Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Potter's List

I took some time this morning to come up with a list of all the steps I take to make a mug, plus a few other extra things I have to do more or less on a daily basis in running Mug Revolution.

The next list I make is going to be my Christmas list!

But I think I'll rest up before doing that, for some reason I feel somewhat tired after reading through the list...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cycling Stories

It was my great pleasure recently to add a new mug to the "Mainstay Mugs" section at - The Cycling Mug. This was a particularly rewarding project to take on, as cycling has been and continues to be a very important and enjoyable part of my life.

In the early 90's, I was going through a pretty tough divorce. My kids were very young and I had long periods of time without seeing them, even though my ex and I lived in the same town. The whole concept of visitation rights, lawyers, and the court system were pretty overwhelming and I found myself being pretty bummed out.

The biggest part of the problem for me was that I had moved to Oregon from Toronto, and virtually all of my friends in Oregon had been friends with my wife first...loyalties entered in to the picture, and you can guess the rest. Needless to say, I was suddenly very alone.

As time went by, I started thinking about bicycle racing, but dismissed the notion as I thought I was too old to start racing. (ahh, what I would give now to be back in my early thirties again!) However, the thought persisted, and in time I decided to join a racing club in Southern Oregon.

At first I was terrible, but I found that I had found a fantastic group of new friends, a lot of whom I am still very close with. With the support and encouragement of the cycling community in the Siskiyou Wheelmen, I had a two wonderful years of road racing in the lower categories. My goal was to upgrade to a higher category, which I did after winning the silver medal for the State of Oregon road race in 1994. (Trust me, it sounds a lot more prestigious than it really was.) From that point on, racing was sheer agony for me as I could never make the adjustments and new demands that higher competition demanded. A painful non-cycling related injury cut my second season short, and not long after I moved to Bend, Oregon, and never raced competitively again.

I still love cycling, and often ride my bike around town while doing errands. I even take mug orders to the post office via the bike whenever I can. I've done several week long cycle tours over the years which can only be described as amazing. And I love how much I can eat without penalty when I'm putting in the miles!

Now that you know some of my cycling background, you may be able to understand my excitement with The Cycling Mug. It's pretty cool that I had help from a graphic designer friend on the design, and she just rode her bike across the U.S. this past summer! Check her blog out!

I should market the mug with this tag line: "This mug is designed and made by cyclists, for cyclists!"

Now all I need to do is come up with a logo mug for potters. "Made by a potter, for potters." Or would it be better to come up with a "Passion Mug"? "Made by a passionate craftsman for passionate people!" Hey, not a bad idea...

If you're a passionate cyclist or want to get a mug for someone who is, you can take a look at the product page over at the website. Check over on the Facebook Fan Page for a discount coupon code, available until Oct. 31st, 2010.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"T-shirts are out - mugs are in!"

It's the time of year when I get a lot of requests for custom logo mugs. From comments passed on to me, companies that give key clients and employees logo mugs have been very pleased with the responses. I thought I'd post a few photos of logo mugs that have been done in the studio this year. (Click on the photos to see larger image size.) As my buddy Russ has been known to say, "t-shirts are out, mugs are in!" I think he's got a point!

When the long days in the studio were over during summer and it was time to relax a bit, you could often find me on the deck, gratefully spending some time with a good book, glass of wine, and Kelty!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Keep On Rocking!

Sometimes the oddest things capture my imagination, and my brain goes into some kind of alternate creative reality.  I stumbled upon an article recently that was titled "The Worst Named Rock Band In New York City" which for some unknown reason inspired me to come up with pottery related names for a rock band.

So far I've come up with the following:

  • Brent and The Kickwheels
  • Bad Firing featuring Uneven Heat
  • Slipcast
  • Porcelain Heartbreak
  • Clay and the Grogtones
  • Thrown in Haste
  • Cone Ten and the Reduction
  • Off Center
  • Muddy Fingers
  • Big Slab and the Coilpots
  • The Slabrollers

If you have any that you'd like to add to the list I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dennis Meiners Workshop

Crashing Horse Teapot by Dennis Meiners, 
2007 best in show winner at the Portland, Oregon Ceramic Showcase.

I spent a week with Dennis Meiners and his wife Leslie Lee in the summer of 2008, at a glaze intensive workshop they hosted at Hummingbird Studios in the Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon. Earlier this month, Dennis came here to Bend, Oregon for a one day workshop at Central Oregon Community College. I love going to clay workshops as I get inspired by seeing how others work with clay. While my style of pottery couldn't be further from Dennis' style, I learned a lot and have some great new ideas of things I can do with my work. Most of all I came away really rejuvenated and inspired, which is what all good workshops do to the participants.

Dennis does 99% of his work with slabs. Amazingly, he does not use a slab roller. While at the glaze workshop in 2008 I discovered by accident that saying "slab roller" within earshot of Dennis was not a good thing to say. Ever. At first I thought it was funny, but soon realized that I'd better cut out saying "slab roller" around him for the sake of my own long term health. However, I was curious to know how he could get along without a (shhh, just in case he's listening...) slab roller, since most of his work starts off as a slab.

What he does to make slabs is to wedge clay and then systematically and with great control throws the clay onto a canvas surface which stretches out the clay. From time to time he uses a large diameter dowel to roll out the clay, then continues to throw the slab down to thin it out more. It's really amazing to watch the slab grow in size, and you start to think that it looks a heck of a lot easier to make a slab this way compared to using a slab roller.

When he has the slab a little thicker than he wants in the final slab, Dennis applies surface decoration to the slab to give it texture, and then he continues to make the slab thinner by the throwing technique outlined above. In this way he is able to have control over how he wants the surface of the slab to look. He can have a completely smooth slab of clay, or a slab that looks amazingly like bark on a tree. One cool thing about Dennis is that he lets the clay lead the way and will explore new directions when they present themselves to him. He says "I have found that the objects that result from the act of making are secondary to being in the process of bringing those objects into existence...I have compared this experience to riding a horse at night. The objective is to trust the horse, not fall off, and be awake to see where I have arrived when the light returns."

Once he has a slab he is satisfied with, he uses it to make many different things. He makes fantastic mugs, teapots, and platters (as well as other beautiful objects). He's a very accomplished brush artist and is a master of glazing, and has a wicked sense of humor. (My kind of guy for sure!)

Adding a handle to a slab mug

Adding a spout to a teapot

Assembling a texturized slab into a box.
Thanks Dennis, for the great workshop and the inspiration! You can check out Dennis' beautiful work at his website, and if you know anyone who is looking for a fantastic property with an amazing art studio, let them know that Hummingbird Studios is looking for a new owner!

Finished slab built mugs - fantastic!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Coolest Mom Ever!

I've written a bit about my memories of my mom's pottery previously in the blog. As today is  Mother's Day, I wanted to share a bit more about my mom's life with clay.

I asked my mom how she got interested in pottery, and she said "I went to an art sale with a friend just before Christmas in the mid 1960's. We walked around, and for some reason, I picked up almost every piece of pottery and hugged them to me, asking my friend if she didn't just love it like I did. Before the evening ended, she gave me a rather strange look and said "why don't you take up pottery?" I'd never thought of it as an option before then, but it was a great idea, given my sudden love affair with things ceramic, and I immediately signed up for classes.  My interest in working in clay soon transformed from a love affair to an obsession."

Mom spent eighteen years making pottery, first as a part time hobby, and later on, full time. I recall many street fairs, open houses, and gallery shows where she sold her work.

Mom did all her throwing on a kick wheel, and not only made a full line of functional pottery but also made pinch pots and did some very cool slab pieces. In a lot of ways, her artistry was ahead of her time. Her favorite functional pieces to make were teapots and bowls.

Of her non-functional work, she says "After I spent a summer at the Banff School of Fine Arts, I developed a love for throwing slabs of clay across a table to thin them and at the same develop a rough texture created by the act of throwing the clay across the table. The texture was very similar to tree bark, and I fired the pieces without glazing them, only using an iron wash to stain them.   I then created wall hangings using these pieces interwoven by jute macrame (that I also executed).  Unfortunately, I was a little ahead of my time–most people didn't understand the beauty I was creating, and a common question about many of my free-form pieces was 'What is this for?' Today I don't believe this chasm would exist."

I asked her if she had any noteworthy things that she recalled, and she said "I once built a clay chair which I thought was pretty spectacular. It was burnished and coated in a black slip. Unfortunately, it fell apart the day we tried to place it in the kiln. It was going to have some cords strung back and forth, upon which to place a cushion made from some handwoven fabric. I was very sad that day, after spending a great deal of time constructing and burnishing it."

When we lived in Windsor, Ontario, her studio was in our basement. In 1972 we moved to Sebringville, Ontario (near Stratford), where her studio was in a converted chicken shed, under had a huge black walnut tree, and there was a showroom in our house in what had once been the summer kitchen. We lived in a fantastic house that was built in 1834, and our three acre property had a beautiful creek running through it.

We met all kinds of interesting people over the years due to mom's involvement with clay. I recall a couple from France who were hitch-hiking through Canada. They saw the pottery sign in our front yard, came in to see the showroom, and ultimately became good friends. We also got to know a wonderful couple from Austin, Texas, who helped fire Mom's wood kiln on one or two occasions. As a kid growing up in rural Canada, meeting people from Texas was off-the-charts exotic and hugely entertaining, with comments like "Y'all ain't lived yet if you ain't eaten jalapeno peppers" being particularly fascinating. There was a full blown music centered hippie-commune known as The Perth County Conspiracy nearby and we got to know many of the colorful characters who lived there.

Over the years mom went to many workshops with well known potters such as Robin Hopper (with whom she also apprenticed briefly), John Glick, Finn Lynngaard (from Denmark), Michael Cardew, Roman Bartkiw, and an unforgettable week with Tatsuzo Shimaoka, a living national treasure from Japan. She also attended the Banff School of Fine Arts for six weeks in the summer of 1970 and won a tuition scholarship there to return the following year.

Though mom is now retired and doesn't work with clay any longer, I do get her into my studio when she visits, and it's always a thrill for me. She knows a lot about glaze formulation, and one of my prized possessions is a box filled with her glaze tests and recipes. In fact, one of the glazes I use on the mugs is from one of her recipes. She's an excellent photographer and we love to go out and shoot together. She's probably noticed that I wait to see what she's shooting out of the corner of my eye, and then I take the same shot a few minutes later when she's not looking. Her shots always come out better of course!

I've been really fortunate to be able to make a living as a potter, and I know my mom is both thrilled, proud and happy for me. I know that I would never have been able to do it had she not shown me how important it is to follow one's passion, work hard, and do good work. I'll never forget her telling me not to be afraid to make my pots really well, and to price them accordingly, because there are people who value really well made pots.

Thanks mom, I love you! Happy Mother's Day!

All the photos are scans from a 1970's local newspaper interview, published in Stratford, Ontario.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Win a Mug Revolution T-Shirt!

I had some t-shirts made for Mug Revolution a while back. I planned to offer them for sale on the website. I haven't gotten around to doing that just yet– I always seem to be busy doing something else, it seems! I've given a lot of them to family and friends, and I give one away from time to time when I get really big orders. Everyone loves them. 

The other day in the studio, the thought occured to me, why not give away some t-shirts in a contest? So, dear reader, I am offering you the chance to win one of these very cool tees.

It's simple. Just reply in the comments to this blog post and state why you deserve to win one. Nothing simpler!

I'll keep the contest open until Thursday, May 27th and pick winners on Friday May 28th barring some unforseen incident. If I'm really impressed by your argument in favor of winning a t-shirt, I may be pursuaded to add a mug to the t-shirt. So impress me!

There may be more than one t-shirt awarded. There may be many. At the moment I will be the sole judge, though I may call in one or more additional judges, especially if they provide the beer coffee while we choose. ;~)

Let the writing begin!! Good luck!

Oh! If you'd like to post your entry on Mug Revolution's Facebook fan page (where you can add photos and videos if you want) here's the link!

[UPDATE 5/29/10]: Winners announced! 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Just Mugs and Just a Barber? Not!

This is my barber, Bill Carpenter, here in Bend, Oregon. His shop is called "Just a Barber". It's just a little misleading, the name of his barber shop. He's a lot more than just a barber, though he doesn't want you to think that–he's pretty modest. You see, not only is Bill the kind of barber who knows everyone and can talk about almost any topic with some authority, but he and I have a little secret that I'm about to share with you.

He gets mugs from me.

And every 6 weeks or so when I go in, both for a good conversation and a trim, I see these mugs and I think about how dang cool that is.

We typically have far ranging discussions as he is doing his work to make me look less shaggy. For instance, today we talked about the following things over 25 minutes: bicycle racing, baseball, local fall elections, Christianity, Buddhism, the dynamics of person-to-person versus group-to-group relations, psilocybin, Hawaii, oversized hail, riding bikes on the old McKenzie Highway, swimming versus walking the butte, personal responsibility, and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember. During that time he had two phone calls and one walk-in for appointments. All the while he's working on the old mop-top.

Each fall he usually asks me to make him some personalized logo mugs to give to his clients at Christmas. Last year he wanted shave mugs made. They were a big hit, he tells me.

Can't put it into words, how great Bill is, really. You know, your hair grows, you need it cut, that's universal. I think Bill's artistry is the fact that even though our town is big, it feels like a small town when you enter his shop, and it feels like a small town long after you've left it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring Update

We've made it to April. In Central Oregon this means that the most unpredictable weather month of the year has arrived. You never know what it is going to be doing outside, and after six months of winter you can't help but feel that you are owed some nice weather. You get a really nice day or two, which gets your hopes up. Bad mental error, that. Because normally you can't count on good weather until June.

Meanwhile, things are chugging along in the studio. I had a late rush order that came in last Friday, the last possible day for orders to be added to this batch of mugs. These mugs are for a running race in Olympia, Washington. A very cool logo, I must say.

The Captiol Peak mug, greenware.

I should finish up the last of the logos and handles today, and will start glazing tomorrow. Actually I will start the first of two days of applying wax and wax resist to the mugs tomorrow, then I will start glazing. Hoping to get the kiln up and running late in the day on Friday.

Of course, since we are in April, I couldn't resist (no pun intended) a little April Fool's Twitter fun. Read from the bottom up to get the chronology correct.

That's all for now–wishing you all the best until next post!

4-14-2010 update: I thought I'd post a photo of the finished Capitol Peak mug, seen below.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Throwing mugs globally - to Ireland!

One of the best things about being a web based business is the fact that I get orders not only from all over the United States and Canada, but from around the world. It's pretty cool to get an order for mugs from Goose Creek, South Carolina. And it's really cool to get an order from a company in Carlow, Ireland. One such order came through the studio last summer, and a subsequent repeat order in early 2010 gave me an idea to find out more about this customer. I had a great experience working with CEO Michele Neylon of Blacknight Solutions, which is an ICANN accredited registrar and web hosting company in Ireland. Michele is a super nice guy, and is always ending his e-mails with such gems as "PS, on the video side of things, is a good option, it lets you post to itunes as well." How cool is that? I really can't thank him enough for all the help he has given me in getting more adept with web issues and social media over the past 8 months or so with his little gems of knowledge.

I emailed Michele -- the correct pronunciation is mēke'lā (if you can read phonetics - if not, let me just say it is not at all like it is spelled) a few questions to find out more about his decision to place orders for the mugs that I very happily made. Without further ado, here they are:

Mug Revolution: How did you find out about Mug Revolution's custom logo mugs?
Michele: I was looking for custom mugs and found your site on google.
MugRev: What was your purpose in placing an order for the mugs? (ie, a gift to employees, gift for clients,  re-sale in your retail area/store etc.)
M: Exploring marketing ideas. I bought the first batch for staff and others were bought for key clients and contacts.
MugRev: Describe your experience working with Mug Revolution in working out the details of your order.
M: Excellent - Other things that impressed me when dealing with you was the speedy and accurate / helpful replies to my initial queries.
MugRev: How would you describe your custom logo mug? Did the logo come out as well as you expected?
M: We are delighted!

MugRev: You added personalization to the logo mugs. Do you think that that made a bigger impact on the recipient's response to the mug? 
M: Personalisation had a very positive impact on recipients. They love them!
MugRev: What kind of response did you get from the recipients of the mugs? Any particular comments that stand out?
M: Everyone loves them - one guy emailed me to say that he planned on using it for watching football :)
MugRev: Based on gifts your company may have given in the past, how do you think the mugs compared?
M: They're unique. Most of the corporate gifts are mass produced. Getting personalised gifts of high quality made a big difference to the recipients.
MugRev: Did the cost of the mugs plus shipping fit into your budget easily?
M: Shipping overseas was expensive, but I think the feedback we've got has been worth it. Bear in mind that a full page print ad can cost thousands of euros, while giving a unique gift to a client or key contact can pay off much more over time.
MugRev: How do you think the mugs impacted your business? Any cool stories to share?
The mugs have helped add to the buzz around the company, which is excellent. I've a few people who have told some nice stories about their mugs. At least one member of our staff dropped his and put it back together with glue and still uses it!
MugRev: Any other thoughts you'd like to share?
M: We love the mugs and plan to get more of them in the future. By the way, we've done a full blog post on them, as well as posting photos to Twitter and facebook. And, I've just added another blog post!
Many thanks to Michele Neylon of Blacknight Solutions. You can stay in touch with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter again! I loved making his company's mugs and always love hearing how they worked out for the folks that get the mugs. Should anyone reading this want to order their own Blacknight Mug, here's the link!   And Michele, I think that I will make arrangements to personally deliver your next order - I can't wait to visit Ireland!

Friday, January 29, 2010

I just turned off the glaze kiln after a 16-1/2 hour firing. I thought you would like to see a quick video!

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Happy New Year!

It definitely took some time to get back into the swing of things after the holidays.

It was fantastic to take a couple of weeks off to unwind and enjoy friends and family.

But man, was it tough getting back into the studio at first! Due to some issues beyond my control, I had no choice but to launch my new and wonderful website in October, the start of one of the busiest times of the year for me. (The other busy time is June and July with a lot of special event mugs.) So between order volume increasing and spending a lot of time with the web developer and photographer, days off were non-existent for a long stretch. Hence, when all the orders were done in December, I took a well deserved and very lazy break!

Thought you'd like to see the newest mug in the store - and a new color! For a long time I've wanted to add a red glaze (as have many of my customers over the years) and I am really pleased with the results. If you love copper reds, I'm sure you will be pleased too. Here's a photo to show you what I mean:

I've had lots of great feedback on the red which is very rewarding-a lot of time was spent in testing and experimenting with glazes and firing techniques to get the red looking like this.

As you no doubt noticed in the photo, there is a new Love Mug, just in time for Valentine's Day! It's called the personalized Love Mug, and can be ordered for Valentine's Day or any time really-love is much too big a force in our lives to only be recognized one day a year. More info.

As always, I love hearing from you, whether it is through Mug Revolution's Twitter page, our Facebook Fan Page, or in the comments. Wishing you all a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year!

And thanks everyone for making 2009 the best year in Mug Revolution's history. It would not have been possible without you!