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Journal

News from Dowd House Studios: places to find our pottery, exhibitions, classes & workshops, new forms and exciting projects.

Filtering by Category: Problem Solving

Illustration project sneak peek

Jenny Dowd

I’m excited to share a peek into a project that has been in the works since late last year…

In collaboration with the Culinary Arts Program at Central Wyoming College, located at the Jackson campus and illustrators Jocelyn Slack and Cal Brackin, I’ve been working on a cookbook! The three of us have been illustrating a collection of recipes developed by the culinary arts students.

The end result will be a published cookbook and an exhibition with some of the original illustrations as well as actual recipes made and served during the opening by the students.

Wrapping my head around how to create illustrations for the recipes was a challenge. It didn’t take long to realize that composing the image right there on a piece of paper was causing me to stall out and I would be more confident if working dimensionally.

I thought about the story each recipe told and how to best give visual instructions, then drew the components. After cutting the pieces out I was able to play with the composition and relationship of each object. Some images came from memory, while some- the 1950’s pink convertible- needed a source image.

After the initial composition on scrap paper, I moved onto ink on drawing paper. The next part seemed the most scary- I don’t usually use much color and rarely use watercolor. I had a few drawing drafts that didn’t work out, so they became confidence building practice pieces.

Pictured here- how to chop lemongrass for Thai Masala Squash Soup, Taco Soup, and Asparagus Soup with Cream- for that one I imagined a budding romance between asparagus and a pitcher of cream. (I got sick of my brushes rolling around on the table and making a wet mess, so I made a quick brush holder with foam and push pins. I made a sea monster brush holder out of clay earlier in the summer, but haven’t glazed it yet.)

For some recipes, I picked out a few key ingredients, like a shallot and mint for the Cucumber Mint Salad. Some are more visual how-to’s, like the middle illustration- Winter Vegetable Hash (Scrub veggies before peeling, do not rinse after!) and some are about telling a story- Thai Coconut Rice- gateway to the taste of another country.

The Cuban Chicken recipe was influenced by the grandmother of the chef… so I couldn’t resist a 1950’s pink caddy being driven by a chicken on a mission! The Singapore Fruit Salad made me think of a market full of exotic fruits which led to fruit eager to travel the world. Mixing pasta dough like a volcano of flour filled with eggs… well, that’s my visual definition anyway.

Some recipes got more color than others, I still love the simple black line of pen on paper, so I highlighted that in a few of these drawings. Especially the Meatball Sub- the meatballs are waiting for the toast to be perfect.

I still have several more illustrations to finish, so stay tuned for an update! And if you are in Jackson, be sure to stop by the Theater Gallery in the Center for the Arts to see the exhibition. The work will be on display from October 20 - November 5. The opening reception will be November 2 from 5:30 - 7:30pm. And the cookbook will be available at that time too!

Display Ideas

Jenny Dowd

One thing I love about making things out of clay, besides ease of use and overall helpfulness, is the challenge of finding solutions for display. I'm always rethinking how to make objects that are helpful and highly functional, plus looking for good ways to display them- I like it when a story can simply be told through the juxtaposition of a few objects. 

A few weeks ago at the August Art Fair Jackson Hole I was across the isle from Sita Sabina. She saw a helpful potential in my "stuff holders." By using these little dishes to display her rings for people to choose from, she also created a beautiful and simple display that offers good ideas for storage (or home display) of precious objects.

Recently metal artist, Jen McNaughton, asked me to make necklace display stands and I got pretty excited about this project. I'd never thought of making ceramic display stands!

I started out by making a cardboard pattern. This template helped me think through the angle which it would sit at as well as size. It also gave me a good visual before cutting into the clay- the necklace needs to stay put on the top and hook somehow into the back, so I came up with a few ideas before getting too far into clay work.

After lots of smoothing and assembling I added a little decoration- like a frame around Jen's pendants. This needed to be simple and not distracting, underglaze inlay seemed to be a good fit. I drew a design into the clay with an xacto, coated it with underglaze, then wiped the excess away.

And the results! The notches at the top hold the necklace in place, while holes in the back supports give options for chain length, plus a little anti-theft. 

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Come to the Takin it to the Streets fair on September 9th on the Jackson Town Square to see these in person. Well, come to see Jen's jewelry, really- you won't even notice the stands! And I'll be a few booth away with my pottery still thinking about new ways to display things.

FoundSpace: Update

Jenny Dowd

I'm used to projects offering more challenges than initially expected. Most things are not as simple as they seem, and making working thaumatropes proved that statement true over and over this summer.

Despite, or perhaps because of the difficulties, these are the projects I love the most. In frustration I'll leave my studio to take a walk, returning with another idea that I'm eager to try. I'll turn a difficult project around in my mind while working on something that makes sense- then when that project turns on me I'll go back to the other one.

To read about the first installment check out this past post and to read about the whole FoundSpace project check out this past post.

Thanks to installation by Matt Daly all 12 thaumatropes are now on display until the middle of August at Emily Steven's Park!

I got really serious about making the thaumatropes sturdy and functional, so for this final version each disk spins on an axle. The wood disks are glued and screwed together (learned from another early mistake.) The screws are counter-sunk on the last 4 disks so the drawing surface is smoother.

Each illustration was completed on paper, then transferred to the wooden disk using carbon paper and drawn/painted with acrylic paint pens. The illustration for the mottled sculpin was made on paper as well as vellum so I could check the overlap. When the disk spins both images are visible at once- for this image the mottled sculpin needed to look like he was under water- or more precisely, in a riffle.

After the logistics of creating spinning thaumatropes was figured out, the illustrations came easily as accompaniments to Matt's poems. 

One of the coolest things about working with Matt on this project was learning about these little critters. When I looked up images of the Bushy-tailed Woodrat I also learned that they will drop whatever edible thing they are carrying back to their stash in favor of a shiny object- like a spoon or coins!

I had no idea what a Mottled Sculpin was- and that they are tiny- end of a finger tiny! 

Plus the humor- while it may seem funny and light-hearted to authropormophise animals, it might also be serious. They might actually find each other obnoxious.

And cicadas might actually be pretty excited to graduate from nymph-hood!

The best part is that this project has made me look differently at this area I've lived in for over 10 years... there is always something to learn and something to see.

Stop by Emily Steven's Park to see all 12 before August 20th!

FoundSpace 2018: Part 1

Jenny Dowd

FoundSpace 2018 is ready to be explored! 

Now in its Fourth year, this project is a collaboration between the JH Land Trust and JH Public Art. FoundSpace offers the opportunity and challenge of interpreting conserved public land in creative and interactive ways. This year FoundSpace is at Emily Steven's Park just outside of Wilson, WY.

Last year I collaborated with Matt Daly, (see our project here) we had such fun that we decided to work together again. Inspired by the optical combination of words and images in thaumatropes, Matt wrote 12 short poems, one for each month, that highlight the overlooked (and often introverted) mini-fauna found in this area. 

I illustrated each poem, which has been challenging since the magic behind the thaumatrope is 3 drawings- one on each side, plus a combination of the 2 when the disk spins.

The image had to be clear enough to read, yet the multiple parts allowed for slightly more information. I was so excited about telling the stories that I missed an important step- the image has to be perfectly registered on each side so that when the disk flips the image is not blurry. Oops.

I drew the image on paper, transferred it to plywood with carbon paper, then registered the image using holes in the side of the disk. (As seen by the highly technical use of drill bits...) 

Each little critter has such personality and imagery created through Matt's words, it was easy to imagine the story and what I wanted to visualize. I am so excited to be part of this project and to work in collaboration with another creative who sees the world from a different angle. I'm already learning a lot about some of the mini-fauna that I was not aware of! 

The thaumatrope is made cut disks from plywood in a diameter to fit discarded bike wheels that Matt scavenged. I drew and painted on the primed surfaces and made cranks so they can be turned by hand. The stands were made by Matt from discarded fence posts, and all stand at different heights.

We've started with 4 thaumatropes, and will install all 12 within the next month. So stay tuned for updates, and if Emily Steven's Park is part of your normal routine be sure to check back periodically.

There are 3 more artists who have installed artwork in the park: Bronwyn Minton, Bland Hoke, and Brittany Hill. Check back for my post on Saturday June 9th for a full update!

And if you are in the area, stop by Thursday June 7th from 5-8pm for the opening event. (You'll be able to make your very own small thaumatrope!)

Pottery in Action: The White Buffalo Club

Jenny Dowd

I have been working on custom pottery for The Restaurant at The White Buffalo Club in Jackson for over a year. This is the first in a series of big orders and even though it still seems like it takes me a long time to finish anything- I can tell that I've gotten faster and more consistent thanks to this project!

At the start I met with Chef Joel Hammond to discuss plate forms and glaze colors. We started out with 1 bowl and 3 plate forms with 3 different glazes. Since completing these, we've started adding specialized plates and ramekins.

For the pieces shown here, I used stoneware with satin glazes that highlight speckles from the iron rich clay. All of these pieces were made in the clay studio at the Art Association, so in snatches of time between classes I often took over a few tables with stacks and stacks of pottery. (Check out my past blog post The Studios for more on how I balance work spaces.)

The speckles and satin earth tone glazes really fit the theme that Chef Joel has created at the White Buffalo Club. He sources local and regional products that highlight small ranches and farms. This extends to local handmade products- not just pottery, also the tables in the restaurant!

One plate form was totally new for me, a shallow flat plate with straight sides. While making the form was simple, I wanted to also ensure that the plates stacked well- imagining a busy kitchen. I came up with a simple solution to bevel the bottom edge- so each plate fits slightly inside of the plate it is on top of.

Working with chefs to create custom dishes to support their vision has quickly become one of my favorite parts of being a potter. Joel came by the studio one day to try out an idea- I made a deep wide bowl and he pressed in and shaped the side... now I'm replicating this form and I can't wait to see what will go in it! I am also currently working on a specialized steak plate. So stay tuned, there is much more to come.

Visit the White Buffalo Club's Facebook page to see more images of my pottery in action, with yummy things on them. (All food photos on this post are from this page.)

Better yet, make time for dinner- The Restaurant at The White Buffalo Club re-opened May 11 for the season, so stop by to see what's new!

Make & Reuse

Jenny Dowd

I'm always looking for ways pottery can be helpful. 

Bronwyn, Director of Programs & Events at the Art Association, was looking for a way to provide reusable cups at gallery openings and events. Pottery ended up being part of the solution.

Jam jars solve the problem of trash (and cost) generated by throw-away drink cups, despite the extra work of washing, they feel great to hold and at the end of the night the trash cans are light. (If you are in Jackson and have jam or small jars that are not going to get filled with more deliciousness- bring them by the Art Association and put them to work!)

The another reusable option is something you can use and take home with you! I've been making small ceramic cups specifically for the gallery programs. During events the gallery offers the cups for $10- which we split, I see it as a small way I can help support the Art Association, and give a shout out to the ceramics program.

Since the clay studio is right next to the gallery it is always easy to find serving options for the snacks!

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I was focused on seeing this idea put into action Friday night, I also enjoyed the artwork, but you'll have to stop by to see the annual Member's Show on your own as I didn't take any photos!

Pottery in Action: The Wild Sage

Jenny Dowd

Here's a behind the scenes look into a project I've been working on for the past few months. I'm currently working on pottery for several Jackson area restaurants (more updates to come!) the latest one is the Wild Sage located in the Rusty Parrot

I've not been great about photographing the work, I was so excited to deliver these pieces that they went straight from the kiln into boxes. That just means that now I have an even better excuse for dinner out! (Besides, pottery always looks better with food.)

Last fall, Chef Travis Catanzaro contacted me to discuss new pottery designs for the restaurant. Since then I've been making sauce bowls, pitchers, ramekins and bread baskets with a stoneware, earth-tone inspired palette. 

One of these forms, the bread basket, is intended to replace the metal woven baskets they have been using. After measuring the existing baskets, my first thought was to find a form that I could slump the clay over. I wasn't terribly excited about the simple oval form that would be created, so I took some time to think.

Eventually, I wondered if the clay could be folded into the squared oval shape that I was seeking. After a few paper test pieces, I was able to make a pattern. Rolling the slab of clay onto burlap gave the outside texture. The walls were folded up and since the baskets are the same size, they also stack. (The first few were pretty wonky, I learned that the template was really important.)

Amazingly, when I sent Travis a photo of the prototype basket, he told me about a bread dough that is wrapped in fabric with texture similar to burlap, the process then transfers the texture to the bread!

These ramekins are a new form for me as well. As an extra challenge I had to find an oven safe clay that could survive the thermal shock delivered from the oven. The dishes are wheel thrown and then slightly pressed on the sides to create the oval shape. When glazing I used 6 glazes in a variety of combinations- you can see by my notes (on the left) how I had to make a plan to keep things organized.

So if you are in Jackson, be sure to stop by the Wild Sage for dinner. I know I can't wait to see these pieces in action!

The Studios

Jenny Dowd

It seems I've got a lot of projects going on.

To keep things somewhat orderly, I have been spliting my time between two studios. I work in the ceramics studio at the Art Association in Jackson to produce stoneware projects, and my home studio in Alpine for porcelain. (That way I don't have to worry about splattering the porcelain with brown stoneware... and I don't have to clean my home wheel as much.)

The studio at the Art Association is public, so I spread out when I can and condense when there are more people using the space.

The stoneware plates and bowls here are part of the dishes I have been producing for the White Buffalo Club in Jackson (more on that soon!) I use the wheels at the Art Association for these stoneware dishes and also fire the work in the gas kiln. Some of my porcelain work is also glazed and fired in Jackson. These black and white teapots & cups are available for sale at Healthy Being Juicery and the large salad bowls are used in their cafe.

On the days I'm not in Jackson, I'm in my home studio. Most of this work is fired in my electric kiln, and decorated with sgraffito or inlay techniques. (Home is also where I work on non-pottery projects: sculpture, drawing, and soon... a printmaking studio!)

At home I'm shadowed by Merlin, the studio cat / Dowd House Studios Quality Control Overseer. Merlin is not very helpful, but he does let me know when I've been working for too long / ignoring him. So when he starts staring at me or attacking my work I know it's time to take a break.

I feel a bit spread out, but this seems to work! Mid-week I get to switch gears and work on different projects while I consider problems I've left behind in the other studio. 

Time for Tea(pots)

Jenny Dowd

I can no longer deny that the weather in Western Wyoming has turned. While I'm sure there will still be plenty of warmish fall days, these cool cloudy mornings have found me and Merlin hanging out close to the fireplace.

Last year when a friend asked me to make her a teapot I started by asking myself why I hadn't been making teapots.

Teapots are complicated and highly specific forms. The tradition is strong, with a million beautiful little details. I enjoy these details yet felt that I should make the teapot that I would use.

I also felt a little ashamed that my favorite teapot is this cute little red commercial teapot. I love this teapot, it reminds me of my first apartment. I'm pretty sure that's when my mom let me pick it out at my favorite tea shop.

This little teapot is just that, simple and highly functional with a removable tea strainer perfect for loose teas. 

With all this in mind, I started making teapots with these characteristics; round and simple, easy to clean, cute. They do not have a strainer inside the spout or a mesh strainer that sits down inside of the lid, instead I use a tea ball infuser. 

I was really excited about designing the cups & saucers. Some inspiration came from using a teacup in a cafe that I felt was too big to hold with one hand.

These cups are small and fit easily in my hand. The saucers provide an interesting canvas for design, I have a lot of fun mixing and matching saucers with cups.

The cup and saucer patterns inspire decoration for the teapots. 

Mmmm... I feel warmer already!

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Details

Jenny Dowd

I spend a lot of time on details. 

When I started this series of black & white sgraffito ware, I found my tight forms with their even rims to be in conflict with my hand-drawn designs. Expression and imperfection are inherent to hand-drawn lines, I felt that this needed to be reflected in the pottery- even if I had to force it.

I use a wire to cut the rim of bowls and plates before removing them from the wheel. Once the piece is dry enough to handle yet still malleable I spend a lot of time smoothing the rims (and the whole piece) with my favorite finishing sponge

The cut rims are very similar, yet when the dishes are stacked the slightly undulating lines are more apparent.

As much as I like these cuts rims, I know it is risky. These piece are more susceptible to cracking and chipping. It's a risk I'm willing to take in order to gain the harmony found between an uneven rim and the hand-drawn images and patterns. 

Cups, mugs, pitchers, and vases are treated similarly- I allow the rim to be uneven as I am throwing the form on the wheel. Sometimes the rims are even, sometimes not, and the result is always very subtle.

Flowers still grow

Jenny Dowd

Earlier this year I was invited to participate in the Laramie County Library's summer exhibition, Inspiration and the Artist Book. I was especially excited partly because this exhibition has a yearly theme. This is a challenge I look forward to, knowing that it will take me out of my current box. The 2017 exhibition, curated by Sue Sommers, is Utopia/Dystopia. 

Since I don't usually make art with a theme in mind, I find this addition at first jarring and then liberating. I must pass through a few stages:

1. Shock: What?? How do I do That? 

2. Acceptance: Hmmm... but it could mean this... or it could mean that...

3. Problem solving: I've looked at several angles, now how do I say what I want to say within this frame?

4. Grateful: I've stretched, learned a bit, and have made something that I would not have come up with otherwise.

While thinking about how to interpret Utopia/Dystopia I kept coming back to books and information, and not only because this show is in a library! I thought about the porcelain books I used to make (see them here) and thought about what a dystopian landscape would look like to me: a heavily censored world with nothing to read.

In order to execute this idea, I decided to alter a book. I recognize that this is a weird process. I love the tactile feeling of books. They offer escape and education all in one place, so destroying a book seems like the last thing I would want to do. However, I see this an an opportunity to redirect the life of an object that has been produced in multiples and has been discarded. (This book was found at the Teton County Library where I have taught book altering classes in the past, they let me pilfer the collection of books that will be in an upcoming book sale.)

For this project I found a particular sized book with a black, hard cover. After distressing the cover I went to work cutting away the interior to create a niche for my hidden utopia.

I made hills out of the discarded pages and used correction tape to obscure any words with meaning, leaving behind only a few pronouns, articles, and indirect objects. 

Gluing everything together was interesting: 

When I was finished, I had a little fun making a stop-action video:

Flowers still grow

One book is an infinite, hand-held universe. It has the ability to introduce unknown places and ideas with questions, experiences, and thoughts. Just one book is capable of leading a reader on a lifetime of learning and searching.

This book represents a dystopian world of redacted and heavily censored information. While this could be a diagram for the ideal, utopian meadow, it still contains an element of dread. Set like a stage with delicate clouds hanging from thread over rhythmic hills, the subject of the book remains unknown and creates a suspiciously dull scene.

White flowers reflect what little nutrients are available to be gleaned from sanitized, stripped soil, but they are growing. Hope and the ability to evolve will always be found where something grows.

The exhibition will be at the Laramie County Library in Cheyenne, Wyoming from June 9 - August 7, 2017. If you are in the area be sure to stop by and see how several artists interpreted this theme!

Packing for a show

Jenny Dowd

This summer I will be included in an exhibition of artwork by 12 Wyoming women. The exhibition, Place/Settings, will be in Concord, North Carolina at The Galleries, located in the Historic Cabarrus Courthouse and curated by the Cabarrus Arts Council.

In May I will travel to Concord to install my pieces. One is Passages, which has been installed 4 different times in Wyoming since 2009. This flexible sculpture was designed to have several lives and I'm excited for this new chapter in NC.

Passages is made up of over 300 boat forms that are made from welded steel then dipped in Egyptian Paste and kiln fired (See some of the past installation here, plus check out this past blog post about the installation last fall at Persephone Bakery.) Each installation is different and I am looking forward to working within the gallery space and tying my work in to that of my colleagues. 

For this installation, I've packed about 125 boats, 2 spools of wire, a ton of screw eye hooks and some wire snips. Not sure how many boats I'll use, just want to make sure I have options. I've also never shipped this work before. I padded them in tissue paper and packed them tightly in boxes with old sheets and bubble wrap. You can see that Merlin is unsure of this packing method. I think it will be ok.

The other piece I will be installing, Where the ground meets the sky, is a new and also very flexible piece. There are lots of little parts and pieces for this one: silk and velum clouds suspended from pins by silk thread, little porcelain hills plus hills with porcelain and wire flowers. (I lovingly call them hillettes.)

I am equally excited to install this piece as I am to install Passages. And I can't wait to share the process! I had to be really careful in my studio- I found all these little pieces to be particularly attractive to the studio cat, I know he probably thought he was being helpful, but I really didn't need the flowers or clouds to be perforated. Playing with and installing this piece in a cat-free space is much needed.

Now the boxes are headed to NC, I'll see them in a month! (Boxes photographed with large studio cat for scale. Thanks Merlin, always so helpful.)

Stay tuned, I will post details of my installation and also the show!

If you are in the Concord, NC area, be sure to check out the show from May 5 - July 7, 2017

New Designs

Jenny Dowd

The process of developing new ideas, including all the starts and stops, is something I truly enjoy. The frustrations only make me work harder and in turn, the successes are that much sweeter.

About a year ago I made a series of little ink drawings for an invitational exhibition. (Check out the blog post here.) Ever since I've been thinking about how to transfer some of these drawings onto cups and plates.

Thoughts of random objects drawn on my pots turned into drawings of tools and sweets. While discussing surface methods with Sam, the two ideas melted together and I started thinking about objects with hidden elements. Helpful cakes and tools with sweet surprises. 

I started by "drawing" the object using an inlay technique on the leather-hard clay. After bisque I inserted the hidden object (a saw or hammer inside a cupcake, or a cupcake inside a chainsaw.) I had a hard time stopping, it was exciting to finally visualize some of the ideas. I layered several glazes and underglazes and tried a few different applications.

I wasn't terribly happy with the results, but it was a good start and gave me more ideas on how to proceed.

The hidden cupcake inside the chainsaw needs more definition, the glaze outline around the chainsaw doesn't work, but the color contrast is a good idea, the tools are too ghostly inside the cake, the cupcake is just ok... 

At least this gave me enough information for another round of tests:

I'm happier with these results, though there will be a few more rounds before I start making more of these drawings on other forms and producing sets.

This process can be frustrating and exhausting but mostly it is exhilarating. Once I start working on one cup or plate, I think of so many more ideas and processes. I'll wake up at night thinking about new ways to solve the problems.

All the while I'm thinking about what these little drawings mean- is the cupcake being helpful? What about the secret the chainsaw is hiding? Is this about that time someone called me a tough little cupcake? I'm the kind of girl who likes getting tools as gifts, but I know some who don't- so maybe including a cupcake with the gift (that really isn't for her) would be helpful. (Just a thought!) 

Whatever it is, I'm enjoying the experiments and am excited to develop quirky stories for the surface of objects that are meant to be handled and used everyday.

Lids & Lessons

Jenny Dowd

This week an accident led to a nice memory as well as a reminder to plan ahead. 

While glazing several bisque-fired honeypots I broke a lid. The loop handle, while cute and functional, is also rather fragile. When a lid breaks, usually that is also the end of the vessel. Clay shrinks during the firing process making it nearly impossible to re-create a lid with a good fit. 

This lid issue reminded me of an indirect lesson I picked up from Yoshi Ikeda while I was his student at Kansas State University. He would make lots and lots of lids- separately from the teapot forms. Once the teapots came out of the kiln Yoshi would go through this collection of lids, trying each one until he found the perfect fit and design for the teapot. If a lid broke, there was always another one in the box.

At the time this seemed counter to what I was learning about craftsmanship, not to mention eccentric. Now this sweet memory reminds me of process, the evolution of ideas and problem solving. It has also encouraged a planned approach to lidded forms. 

 Yoshi Ikeda | Teapot

Yoshi Ikeda | Teapot

When I started making honeypots a few years ago I would keep the jar or lid if the other part broke or didn't fit well after firing. This led to a box of random parts, but nothing ever fit and they kept piling up. I finally realized that if I made the opening of the jar the same diameter every time and made the lids the same diameter, then they would always fit! For the past year I have used this technique, so this time, I'm pretty sure my replacement lid will fit.

If you have one of my honeypots and have broken the lid, let me know. I might just have a replacement lid that fits!