Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a true russian new year's eve

It's Dec. 31, and there is a blizzard outside my window. Providence has about 6 inches so far, in just three hours. The snow is gorgeous, and transports me to my childhood winters and New Year's Eves in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Since there were no religious holidays under the Soviet regime, I grew up celebrating New Year's Eve as Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. We had a New Year's tree, and Santa Claus came, but he was called Grandpa Frost. He also drove a sleigh, but Rudolph wasn't at the lead. Everyone got one present from Grandpa Frost. And it was incredibly special and magical. I usually got a yellow teddy bear. This is because I lost my yellow teddy bear every year. How did Grandpa Frost know that I lost mine again?

A few days before New Year's, my family gathered at my grandmother's house. She was born on December 24th, and it was a joint celebration of her birthday and the upcoming New Year. Here she is under the New Year's tree, a Russian princess.
And here is her legendary table setting for twenty two guests:
Since my family is technically Jewish, we have not had a tree since arriving in the U.S. I miss its piny aroma permeating the rooms, though I don't miss the dried up needles that ended up in everything for months long after the holidays.

Outside my window the view gets whiter and whiter. Happy New Year, grandma.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

a merry merry


Every year I celebrate Christmas at my friends' Matthew and Agnethe's house. It is my home away from home. This year Agnethe set the table with some of my ceramic pieces. The bowls for the soup (which I was supposed to make, but got stuck in traffic instead) and the white goblets which double up as vases looked beautiful on the festive tablecloth. It was an evening filled with delicious food, great conversation and inspiring company.

I ended up making the soup the following day, it is a Japanese sweet potato soup with mushrooms. I puree it so all the flavors truly get to know each other.

Asya's Japanese sweet potato with mushrooms soup:
3 large Japanese sweet potatoes (they are white, and not super sweet)
1 large onion, sliced
1 lb of crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 liters of veggie stock
2 cloves garlic, diced into small pieces
salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute the garlic in some olive oil in a large soup pot until the garlic is slightly brown. Add the onions and continue to saute until the onions are translucent and begin to brown.

2. Add the mushrooms, stir in with the onions, cover the pot and let cook until the mushrooms are soft.

3. Add the veggie stock and the potatoes, peeled and cut up into small pieces for faster cooking. Cook everything until the potatoes are soft.

4. Mash the potatoes slightly, then puree either with a hand blender or in a standing blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. I leave the soup a little bit chunky for texture. This soup is hearty and makes a great meal when served with bread. It is even tastier the second day. You can also freeze it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

things made by hand


I just read such a good story in the NYTimes. It is about a small print shop in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The 26-year-old printing company had won the bid to produce one million gold-and-black engraved invitations for the inauguration of Barack Obama. The 20 workers are working 20-hour days in two shifts to be able to deliver the invites on time. I love this quote from the owner: “This is a real economy,” Mr. Donnelly said of the printing business. “This is not that bogus economy of Wall Street. This country used to manufacture things.”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

gleena studio

My studio is located in an old warehouse which has been converted to artists' space. I love the feeling of history in this building with its huge windows, high ceilings and gorgeous (and very worn) wooden floors. My view is of the rooftops of Pawtucket, and on a snowy day like today, the north light comes in soft and fluffy.

My studio is broken up into different areas to accommodate my process.

Shown above is my slip casting area. The original shapes I either throw on a wheel or carve out of plaster. I then make 3-10 molds from the original. I pour porcelain slip into the molds, aiming at a delicate thickness.

This is where I glaze the pieces after they have been bisque fired. I mix my own glazes, it gives me greater control over finish and color. I would like to experiment with some new glaze formulas over the next few months. Mixing glaze is like following a baking recipe. You can follow the formulas, but then add a little here, or subtract a little there to make it "taste" better. With my glazes I aim for a soft finish, something that will feel great to hold, and juicy color.

I also have a little space for finished product where customers can come and browse. It's the very beginnings of a "store". But one has to start somewhere.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

doing my own thing

This is my second week of being freed from full-time employment at a corporation. It still feels amazing and liberating. Today was the perfect day. I got to my studio around 10am, poured a bunch of bowls for an order my friends Matthew and Agnethe requested, then did a little graphic design for a client.

Around 11am a woman I met at the RISD alumni sale stopped in with her mom to take a look at what pieces I have left after the sales. Her name is Marina and she is from Russia, too. It was pretty great speaking Russian with her and her mom, I don't get to do it that often. Marina walked away with two large organic bowls as well as requesting some custom items. Now that I am doing ceramics full time, I am able to fill custom orders quickly. Marina's will be ready next week.

I love selling my ceramics, which makes me feel that I should open a store some day. It's so satisfying when someone wants to purchase a piece I made. I love the wrapping up of the thing, and placing it in a bag, and putting a gleena sticker on the bag. Every part of the trasaction is highly enjoyable.

I also love talking to my customers, and asking them if they use the items they purchase from me. Many repeat customers say they use it every day, which makes me very happy. My ceramics looks fragile, but it's very durable. Porcelain is one of the strongest materials out there, really. In my home and studio I use my bowls and cups every day, and though I wash them in the dishwasher, they don't chip. How is that for a sales pitch?

Anyway, my dream is to open a ceramics and flower shop. There, it's out in the universe, let's see how long it takes me to realize it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

chocolate


I'm not a fan of chocolate, but I recently discovered Mast Brothers Chocolate, and became a chocolate convert. My friend Leslie made me taste their almond+sea salt 60% cacao bar, and it was incredible. From the beautiful, artist-designed outer wrapping paper, to the gold foil inside, the Mast Brothers Chocolate experience is pretty special.

Rick Mast comes from the culinary background while also being a musician. He plays the piano as well as the banjo (sigh). Michael Mast was a film maker and a traveler. The two brothers are planning on opening a retail store in their chocolate factory in Williamsburg, NY and an online store is also in the works. I can't wait. Check out their blog.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

despite the economy

I just finished with my rounds of holiday sales. I was expecting sales to be not so good, planning on worse case scenarios like moving in with my parents. Thankfully, those plans will have to wait. I sold enough of my work to carry me through for another month. In these uncertain times, another month is about all one can plan for.

I have to say that since quitting my full-time job, time has slowed way down. Weeks used to fly by at Body+Soul. We worked three months ahead, designing the Christmas Holiday issue in August, creating a wacky time-warp. By the time actual holidays would arrive, I felt like I celebrated them three months ago. I was never living in the present. I guess that's why time seems slower, now that I am dealing with real time events. I like it.

Overall the sales were a lot of fun. Lots of friends stopped by, and great friends helped me out. Claudia Middendorf was kind enough to lend a hand at the RISD Alumni sale. Claudia is a Renaissance woman: an incredible graphic designer, as well as an inspiring painter, drawer, collage maker, and fashionista. Here she is modeling my wares:


After packing up the RISD sale, bright and early on Sunday morning I headed to NYC, taking part in the Annual Holiday Craft Sale at Divine Studios. Talented style editors from Martha Stewart display their creations alongside many other local crafters. It is such an inspiring collection of work, and many Martha Stewart ex-pats as well as current employees stop by. It is a day filled with reunions and visits. Here is what my table looked like:


Deciding on some down time, I spent Monday browsing around NYC, looking for gifts. I received an email from Lotta Jansdotter's studio, inviting me to stop by her workspace. Everything was marked 50% off. Since I was in Brooklyn already, I drove to the Gawanus area to check out Lotta's studio and her work, which I have admired for years. Lotta herself was there, ever cheerful and friendly, and we compared notes on the sale at Divine Studios, where she was also selling. She was a bit disappointed with her sales that day, but it looked like she was making up for it. There was a tower of boxes being shipped out after a rain of online orders. I purchased a very pretty pillow, a gorgeous bag, and a baby bib and doggy. Overall it was an encouraging holiday sales season, despite the economy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

off to a good start

It's been less than a week since I left my job, but it feels like it has been months. Working at Martha Stewart was all consuming. My job involved a lot of travel, I commuted to Boston every day, and once a week I took a train to New York City. When I got home at night, all I wanted to do was sit on my sofa and stare at the wall. I was that exhausted.

Since last Saturday I have been working 12-16 hour days in my studio, trying to make as much as possible for my crazy week of sales. I am sleep-deprived, but very happy. What a huge difference to be putting this much effort into something I love. I'm exhausted physically and at the same time energized emotionally. My body is complaining for different reasons. Being an art director involved a lot of sitting on my behind, ceramics is the opposite. I need to give myself time to adjust to being this active for hours at a time.

Having left my full-time job, I feel like I got my life back. I got myself back. I took yoga the other day, finally having time to attend my favorite class taught by Shannah Green at Eyes of the World in Providence. I almost cried at how good it felt.

Monday, December 8, 2008

jumping off a cliff

Last Friday I ended my job as the art director of Body+Soul, a Martha Stewart publication. I left this amazing position to pursue my ceramics. I could not have picked a worse time to enter the world of retail, the economy is crappy. Where did I get the courage to leave a full time job with good benefits to start my own business? From my parents, of course.

My first inspiration are my mom and my step father, Mark. They left well-established lives in Russia to bring me, my older brother, and my not yet born younger brother to the United States. They were not twenty-somethings right out of college, mom was almost 40 and Mark 50. They spoke a minimum amount of English. They came to a country where they knew almost no one. Talk about jumping off a cliff.

My second inspiration are my father and my step mom. Again, they both had good jobs in Russia, which they left for a very unknown future in the US. My step mom decided to change her career when she came here. Her job in Russia involved HVAC systems, when she arrived in Boston, she began to study physical therapy, her passion. With minimal language skills she finished college with honors and now runs her own business.

Having seen my parents achieve the seemingly impossible gives me courage and inspiration to pursue my dream. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

modernmart, wednesday, dec. 10th

This Wednesday, Dec. 10th, I will be taking part in a sale organized by Design Within Reach and Supermarket. Come visit me from 7-9pm.
DWR Tribeca Studio
124 Hudson St
New York City

click on the image below for participating artists

Saturday, November 29, 2008

roasted squash soup

My Thanksgiving dinner contribution was squash soup. Mom bought butternut squash, and then a smaller, reddish-orange squash that I don't know the name of. I roasted both of them, dumped them into vegetable stock, added three apples, pureed and garnished with sauteed pine nuts. The soup was a bit tart because of the apples, with a hint of sweetness, which the roasted pine nuts offset in a subtle way. Simple, quick and delicious.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

asya's bowls are always in use

contributed by Asya's mama:
photograph by anna

I am lucky, Asya's works are a natural choice of decoration in my home. I store colorful fruits in her graceful white bowls, and my table always looks festive with her tableware. Each meal is special when served in with my daughter's plates.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

in other's words


In Other's Words is a group exhibition curated by organizer extraordinaire, Susie Nielsen of Farm. Working in varying mediums, eleven artists are featured, all interpreting text. I got to play with the words of Rumi, whose verse always transports me to a different world. When transcribed on plates, Rumi's poetry becomes a constant, intimate companion to daily life.

The exhibit runs from November 17 - December 05, 2008. Opening reception November 20, 2008 • 4 - 6 pm, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

recipe index and more

The New York Times now has a section where you can find every article relating to a particular topic. It's brilliant. Check out Thanksgiving Day, with recipes, stories, wine recommendations, and even a "how to carve the bird" video.

Friday, November 14, 2008

some shameless self promotion

I was featured in the RI Monthly's Fall/Winter Home and Garden magazine. Click on the link here, and go to pages 70-71.

conversation starters

I want to take a breather from ceramics and food and photo shoots and write about... jewelry. My love are necklaces, and the one I have been wearing daily since my 40th B-day was given to me by my dear friend Akira Mann. It is a piece by Me&Ro, designers based in New York City. I want to direct you to a website that Akira started, TwistOnLine, where you can find all sorts of lovely conversation starters, like the stunning bracelets shown above by Mark Davis. Akira's impeccable taste permeates throughout the website, which she designs and curates. I am ever in awe of Akira's many many talents.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

save the date

Every year I participate in an eclectic holiday craft sale in NYC. Many vendors are stylists at Martha Stewart, and it is a wonder what kind of things they create in their spare time. If you can make it on Sunday, December 14th, to the Divine Studios on E. 4th St, from 11am to 6pm, I would love to see you there. More details on the vendors will come shortly.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

quinoa, glorious quinoa

I am so happy The NY Times published an article on quinoa (pronounced keh-NO-ah or, sometimes, KEEN-wah) because it is yummy and nutritious.

Basic Steamed Quinoa
Many recipes for quinoa suggest cooking it like rice, in two parts water for one part quinoa. This works, but the grains are fluffier if you cook them in three parts water and drain the excess water once the quinoa is tender. The tiny seeds swell to about four times their original size, so 1 cup uncooked quinoa yields about 4 cups, enough for 6 to 8 servings.

1 cup quinoa
3 cups water, chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)

1 Place the quinoa in a strainer and rinse until the water runs clear.

2 Bring the water or stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and the quinoa. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and translucent, and each grain displays a little thread. Drain and return to the pan. Cover the pan with a clean dish towel, replace the lid and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Fluff and serve.

Yield: about 4 cups, serving 6 to 8

Advance preparation: Cooked quinoa will keep for three or four days in the refrigerator and can be reheated in a microwave or in the oven.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

a talented crew

Today was a very long, yet very satisfying, photo shoot day. I worked with an incredible crew of New York City talent at a stunning location. Noe DeWitt, the photographer, with his subtle sense of humor and easy going approach, made a tough day enjoyable. Here is some of Noe's travel work from St. Petersburg, Russia.
Jocelyne Beaudoin, the prop stylist, brought gorgeous things and a sunny attitude. Here is some of Jocelyne's work, which I pulled from her website.


Of course it was through the efforts of my photo department that the whole day went so smoothly. I learned a lot today, and feel fortunate to have been surrounded by such talented, and inspiring, artists.

Monday, November 3, 2008

inspiring settings

It's November, and time to start thinking about Thanksgiving tables. Here are some inspiring and yummy settings.


photography by Mikkel Vang

Sunday, November 2, 2008

spooky halloween

My Medusa interpretation got a lot of attention at a Halloween party last night. Many said it was one of the spookiest costumes they have ever seen.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

decals are so irresistible

My pure white set was begging for some butterflies, so I gave in...




Monday, October 27, 2008

dawn to dusk

Today was one of my New York City Days. On these days I get up at 4:30am and don't get home till 10pm. I take the train, and the views are fantastic if you sit on the ocean side.

This you will see going there...

And this you will see coming back...
If you are heading to NYC, catch the early train, and remember to claim an ocean-view seat.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

transferware, the modern version

Many customers ask me how I get the images onto my pieces. It is a process I learned at RISD, thanks to Jacqueline Rice, one of my ceramics professors.

Here is my transfer process: There exists a laser printer cartridge containing a colorant that is commonly used in glaze recipes, and it fits into a regular laser printer. I feed special paper through the printer. Any image I want is printed on the surface.

When the paper gets wet, a film with the image floats off, similar to a fake tattoo. I apply this film to the surface of a glazed piece.

I then fire the piece one more time, a third firing (the previous two being a bisque and a glaze fire). During the firing the film burns off, the image melts into the glaze, and turns a sepia color, which works well with the glaze colors I use. Because the image has melted into the glaze, it is permanent and food safe. Voila!

It is not as easy as it sounds. It took me a while to find a glaze that would behave well in a third firing and not totally dissolve the transfer image. Still, I get glitches. Like mysterious bubbles on some items, while the rest in the same kiln are perfect. Still learning to let go...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

colors of the season

Autumn is my favorite, with its crisp air anticipating winter (I'm Russian, of course I like winter), the sound the leaves make when you shuffle through them, and the color...

photograph by Sang An for Martha Stewart Living magazine

Sunday, October 19, 2008

blue

My last postings have been about color. Which brings me to politics, specifically this election. I know this is supposed to be a blog about table-related things, but then politics comes up at table conversations frequently. It definitely comes up at my mama's table.

"The American Dream"
has been playing an important role in this election. Did I miss something and did the definition of the term change? As far as I am concerned, I am living the American Dream, an immigrant who went to a good university on scholarship, am now successful in my career, own my home, and have my own studio where I make my art. I would not have this kind of life in Russia, where I was born.

Voters keep asking Barack Obama if he believes in the American Dream. I am incredulous of this question. More so as it is posed to an African-American running for president of the US of A. Barack Obama is the living embodiment of the American Dream. Born of an American mother and an immigrant father, he is, partially, a first-generation American, schooled at the best universities this country has to offer, all with the aid of scholarships. It is through his own gargantuan efforts that Senator Obama is a presidential contender, and at such a young age.

As far as I understand it, living the American Dream is being able to achieve your goals through education and hard work. In no other country can one do that. Not in Russia (well, not legally). Barack Obama as the President of the United States would be the American Dream come true.

red

Red is notorious for being a hard color to get in a glaze. I have been trying for one I like for the past six years. I mix my own glazes, so I've been a bit of a mad scientist in my experimentations. I've created reds that were too pink, or too fire-engine red, or too lumpy.

Today, I opened up the kiln to find the color above. It is just right, for me. It has autumnal richness, and begs to be eaten off of or sipped from. And it is much tastier in person.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

white

My new color from the most recently fired kiln is white. I have been resisting doing pure white on my pieces, but an upcoming show at Nahcotta gallery in Portsmouth, NH, called for this simplicity. The set above contains a plate, a soup bowl, a salad bowl, and a cup. Yeay.

Monday, October 13, 2008

glazing

Once the pieces have been bisque fired, they are ready to be glazed. I apply wax to areas where I do not want glaze to stick, mostly on the bottom of the piece (shown above). If a piece is glazed on the bottom, it will melt onto the kiln shelf during the firing, and would have to be broken off.

When a piece has one color on the inside, and another color on the outside, I glaze the inside first. I pour the glaze into the piece, swish it around, and pour it out. The inside glaze has to dry a bit before the outside glaze can be applied. Once the inside has dried, I dunk the outside of the piece into a bucket of glaze. Shown below are fully glazed pieces. The color will come out when the glaze is taken up to around 2200F, or cone 8 in clay speak.

I made a new batch of glaze yesterday, it's always a bit of a mystery as to what it will actually look like once fired. Even if I follow the same recipe every time, the final result is always slightly different. Working with clay is an exercise of giving up control, which is hard to do for a trained graphic designer.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

out of the bisque, ready for glaze

The pieces are safely out of the bisque kiln. At any time in the process problems can occur. Fine cracks may appear during the bisque firing. All these pieces seem to have made it through OK. Two more firings to go, though. A glaze and a decal firing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

bisque

Here are the pieces all cleaned up and loaded into my electric kiln for the first firing, which is called a bisque. The bisque firing takes the temperature to 1945 F, or cone 04 in clay speak, and strengthens the clay enough so it can be glazed.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

slipcasting

I have started working on a very large order from Cog and Pearl. Seth and Kristin, the owners, have been my best customers and supporters for years.

The first step is to pour slip (liquid clay) into forms, shown above. As the water evaporates, the shapes will shrink and pop off the sides of the molds. After I remove the pieces from the molds, I sponge each edge until it is nice and thin. The finishing of the edge is what gives each piece its unique hand-made personality.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

agrarian Russia

The image above is from a thoughtfully told visual essay of Russian country life by James Hill of The New York Times. It reminded me of the simple summers at our family dacha.