30 July 2007

a little more green

First off, Thank you Laura for such a fabulous and informative post on the *green* question regarding ceramics! It is obvious that there hasn't been much discussion about it and I think perhaps there has a bit of a presumption that because ceramics are made from clay that they are inherently earth friendly. In this world (especially here in the U.S.) often the focus on selling something is on marketability and trend (which is all about being green these days). All those things are well and good and can make us a buck but when it comes to something as serious as the environment it is so important to be honest with ourselves and others about what we make. So thanks again Laura, your honesty and thorough investigation into the greenness of ceramics has been an eye opener for us all.

Though ceramics themselves are not a green product I do agree that buying handmade and locally is ultimately the best way to go. It is virtually impossible to make anything without causing some sort of impact but there are ways to lessen that impact and to be aware. Many of you wrote about ways you are doing that in your own studios and passed on some ideas of what everyone can do to be more conscious about their studio practices and the impact they might have on the environment. Thank you all for your comments and if anyone else out there has any tips they would like to share, please do let us know.

Now on a more personal note; I have been a little out of the loop as of late. Distractions by loved ones, kitchen painting, sight seeing and lots of laying in the park and ice cream eating has put me a little behind but happy and well rested. So many exciting things are coming up in the next few months. I will be back again soon to fill you all in on the details. For now happy Monday to you all!

above bowl; quince on green 10.5"x10.5"x5"

23 July 2007

the *green* ware question

Hello Friends,
I am finally getting to my next guest blogger (whom by the way was much more timely about getting it together than moi!). Laura Zindel is not only a brilliant ceramic artist but also a very dear friend. She and I met thirteen years ago at a restaurant we both worked at in San Francisco for a brief time (I walked out on the job two weeks after I met Laura but I made sure I had her phone number before I made my dramatic exit!). We've shared studio sales, mold making sessions, kiln disasters, wedding dress shopping, honeymoons (I was invited to her and her husband's honeymoon!!), babies born, family, relationships past and present, late night stories, bottles of wine and of course any number of ceramic related issues that constantly present themselves. Laura never ceases to wow me with her work and I am so happy to feature her here because as far as I am concerned you can never get enough of this fabulous, talented and successful lady. Plus she brings up a very important topic which I think you all will find very interesting. Please read on...

Laura Zindel working in her Vermont studio


I am Laura Zindel -Diana's Blog guest. Diana is one of my favorite potters, not to mention my very dear friend and comrade in clay.
Diana asked me to talk about a new subject on the horizon, Green Ceramics. It is not something that I made up, or really wanted to be a part of, but I will tell you my story and hopefully it will give others a place to talk about their ideas. Diana was my first go to girl on this subject and we have had many conversations since it started.

It all started one morning when I received this e-mail:

I'm extremely interested in finding out a little more about your product.
I'm in the process of opening up an environmentally friendly, socially responsible store in Los Angeles and absolutely love your china and prints. I was wondering if the pieces are as environmentally friendly as they can be with the glazes that you use....it's extremely important to me as i want to feature beautiful pieces that are socially responsible, plus I love the insect and bird motifs....could you please get back to me...
Do you have a rep in the Los Angeles area, or do you fulfill all your orders directly?
What is your minimum order?

Well, you would think that such an e-mail would flatter and interest me, not elicit my immediate response, which was anger. I did not understand my feelings at this point but my instinct had red flag warnings waving everywhere.

I wrote back and told her that no ceramics are Eco friendly because of the firing glazing process and if anyone was telling her something different I wanted to know about it.

What happened next was a week or so of e-mails back and forth between us, me trying to set her straight and her telling me what she had found out about my world of ceramics. In one letter she told me,that there were a bunch of potters that were very Eco -friendly, and then gave me their e-mail addresses so I could see for myself. Supposedly there was this whole movement toward socially responsible ceramics that I was somehow not a part of. When I decided to jump on board and join the party, then she would want to sell my work.

When had this happened I wondered, How had I been living outside of something so big and not heard a word about it? So I started to do some research. First, I contacted everyone I knew in the clay world whose knowledge I trusted, to see if they knew something I didn't. And then I stayed awake more nights than I care to admit, to prove that ceramics was not Eco-friendly, that we raped the land and let out excessive emissions into the environment. At one point I started to questioned my sanity, What was I doing? One morning, around three am, my husband caught me surfing the Internet in the living room, which I never do. I told him it was within his rights to ask me to stop if my behavior was interfering with his ideas about me as a wife and mother. He went back to bed.

I went to the web sites of the environmentally friendly potters that the gallery owner told me about. On one site, a potter making very nice copper reduction pots states on his web site ... No toxic materials are used in these ceramics, they are therefore maker, user, and environmentally friendly . The work is 'Reduction' fired in a 40 cu. ft. Natural Gas kiln to a temperature of approx. 1340 degrees centigrade (cone14). The firing takes about 24 hours to reach top temperature.

Just about everything in this statement makes me so mad I don't even know where to start. First we have silica, then copper, then reduction, 40ft cu kiln, and end with Natural Gas I think, are you tripping. This is the kind of stuff that is really going to confuse someone that does not know about ceramics. It confused me, and I know a thing or two.

A list of my experts and their responses to the question of Green Ceramics.

Hey Laura,
I've had this question asked of me, and my response is always that ceramics is not an environmentally friendly process. I don't know how you make an environmentally friendly glaze, I don't even know what that would be. Firing uses a lot of energy, if not electricity, then gas or wood. I suppose I could investigate this further, I'm interested to know what your response is to this and how it got you worked up.

John Hull, Life long educator and Potter:
You got me thinking... Green... I am still getting my thoughts together but here are a few things.

I have asked a few people about this and they are bring up interesting points...could be a question of how green we are. Better to be more green than less green...

You and I work at home. We don't drive to work using fuel... that's green.

Your products are functional and don't get thrown away... that's green

When they get broken and are disposed of, the don't have a negative environmental impact... that's green

Your construction process doesn't use energy (electric potter's wheel, ram press,etc.)... that's green

You fire to a relatively low temp in an efficient kiln emitting no harmful gases (as in reduction)... that's green

Your kilns help heat the house and work space... that's green... you are quite green.

and on and on, BUT... Energy use, mining and transporting of materials and all that is a question. I will keep thinking as I am sure you will. x john

Don Santos, Head of Ceramics, SF City College:
I would reassure the LA person that your work is "as green as possible". But you are correct that ceramics in general is not particularly GREEN. In general as long as your glazes are semi-gloss to gloss they are food safe. The toxic metal oxides need to tied up with enough silica to not leach out. Gloss glazes tend to have this quality. But what makes ceramics inherently not green is the amount of energy that is wasted when we fire. If you can address the energy issue by saying you use the waste energy from your kiln to heat the studio, at-least you are using the energy twice. I hope this little bit of advice helps you.

Bob Lupica, CEO Niagara Ceramics:
When I asked Bob if his company was green his immediate response was: Absolutely! He then gave me a long list of the ways that I large ceramic manufacturer like Niagara recycled almost every scrap of material that was not boxed and shipped to a customer. (Well done Bob!)� But he also said that Silica was the new asbestos, and we could not make glaze without it. (bummer).

Sherman Hall, editor Ceramics Monthly:
(This was a phone call so I am recapping)� Sherman did not think that ceramics was green, because of all of the materials we use and the emissions let out during firing. Then he offered his team of technical experts to help support me in my mission to help educate my gallery owner, which I thought was very generous. What he said that most impressed me, was that it was important that all potter's not step over the line in describing ceramics as environmentally responsible. He said that it would only hurt all of us in the long run because the green police would eventually show up to collect.

Grace at Design Sponge:"I think that design shouldn't go out of its way to use materials that are incredibly toxic (ie: injection molded plastic) but I think for artists producing small editions it shouldn't be an issue of criticism if someone uses wood or ceramics. For me, if the production size is small it's not a big deal. No one jumps on fine artists for using oil paints, do they?"

What I came away from everyone of these very informed people was that all of them are concerned with the questions of how we might hurt the environment, but resigned to reality of making ceramics. I wrote one final e-mail to my green gallery owner, a tome really. It was filled with elaborate information about all of my findings. I was no longer in the breezy e-mail zone, but somewhere I had never gone with someone that wanted to sell my work. I was trying to talk her out of it. I thought I would not be hearing from her again.

To my surprise, a month or so later, I get this e-mail.

Wow Laura! You are thorough....it's been a while since I've written but i wanted to see if i can purchase some of your ceramics for my store...you've been the most honest and thorough person that I've talked to regarding ceramics....yes, it's true, some people tout Eco friendly products, but after talking to them, they are doing exactly the same as you....plus I LOVE your stuff WAY more than theirs....
so after having done a lot of research and talking to people at the International furniture fair, I'd like to purchase some of your incredible ceramics....
what is the best way for me to go about that do i order directly from you?
please let me know.

I have a lot of respect for someone very bent on wanting things to turn out their way, ( I know a thing or two about this attitude.) and then concede to the facts. She told me that she decided that ceramics would not be touted as green in her store, but she was going to give my bugs a "back story", instead....let people know how insects, birds, snakes etc... are necessary to our survival. I am ok with this approach. Its an honest one and I like it. I know I gave in pretty easy at this point, but this was never really my fight to begin with.

I realized when I managed to get a grip, that what I was really angry about, was marketing. Left in the hands of someone without scruples, my work could lead an unsuspecting public into thinking that buying my work was somehow going to help our environment, a terrible lie. But I will always believe that buying handmade work is better than the alternative, and that buying from your local artists is the best possible thing you can buy.

I want to thank all of the people that put up with my ranting and raving, while I did my "research" and Thanks to Diana's readers for bearing with a long story. If anyone wants to read the tome, filled with the undeniable facts, I can e-mail it to you.
Thanks especially to Diana for her Blog! I love it, and I think it is historic and wonderful.

Laura Zindel

14 July 2007


Today I came home to this lovely item waiting for me in my mailbox. A beautiful feature in Las Vegas Home and Design Magazine! It's shiny glossy pages, featuring my Dogwod Bowl spread out across the page, over flowing with ripe peaches and luscious dahlias, back lit, golden and glowing like a centerfold. Oooooh it made me feel just a little naughty and well geez...a little bit like a starlet. (clay geeks like me feel this way when they see their goods on the pages of fancy pants magazines like these.) They didn't even airbrush out any supposed flaws...Well that's because there aren't any... As many of you might already know this bowl is perfect as far as I am concerned. It looks like Las Vegas Home and Design agrees.

12 July 2007

summer daze

I think I can stand upright again. My legs ached for a couple of days after the sale from standing in one spot for two days. Sales are great but as many of you know they are exhausting on many levels. The show however was a great success and I couldn't be happier. I had exciting flurries of customers and visitors at my table throughout the weekend and many of my pieces walked away in other people's hands and off to their new homes. Most exciting was selling this piece, the largest item I have ever made. It is going to live in a beautiful home in Napa Valley.

The Association of Clay Glass Artists sales are always a joy to do. The customers are knowledgeable and very interested in ceramics and glass so it a pleasure to talk to people about my work (and be a clay geek) and feel understood.

This weekend I teach my workshop, Printmakers Clay Tiles, at Heath Ceramics . It looks like the class is full but if you are a last minute kind of person I think they may let a few extra folks in so don't be shy about trying to get in if you are interested in taking it. I am looking very forward to the workshop and can't wait to meet some of you readers who I know are taking the class. I have a couple of guest blogs lined up and will get back into the swing of posting them after this weekend. I also have a very special house guest (my sweetie) at the moment so I may be a little distracted for the next couple of weeks. Thank you all for your well wishes for a great sale. They all worked and boy was it nice to come home and read them at the end of my long days at the studio. Thank you, Thank you!!

06 July 2007

ready, set ...go

three canteen vases
(for sale this weekend at the ACGA sale)

The calmness of this image is deceiving. I am using it on purpose to psyche myself out into believing I am calm. I am calm, actually, though a bit overwhelmed with all the little stuff that needs to get done for this weekends sale. Craft sales are like playing "store" for a weekend. Imagine starting up a brick and mortar business from scratch for just two days. That means, build the building, make all the stock for the shelves, make the shelves, set up all the business stuff, make sure you have all the bags and packing, price everything, set it up and then clean up, make yourself look pretty and become a shop keeper and be pleasant to everyone who walks through your door (even the not so nice ones) for two days straight, then tear it all down and pack it all up. Then go home and flop on your bed in exhaustion. It is a little intense but you get a kind of rush from it all. Momentum, it is all about momentum. I have to run now, have a building to build and a shop to set up! I will think about looking pretty tomorrow. Please come on by to the ACGA sale this weekend if you are in the area. I would love to meet you if I haven't already and if we have met then lets catch up!

03 July 2007


I have had the good intentions to post this weeks guest blogger (she has done her part...sorry Laura, I promise I will get to it) but I have been so darned busy getting things finished for the upcoming ACGA show that by the time I get home I am so tired I can barely see straight. I have not had a day off in a week and a half and the days have been very long... a twelve hour day yesterday and ohhhh, a short day today, only ten hours. Being an independent artist means I get to celebrate independence day by eating my lunch by the glowing kiln instead of by a glowing barbecue. It's okay, I am almost there (I whisper this to myself many times through out the day) and just look at the cacophony of color! Just to toot my own horn a little, this is about half of what will have for the sale. The vases go in the kiln tomorrow and some bigger "show" pieces also get fired tomorrow. My back aches and my shoes are covered with glaze, I am tired but feeling very satisfied.