in the continental United States. If you are from overseas and you wish to buy them, send me an email and we can talk exorbitant shipping prices. It will definitely be in the three figures to get these pots sent outside the United States.
Also out of the kiln this week is a new mug design and a new ornament. ”Warning! Multi-level marketing systems are viruses from outer space!” is yet another in paranormal mug series and can be purchased in my online store. It was inspired by the movie, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and everyone who has tried to sell me something from through MLM schemes. I really hate that type of marketing!
And here’s our latest ornament. It’s wheel-thrown and hand-decorated and sells for just $13.50 in my online store. Profits from the sale of these ornaments go towards lobbying for nationalized healthcare for imaginary beings. Ho! Ho! Ho!
It’s that time of year again! It’s time for you, my customers to show us what kind of jokes you’ve got and what weird kind of ornament you want to hang on your tree this Christmas. It’s been a good year for weird stories in the news, so there is lots of material out there for us to work with. As always, the person or persons who come up with the best design(s) will win an ornament with their design on it and the bragging rights to having come up with this year’s winning design. Here are a few guidelines for coming up with a winning entry:
Keep it simple! I need to be able to hand-draw this design on a two inch diameter ceramic ornament. Elaborate designs are too hard to reproduce.
Try to tie in the holiday theme. The Balloon Boy joke below works so wonderfully well because it brings in the holiday verbiage.
Make it something that will just get better as the years go on. What current event do you want to remember every year as you trim your holiday tree?
With the holiday season right around the corner, it’s a good time for me to update my “Find A Gallery” page and highlight some of the amazing stores that currently have a good supply of my pots. There are over thirty galleries nationwide that feature my work. If you are the kind of shopper who likes to touch and feel things before you buy them, take a look at the map on this website to see if one of my accounts is near where you live. Here are some of the galleries that should have a good selection of my work this season:
18 Hands Gallery is Houston’s premier fine craft gallery with an emphasis on clay. They featured my work this year at the NCECA conference in Providence, RI.
Artcraft is located in the historic Savage Mill section of Savage, MD and features the work of over 500 artists and craftspeople. We just sent them an excellent selection of over seventy pieces.
Arts A Poppin in Indianapolis, IN has a goofy name but their buyers have a great eye for fine craft. Look for a bunch of my latest Christmas ornaments to arrive on their shelves next week.
C2C Gallery in Grand Haven, MI is the creation of potter, Cyndi Casemier. Her staff is so good at keeping me updated on sales and I’m a perfectionist at keeping their shelves stocked with my work.
Crow Valley Pottery (pictured above) is a magical place on idyllic Orcas Island, WA. They do an amazing job of displaying art throughout the grounds of their studio/gallery. My wife and I were lucky enough to visit them this summer and it was such a treat to finally see this place that has been exhibiting my line for almost a decade.
Deblois Gallery in Middletown, RI is a brand new account that will be featuring my work in its annual holiday show that runs from November 7th to December 24th.
Eureka Crafts in Syracuse, NY will be getting a big supply of Wallyware the week before Thanksgiving so give them a visit later this month.
The Evergreen Gallery in Evergreen, CO is just ten miles from my house and I’ve been doing business with them since we moved here 23 years ago. They carry an impressive display of my work and it’s a fantastic place to go gift shopping after a walk around Evergreen Lake.
The Keith Fleming Gallery rocks Port Clinton, OH with crazy crafts and stylish furnishings. Over the years, we’ve done some great custom designs with giant walleyes devouring tourists near the local nuclear power plant by the lake.
Margo’s Pottery and Fine Crafts in Buffalo, WY is a clay-oriented shop that features some name ceramics. Owner Margo Brown has a great eye for clay because she’s a potter herself.
Monkitree in Gardiner, ME is great at posting stuff on Facebook and some day I want to go visit this quirky place. They place a lot of orders throughout the year, so if you live in that neck of the woods, check ‘em out!
Mud and Metal in Baltimore, MD has been carrying my work since practically forever and they are quite the stylish gallery. Right now they are having a show called, “Tarot and Tattoo”. How cool!
New Morning Gallery in Asheville, NC is one of the finest fine craft galleries in the country. I’ve had friends visit this place and come home raving about amazing their collection of clay is. This is another “must see gallery” for people who love fine craft.
Phoenix Gallery has two locations: one in Lawrence, KS and the other in Kansas City, MO. I just started doing business with them this summer and they are quickly turning into one of my favorite accounts. They are selling my work quite well and they are super-organized with their inventory system. Viva The Midwest!
Poppy in Columbia, MO has a lot of stylish stuff AND they carry my work, too! They have been carrying my pots since 2011.
Random Acts of Art in Naples, FL carries art that captures the fun and breezy feel of Florida. We’ll be shipping them a very large order later this month, so drop by if you are in the neighborhood.
Show of Hands in Cherry Creek, CO carries my standard line of pots plus a lot of the art mugs that you’ve seen in posts on this site. Shopping there is a great experience and they feature some of Colorado’s best fine crafts and art.
SOTA Gallery in Philadelphia, PA is one of the the best fine craft galleries in Philly. They will be getting a nice selection of my work later this month.
Timothy’s Gallery in Naples, FL has some great whimsical crafts. A quick perusal of their website as I was writing this article made my jaw drop. Nice stuff!!!
Wild Side Gallery in Key West, FL has the biggest and best selection of my work on the entire planet! Once a year they drive out to Colorado and we give them a huge selection of pots. They are consistently one of my top selling accounts and do a wonderful job representing my artwork.
Last year I was invited to participate in Nashville’s craziest art festival: the Art and Invention Gallery “Tomato Art Show.” My sales for 2014 were a resounding success (all 18 pieces sold!) so this year we are back at it with a crop of 30 pots that are even better than last year’s batch! Most of what we sent this year are mugs and beer steins, but the showpiece item is the “Tomato Party Platter” seen above. I reused a few of the best design ideas from last year’s crop (Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” with a tomato was too good not to do again), and I managed to come up with great new stuff:
Seen above in this group shot is (left to right), “The heirloom tomato is gonna rise again!”, “Fried Green Tomatoes”, “Mystical Tomato Predicts”, “Dancing Bloody Mary Ingredients”, “Hot Tomato” and “The Screaming Tomato.” I had so much fun making these pots! If you want to see the whole batch, you’ll need to get yourself down to Tennessee this weekend for the opening.
So how about that Donald Trump? With all of his wonderfully bizarre soundbites these days I couldn’t resist doing a mug about him. When I learned that he and Bernie Sanders were both in solid second place in their respective polls, I came up with the idea of creating a couple of mugs for all the delusional and terminally idealistic folk out there who think that either of these cartoonish characters have a chance of being our next president in 2016. So I present to you the “I’m Voting for Trump” and “I’m voting for Bernie” mugs. I suggest you order these for your politically challenged friends and I’ll ship them out in a discreet brown box with no mention whatsoever that you had me send it to them.
And here’s a mug I came up with last month that’s getting a great response from bee fans everywhere. ”I CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT BEES” isn’t a joke as much as it’s a sentiment. You can find it in the “New Items for 2015″ section of my online store.
While the real showpiece of last week’s firing was my fan offering to Todd Rundgren, we did get some other great new items in this latest kiln load. Seen here is the latest TMBG design, a vase inspired by the song, “Why Does The Sun Shine?” This original work of art is available in the TMBG section of my Etsy shop for a mere $30.00. This month all of the TMBG mugs and Art Pots are on sale for a whopping 25% off. These items are all one of a kind and will not be duplicated, so now is the time to snag some of the finest work I’ve ever made. Really!
What’s this? A NEW WALLY ADVENTURE?!!! Yup, Wally just bought one of those new toasters that connects to the internet and it’s surely a harbinger of horrible things to come. We’ve got just a few of these in mugs and plates, so hop on over to my online store and grab a few before the robot overlords take over and banish all jokes about evil machines taking over the earth.
Hey! You’ve seen this design on a bowl before, right? We keep getting orders for it on coffee mugs, so now it’s a new mug design. I guess you can’t argue with the sentiment. If you want to drink your morning coffee out of one of these, get on over to my online store.
Full disclosure: I’ve been a serious Todd Rundgren fan since the age of fifteen. I’ve bought just about all of his albums and I make a point to see his gigs every time he comes to town. This week, Todd was teaching an intensive music course at CU Denver and it included a concert on Thursday night and a lecture on Friday afternoon. The concert turned out to be a totally magical evening: great sound, comfy seats in the fourth row for my wife, my sister and I, and a setlist of songs that showcased his brilliant songwriting and singing skills. C U faculty and students backed him up in the first half of the program and their version of the song, “Lost Horizon” was absolutely stunning. Todd’s voice is still phenomenal at age sixty-six and the solo set in the second half of the show was a dream concert, for sure. For a more complete review of this concert, check out my post on the fan website, The TR Connection.
So the morning after the concert I rolled out a kiln load that included my fan offering for Todd. I figured he deserved an honorary PhD and what better way to give it to him than on a coffee mug? The exclamation, “Oh joy! Rapture! I’ve got a brain!” comes from the scarecrow’s response to his acquisition of a “degree in thinkology” from the wizard in The Wizard of Oz:
I had great success two months ago giving a fan mug to King Tuff, and my gift to Todd went pretty well, too. He was appreciative of the artwork and we got a decent pic capturing the moment. Going into these things, you always think you’ll have some amazing connection with the celebrity because of your unique take on the fan gift. But on this day, Todd’s handlers were hurrying him through the fan line and it was more like Wayne’s World than Meeting of the Minds. I gave him his honorary degree, he laughed, we took a few pics and the next dude moved up the line and had him autograph his tattered copy of Something/Anything? But the real bonus souvenir of the day came when my sister offered Todd her sharpie at the beginning of the autograph session, and she got it back later. It now has quasi-religous status hanging in a ziplock bag on the wall of my studio in the “Museum of Picayune Rock Artifacts” Other items in the museum include a Wilco setlist and the leg of a Devo suit worn by an actual member of Devo. Wayne and Garth would be totally stoked with this most excellent memorabilia!
We’ve got three new Wally designs for your perusal! Next week, my pots will be on display in the 18 Hands Gallery booth at the NCECA ceramics conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Potters happen to be the best pot collectors, so I came up with some designs about famous potters. Paul Soldner made phenomenal pots, designed great pottery equipment and had a real flair for advertising. Most of the ads for his ceramic equipment pictured him semi-nude in some ridiculous setting. Out in my studio next to my kiln, I have an autographed poster of him in a speedo. So it’s only natural that “Wally visits Paul Soldner’s hot tub with its legendary brie cheese extruder.” We’ve got mugs and plates with this design in my online store.
Beatrice Wood is one of the most mythic and majestic personalities in the ceramics world. As a young woman, she was a member of the Dadaists and her early life was the inspiration for the book and film, “Jules and Jim.” She discovered clay in her forties and produced work in her studio in Ojai, CA up until her death at age 105. She was also the partial inspiration for the character Rose in the film, “Titanic.” Her most famous quote is, “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.” For mugs and plates with this magical spirit, visit my online store.
And last but not least, here’s our 2015 bad weather commemorative! For all of you folks out there on the East Coast who are still digging out, get yourselves some plates and mugs to remember the magic of wild weather. They are in the “New Items for 2015″ section of my online store.
I’m still going nuts in the decorating department doing these incredibly detailed one of a kind mugs. The ones shown here are from a series I did on large mugs. They have titles like, “Hell Dog”, “Resentment”, “St. Valium” and “Brian Wilson” and are for sale for just $40.00 each in the Original Art Mugs section of my Etsy store. They took over two hours each to paint and the surfaces really show it!
Today marks the official debut of my 2015 New Year’s resolution. Each week for the entire year, I’m going to release a mind-blowing one of a kind mug inspired by a They Might Be Giants song. Why am I doing this? It’s a great way to jump start my creativity and turn out some really interesting pots. My intention isn’t to recreate the songs as much as use the lyrics as take-off points for crazy designs. The mug above comes from the song. “Kitten Intro.” All I can say about it is that I love the words, “easy-listening Nazi rock band.” You can purchase these items at my Etsy store. Pleaswe note that if you don’t see the one you like there, it means that we already sold it to some lucky collector. These mugs will be released at approximately 8:00 a.m. each Monday so stay tuned for lots of wild designs in the upcoming year. The five mugs in this post are available NOW!
So I made this coffee mug for my rock hero, King Tuff and I gave it to him after the show last night. He liked it, he really liked it! This mug is a riff on his song about how he’ll always be a freak so just bury him with his boots on and his legs poking out of the ground. I used his song, Keep on Movin’ in last year’s time lapse kiln unloading video. Thanks for all the great music, Mr. Tuff!