Towards A Standard: Searching for Beauty

Enter the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017) and you could win one of our best Nuka Cobalt Mugs paired with a copy of “A Potter’s Book” by Bernard Leach, totally free. This story tells how “A Potter’s Book” inspired the creation of our “Standard Ware” line of pottery.

Bernard Leach dedicated “A Potter’s Book” to all potters. In additional to giving the reader everything he or she needed to create a life as a potter, he encouraged potters to aspire to a higher calling. Leach coined the term, “Towards A Standard” because he wanted potters to continually search for beauty.

Pots are like people. Some are thick and some are thin. A crack or chip in a mug resembles a scar in our skin. If your favorite coffee mug chips, do you throw it out? I sure don’t. I generally love it until it breaks completely, until the end of it’s life.

Leach was searching for beauty, but he admitted that beauty is arbitrary. Not everyone sees beauty the same, but through a lifelong investigation of historical pottery and open minded critique of ourselves and our pots, we might get closer to discovering more honest standards of beauty.

“It must always be remembered that the dissociation of use and beauty is a purely arbitrary thing. It is true that pots exist which are useful and not beautiful, and other that are beautiful and impractical; but neither of these extremes can be considered normal: normal is a balanced combination of the two.”

Bernard Leach, “A Potter’s Book” Page 44. Faber and Faber, 1940

Black Friday Pottery: Cosmic Mugs and Moon Mugs

Have you seen our new website that specializes in Cosmic Mugs? To help celebrate this new website launch, please enjoy these three “Black Friday” coupons, valid today and tomorrow only:

$5 off Random Cosmic Mugs:


25% off our best Cosmic Mugs:

Coupon Code: BLACKFRIDAY25

30% off all Moon Mugs:

Coupon Code: BLACKFRIDAY30


We’re still working on an even better Holiday coupon package for Stay tuned to this email newsletter (visit if you want to guarantee that you are signed up) for awesome coupon deals during the upcoming Holiday season as new pottery emerges from the kiln.

Fresh Pots on


“The problem of producing vital pattern is a very real one to the artist-craftsman. He can no longer depend upon the support and restraint of any particular tradition but must form his own synthesis and invert his own creative designs, for patterns should rise out of the need and experience of today and not from that of yesterday.”

Bernard Leach, A Potter’s Book. Page 102. Faber and Faber, 1940.


Cosmic Dinnerware Sets

With less than one week remaining in the Cosmic Mug Kickstarter, I decided to add just two more listings: Cosmic Dinnerware Sets. Each set requires many months of work, but I’m up for the challenge. It’s like having to plan out a massive puzzle, and then separately create all of the puzzle pieces that must fit together perfectly. Custom pottery requires intense focus to ensure that all of the pieces match in size, shape, weight and color. I’ve created many full dinnerware sets, but a cosmic dinnerware set would be OUT OF THIS WORLD! (get it?) I realize that each set is a big investment, but if any of you are interested in this type of artwork, please follow the link below (or please forward it to someone who might be interested). Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly with any questions:

Cosmic Dinnerware Sets


Cosmic Dinnerware Collage
These are examples of previous dinnerware pieces I’ve created in other glaze pallets.

I’m working around the clock to get all of your pottery ready for shipment December 11-14th. This Instagram post shows a glimpse of my studio work in the wee hours of the night. If you’re a backer, be sure to watch your email closely, as I will be using email to collect shipping addresses. Local pickup options will also be available, in case you would like to pick out your Cosmic Mugs in person. If you’re still interested in a $49 Cosmic Mug or a $69 Cosmic Mug + Set of 4 Shot Cups before Christmas, follow this link to snag one before the sell out:

Cosmic Mug Kickstarter


This is how a Cosmic Mug looks in bright sunlight, outdoors in snowy Minnesota.
This is a Cosmic Mug in bright sunlight, outdoors in snowy Minnesota.

“It is also important to remember that, although pottery is made to be used, this fact in no wise simplifies the problem of artistic expression; there can be no fullness or complete realization of utility without beauty, refinement and charm, for the simple reason that their absence must in the long run be intolerable to both maker and consumer. We desire not only food but also the enjoyment and zest of eating.” 

– “A Potter’s Book” by Bernard Leach, “Towards A Standard,” pg. 13, Faber and Faber, 1940


Ogres, Princesses, and Pretty Blue Glazes

I remember the first time glazing a pot in Sam Johnson’s ceramics class last year. I had made this slightly uneven coil vase with pockmarked walls nearly an inch thick. The piece was truly ugly, an ogre really, but I couldn’t see the pot as anything other than beautiful. It was my Princess Fiona and I was its Shrek…At least until I glazed it.

Like most naive ceramics students, I pictured glazing just like painting. I picked out a handful of colors using the test tiles as my guide, and then brushed swooping glaze patterns all over my vase. By the time I finished, the pot looked like something straight out a kindergarten arts and crafts class. I on the other hand thought it was a masterpiece – a trophy of abstract art. When the thing (it was beyond a pot at this point) finally came out of the kiln, it was hideous. I looked over at my professor for encouragement. Sam walked over, took one look at my monster, turned to the class and said:

“Opening a kiln can be like Christmas or Halloween. Either the pots look amazing and you fall in love, or the results are horrible and you want to smash everything.”

Kiln Loading 2
The moment of truth, loading a kiln of glazed pots.

Unlike my great clay ogre, Joel can’t afford to make ugly pots. He makes his living through pottery, and as a result, his experiments with glaze need to be calculated and precise. He needs to know exactly how each part of the glaze works; how copper, cobalt, and iron make red, blue, and rust colors when the glaze reacts with fire in the kiln. Glazes transform clay bodies from ogres into princesses. However, as Joel continues to explore glaze chemistry, he finds that these potions are often difficult to create. Like the alchemists I wrote about last post, Joel works tirelessly to find the right balance of form and color that’ll turn a clay body into a beautiful work of art. For his livelihood, each glaze must reach for a certain standard of beauty.

Glaze Notes
– Studying past glaze recipes, tweaking the ingredients to make more alluring pots.

Looking back at his previous body of work, I think Joel’s been chasing this certain type of beauty all along. It’s been hidden in his work throughout the years, and now I feel we’re just starting to uncover it in the color blue.

Take a look at the gallery below to see an evolution of this blue color. Even in woodfiring, salt firing and copper red glazes, the color blue shows up. I can track the color throughout his work back to 2008:

2008, Oceanscape Cups    2009, Mindscape

Copper Red Glazes, Salt and REduction Fired, Joel Cherrico Pottery

2011 planter and jar, Cherrico Pottery

Paige Dansinger Collaboration  Collaboration with Bruno Press

Numerous potters talk about the lore of blue pottery. Throughout the ages, potters can’t seem to shy away from it. I’ve heard some contemporary potters even refer to the color as cash-flow blue.

Our text book this semester has been Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book. Now a 50 year old text, Leach provides a rich history of how ceramics has evolved. His book not only offers rich lessons of the past, but it also gives insights into the future. But even Leach, who wrote the book after decades of experience under his belt, could not seem to understand the lure of the color blue in ceramics. These stories share his experiences with blue glazes:

“At my St. Ives workshop each summer we are asked by three visitors out of four for colour and yet more colour, blue and the more intense the better, is easily the favourite.”

– A Potter’s Book, page 36

“Yesterday we had a good bunch of people, 2 of whom at least knew a good pot when they saw it. One woman started by asking if we hadn’t got any ‘blue pots’, and when David showed them that the last olive-blue glaze for which we have experimented for years, she said: ‘Oh! Do you call that blue?'”

A Potter’s Book, page 227-228

Perhaps what this all boils down to is something we talked about in the beginning -the pursuit of beauty. Some of the best potters in the contemporary art world don’t make beautiful work. Their work is strange, ugly and confusing.

Poster, NCECA, Joel Cherrico Pottery, Handmade Ceramic Pottery, 2014With this in mind, does the color blue still have a place in the contemporary ceramic world? This poster sits above our workspace, and it’s made from postcards Joel picked up in Philadelphia in 2010 at NCECA (National Council for Education for the Ceramic Arts). It gives a snapshot of the contemporary ceramic work, and shows only a handful of simple, blue pots. Joel will be at the conference in Milwaukee next week networking with contemporary potters and pottery enthusiasts. His goal is to show that the color blue continues to have a strong lure in both historical pottery as well as contemporary ceramics. He wants his work to be a bridge between historical potters like Leach and contemporary artists like Paige Dansinger. As a result, we’ve prepared some innovative market ideas, re-designed the website home page, and packed the online store with blue pots and artist collaborations with Dansinger. We’re prepared for the biggest ceramics conference in the country and we’re hoping to lure people to us with our blue pots!

Joel Cherrico Pottery Marketing Ideas, 2014  Joel Cherrico Pottery Business Card Coins

Joel Cherrico Pottery, Shot Cups, Innovative Marketing   Joel Cherrico Pottery, Shot Cups and Mugs, Innovative Marketing

Bernard Leach, A Potters Book, Beautiful Pottery, Joel Cherrico Pottery, 2014
Bernard Leach, “A Potter’s Book” (Page 7)

Glaze Chemistry and Alchemy

Pottery Alchemy, Alchemy Definition, Joel Cherrico Pottery, 2013

The New World Dictionary, Copyright 1967

In many ways, the work of the modern potter mirrors the work of the ancient alchemist. Potters blend earthly materials like clay, stone, and ash, into complicated glaze mixtures. Then through fire, these base substances transform into precious works of art. With glaze chemistry, and one part modern alchemy, potters turn the natural elements we once took for granted into the treasured artifacts we display in our homes and galleries.

It’s interesting to see how much the glazing, alchemy, and human life relate to each other. Bernard Leach, author of A Potter’s Book, helps us understand glazes by relating them to the body. He says most glazes have 3 main parts -the blood, bone, and flesh. Here’s how they work:

1.) Fluxing agent  or “life blood of the glaze” – causes the glaze materials to melt and flow together in the kiln firing.

2.) Refractory or “bone of the glaze”  resists heat and melting, providing structure and strength to the glaze body.

3.) Glass Former or “flesh of the glaze”  creates complexity, depth and unique qualities.

(page 133-134)

Similar to Bernard Leach, the early alchemists fused their chemical efforts with the body. Calling their experiments the Magnum Opus, or “Great Work,” these men searched tirelessly for the right chemical concoctions that would enrich life or prevent death. In some ways, full-time potters do the same through glaze chemistry. They are constantly searching for that perfect potion that will immortalize a clay body and turn sand, water, and ash into gold.

These 2 books, by potters John Britt and Phil Rogers, gave Joel the necessary skills to develop that perfect glaze surface, but like the early alchemists, he’s still searching.

Ash Glazes, Phil Rogers, Joel Cherrico Pottery, 2014    John Birtt the complete guide to high-fire glazes, Stoneware Pottery

Like alchemy, glazing is often a fiery, messy, and sometimes toxic process. The kiln releases CO2, the powdered glaze materials are dangerous inhalants, and the heavy metal colorants cause skin irritation. Joel mixes all his glazing in an old boat shed. This dirty, dark laboratory gives him 24 hour access to glaze experimentation, providing the perfect amount of chaos to create beautiful works.

Pottery Alchemy, Joel Cherrico Pottery, Glaze Mixing, Cone 10 Stoneware, 2014  Joel Cherrico Pottery, Pottery Alchemy, Glaze Mixing, 2013 Pottery Alchemy, Glaze Layering, Joel Cherrico Pottery, 2014  Pottery Alchemy, Joel Cherrico Pottery, Skutt Electric Kiln, 2014

Joel’s pottery has to be strong enough to be used in a coffee shop everyday. The Local Blend Baristas say they wash a mug up to 5 times per day, 7 days per week! With this in mind, Joel adapted the Nuka glaze to suit the stress. Traditionally a simple 3-ingredient mixture, Joel added more chemicals to strengthen the glaze surface, reducing flaws like pinholes and crazing while increasing durability and gloss. Here’s the recipe for all the curious potters out there:

Joel Cherrico Nuka Glaze, Cone 10 Recipe, 2014

Some potters spend their careers trying to find the right glaze mixtures. In next Friday’s post, we’ll delve into some of these mixtures more and explore the lure of pretty blue pottery.

Cobalt-based glazes, or what some potters call “cash-flow” blue glazes, have been mystifying both potters and customers for decades.
Cobalt-based glazes, or what some potters call “cash-flow” blue glazes, have been mystifying both potters and customers for decades.

“At my St. Ives workshop each summer we are asked by three visitors out of four for colour and yet more colour, blue and the more intense the better, is easily the favourite.”

A Potter’s Book, Bernard Leach, page 36