Sunday, November 30, 2014


Recently I've been taking a break for working at the potter's wheel to explore some new hand built porcelain forms.  Many of these are informed by old sketches from graduate school that I recently uncovered while cleaning my studio, others reference landscape and rock formations that I've photographed in recent travels.  Either way, these pieces represent a body of work that has grown in parallel with my sculptural and functional vessel forms, and excited at the opportunity to begin to exhibit it.  Many of these forms still exist within the structure of the pot...vases, small box forms,
containers...while others exist as purely sculptural studies.

...small ikebana vase..

I've also begun posting images at Instagram under the user name john_oles.  I figured it was about time to shake my aversion to technology and, truthfully, it's a lot more convenient to post images directly from my iPhone.  

....celadon porcelain vase, ..hand built..

While the previous three pieces were made over the last month, the following images are of small sculptural pieces that were made around this time last year.  Looking back, there's a common thread that connects the work, but for a long time I was concerned about the way this work would exist within the context of my existing body of work.  Of course, only time will tell.....

....porcelain and black fired stoneware.... December, 2013.


One of my favorite things about making this work is in the process of working reductively with the material, as opposed to always building volume from the inside, as you would with pieces that were begun on the wheel.  Much like wheel throwing, this reductive sculptural process exploits many of clays inherent properties that make it a fascinating material.

...porcelain and black fired stoneware..

I'll end with a recent wheel thrown covered jar that I think might begin to bridge the gap between my hand built and wheel thrown pieces......


Monday, November 3, 2014


Recently, I've taken a teaching position at Delgado Community College here in New Orleans and, while it's been a busy few months of adjusting to a new studio and teaching schedule, I've fortunately been able to make a lot of work.  This is important, not only for sanity sake, but to fulfill my obligations to two important (albeit very different) shows I had lined up this fall.

the first was an exhibition with the photographer Mika Fowler at Jacksonville University in Florida.  They just completed construction on a beautiful new gallery space and we we the inaugural exhibition.
The title was Engaging Form, and it was really interesting to see how our work complimented each other in the context of interpreting.

The following images are just some quick shots with my iPhone camera.
Add caption
It's always embarrassing for me to take photos of work with my phone, especially while standing next to a professional artist/photographer! So, while these aren't necessarily the best representations of the new work, but they'll have to do.....

This week in Jacksonville included demo's with the students from Dana Chapman Tupa and Tiffany Leach's Ceramics I and II classes, as well as individual critiques with the Senior BFA students.

All of this was capped of with a Friends of the Arts hands- on workshop called (appropriately) Vodka and Vases, which was catered and featured vodka- based cocktails for the aid in the wheel throwing process, naturally!
....3 urns

Here are a few more shots of the work and the reception.  Again, please excuse the "yellowy- ness" and general lack of quality....

The next show was on the other end of the spectrum.  Earlier this year, before I had any teaching work lined up for the fall, I applied to the Peter Anderson Art Festival in Ocean Springs, MS.  I've never really been one for doing festivals, but I figured, what the hell....'might as well try it!  I've had some potter friends who've done quite well there over the years.....

Anyhow, I decided that, regardless of whether or not i sold any work, it would be a learning experience.  Now, my pots aren't really at home on a folding table under an Easy Up tent....they tend to be small and white (or pale celadon blue) and I really wanted to try to display them in context.  Usually, this context is in someone's home or in a gallery.  So, the display that I constructed was more about presenting the work in such a way that it was visually engaging and might help to make sense of these semi functional/semi sculptural objects to an audience who may or may not be familiar with much contemporary studio ceramics.

To be honest, I'm really proud of the set up.  I got to buy a lot of power tools (baby's first circular saw!) and wood and things that I don't normally get to play with......and I just love the smell of a Lowe's or Home Depot! Ahhhhh, ...the smell of Potential!....
Here are a few shots of the folding wall sections with added scavenged wood shelves......sort of going for a rustic/contemporary feel.  They're all stained in a Dark Cherry, with shelves in a slightly darker Kona, to really make the light colored pots "sing".

....teabowls and small cups.

...celadon whiskey cups on a shelf.

Like I said, it was supposed to be a learning experience, and I certainly leaned some stuff!  First off, I may or may not be exactly cut out for this kind of thing....we'll see.  The work sold pretty well, but not great.  It was quite different from what people had come to expect from the show and, while it received a lot of positive attention, that didn't always translate into sales.  But it was enjoyable talking with people and getting their reaction to the pots....(yes, you can really drink out of these...)  And, the folks who did buy them were very interested and appreciative of the quality and subtle nuances of porcelain.

It was also a good chance to refine some glazes and work on a few new forms like these little round sake cups and yunomi with a sugary white glaze that I've been struggling to get right for many years.

It will be good to get back ino the studio and start working on some higher end, individual pieces for the upcoming NCECA conference in Providence this March.  I was fortunate to be in a couple of high profile exhibitions that I'll tell you all more about as it gets closer to the new year but, for now, to class!  
Add caption

Monday, June 23, 2014

Idyllwild Arts...

Well, I suppose this is my first post of my "early retirement" from Higher Education.  I use the term retirement loosely, but mostly because there's no word for "next year, there are not enough classes for me to teach, as adjunct faculty, to justify my Institution continuing to keep me employed".....However, I'm willing to accept "Emeritus", if that sounds sounds better.....

As I look for the silver lining in all of this, I tell myself that, at least, I'll have more time to write (here and other places) and more time in the studio to work.  And, while this sounds great in theory, my bank account is less than cooperative when it comes to trying not to bleed out money every month.

One of the pro's to this list is that I have more time for teaching workshops, and I'm in the process of shamelessly soliciting more of these to art centers and Universities around the country. (hint, me). And, what follows is a brief post on my recent return from California where I taught a week- long workshop at the Idyllwild Art Center entitled, Exploring the Altered Vessel. Here's the link:

I've always appreciated the interaction of group workshops that extended beyond the usual 1-2 day Visiting Artist lecture and demo, and this past week was really special.  We had an almost full class of 9 students, most of whom were a bit older than the post- BFA demographic that I'm accustom to teaching.  And, after an intense 3 days of working in the studio in preparation for a mid- week bisque firing, I gotta say that these folks really brought their "A Game" and made some fantastic work!!!..
Kimberleigh working on a teabowl form...

Bernie altering a cylinder...

..trimming an altered bowl on a thrown chuck...

When you look at it, it's really amazing at what you can accomplish when all you have to think about is working in the studio for three or four solid days without silly things like work or laundry or cooking to get in the way.  Honestly, if my cat was reincarnated as a potter, I'm sure this is pretty close to what her life would be like: Wake up, Eat, Make pots, Eat lunch, Make pots, Nap, Eat Dinner, Make Pots, Drink, Sleep.....repeat.  (Actually, if you substituted "make pots" for "sleep" this is pretty much her schedule, to the dime).
...a shelf full of altered and stamped pots from the first day...

And the result of all that intensity is that you have a pretty good body of work to fire and glaze by the end of the week, which we did, using mostly my glazes.  I say "my glazes" but, in all honesty, they're just the glazes I use on my personal work and the recipes have been pilfered or given to me, over the years, by other potters.  I give the recipes out freely and I truly believe that you should, too.  Yes, ...even you.
...fiber kiln full of pots for a cone 10 glaze firing..

Also, I always try to keep the original names or, at least, the names that they had when I stole them...*ahem*...I mean, "appropriated" them, because I believe it's important to give credit where credit's due.  Many of my buckets, like probably many of yours, start out with the letters "V.C" for "Val Cushing". Then there's a "Coleman" and a "Binn's" (Charles be exact) and one more with the name "Hennessy" whose origins are unknown to me,..... but I like to think it relates to the cognac.

While I was teaching in one of the studios, Patti Warashina was teaching a figurative sculpture class next door and Michael Corney was teaching people the nuances of painting on pots in the studio across the road.  Add to that, Richard Burkett was making pots in preparation for his workshop next week on cone 6 glazes, so we had a full house and the benefit of many years of experience to draw from.
...Richard Burkett, me, Patti Warashina and Michael Corney..

...Michael and Richard at sunset.. music provided by Richard on mandolin and  Sam on Ukelele..

Here's a shot of everyone, each with their favorite pot from the week, but Sandra and Vida were nowhere to be found- probably unloading the other kiln- sorry 'bout that.:






...not a bad firing from a fiber kiln. It cooled really quick but we still got some nice buttery matte surfaces.

All in all, it was a great time and I'll miss these folks, for sure! Apparently, you can go to for more photos from the session.  I just had to click on that link to make sure it works and it does....the photos are much better than mine and there's nothing too embarrassing on there :)

So, here's one of me drinking wine on a rock.  It kinda sums up this wonderful experience and a huge "Thank You!!!!!" to everyone who participated. I hope our paths cross again!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

                    New Wood Fired Pots from January's Firing


I've finally gotten around to photographing some of the pots from last month's woodfiring.  As always, some things go in the kiln good and come out horrible, while others go in " just ok" and come out magical.  This was a particularly good firing with a lot of natural ash build up.  It also gave me a chance to work with some new clay bodies, mostly stoneware and a Helmar- based porcelain that were both a refreshing alternative to the stark white Grolleg porcelain that I use in 95% of my reduction fired work.

I'm not really known for making wood fired pots, and I suspect no one would think of me a a wood kiln potter.  But for me, wood firing is like going on "ceramics vacation".  I get to get out of my studio and spend time with some good people, and I get to play with looser forms than usual.  Sometimes the wood fire aesthetic can be a bit overwhelming for my tighter, more controlled forms so I like to go into it knowing that I will allow myself to make looser, less refined pots that will (hopefully) benefit from effects of the kiln.'s that new Helmar porcelain body with a shino glaze.

And, sometimes they do.

I also get to use shino, which has always been a favorite glaze of mine that I seldom put on my work these days.  Really, the whole process reminds me of why I got into clay in the first place, and takes me back to the old Purchase Street campus of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where I took my first ceramics course almost 20 years ago...

...some beautiful ash build up on a fish scale glaze.   
Shino's poetic. It changes in almost every firing and captures the natural ash from the firing while recording the passage of the flame throughout the kiln.  As a glaze, it will even change over time in its bucket, as water evaporates and soluble soda ash crystallizes.  It's reliable, doesn't run, and welcomes "accidents" like finger marks or drips.  This particular recipe looks good on stoneware and certain porcelains containing  kaolin that is less "pure" than Grolleg and such.  On my Grolleg- based porcelain, it tends to look a bit bland.

And, here's  few shots of the crew, for good measure.  It's been a good 3 years of firing with my friend, Jeff Brown, who teaches ceramics down in Thibodeaux, LA, at Nichols State University.  This place has been, at one time or another, home to such ceramics legends as Joe Bova, Dennis Siporski, and Bill Krehmer.  And now, Jeff Brown.  I'm always thankful for the invite.

...Jeff Brown loading the kiln.

.....some hot stokin'!

....and me. My back is not as young as it used to be! 
This last piece is not from the wood firing, but I wanted to include it to show the marked contrast in feeling that one gets by comparing this to the warm browns and oranges of the wood fired pots.  This cool, meditative celadon glaze has not fared too well for me in the wood kiln, although I know some people's recipe's do.  I prefer to keep this for my gas fired work, as it really sings on a clean, brilliant white porcelain.   That reminds me, I have a kiln firing right now that I should go check on! Hopefully, it will yield a few beauties to send to the Santa Fe Clay La Mesa exhibit at this year's NCECA conference. 
I'd go, myself, but I'm scheduled for another wood firing that week!....this time, a big anagama kiln in southern Mississippi ;)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

New Pots for the New Year

....fresh pots drying for next week's woodfiring.

Happy January 2014!

Here's just a quick shout out to the beginning of a new year in the (same ol') Studio with some shots of work that's being prepared for next week's wood kiln.  Usually, I fire with my buddy, Jeff Brown, down at Nichols State University in Southern Louisiana twice a year, with the winter firing being held the first week in December.

After what was a crazy- long fall filled with two major exhibitions and teaching, I new that I had neither the work nor the stamina for a firing this year  (technically, last year, I guess..)
So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the kiln had been pushed back to January 31st, 2014- plenty of time to recoup and make some woodfire pots!

...this is the cleanest this studio has ever been!
In preparation for the next year, I decided to undertake the rather hefty endeavor to begin 2014 with a thorough studio clean- up.  I figure it's better to do it now, before I get distracted with making pots and leave it half- finished, (per usual) which ends up being messier than it was to begin with....

 ...whiskey cups, teabowls, bottles and a few covered jars.

I'd also like to take a quick second to welcome our newest studio member, Sarah House, to the Loft!  I'm sure she'll make a fine addition to the group and will not be deterred by the heat, come May!....(at least things dry really quick up here!).  This is also my first experiment with a new porcelain clay body, as the Grolleg- based recipe I've been accustom to can get rather expensive when there's no longer a University picking up the cost of materials for personal research/practice.  We'll have to wait and see how it works but, for now, it throws well and has exhibited minimal cracking.  I'm hoping it flashes well in the wood firing, being Helmar kaolin, which could lead to an interesting compliment to the usual celadon and white porcelain work......

...stoneware yunomi with thick flashing slip.


....smooth altered porcelain teabowls, waiting to be trimmed.