Winter Cairns

Fetishghost Totem

Fetishghost Totem All right… it’s started moving into the “it’s really cold, wet, and rainy” time of year for my studio. This is still Northern California so the temperature, at its best, generally is topped out in the middle of the day at 55 degrees, (and I count myself really lucky it’s this warm). This is the down side to working in an old Garagio. It really is cold… and work takes many, many days to dry, and sometimes… things freeze! So aside from the bit about things freezing, things are fairly manageable… I can boil water for my throwing bucket to keep myself warm… (that’s really nice….) the slow drying can be an inconvenience if you’ve got small work trying to dry, but it’s really nice if you have larger thick walled projects that appreciate being slow dried.

Fetishghost Totem Fetishghost Totem Or…. you can see if your friends will let you hang out in a spot in their toasty warm studios during the winter cold snaps. I like this option… they’ve got better hot chocolate, and… oh yeah… heating. Being a decent guest you might be expected to do a little wedging, maybe some trimming, definitely some story telling…. It’s all about that winter camaraderie thing.
So I’ve been spending to past week getting started on creating a series of Cairns for this spring’s exhibitions. These are large(ish) decorative ceramic post markers, and due to their size and complexity, they can be tricky to get across the finish line in a stately manner… (Understatement). Luckily, they really like to be slow dried and they make use of a lot of the techniques I’ve been playing with this year.

For me, these forms provide a more sculptural surface for developing more complex narratives and they also provide a glorified test tile for exploring studio archenemy. This could get really fun… we’ll see… I’m hoping to pick through the results of this winters work and gallery mount a few finished pieces for spring’s and summer’s exhibitions. I guess we’ll have to see…

Fetishghost Totem

This is the cobalt slip…

Fetishghost Totem and a view of cutting the stencils with a razor blade.

Fetishghost Totem

This is the proposed slip & glaze combo I’m planning to use… it’s a cobalt slip and MoonCrater White glaze.

Fetishghost Totem

Fetishghost Totem

Working through the form….

Fetishghost Totem Fetishghost Totem Applying the stencils & sponging on the slip…


Fetishghost Totem


All most there…

Fetishghost Totem

Hallmarked and now we let it dry S-L-O-W-L-Y…


And now… For Something A Little Different

Even after 8 years of living in Stockton, I’m amazed… the weather is so beautiful and wonderful in Northern California right now. Fall is definitely here. The leaves are turning and falling, the chimneys are beginning to churn out my favorite fall smells, and our morning family walks to the school bus are beginning to have a chilled edge that helps wake us up (the cups of hot chocolate help make the darkened walks something to look forward to). Every single day this week has been so amazing that I was driven out of my studio and into my Gardens on the Delta Community Collage Campus to get my fall, winter, and spring color in and lay down seed.

If you love thinking with your hands, this job is over 3 acres of heaven.

When I took over these gardens they were FILLED with chest high weeds. Rather than spraying I chose to comb out the weeds by hand literally inch by inch. Completely worth it. The campus shredded a handful of massive redwoods and now I’ve got 3 bus sized piles of shredded trees to mulch my beds with.
Almost a year and a half later, I can actually have students work out in the gardens without getting so frustrated that they leave, and now it’s even becoming the garden of “Love”. Some mornings I have to hit the sprinkler system to chase out enthusiastic short term residents.
 San Joaquin Delta College
Yea… I know… So what, but my thumbs are rest’n in my arm pits and I’ve got a rye stem wedged in between my teeth. Liven is good.
God I LOVE my job!

Busy, Busy, Busy…

Bronze Pour at San Joaquin Delta College, Stockton, CA Fetishghost Canister

It’s been a fantastic week. It started with a late night bisque firing Sunday night and the rest of the week was spent glazing, firing, doing 2 more bronze pours, and I got in a lot of gardening. The bronze pours are going really well. We’re still tuning up the foundry layout and getting it outfitted for work flow and safety. The fun part is tiring to get a new crew of interested students drummed up.

Fetishghost StudioI had 33 pieces go through the firing and I managed to not loose any pieces this time! Not only that, but everything came out fantastic! The optical effects of the GhostBlue and White Liner glazes is amazing on this kiln load.The neighborhood florist promptly confiscated 6 of the vases, 3 cups have already been pulled for gallery submissions, and the rest of the ware is either for the local Potters Guild fall sale next month or for posting on Etsy.

Fetishghost CanisterFetishghost Teaware StudioFetishghost Bud Vases


Moon Crater White Glaze Cone 6

Fetishghost Ware


This is the recipe for the MoonCrater White cone 6 oxidation glaze that I use in my electric kiln. It’s a fairly standard white satin matte glaze that I ran across in a February 2003 Ceramic Monthly. The only change I’ve made was switching out Tin Oxide for Zircopax as a opacifier to give me a softer white.

Moon Crater White Cone 6

Gerstley Borate 31.6%
Talc 14%
Kona F-4 Feldspar 19.8%
EPK  5%
Silica 29.6%
Tin Oxide 5%
Bentonite 2%

By nearly all accounts, this is a bland unpredictable glaze that I should have stopped mixing up 2 years ago, but… well, I like it.

Fetishghost Ware

It’s faults are what makes this glaze so interesting . When it’s over fired on a cone 5 clay body, the glaze develops a rich creamy semi-translucent white satin matte that’s inclined to develop patches of wonderfully textured orange peel effects that often transition into shallow open soft edged craters. This is a pleasantly usable texture glaze.

Fetishghost Ware

The main reason this glaze is still made is that it’s mixed proportionally with a Nutmeg glaze to create an all purpose wonderfully warm earth-toned glaze that’s a customer favorite. In house, I refer to this mix as a NutWhite glaze.

The personal reason I still mix this glaze up is because I love what happens when I use it over paper stencil cobalt slipped designs on a red stoneware clay body.

While I’m still never really sure how this glaze will come out of kiln, I love and live for the anticipation of creating works for this glaze. It’s a glaze that provides me some of the highs and lows that make studio life so rewarding.


Fetishghost Ware

Bronze Pour

Gosh I love bronze pours! I’ve done literally thousands of them and I still get all giddy just hearing the rumble and smell of a furnace. There’s something that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about pulling a 1900 degree pot of molten bronze out of the furnace.

Foundry Bronze Pour at San Joaquin Delta College, Stockton, CA

Foundry Bronze Pour at San Joaquin Delta College, Stockton, CA


High octane liquid potential.

I have to thank Sculptor and professor Gary Carlos for letting me help with these pours at San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton.
I had done a pretty good job putting out of my mind how much I enjoy the experience, but I think that’s been blown… I’m hooked again. Damn!

Back to Burning

Well, my kiln repair worked and I got a glaze load fired off. I’m always relieved when my repairs haven’t created any larger problems. The repair was strait forward enough, but even something as simple as replacing a broken element is really hard on this old kiln. The soft brick walls the elements are embedded into are very quick to crumble and I’ve been eyeballing a switch or two, wondering when I’m going to get to learn how to test and fix them as well.

I’m happy with how this load came out. The teapots came out really really nicely, and the yunomi cups, with their thickly slipped hakeme surfaces under a translucent dark amber glaze, came out beautifully.

Harvest Ware

These are gorgeous!

Harvest Ware

I started pushing a load of small teabag trivets through the studio again. I was surprised at how well these were received last fall. I’ve sold and given away all of last years load of trivets and I’ve already gotten enough seasonal requests for these little dishes to make me begin creating a larger inventory for my fall sales.


There were a few 14 pounders in on this load too. These are some of the large sectional thrown canisters that I’ve been working on lately. I’ve I needed a few of theses larger canisters for Novembers Potters Guild sale. This is the scale I love to work in. It’s taken over a year to start getting consistent results that I can begin to count on. Now I can more freely invest the time the time necessary to create more elaborate surfaces with out fretting over major defects.

Harvest Ware Harvest WareThese aren’t the most exciting glazes, but they are handsomely warm.

Harvest Ware

Besides… they’re a great “fit” for the recycled clay body that I used to practice throwing these canisters.

Harvest Ware

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!!