Pottery from Hills of Clay is currently for sale at The Waxwing in Milwaukee, WI; Tralee Irish Imports & More, Wauwatosa, WI; Boerner Botanical Gardens, Hales Corners, WI; The Wool & Cotton Co, Greendale, WI; Serendipitous Designs, South Milwaukee, WI; Hummingbirch, Bayview, WI and online with Etsy at http://www.etsy.com/shop/HillsofClay.

You may also contact us directly with questions or requests: contact@hillsofclaypottery.com

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Functional Pottery

One of the first pottery classes I took was Functional Pottery. A love of good food and drink, cooking and presentation all meet in this arena. This held a strong appeal for me as a food lover with artistic leanings. My kids used to laugh at my nearly pathological need to "arrange" food. Even now, as we cook I think, "What would I want to serve this in?" and as I create, "What would I eat/drink/serve from this?" Functional pottery involves not only size and shape, but also use of color (contrasting or complementary), and the matching or mismatching of sets.
Probably my favorite functional pottery experiment is the dip plate, originally inspired by my son who loved dipping foods, especially chicken nuggets, but hated when the pool of sauce ran into the pieces. So a set of dipping plates was born. Many have been made since, some shallow and some a bit deeper, with new uses popping up all the time - pot stickers and sauce! (pictured) hot wings and blue cheese dressing! apple slices with peanut butter & honey!

There have been failures. My dad asked for a long, narrow bread baker with a lid, which has proven very difficult. At this point he's using a semi-successful baking dish with a makeshift covering of some sort. I'm still pondering how to tackle it.

A new addition is the Shepherd's Pie crock. We always used larger baking dishes for a full recipe, but any time we ordered it at a restaurant, I would be drawn to the individual serving size. The initial result is pictured (note the trinity knot handles), and has since evolved to include a small serving plate - a practical necessity for the lovely mess that is Shepherd's Pie.

So form continues to follow function...most of the time. New ideas and inspirations are always welcome - what is your functional pottery need?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Milwaukee Empty Bowls

The Milwaukee Empty Bowls lunch is coming up! Pictured are just some of the bowls we are donating to help alleviate hunger in our area.

From the website: "At our annual event, guests choose from over 2,000 ceramic bowls handcrafted by local artists, teachers and students. Soups prepared by more than 50 local chefs are served with bread and other refreshments." The money raised is donated to local organizations (this year there are eight who received grants), and last year the amount was over $42,000.

The empty bowls concept was started in 1990 by an art teacher in Michigan who wanted to help his students reach out to help the hungry. It has become an international movement. I have had the privilege of attending and donating/volunteering both in Phoenix and Milwaukee. It's a lot of fun and, especially in Milwaukee, I'm astonished that people are willing to stand in long lines to donate their hard-earned money. But of course it's a great cause, delicious soup and even includes a hand-made souvenir!

The event details are:
Saturday, October 13, 2012, 10:30 am - 2:00 pm
MATC-Oak Creek, 6665 S Howell Ave, Oak Creek
$20 Donation - Includes soups, bread and a handmade bowl of your choice (first come first serve) to take home with you "as a reminder that there is always someone in our community with an empty bowl."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

This set of dinner plates was made as a gift for a friend, hand glazed by Matt with glossy black and steely silver logos. New techniques and materials allow for really precise glazing, in this case all done by hand with a brush. Terrific results, don't you think? He's planning to make more, Star Wars and beyond. Ideas anyone?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A wise ceramics teacher once told me that it's good practice to conceptualize a ceramic piece as a finished product before sitting down at the wheel (or starting to build). In other words, know not only the shape and size you want to make, but also have in mind any surface alteration and the glazing you want to do, and this will yield a better result than the alternative. Unfortunately for me, I most often lack the discipline to put this good practice into practice. More often than not, I sit down at the wheel with a lump of clay and ask it what it wants to be. Sometimes it doesn't know and sometimes it doesn't share it with me, but sometimes it yields a lovely result. I stare at my vast array of glazes, looking for a sign, and they usually just stare back at me.

Fortunately, another wise teacher told me that in her experience the best practice for a ceramic artist is to continue to create work. Don't feel inspired? Create work anyway. Feel frustrated with the work you've made lately? Create work anyway. Although a potter can be inspired by anything and everything...and I would guess that most potters have notebooks and binders full of random snippets of ideas...there will be times when you either just don't feel like it or feel you don't have enough time to do it well, or are unhappy with your results of late. Creating work is the thing. Practice makes perfect. Just do it. Use any corny or tired mantra to motivate yourself and keep at it. 

So I create work and more work, some that turn out well and some not so much, trying to gain a little discipline to conceptualize and plan along the way. Of course, having a husband who enjoys experimenting with glaze combinations lets me off the hook when I don't know how a piece should end up. Creating work is the thing. Sometimes it's pure fun and sometimes it feels like a chore. Creating work is the thing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's always exciting when the kiln is finally cool enough to be unloaded. What crashed and burned? What came out weirdly better than expected? And glaze really is weird. Other than pigmented varieties, the pre-firing version doesn't look anything like the finished product. For example, the bright blue on the inside of the mugs pictured is a deep orange-red in its liquid form (suspended powder, really). The gold on the little face sculpture is painted on as a dark charcoal gray. I am mystified and more than a little jealous of those people who presumably sat down with their chemistry sets and said, "I think I'll mix this, this and this," and created a deep red glaze that breaks to dark gray over texture. And for now I am grateful to reap the benefits of their hard work. Some day, though, I hope we have the time and storage space to create our own glazes from their element components.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

After a brief period without a kiln, it's really nice to be back in pottery production here in Milwaukee. Our little electric kiln has been tirelessly spitting out all kinds of work. In between making special orders and shop pieces, our goal has been to make at least one bowl a week for Empty Bowls, hoping to have 25 ready to donate by October's event. 
It's been interesting changing from the hot and dry climate of Arizona to the cooler and moister air here. The work sure dries a lot (a lot!) slower here, but I find I get a lot less warping because of it. A good trade-off, I guess.