Friday, September 28, 2012


Who doesn't love Halloween? Well, actually, LOTS of people don't love Halloween - but I think it's a darned fun holiday. Autumn colors, make-believe, celebration of the harvest... plus, there's chocolate. How can you go wrong?

This year, I learned how to make clay pots using fire crackers to blow them up from the inside. After a bit of experimentation (OK, a LOT of experimentation, in which I blew clay all over my back yard), I discovered how to make the pots circular, and how to keep them from blowing bits of clay in ragged chunks off the top. I used this "skill" to make several little firecracker pumpkins, miniature jackolanterns that can hold a candle.

The firecracker pumpkins look gorgeous when lighted, just like their much larger vegetable counterparts. Their small scale allows them to be displayed either alone, or in a group with other Halloween decor, and look equally fab either way!

Carving these little pumpkins was surprisingly time consuming. I would have thought that their small size and like of slime and seeds on the interior would make them a fast finish - but as it often happens, I was wrong. Of course, it COULD be that the patterns I chose for the jackolantern face were more elaborate than they needed to be - but who can resist a pumpkin cat? Not me.

I had the most fun with these pieces making the stems. To create a realistic looking vine, I rolled the clay in a press mold I made of a weathered piece of wood. The pattern on the vines looks like a real plant - because it is!

Anyway, these adorable little candleholders are now for sale in my Etsy shop. Hop on over there and see what else I stock that might make your Halloween holiday MAGICAL!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Renewing my spirit at Ghost Ranch

The land surrounding Ghost Ranch.
Renewing my spirit 
at Ghost Ranch

Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and jump.

Last weekend, I traveled to New Mexico for the NM Potters annual workshop at Ghost Ranch, about two hours north of Albuquerque. My friend and fellow potter Darlene Nelson invited me to attend, and I made reservations in the summer, while I was not working.

The actual workshop took place while school is in full swing. If I had had to make a decision about whether or not to go while I was so busy, I probably would not have gone. But I already bought my tickets, and I already paid for the workshop - so I was going, no matter what.

My head. He became a face jug.
The travel, as it usually is, was a pain. Airplanes and airports just aren't my thing. But when I got to the ranch - oh, my! It was beyond beautiful. We slept in bunks, shared a common bathroom and ate in a dining hall - it was like a summer camp for adults. And what's the best thing about summer camp? CRAFT TIME! :)

The workshop itself was packed with ideas, techniques and information. We had six different presenters, and I learned a great deal from all of them. Of course, my favorite workshops were the ones that let us get our hands in clay. At one session, led by NM artist Debra Fritts, we all built heads from coils, working quickly and loosely, and then learned different finishing treatments. Every person there finished his or her head, and every one was different. As I looked at the heads sitting drying in the sun, dappled by the overhead leaves, I felt a relaxation that I haven't felt in a long time. There is a peace that comes from working with your hands in the earth, whether it is a garden plot or clay. And in New Mexico last weekend, I found that peace. 
Heads on a table.

Farewell, Ghost Ranch. I will be back.

Here I am with an old ceremonial hut.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

 Dancing Cauldron Mugs and Bowls 
from Big Sky Artworks

Let's talk cauldrons.
Dancing Cauldron Bowl with Black Cat

Ok, not the huge, heavy iron kind of cauldron that hangs over hearths. These are Dancing Cauldrons - a special design from Big Sky Clay.
I started making these cauldrons in response to a special request from a customer who wanted a cauldron mug. The dancing, at first, was quite incidental - the "feet" moved a bit during firing, giving the impression that the little critters wanted to kick up their heels.

Since then, I have made dozens of dancing cauldrons, large, small and in between. Every one of them has a different personality.

This year, besides making Dancing Cauldron mugs and teacups, I added Dancing Cauldron Bowls to my shop. The largest one is a covered cauldron with a flat lid - and a cat arching its back on the top as a handle.

A stout little Dancing Cauldron
In order to make the cauldrons, I first throw a lump of clay on my kick wheel. After I create a rounded bowl-shaped mug, I move it to a shelf to allow it to dry for a time. When it reaches the leather hard stage (when the clay can be handled, but still retains some moisture), I flip it over on the wheel and trim the bottom into a round-bottom cauldron shape. After that, I add little legs and feet, lugs on the cauldron, and a graceful curved handle. No two are alike - so I like to think there is a dancing cauldron for everyone.

Happy Harvest!
:) Kate

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Twisty Turny Bud Vases on Etsy!


Wahoo, just got done with a bunch of new mugs - well, the first step, anyway! The mugs were thrown, trimmed and had handles attached. I also managed to trim a bowl until the clay was so thin it just broke through - THAT was exciting. :P

One of the things I love about clay is that there is always something new to try. Last week I received a box of about 30 different colored underglazes, and with these new mugs I plan to play with color in a way I haven't done before. I may even play with PATTERNS!

Meanwhile, I'd like to show you some of the different new projects I now have in my shop. New designs are springing full-grown from my head all the time - it's a good thing I have an outlet, because I think things would get mighty crowded in there if I didn't have a creative release.

The vases can be grouped in lots of different ways.
These fun twisty turny bud vases are the result of a new tool in my studio, a Northstar clay extruder. The extruder takes soft clay and presses it through a die, taking on the shape of the die. These particular vases are slowly turned as the clay is pressed out of the extruder, and then cut to various heights. After the clay becomes a little firmer and easier to handle, I add a bottom slab to the vases. After painting the sides with colored slip (runny clay that has color added to it), the bud vases are allowed to dry slowly in my studio. After they reach a bone dry stage, they make their first trip to the kiln, to be fired to roughly 1600 degrees F. This first firing drives the remaining moisture out of the clay, and makes it much stronger.

The next step is glazing. This set of vases was dipped in a clear glaze, and then fired again, this time to 2150 F or so. The higher temperature causes the clay to vitrify, making it more durable and waterproof.

One of the things I find so wonderful about clay is the endless possibilities. Perhaps some day I'll run out of ideas - but it's not going to be anytime soon.

Yet another view of the twisty turny vases. Natural clay colors the interior, covered by a clear glaze.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pots with CHARACTER!

Some people ask me, why do I create character mugs and face jugs? Why, indeed! The little critters seem to have taken on a life of their own. But I'll tell you a secret - I didn't start out with the idea that I was going to make silly, whimsical, one-of-a-kind faces on  my pottery. I started out wanting to practice sculpture.

You see, I am what my husband calls a "Serial Crafter." In my life, I have moved swiftly from one medium to the next, entering each craft with a frenzy known only to shoppers at a sale that offers 70 percent off the sale price. I completely immerse myself. But then, when I have amassed pounds of paint or baskets of beads, tons of tiles or galleons of glass, I find myself losing interest. I create until I can store no more, and then ... well, I didn't have an outlet to sell what I make, and so I would just quit. Anybody want to buy 50 pounds of broken plates? :D

But I had waited my whole life to finally be able to work with clay, and I didn't want the same thing to happen with that as did with my other artwork. I wanted to practice sculpture, and I wanted to improve my ability to throw clay on a wheel. What I DIDN'T want was hundreds of tiny sculpted heads lying around the house, or pottery mugs overflowing my countertops and cupboards. So I put the two together - and Big Sky Artworks on Etsy was born.

Black Cat Dancing Cauldron Bowl with Lid
You'll note that the blog is called Big Sky Clay. This is a more accurate representation of my current work, as I create almost exclusively now in clay. But on Etsy, my shop is still Big Sky Artworks - perhaps a hedge against the day that I want to take my hands out of the mud for a short while, and create in another medium again. I have broken the Curse of the Serial Crafter, working in clay for nearly five years. I don't expect to stop playing in the mud any time soon - there is apparently an endless supply of things you can do with clay, and always something new to learn.

Ugly Ogre Face Jug

This blog will frequently feature my new work, and also include musings about clay. I hope you will join me in this journey - the muddy road of pottery!