I Don’t Throw Pots…But I Review This Book

Mastering the Potter;s Wheel book cover


Why would I, a longtime confirmed handbuilder-of-clay, seek out and buy a book dedicated to wheel throwing? Am I switching teams? Not hardly! I have no intention of throwing pots.

So, then, what gives? And why this particular book? I’ll explain.

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Stop Look Do


A front window of Good Life Ceramics,
A front window of Good Life Ceramics,

A few years ago, my friend and clay buddy John Albrecht sat me down and described his passionate idea for a new clay place. What he outlined back then was not just ambitious, it was a little outrageous. It would be a place, he said, that reached out to both clay diehards AND clay newbies. It sounded like my kind of theme park: excellent facilities, enticing projects for spontaneous drop-ins, members’ studio space and privileges, local clay artists available for consultations, date nights, movies, interesting flex hours. Oh, and a gallery with exhibits and work for sale.Read More >

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TYPORAMICS: Hot Out of the Kiln for April, 2014

Handwavium Canister, 2014, Liz Crain
Handwavium Canister, 2014, Liz Crain

This is to introduce you to a concept and a word I wish I had invented. But no, that honor and distinction goes to Academy of Art University in San Francisco Graphic Design MFA candidate Flora Cruells Benzal.

She defines Typoramics as the place “where ceramic art and typography meet.” And is creating her thesis-including-book around the artists who practice it.

A woman after my own heart in SO many ways: ceramics! graphic design! education! synthesis! word coinage!

I will let Flora’s description on her Typoramics Facebook page do the rest of the honors:Read More >

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Chase the Dream, Not the Competition



After six years,  I’m stepping away from the Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour for at bit. I won’t even apply again until 2015 at the earliest. Good for me!

Like eating peanuts, I made sure I ended on a good one. This year’s effort was my best showing ever, in both artwork and presentation. It had the most attendance (over 400 visitors) and satisfying sales numbers in all categories.

I know other local artists who create a on-off Open Studio schedule, some as an every-other-year practice, some sporadically, as other projects and interests allow. Might it work for me?Read More >

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Thistlethwaite and Haste: Failure as a Metaphor for Success


While I’m busy making other plans for aesthetic awesomeness and cultural dominance,  clay unfailingly reminds me to cleave to patience and humility. To aim high, show up in the studio, stay the course and remain grateful for it all: those bedrock opportunities for excellence.

The piece pictured above, the thoroughly cracked Thistlethwaite and Haste, has given me once again an ironically humorous lesson I guess I am doomed to repeat to the extent that I become happy about it.

This re-decorating and re-firing should have been a slam-dunk. I was just adding a fillip or two to a relatively plain piece from last year. It’s something I have done successfully many, many times before, whether as a subtle touch-up or a complete re-do.

Because an important part of my new artistic direction is to make my own brands, logos, slogans and tag lines, I delved deep on the design details and the painting, set it in the kiln, fired it to a ridiculously low temperature compared to where it had already gone…and… opened the lid to an unequivocal failure.

As best as I can figure, there were stresses hiding in the clay. Where, how and why are perhaps unknowable. Maybe they were always there. Was it due to forming issues? (But why didn’t they show up at the first higher temp firing?)  Was it between the tensions of inner and outer surface treatments? (Hmmmm.) The relative speed of the kiln temperature changes? What? While it is good to suss out the reasons for problems, sometimes – OK, often – they just are the way they are…Shrug and go on.

Yet, yet…..The meaning of that title…..

Was there Haste involved? Impatience?  Imperiousness? Maybe.

The clay and the kiln both replied: Thistlethwaite.

Sigh. It’s almost a Jungian dream message.


And there’s more!

Here’s the back.


More evil sproing cracks and that tag line: publishing to the DEVIL.  To do so is to reveal your fond intentions to the wrong person or at the wrong time. Wait, could that mean me? I’ll take it as a kicker, for I think the kiln genie was definitely out dancing with the ghost in the machine this time around.

I will certainly remake this piece in some fashion, maybe a bit more intentionally, with love and laughter. Its ironic title and all the extras I added around the sides make me chuckle, even with those cracks. And that is exactly the Success part of this Failure I am most happy about.

–Liz Crain, who realizes that speaking of all this here may or may not help the Devil calm down and just go along with her plans.

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That’s the Way the Animal Cracker Crumbles


It starts with the intention to make molded clay animal cracker pins to raise money for Cabrillo College’s Ceramics program and ends with….ceramic animal cracker pins that do just that.

But the journey is the interesting part. Not the noun what, but the verb how.

Let’s enjoy the fascinating loop-de-loops, curious sidetracks and obtuse angles to get there, learning a thousand things that don’t work on the way.

At first,  testing to find the best approach:Which clay?  Body stain or not? Oxide washes? Underglazes? Glaze? Testing, testing, testing. Always comparing the results to a real sample, which is surprisingly ORANGE toned. Important, too, are the molding methods and whether or not to add any clear glaze. (In this case, no, unless you want frosted animal crackers!) What you see above are the first efforts, which admit a bunch of possibilities, most of which prove unsuitable. Next slide, please!


After a few more trial runs and notes, the Final Four Finishes (ignoring the clear glaze on some of them) sit alongside a real cookie and ask for comparison. The crowd-sourcing group preferred #4 without the glaze, and so did I,  so that finish was the emphasis in the next round:

The Final Four Finishes Favorite with an added toasty edging. Could anyone guess the real ones from a random grouping of clay? In this shot the real ones are turned over, but most could not distinguish among the lot beforehand. The closest guesser noticed the excess material at the mold’s edge, not the applied colors. The job ahead was clear: make neat moldings and color them well.


And that’s what I did. Nearly four hundred crackers, pressed and molded neatly. Over twenty of each kind!



And bisque fired in several tumble-stacked  layers.




Most of the animal cracker shapes were clear: Lion, Giraffe, Gorilla, Koala. But there was one Mystery Animal. That’s the cracker at the bottom of this photo. Was it a pig? A big dog? A lactating mammal with gills? It provoked a lot of feedback and speculation to my Facebook query. But the definitive list of official Nabisco Animal Crackers appeared from a Friend, identifying it as….. a hyena. Really? Ah so. We also learned that the older molds from older crackers were larger and more detailed than the fresh-out-of-the-box-this-week cracker molds. Ah, profitability.



The task at hand: to color and glaze fire the collection. The sheer volume is daunting. Time to put tailbone on the stool and just get it done.

And the first fired round turned out too dark and blotchy! At least with low-fire clay and underglazes, an artist can just re-apply the lighter color treatment and refire. A burnt cookie is a burnt cookie, but a burnt clay cookie mostly just needs color adjusting and refiring.  That’s what you see in the shot above, lightening each one to send back into the kiln once again.


With a successful RE-firing, it’s time to glue on the pin-backs.  Long live E6000, or at least its smell.


A few fully formed, fired, re-fired and fitted animal cracker pins for fabulous fund-raising.

–Liz Crain, who thinks a curiously tenacious work ethic, a few laughs, and raising funds for Cabrillo College’s Ceramics Program are definitely worth the kink in her neck from hours in the same intent position.

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