My Love Affair with Over Sized Toasters

Ok… I’ll admit it. I’ve been a little tetchy the past… what is it now? 10 days? It all started with a 11 hour glaze firing dragging on to 17 hours without bending cone 5 before I had to shut down the kiln. Yeah… you guessed it…It was a blown kiln element.
I really hate shifting gears like this, I’m still a novice at managing this multi-media juggling act and it takes me a day or 2 longer than it should to commit to creating something else that isn’t scheduled and prepped for.

Fetishghost Studio, Duncan Kiln


Fetishghost Studio, Duncan KilnThis was the 3rd element to blow this year. I love this old kiln. It’s an old Duncan DK1029-2, a hand-me-down from an old friend who thought I could make good use of it. I have to bow down to her wisdom… she was right, I’ve grown a lot with it. I’ve learned a lot about installing and fixing electric kilns over the past 2 years for starters. I’m really happy to say don’t have any problem with a tare down any more.Hell, if it wasn’t for all the waiting for parts to arrive and watching the soft brick quickly disintegrate as I change elements, I’d actually say I enjoy fix’n this old beast.

Fetishghost Studio, Duncan Kiln

I’ll be happy tomorrow to do my test burn.


A Quick Bio

My name is Zygote. I’m a semi-retired technical foundry artisan, a jeweler, a ceramicist, and a gentleman’s gardener. I turned 40 this year!

I was born in late sixties in Cedar Rapids Iowa, a beautiful, agrarian city nestled along a river and among farm fields and old oak forests.
It’s a community that traditionally thought with its hands. It’s a community that values and takes great pride in its laborers, thinkers, craftsmen, and artists and it still raises its’ children with the belief that much of life’s wisdom is found through the handle of a shovel and through encouraging a curious exploration of the natural world.

Biography Self Portrait of Zygote (Joel) Blum

As a 16 year old, I was encouraged to begin formal art training and left home to attend Memphis Academy of Arts to study drawing, sculpture, and silversmithing. By the age of 20, I had established the beginnings of a private silversmithing studio for ongoing personal nighttime studies and had accepted my first position as a technical foundry artisan in an arts foundry in Arizona. The next decade was spent working with groups of artisans providing technical assistance to professional artists in producing bronze works for private collections, museums, and large public art works for display throughout the southwest, west coast, and pacific rim countries.

Arizona Bronze Foundry, Zygote Blum preparing crucible

In 2000, my wife and I moved our growing family to Stockton, California. I really needed a few years to relax and begin a new creative path in ceramics and gardening while we began raising 2 young children.

Over the past 3 years, most of my personal studio activities has been focused on creating personal silver and ceramic work for the FetishGhost collection and serving my local community through my new studio, RedGate Ceramics.
Through RedGate I create a distinctive high quality body of domestic ceramic wear that speaks specifically to my local markets, and is beginning to cater to a handful of regional galleries. I really enjoy my new path in ceramics and my work keeps improving as I push forward. The best part is having a artistic vehicle that allows me to interact closely with my community.

Fetishghost Tea Ware

Fetishghost Canister


But… it’s my affair with FetishGhost that’s drawn the most attention though. For over the past 20 years, I’ve generally been known for my unique approach to handcrafted sterling macabre.

The silversmithing studio is firmly anchored in the past. I use a mix of traditional preindustrial silversmithing and jewelers skills to create my Gothic SteamPunk designs, eschewing any pre-made or mass produced parts or findings. I’ve been dancing with this muse since 1988, and I love making subtle and noodlely detailed work done in a heavy & stylized motifs of the North American Southwest Macabre (now part of a developing Southwest Goth aesthetic).

Lately I’ve started to enjoy realizing more of my rather “operatic” designs. These are designs, that while they are made to be sensuously experienced by the wearer, their obvious intent is to project the wearers chosen personality.

Fetishghost Silversmith Jewelry
Fetishghost Silversmith Jewelry
Fetishghost Silversmith Jewelry

As always, I’m really excited about the next group of pieces. I’m hooked on the thrill of discovery and something new is always bound to happen. Now that the children are getting older, things could get really strange.
Fetishghost Silversmith Jewelry
I can’t wait!

Throwing Lids for Canisters

I’ve been taking up some loose time this week with filling inventories for November. My kiln blew an element last week and now I’m passing time until the replacement part arrives. I’ve been throwing canisters for my local farmers markets.

So… this post is about lids.

I know a lot of potters hate throwing lids, I hear professionals and students alike grump their way through this chore. I’ve been lucky, I’ve really enjoyed developing my approach to throwing this type of lid. It’s taken a few years and a few hundred lids to work out most of the kinks, but the time spent was well worth it.

Throwing Lids
My lids are made with heft, durability, and functionality in mind. They have got to stand up to at least a family’s worth of use. They are truly a functional item that need be well crafted to fit to their companion well. Still, at the same time, I create these with an eye on my personal decorative athletics of strong curvilinear lines, clean tight surfaces juxtaposed with textures, and with a well formed knob on top.
The carved out concave in the center in the bottom of the lid is purely functional, it helps even out the drying of the form, decrease the weight, improve it’s balance, and, well… I like it.


Throwing Lids

This is a deceptive shot. I’ll usually throw a series of 7- 15 canisters in a sitting. All of the galleys are made to meet whatever my current predetermined inner diameter is. This is a ritual of studio covenience for me, this way I’m free to explore a body’s form and the lid will essentally fall into place as it moves through the studio. This piece shown is almost 12 hours old. Shrinkage at this scale makes a huge difference… so pay attention to the “wet measurements” of those openings. Take notes and figure out your shrinkage scales of the clays you choose to use, it really pays off.


Throwing Lids Throwing Lids Throwing Lids
Let it dry to leather hard before trimming….
Throwing Lids
I throw a fresh trimming chuck to softly hold a green lid and slowly enlarge it as I work though a lid series.
Throwing Lids

This is the finished fit for a lid in a greenware canister. I don’t approve of excessive slop in the play between the lid and galley. When I throw 15 canister bodies I throw 20- 25 lids and mix and match to fit the greenware.

To get a feel for the entire process, check this out.

Trimming a Tall Vase

Fetishghost Studio, Zygote Blum Working

This is a quick view of how I trim the foot on a tall narrow necked vase.
To get the piece supported well enough to apply the pressure needed to make my cuts, I throw a thick walled trimming chuck to hold the inverted piece steady. I try to let the fresh chuck set up for a few hours before using it. When I’m ready, I simply invert the vase into the opening of the chuck, level and center the ware and start trimming.
The leather hard chucks are reusable. I simply leave it on it’s throwing bat and bag it up well to keep it at a leather hard state. I try to set-up my work schedule to make use of a fresh trimming chuck. I cut fresh stencils, gather supplies, and throw as much work as I can juggle to finish without loosing control, (not often easy with 2 kids).
Once I’m finally finished using a trimming chuck, it’s left to dry out and broken up and put in my bucket of clay scrap for recycling.

Fetishghost Studio, Zygote Blum Working

Fetishghost Studio, Zygote Blum Working on Bud Vase

Ta Da!!

Finished Prototype Bud Vases

Stockton Floral Miracle Mile, Stockton, CAJenny-Faye Klooster, the successful owner of Avant Garden, and now the new owner San Francisco Floral, had requested a small series of prototype bud vases from FetishGhost for her storefront on the Miracle Mile in Stockton California. Jenny had been looking for a local ceramicist to work with to provide something special that could be tailored specifically to her business. She needed access to a studio that could produce gallery quality handcrafted ceramic art works that could fit her needs as a florist. My studio is literally right around the corner from her shop and we really hit it off on the first meeting. She’s very supportive of the local arts and has all of faith in what our collaboration can produce.

Fetishghost Ware on Miracle Mile

It took only 2 weeks turn around from Jenny’s request for sample prototypes to delivering the finished pieces. I created 3 sample works to show her, and WoW!!! They came out of the kiln looking fantastic!

Fetishghost Studio, Zygote Blum WorkingFetishghost Bud Vase

These are beautifully rich glaze combinations that really worked well. She loved the surprise as well… as a result, I’ve got a new patron for the studio!

Fetishghost Bud Vase

The optics in the glaze on this series are gorgeous! The white glaze breaks beautifully over the blue hares fur glaze at the rim on this vase.

Fetishghost Bud Vase

I’ve got a good feeling about this….I’m already working on the next series.

“Living Life on the Learning Curve” or “Another Day of Doh!”

All right, so a good part of Monday was spent prepping the kiln, glazing bisque ware, and then came a typical long night of burning expectations while the kiln fires.

Well… I’m often the one who points out that if you aren’t messing stuff up, you aren’t trying hard enough.

Yeah I know, it’s probably not a great catch phrase to run a business by, it is an excellent motto to investigate a process with. Still… it can get pretty frustrating sometimes, but sometimes the results are amazing.
Fetishghost Yunomi
This came out looking like a nice ‘n’ tasty toasty marshmallow.
Fetishghost Blue Yunomi
A scrumptious GhostBlue glaze with fantastic optics trapped in the surface breaking off the rim. The photo series from this shoot doesn’t do this glaze combo justice. This series is gorgeous!
Fetishghost Toasted Yunomi

I love the new GhostMoth stencil. I cut a stack of 32, but I’ve already used up nearly all of em. I live for the small victories!

Like I was saying… so with all the success there was still a downside. And of course it was a big one. I had decided to try using shallow trivets with some of the cups to catch any glaze that might roll off the surface. I thought a few cups and their glaze combos might be susceptible to a little running. I had a hunch for a new solution and I needed to try it out.
Fetishghost Process
I was WRONG.
Fetishghost Process Fetishghost Process Detail
The shallow concave of the trivet vitrified it self to the cup at the point of contact…
The edge of the foot then broke nicely away, creating a full set of beautiful 2nds
And so ends my day of “Doh!”

Bud Vases, Steam Gears, and Canisters…. Oh My!

Fetishghost Steam Team CanistersIt’s been a week of throwing and slip decorating an assortment of cups and bud vases to round off a kiln load of bisque that I’ve been anxious to fire off.Fetishghost Cross Bone Canister

This includes the test SteamGear Cups from last weekend and a few requested Bud Vase prototypes for the new owner of San Francisco Floral in Stockton as well as a few large faceted canisters to show at the local farmers markets. I rushed a few of my thrown and altered bud vase prototypes through the drying process and payed the price… Cracks!

Doh!Fetishghost Yunomi

The kiln was loaded and successfully fired off Friday night despite a 2 hour blackout for our neighborhood halfway through the firing. The finished bisque looks really good. I can’t wait to see how these cups come out!

Steam Gear Cup Part 2

Fetishghost Steam Ware

This is the process of applying the newsprint stencils to the surface of a freshly thrown cup that’s still attached to the wheel head. The stencils are adhered to the surface by spritzing the surface of the cup with water and laying the stencil in place. A gentle pressing with a damp sponge sets the stencil in to place.

Fetishghost Steam Ware

A contrasting colored clay slip is then sponged over the entire design. This slip was colored with cobalt oxide, this will fire to a wonderful blue that will influence any glaze that applied over it.

Fetishghost Steam WareNow I can set back an get a feel how the new stencils have worked. I’ll cut a foot on the bottom after it stiffens overnight.

Cutting New Steam Gear Stencil Designs

Fetishghost Paper Stencil DesignThis is an idea that’s been bouncing around inside my head for the past few weeks. It’s a geared and steam motif design for a small experimental series of cups and canisters. This project uses the strategy of using cut paper stencils and slips to create compositions to be used as the base designs. After the pieces are glazed, they are then enhanced with a collage layer of home printed high iron decals that are then re-fired onto the finished surface.Fetishghost Paper Stencil Design

To create enough stencils to play with, I make a stack of 32 sheets of newsprint sandwiched between 2 sheets of thin plastic poster board. The edges are taped up and a pos/neg design is rubber cemented to the surface. The design is then pierced with a thin drill bit to allow a jewelers saw blade to be threaded though and cut away the design.

The plastic on the exterior of the stack gives the stack a workable level of stiffness. With practice, imagination, and patience, you can get pretty noodley with your designs.
Fetishghost Paper Stencil Design

I like mixing and matching stencils to create my designs. I usually start off working to create a specific composition… just to see what it looks like. But after that though, the work turns to a pure freeform and organic style of composition.


Fetishghost Paper Stencil DesignThis is where I get to fall into a nighttime groove… it’s all about the Jazz… the surprises of a flow…it’s where the racers happen…