Category Archives: crafts

throwing, throwing, throwing: my love of pottery keeps growing

I’ve mentioned before that I’m hooked on pottery, but this weekend it reached a fevered pitch as I tried to replicate vases and mugs from my last batch.

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My lovely teacher Lois Hinman (click to see her work!) in Ridgecrest, Calif., always told me that she started selling her pots (decades ago!) because it’s an expensive hobby and she couldn’t take the money from her family. I’m starting to feel that way, too — each firing (including bisque and glaze) is close to $100, not to mention the clay and the glazes. And we don’t have enough cupboard space for all that I’m making!

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So, now I’m thinking about how to sell — where, what that means, coming up with a plan, etc. Of course, I’m also 28 weeks pregnant  (entering that third trimester, yeesh!) and slowing down physically, so that will keep me from doing it anytime soon.

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But, I like the idea of creating a plan and having inventory for when I’m ready to enter a show or put pieces up on Etsy. Maybe I’ll do it sooner than later, but given how tired and achy I’m starting to feel, I doubt much will happen before baby boy no. 3 is at least three months old.

IMG_7025What I love about the process is not only the physical act of throwing and creating useful, beautiful things, but also the challenge — starting a “business” is scary. And entering a show is scary. And I don’t even have a kiln yet. Once I get a kiln (after we move out of our rental) I can start to mix glazes. There is always, always more to learn with this craft. And I have a long way to go to be really good.

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But the bottom line is I love it and that passion isn’t going away.

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If you are a potter or artist with a small business and have any tips or suggestions along the way, I’d be grateful!

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from rough to shine: my latest hobby

Before I moved to the desert, I had never heard of rock tumbling.

In March, I went on a hike in the Indian Wells Valley with A., C., and my in-laws, and my MIL and I starting noticing beautiful, colorful, sparkling rocks. They glinted in the sun. Our pace slowed as our necks folded down and we searched the desert dirt. I filled my cargo pants pockets with red and and green and blue and striped rocks.

Along the way, A. and my FIL suggested rock tumbling. A. said he’d look into making me a tumbler.

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Truly, this was a new concept for me. Why would anyone tumble rocks? (I have since discovered other friends either don’t get it or also haven’t heard of it — one derided it as a “first-grade science experiment,” another said, “You mean, like the website Tumblr?”)

A. explored making a rock tumbler, and decided it was easier to buy one. So he did.

I tumbled my first batch before we left for the east coast. The process takes an entire month — or more — of tumbling rocks in a rubber container with either grit or polish. Day and night.

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The results are amazing. I’m still deciding what to do with them (ideas are welcome!). A couple of them will probably be paper weights. A few turned into beautiful pendants for necklaces. The others may fill a glass with a candle in it. We’ve talked about making mosaics (wall art, or as part of a tabletop) and coasters and table runners and bracelets. One friend even suggested gluing them into a bird house.

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I’m on my second batch now, and I’m checking the rocks daily, during C.’s nap, washing off the grit with the hose and studying each one as they transform from rough to shine.

I’ve learned that lapidary is an art. I’ve learned that there is a whole community of rock hounds who live in the Mojave, including a woman a few blocks from my house who owns a store full of rocks from all over the world. I’ve learned that there are old mines in California, and near them lie opal and quartz and jasper and petrified wood.

I have also learned that geology fascinates me, and that I love that I can wrap my hand around an object that I found that is millions of years old and turn it into a gem. It makes me feel connected to the earth.

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quiet moments and creative inspiration

On Friday after a Mexican dinner out — once C. was asleep in his crib — A. and I migrated to our bright yellow kitchen. A. stood and painted lettering on hand-held signs for our friends’ wedding in Soho in NYC in two weeks. I sat cross-legged on a chair and crocheted a hat for my niece. The table was full of paints and paper and water and yarn and we worked in the quiet, enjoying each others’ company and the warm night breeze through the window screens.

I find I work best in quiet, whether I’m writing or photographing or throwing pots. It’s in the quiet that I can really focus. It’s true for A., too, who never wants me to interrupt him while he’s wood-working.

Here are a few things we’ve made out of our recent quiet — plus a cool sewing project from my MIL. All of these things make me smile.

Purple flowers in our backyard. I love photographing flowers (and I need a better macro lens). On Friday, the after-sunset splash of color — like a painting — surprised me.

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A hat I crocheted a few weeks ago with yarn I bought in L.A. It gives me the urge to throw on a thick wool sweater and go to Nova Scotia and look out at fishing boats while sipping steaming hot cocoa. (I must be ready for a cold-weather vacation.)

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Wedding signs A. made for friends on request — he bought and cut the wood, painted the pieces pink, put on the dark gray border, sanded off spots to make it “shabby chic” and then wrote the script. I can’t wait to see the stunning bride (who’s marrying this guy) holding them. (Also, maybe A. can have a side business?)

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This photo that I took about a month or two ago of C. wearing a robe that his nonna sewed for him. It fits him so perfectly that it makes me consider pulling our sewing machine down off of a shelf in our closet. With zero shopping in our quiet desert town, maybe I should make myself a skirt or two. (Hmmmmm….)

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What has inspired you lately?

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help. i can’t stop making hats.

I think a zombie has overtaken my body, and all it wants to do is crochet hats.

Before C. was born (he’s a December baby), I had the hardest time finding a cool hat for him, so I ended up putting the only hat I could find on our baby registry. When C. was 8 days old, our best friend and talented photographer S. did a photo shoot of him, and this hat made us double over and squeeze our eyes shut with laughter. Poor kid may get me some day for this one.

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So now I keep thinking of friends who are pregnant and will need hats for their babes and I’m crocheting like a madwoman so I have gifts on hand. C. in Alexandria, Va., who has two girls already, could have a boy! C. and J. in Maryland are having their first boy, and wait, so is W. in Chicago.

It’s a bit insane to make so many hats when it’s 80 degrees in the desert and will only get hotter.

A. grinned at me the other night, as I sat on our brown couch under a blanket, crocheting away in the quiet and totally zen.

“You’re going to be the best grannie,” he said.

“Get away,” I said. “You taught me, so you can’t make fun.”

But he’s right: I’m out of control. So much so, that I haven’t been reading or writing or doing much of anything else. Our joke is, “One more row.”

It’s satisfying to create — I can make a hat in one evening — and see quick results. For you crocheting addicts, I’ve mostly used this pattern, and I’m drawn to this half double crochet pattern, too.

The zombie is getting better with time (among the first, top right, looks like a football helmet from the 1920s). But I have to exorcise it for now and put down my hook and tend to other matters that tug at the heart.

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a rustic table from old 2x4s

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A few weeks ago, A. and I stumbled across a pile of wood while on a hike. A. examined the boards, and decided two of them were worth heaving down the mountain. Our guess is this wood is old — very old — maybe even nearly a century old. Luckily, we didn’t have C. with us, so we could arrange the boards in our Ford Fiesta.

One of them was rotting, so A. had to cut off the end to be sure it didn’t have any termites. And when he did, we saw a beautiful red color under the blackened surface — cedar! The wood was so weathered, it gave off a trillion little splinters like a cactus. So after working in his shop for a few hours, A. would lean against the bathroom counter with tweezers and steadily pull splinters out of his hand.

A. designed and assembled this table for our living room — to sit next to our plush red chair — and it’s our favorite piece yet. I tasked myself with crocheting a few coasters for it (you can tell I’m a beginner — more are in the works).

Now A. is excited about working with salvaged wood. Soon, instead of going on a bear hunt, we’re going to go on another wood hunt.

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my latest obsession: crocheting

About a week and a half ago, A. taught me how to crochet. That’s right, my husband taught me how to crochet. He learned from his uncle’s mom (he calls her grannie) while home on break from college and eventually made a huge blanket that we use regularly. He also crocheted gifts for family: a round blanket for his cousin’s newborn, Rangers outfits for other cousins’ kids, socks for his dad, a doily for his mom, you name it. Then, he says, he retired.

A. was excited to teach me. Except he kept grabbing at my project when I asked for help, so we got into a few “fake” fights. I called him bossy and threatened to stop working with him.

I decided to start with a scarf to get used to stitching and get in a rhythm.

Then I became obsessed. I don’t think I’ve done much else than crochet in the past week and a half. I even stayed up past midnight two different nights. One more row, I kept thinking. And then I’d be exhausted and sick to my stomach that I couldn’t stop.

I finished the scarf on Sunday, wrapped it around my neck, and sauntered around the house, very proud of myself.

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Yesterday, I made A. a hat and a coaster (I plan to make several more coasters — they will be better than this first one.)

And can I just say: Damn does it feel good to actually create something useful. We’re off to Mammoth on Thursday (our first night away from the boy!) and I can’t wait to get use out of our new scarf and hat.

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a homemade easel and a ghost town

I’ve decided to take up painting. Hey, why not? I love new projects and my next pottery class doesn’t start until May. And it would be nice to work in the garage or on the back patio where C. can entertain himself. (Earlier this week he said “cat” 400 times and chased a calico cat around our backyard while I sat with my mom in the shade.)

Painting requires an easel. Or so, A. and I thought, silly us.

So A. made me an easel (one friend in D.C. said in loving jest, “Oh my god, I just barfed in my hands.”)

“What do you want your easel to look like?” A. asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I haven’t even figured out where to start. Oil? Acrylic? Watercolor?”

A. didn’t care how I use it — he wanted to make an easel. So off he went to his sketchpad and then into the garage where he assembled it in a few days and painted it white. He’s proud because the joints are made out of oak instead of metal. (What a nerd.)

Two weekends ago, we took a trip to Randsburg, Calif., a living ghost town that boomed during the gold rush in the late 1800s. It’s straight out of a movie set — a main drag with a saloon, a shuttered post office and a general store with excellent milk shakes.

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And among these Old West storefronts is an art gallery. That’s where we met Cheryl McDonald. She was cleaning up her studio filled with photographs and watercolor paintings while her tiny white dog ran around and wagged her tail. We found out Cheryl lives in Ridgecrest and teaches watercolor. And she’s giving free sessions at the Desert Wildflower Festival in mid-April.

Perfect! I thought. Watercolor is cheaper, you do it on paper, and so I can practice and not spend a bundle. I’ll take some lessons, figure out what I need, and then I can start using the easel.

Then I talked with S., who went to art school back in the day. And she said, “Yeah, watercolor is a good medium to start in, but you don’t use an easel for that. The color would run.”

Right. Of course. I love having a new easel, but it may have to sit in the garage or display other art while I figure out how to watercolor first. I’ll be sure to wipe the cobwebs from it regularly till I’m ready to put my mastery on canvas.

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my new happy place

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I always say that bookstores are my happy place. I miss Kramerbooks in D.C. and Unabridged in Chicago, where I’ve spent hundreds of hours collectively. The only bookstore in Ridgecrest doesn’t inspire. It’s a bit dingy and dark, the children’s area smells musty and I’ve read the majority of books marked “new memoirs” — some of them 10 years ago or more.

And then. Then I found Lois. She was selling her pottery at Santa’s Art Show at the fairgrounds in December. I asked her if she gives classes. “Yes,” she said, “I’ll email you.” Her card had her address — she lives less than a mile up the road, toward the mountains, in the heart of the desert. I stalked her house: Every time we drove out of town (I didn’t have her card handy), I’d say to A.: “I wonder if that’s where she lives.”

In January, Lois sent an email announcing her class times and said it was first come first serve. I put a check in the mailbox that evening.

The moment I walked in, I fell in love. Her studio is behind her house — off of a dirt driveway. It feels like a warehouse with high ceilings — industrial, but newly built. Immaculate and organized. She has shelves to display her pots — vases, mugs, bowls. She has partitions to display her paintings. There are six pottery wheels. There were three other women in my class (I was the youngest by far). We each bought a bag of clay. And went to it. That first night I was rusty — it had been three years since I had thrown on a wheel. It took a few tries to get the hang of it again. Lois, who I would guess is in her late 60s, is patient, kind and encouraging.

That night, I left her studio giddy. It was intensely dark out, as it is in the desert. I turned out of her driveway, music off, enjoying the silence and my deep happiness that I had found Lois.

At the end of the last class I told her: “You’ve created monster.” And I found A. in the garage, my sleeves caked with clay, and I said: “Alright, that’s it. It’s time to buy me a wheel.” (I was half-kidding, I’m not ready for the work of taking care of clay, etc., but maybe someday I will be.)

Last night, A., C. and I went to the studio for a potluck and to pick up my work. When I was describing to the group the different glazes I used, Lois piped in and said that I brighten up the studio every time I arrive. As I left last night, Lois gave me a hug and then I picked up my box of about 20 bowls. I said, “I told A. that this is my new happy place.” She smiled and said, “You make it happy.”

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a hand-crafted oak nightstand

Over the past six weeks, A. has been a little obsessed. He’s been making a narrow nightstand for our guest room — one that will fit perfectly next to the bed. C. will often point to the door leading to the garage and say, “Papa?” even if A. is at work because A. spends so much time at his work bench. (He spends a lot of time with us, too, so this is OK.) 

First, A. sketched out how to put it together. He designed the top with a square of end grain in the middle so that it would have personality. He bought the oak from Home Depot. He bought a table saw and a plane. And then he put this together, complete with a perfect little drawer and knob.

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I’ll say it again: He amazes me. And I love that he’s creating family heirlooms. Last night, after he was finished rubbing on the oil and we were snuggling on the couch, he said to me, “OK, what’s next?” We’re thinking another table for the guest room, and then an easel so I can take up painting on our back patio when the evenings are a bit warmer.

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stepping up his (furniture) game

A. made his first piece of furniture with his new table saw, and I might be biased, but I think it’s beautiful. We calculated how much time it took him — and the cost of the wood — and figured he could quit his job is someone is willing to pay $400 for it. Anyone want a step stool? (Just kidding, this one is for C.!)

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