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Journal

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

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Catching Up

Jenny Dowd

So much is happening right now! Which is funny, since I have been feeling like I'm not doing anything interesting or worth talking about. I'm at the start of several new things, desperately behind on some others, and thinking about a huge change to my studio by adding a new clay / decoration / firing temperature. I think it's realistic to say that I've been overwhelmed. 

So what has been happening?

A few sculpture projects are in the works. More on these to come in the next weeks...

I've been teaching a lot of clay classes at the Art Association, both adult and youth. And making some funny things as examples... like this submarine flower pot (next up, garden gnomes!)

I just finished a project at the Kelly Elementary with the 2nd & 3rd grade class. For this project I worked with pARTners- an organization that bring local artists into the schools to help with special projects. The class was studying the Pacific Northwest, so I worked with the students to make their own totem poles. Each section tells a story, about the maker as well as family, past and present. 

I've been working on a new mug design for the General Store at Menors Ferry in Grand Teton National Park:

And... I'm a new vendor at Uncommon Goods! Visit my page and read the story here

I'm moving in a lot of directions right now and every day is different. It's good to take time to reflect, this is a nice reminder that I'm doing a lot of interesting things. (And even a better reminder to keep carving out time to sit and read!)

 

 

Soda Firing: Part 2

Jenny Dowd

Soda Firing: Part 1 was just the beginning! Here's the rest of the story behind this labor intensive work:

While Sam and I both have work in this kiln and use some of the same materials, our results are totally different. One thing we both like about this process is that sometimes the pieces come out of the soda kiln awesome and sometimes - Meh. It may be a lot of uncertainty, but it's worth it. This is what I am always telling my ceramics students - there is always another step, and almost always another chance.

Sam calls these "2nd chance pots."

After they come out of the kiln we draw onto the surface with underglaze. Sam doesn't know what the drawings will depict until he sees the pieces after the soda firing, then he reacts to the surface and glaze oddities.

I try to be loose with my designs, reacting to the atmospheric effects from the stains, though I have an idea of what will happen from the beginning. Sometimes there are strange glaze or surface flaws that I can work in (shooting star on right.) This is pretty loose for me, but my drawings are always tighter than Sam's crazy ideas.

Still not done! Now that the underglaze drawings are dry, it's time to re-fire the pieces. Remember how we had to add wadding to the base of the pots so they wouldn't stick to the kiln shelf? Well, that has to happen again. This keeps the pieces lifted up so the residual soda doesn't stick to the shelf when it remelts during the firing. I keep the bits of wadding so I can save time and resources by reusing them. 

Here are a few, still warm from the kiln! All the work, all the little steps... totally worth it. I'll be adding a new tiny cup with a star to my cabinet today.

Soda Firing: Part 1

Jenny Dowd

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I've been building up a lot of pottery over the past year to get ready for soda firing. This is a process that Sam and I both really like, however, it's a lot of work with a crazy amount of steps so we don't do it very often. This time it's been over a year since we've fired this kiln, and we've built up enough work for 3 kiln loads! 

I use porcelain for a smooth white canvas and to ensure bright crisp colors. I start out by layering stains onto the bisque-ware; cobalt oxide (blues) and iron sulfate (browns and golds). These stains end up washy and atmospheric, I have an idea of how they will look but there is a large unknown element which I really appreciate.

After staining, I glaze the inside of the pieces. The soda firing process makes an overall glaze- near the end of the firing, soda ash and water is injected into the kiln. This glaze flies around and makes the final look even more unpredictable, the surfaces end up beautiful and juicy, sometimes lightly textured. Because of this process, wadding must be added to the bottom of the pots so they don't stick to the kiln shelves. (Adding the wadding is aways the point at which I am reminded how much work is ahead.) The wadding lifts the pieces up like little feet and can be knocked off after the firing.

Sam is the one who does all the work firing the kiln, it's a long day but there's something energizing about a fiery kiln. The firing is about 14 hours and then the kiln cools for 2 - 3 days before we open it. 

I'm never super excited about the results after the firing, but I see a lot of potential. The atmospheric quality of the blue and brown stains is exciting, it's a great layer for the next step... stay tuned, they aren't finished!

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. 

Archive Part 1: Blast from the past

Jenny Dowd

I finally (partially) completed a task I have been putting off for years. It resulted in an empty shelf in a closet. 

All of the artwork I produced and documented during my undergraduate years and first year of graduate school were captured on slides. The digital transition was slowly taking place and by the time I finished college I finally had a good enough / affordable digital camera. I happily said goodbye to the ordeal of slides!

I'm lucky that I only had 4 or so years of my artwork locked up in slide format, still I managed to lug an old slide projector, books and boxes of slides, plus their many many duplicates around the country while putting off sorting and digitizing them.

After dusting off the slide projector and mis-orienting some slides, I spent a few nostalgic afternoons remembering where I started in my ceramic and sculpture career.

This little slab box was the first time I fired clay pierced with metal, and it was my very first piece ever to be accepted into a juried exhibition, I think it was even purchased. Mostly I remember how nervous I was packing the box for shipping. 

There was a lot to relive in this trip down memory lane, including the time, energy, and money spent on this documentation: matching the lightbulbs with the correct tungsten film (film that lived in the produce drawer in my refrigerator) taking rolls of photos, waiting to have them developed, viewing the slides, throwing half of them away, returning to have duplicates made of the good images...

It was really fun to revisit all of this old work, though a little scary and sad when in the end I threw away heaps of slides. So much time and money. 

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I kept 2 small boxes that will be sent off this week to be digitized. The next part of this project will be to organize the images I'm keeping. Soon they will be included in an archive section of my website... stay tuned!

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.

Delivery

Jenny Dowd

So just how does my pottery get from the studio to a shop, restaurant or a home? It can be pretty handy working in a smallish town...

Sometimes I box everything up on a cart and take them across a few streets (pitchers on their way to the Wort Hotel.)

Last week two little teapots came out of the kiln so I walked them over to Healthy Being Juicery

It's not always that easy, usually a car is involved when I'm delivering several boxes or the sidewalks are covered in snow.

And of course, a lot of work is shipped. In that case packages are hand delivered safely to the USPS, FedEx or UPS drop off! (But only after Merlin has inspected the box.)

Process

Jenny Dowd

Sometimes I don't want to think about all the steps it takes to make and finish a piece of pottery. But this process is what I really love.

The past few weeks has found my studio exploding with work, although, nothing is finished. I've been working on 2 bodies of work simultaneously, both porcelain, with drastically different surfaces.

This is just a slice of the process behind what I've been working on:

One set is for a soda firing this weekend (plus a few more in the next month.) The work for the soda kiln is very heavy on process- after the bisque the insides of the pieces are glazed, the outsides stained, the bases wadded (so they don't stick to the kiln shelf.) And that's just the start. (Catch up on the whole process in this blog post from last August.)

Meanwhile, in my home studio, I've been working on another type of porcelain pottery.

This black and white series is a little more straight forward, though still time consuming. While the form is still a little damp, I apply a black underglaze, then scratch through the surface (sgraffito.) Sometimes a funny landscape appears before I finish the design- in the plate on the right the lines made hills and the clay curls turned into m-birds. (It didn't stay this way)

After the bisque firing I apply a clear glaze, which is not clear before it is fired in the kiln. Before the glaze totally dries the black design comes through the glaze just a little, like a shadow.

Whew! And that's only part of it! 

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.

The Blank Canvas

Jenny Dowd

Often a blank canvas will give pause. 

I set up January as a month full of the dreaded blank canvas- with the challenge of new design ideas in both ceramics and drawing. 

Just over halfway into the month, this week came together as the most productive. I have nothing to show for it, yet. What I do have is a kiln full of test tiles and several damp boxes full of small plates and cups. I also have a clean (ish) drawing studio with (mostly) organized pens, pencils, bottles of ink and new brushes.

I like to have a few projects going at the same time, in this case a new drawing project overlaps a little into the clay studio.

A few years ago I made stacks and stacks of "paper" out of thin sheets of clay. I was teaching at the Interlochen Center for the Arts as the Ceramics Artist in Residence and I had used up the small roll of drawing paper I'd brought with me. At the time I was encouraging my students to use materials in unexpected ways- so I started making my own paper out of porcelain paperclay. 

While the papers have been collecting dust in my studio, I've been rolling around ideas for the past year. It's been a struggle to balance my time between these two studio practices- something I'm working on this year. 

I finally fired the papers and now I'm testing the surface; trying out different inks while thinking about what kind of relationship I want to develop between the canvases and the random objects I'll be filling them with.

These canvases (pots & papers) won't stay blank for long!

Western Design Conference 2016

Jenny Dowd

Earlier this year Agnes Bourne invited several Jackson artists to work with her on a project for the 2016 Western Design Conference. We were asked to create artwork for the foyer of the Designer Show House, on display during the conference, September 8 - 11.

The theme of the room, Flying West in Summer, served as inspiration as we met and discussed our vision for the space. Sam committed to making a coat rack and I took on the challenge of a chandelier.

The cool end of summer / early fall weather was perfect; we turned our driveway into an extra studio for welding, fabrication and even wood burning.

The Designer Show House is composed of 9 rooms, each featuring a different designer. The foyer celebrates "New Arts" in Jackson, with new and repurposed objects offering a welcoming space full of ideas and reflections. Visitors are met with a large shelving unit filled with fascinating objects: a Cabinet of Curiosities. To the right in the lower bank of photos, Ben Roth's Aspen Coat Rack, fabricated from steel and spoons. At the top and lower shelves of the Cabinet of Curiosities is The Grand Pan, created by Bland Hoke. Small paintings by Lee Riddell are tucked between the curiosities. 

Inspiration for Sam's steel and wood coat rack came from the current fire season in Wyoming and throughout the West.

My inspiration for the Wyoming Sky Lantern came originally from the little white birds seen at a distance in Yellowstone National Park, usually around Grand Prismatic. I also incorporated the silhouette of the ever present mountains and stars that pierce the night sky.

Also in the image below is a plein air painting by Kathryn Mapes Turner. And surrounding the room is a giant image from Triangle X Ranch, printed on fabric.

This project stretched the imagination- the first time we saw all of the components together was during the installation on Monday before the show opened! With a bit of magic and a lot of trust this project came together to offer a space full of vision, as written by Agnes Bourne:

listen to the light

in the tent of early dawn

under the cover of quiet sunrise

the Wunderkammer of deepest dreams

reflects the shadows of living memories

in the museums of our minds

flying West in summer

listen to the light - listen to the light

Studio Cat

Jenny Dowd

It's been pretty busy in the studio lately and I think someone has been trying to tell me that he hasn't been getting enough attention. So it's about time I introduce Merlin, the Studio Cat.

Merlin is always close by, helping pack boxes, watching me work and overseeing studio operations. Of course there is also the occasional paw swat. 

Merlin would like for you to think that he is adorable and totally helpful. While he is quite entertaining he also is very good at breaking things (lots of my stuff and luckily only 1 piece made by another artist.) I encouraged Merlin to find another job, but I guess this really is his thing. I just still can't let him into my drawing studio.

Of course there is always the opportunistic nap. Anytime.

So now you know all about my studio helper!