Contest: Woodfire of Fortune

Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world-view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

Good morning! I’d like to start with a big welcome to new subscribers, thanks for reading! This wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without my audience of five. Now, on to the exciting news of the day…

It’s time for another Live Clay contest!

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m in studio mania, getting ready for the anagama wood-fire that will happen later this month near Madrid.

*teaching moment*
Anagama kilns like ours originated in Korea around 1600 BC, and produce pottery with unique glaze (melted wood ash that combines with flame and minerals in the clay) and flashing (where the fire touch the wares). Wood-fired pottery is considered the most durable of all ceramics, having survived temperatures of up to 2200 F.

Last week, we spent most of Sunday prepping the wood: cutting, sorting, and stacking six cords of lumberyard scraps into tidy piles like this one.

I made most of this stack. It's around 6' x 10'.  Photo by Kat, who is also responsible for the photobomb one stray board.

I made most of this stack, it’s around 6′ x 12′. Isn’t it beautiful? Photo by Kat. Photobomb also by Kat.

Wood prep is hellishly exhausting a great workout and time to bond with the rest of the crew before the firing. It’s important to be on good terms with your fellow potters, as your work will literally be in their hands. More on that later.

wood prep

You may also recall from my last post a rather melodramatic musing on the nature of imperfection, namely, my own. The questioning of choices and motives, or the unsightly bits that rarely make an appearance except in times of stress or vulnerability. I’m sure you can relate, as everyone has their own inner fiend that may or may not be acknowledged, hidden, or occasionally walked on a leash through the dark, music-less hellscape of their own introspection.

So, for this contest, I want to go Wabi-sabi, celebrate “imperfections,” acknowledge their beauty as part of the unfathomable whole, bring them into the [fire]light, as it were. I hope you’ll play along.

WoF logo

To Enter

1. Simply tell me about one of your best failures, humiliations, or embarrassments in the comments below. It doesn’t have to be long and detailed, just so the mortifying essence is communicated. Include your initials somewhere in the comment.

2. I’ll paint each entrant’s initials on the bottoms of  these poppy cups.

3. The cups will then be loaded into the kiln March 23-24 by me and 12 other people, totally random placement.

4. The cup that suffers the most “damage,” or is the biggest “wreckage” wins! (In the event of multiple failures, winner will be selected by random drawing or vote.)

5. Winner receives not only his or her own “loser” cup, but their choice of any other cup, bowl, or vase from this firing! (unless it is already spoken for)!


1. Stories must be true.

2. One entry per person. BONUS: double entry for any failure submitted in Haiku or Limerick format!

3. Deadline is Thursday, March 21, 8pm MST


Damage? How could any of these pieces that you’ve spent approximately 17,000 hours on be anything less than perfect?
It’s the nature of wood-firing, and working with clay in general, and life in general, that not every piece or person survives unscathed. Cracks, breakage, sticking to the shelf, death, trauma, abuse, cold spots in the kiln… The list of potential “flaws” is endless and uncontrollable.

Collection of misfit toys from last firing.

See what I mean?

Humiliation? Embarrassing moment? What you mean?
Anything as basic as a divorce or epic trip and fall, to complex and timeless like this, one of my personal classics: That time in college when I ran into the bathroom (forgot it was Men’s) for water because my mouth was on fire from stupidly agreeing to try some guy’s chewing tobacco. Wearing flip-flops, I slid in a puddle of I don’t know what, fell on my butt and continued sliding until my forward trajectory was interrupted by a pants-down guy at the urinal. A guy who happened to be the roommate of my biggest crush.

The winner really gets to pick any other piece?

Have fun, and thanks for entering!

21 thoughts on “Contest: Woodfire of Fortune

  1. Hilarious and fun. My thinking cap is now raising my blood pressure with “Oh my God” moments. I’d be outa busyness as a therapist if we weren’t all anagama fired and wonderful bundles of imperfectness.

    • I actually had you in mind when I thought of that, Guap! So yay, I can’t wait to see what you craft, given your formidable storytelling skills 😉

  2. Can I enter with a link to one of the humiliating moments that I’ve already blogged about? Lord knows I’ve got so many to choose from…

    Then again, there is the haiku and limerick challenge. Hmmmmm. I’m going to have to think this over.

  3. Love that you have these contests! So fun, Laura. And your pottery is so awesome.

    I bombed on stage during a live improv comedy show. Like, brain seized, completely locked-up, started backing up against the wall (a no-no in improv).

    This wasn’t a life/death situation, just the physical manifestation of my nightmares. Dark, faceless audience in a packed house, not laughing, no reaction. I started shaking I was so mortified, sat back down, then immediately had TO GO BACK UP.
    Bombed AGAIN.
    Double bomb.
    Basically crawled under my chair, and waited for the show to end, where my friends were there to tease. I sloughed it off, pretending I was just having a bad day. But it lead directly to a life as a writer.

    Initials: RAM!

    • FAN-tastico, Mike! What an excellent bipedal failure there! Love that. I got squirmy just thinking about the cricket sounds where laughter should have been. And it was the best kind of failure because now you’re a riotously funny writer and blogger, so lose-win! The best kind. So happy that you played… you are entered! And thanks for the kind words about these contests & my pottery — so much fun to share with an appreciative audience. Of five. 🙂

  4. Laura,

    Are you sniffing glue while you fire up the kiln? Just curious. I think burning wood and the smell of glue would make a fab combo. Kind of like salt and sugar at altitude with a little Maker’s Mark sprinkled on top.

    I don’t feel right entering the contest since I’ve already won one of your gorgeous bowls, but just for fun, my most embarrassing moment (in life) was when I farted in front of the entire 5th grade class at assembly.

    I haven’t quite recovered from that day, but sniffing glue really helps numb the pain.

    Love this post!

    • Stacie. Man, it’s a good think I’m in charge of these contests… YOU ARE ENTERED! That’s a good one, assmbly flatulence. Were you near the mic? And I’ll just say: you’re a lucky woman if you haven’t had a failure in the past 40 yrs since 5th grade that trumps this one. Not that it isn’t a worthy embarrassment…

      To answer your question, at some point before I joined the anagama community, it was determied that mood-altering substances + a gigantic kiln full of fire + exhausted potters might not be a good combination to enhance the common good, so exhausted potters have been banned. We do use Elmer’s when loading, so that almost qualifies.
      Thanks for commenting, and don’t worry — I know from what Christy’s said regarding your phone conversations, your gas issue is mostly under control, so congrats. xx

    • Oh, common Red, you’re such a good writer! What about failures? Mistakes (different from “regrets”)? Something that someone else might find funny or make a good story?

  5. Okay, you can put “DTB” on one of your cups. I don’t do improv and a limmerick would take me a few days to write, but I wanna win one of your amazing and rare woodfire pieces.

    As usual we were late for 11:00 Mass, but the wooden doors to the Church were still open. “Hurry up you guys”, I hissed over my shoulder. My four young children followed behind. The priest was poised on the altar; the choir had finished the entrance hymn, and all of the back pews were full.
    Smoothing my light green dress, I clicked quickly down the aisle in my taupe high heels. Grasping the wood of the front pew, I whirled around.
    Where were the children? Still at the back of the church, The four of them were convulsing with laughter and pointing at me. The men who sat around me studied their prayer books or the floor. A middle-aged woman who sat behind pursed her lips and hissed, “Fix your dress. Your bum is showing.”
    “Why didn’t you tell me that the back of my dress was stuffed into my panty hose?” My adorable children had finally joined me in the front pew. They shrugged, looked at each other, and put their hands over their mouths. They didn’t want to laugh out loud while the priest was talking.

  6. Well, it may not have been the “most” embarrassing, but it was one of my most recent embarrrassing moments. Our family of nine trooped into a crowded local restaurant on a Friday night. We had to wait a few minutes while three tables were pushed together to accomodate us in the rear of the place. As we squeezed in, next to a similarly-arranged equally large family at an adjacent table, an older man in the group jumped up and gave me a warm greeting: “Ortiz! How have you been?” He looked vaguely familiar, but search my depleted memory banks as I might, I couldn’t come up with his identity. He was loud enough that everyone in the two groups was watching us and I felt embarrassed not to be able to place him. In desperation, I decided he must be Bill Sapien, father of another state senator. He looked a little like I remembered Bill Sapien to have looked, so I offered, “I saw your son, John, in Santa Fe the other day.”

    Shocked silence from everyone at his table. “You couldn’t have seen my son. Don’t you remember me? I’m Frank Martinez. We used to go to Lobo games with your Dad.” I stammered something about how sorry I was to have mistaken him. But as I turned to sit down in confusion, he saved the day: “And how is your brother, the politician?” He’d mistaken me for my brother, Mike! I muttered something in relief, “Oh he’s fine, Mr. Martinez. Good to see you again.” My memory lapse had been trumped by his own. JOyP

    • Ok, JOyP, you and leoburpsgarlic definitely take the prize for more literary entries! Bravo, and at least you can blame your embarrassment-in-front-of-dozens on an aging brain… if that makes you feel any better. Plus, your victim was evidently just as daffy. You are entered!

  7. There are seriously too many to poke a stick at…. But here’s one.

    Driving through Sydney city, peak hour traffic, the early morning city streets a bustling hive of activity. A Huntsman (a spider the size of a man’s hand, and lightning fast too) crawled out from the AC vent, up over the dashboard and onto the inner windscreen. I have a thing with spiders, especially Huntsmen. I’d never kill one, but we have a going arrangement: our paths should not cross… ever. Now, I can’t recall if I screamed, I probably did, then slammed on the brakes and leapt out of the car in the middle of the street. Panic is never pretty… particularly when you come to realise you’re standing in the middle of three-lanes of traffic not ten meters from a ridiculously busy bus stop. A hundred sets of eyes fell on me as I tried (but failed) to explain there was a GIANT MAN-EATING spider inside. A lady perhaps in her sixties stepped out into the street, smiled gently as she passed, and leant into the car… the door was left flung open which traffic was now trying to avoid. A minute later she had the Huntsmen in her hand and deposited him (of her) in a nearby park. The bus stop crowd applauded. I bowed. What else could I do?


    • John, I laughed out loud with this one! Thanks so much for sharing.:) I don’t know what’s funnier — that there’s actually a plate-sized spider called a “Huntsman,” or the thought of you screaming like a girly-man at the sight of it, only to be rescued by a grandma! Love this — you are entered!

  8. I LOVE this wheel of wood fire contest of imperfection. The stories are hilarious. What I want to know , though, is exactly when will the Anagama Kiln be opened in Madrid? Going to the kiln opening is an unforgettable experience.

Talk to me! I spend too much time alone in the studio.

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