Ceramics 101


Of all the various media that artisans use, I find myself the most fascinated by ceramics. Now that I’m researching ceramics to stock at Waxwing Mercantile, I’ve been learning more about the materials and methods that ceramicists use.

The very basics of ceramics are that you start with clay, shape it, fire it in a kiln, where it hardens, and decorate it with glazes. Each step is incredibly scientific, precise, and there are so many variables. One of the most interesting things about clay is that humankind has been using it for millennia. Some of the most famous works from history are the 8,000 figures of terracotta that were buried with Emperor Qin in China circa 200 BCE, the models that Gian Lorenzo Bernini made during the 17th century, and of course the ancient Greek vases.

So here is a little Ceramics lesson!

Let’s start with the raw materials. There are many different types of clay; here are just a few of the most common kinds: earthenware, terracotta, porcelain, and stoneware. Some ceramicists mix their own clay, combining minerals and materials like feldspar, kaolin (China clay), flint, water, sodium bicarbonate, etc. to achieve a particular mixture. Chrome, manganese, cobalt, copper, and other oxides can be added to the recipe to give the clay a hint of color, like turquoise or brown. The recipes can be mixed by hand, which is extremely labor intensive, or combined in a machine called a pug mill.

Ceramicists possess complex tool kits containing supplies like knives, scrapers, sponges, wire (for slicing clay), calipers, chisels, lathes, rolling pins, and brushes. There are various techniques that artisans can use to create different types of objects. I’m most interested in vessels and decorative objects, but ceramics extend to sculpture, figurines, or even installation art. One simple technique is to shape a vessel by hand, rolling out the clay to an even slab and “gluing” it together using a liquid clay material called slip. Other ways to form an object include stacking coils of clay and then smoothing them out; “pinching” a block of clay until it forms a vessel; using a mold; or throwing the clay on a potter’s wheel.

Once the object is formed, it needs to air dry and harden before it’s time to fire it in a kiln. There are multiple kinds of kilns, including gas, electric, Raku, and others. Pottery can also be fired in a pit fire in the ground. The temperature of the kiln depends on the type of clay that you are firing. According to the resources I consulted, it seems that most clay is fired between 1800 and 2400 degrees Fahrenheit.

One of the most exciting parts of the process is the glazing. A glaze is a thin, hard layer of glass that is brushed onto the object, and then melts and fuses to the clay when fired in the kiln. They can be matte or glossy, and come in a spectrum of colors. Artisans can buy pre-mixed glazes or make their own depending on how much control they desire. When applied, glazes have a different color than they appear after firing, so ceramicists become familiar with the outcomes by testing small swatches of clay with different glazes until they achieve a certain effect. Sometimes the glazes drip organically, like in the mug pictured above, which I think is really neat. You can apply them with a brush, a tool, or by dipping.

Now that I’ve read up on ceramics, I have a whole new appreciation for ceramicists and the amount of knowledge and experience they need to have in order to envision what they want to create, and then have the finished product turn out as planned. I took ceramics classes in high school and loved them, but haven’t revisited since then. Now the idea of enrolling in a class is sounding pretty exciting!

If you want to learn more about ceramics, The Ceramics Bible by Louisa Taylor is an excellent place to start.

Here are some of the ceramic artisans and workshops whose work I particularly admire–

Farmhouse Pottery | Art et Manufacture | Paper and Clay | Honeycomb Studio | P O A S T

Let me know if you like this kind of post. If so, I may do similar posts about letterpress printing and woodworking later this year!

Sidenote: I studied art history in grad school and I currently work in the museum world. So I also like to keep up-to-date about contemporary fine art ceramics. By this, I mean ceramics that are not meant to be used in a utilitarian way, but artworks that are made of clay. This artist, Kit Dickey, makes absolutely gorgeous works.

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Top Resources for Small Business Entrepreneurs


I’ve been reading avidly about entrepreneurship, online retail, and running a small business for almost a year now, and I’m thinking it’d be worthwhile to share the most helpful of my resources with you in one monster blog post. If any of you daydream about starting a business (or currently run one), perhaps some of these websites and books will be useful for you. They certainly got my own wheels turning. The one disclaimer I’ll mention is while all of these were insightful and interesting in different ways, you have to extract from them what works for you, and don’t take to heart every single piece of advice you read. If you know of any stellar resources that aren’t listed here, please share them in the comments!


After the Jump podcast series – Incredibly relevant podcast for small business owners, especially in design-related fields. Grace Bonney hosts the show and invites different guests each week to discuss a new topic. Every show I listen to, there are are little nuggets of great information to file away for reference.

Biz Ladies on Design*Sponge – A series of blog posts featuring interviews with biz owners and advice covering a wide range of helpful topics.

The Lively Show - My favorite podcast and the most fun and interesting resource on the list. It’s not for everyone, but is geared toward women in their 20s and 30s with an entrepreneurial spirit. Each week, Jess Lively invites a successful blogger, chef, biz owner, designer, etc. and covers a wide range of topics from minimalism, to balancing motherhood and career, plant-based eating, general life lessons, and lots of good stuff. I’ve become completely hooked on the show and I listen to it all the time while doing chores and prepping dinner.


$100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau - This is the first book I bought when I got the idea to start a business. I remember it clearly. I bought the book on President’s Day 2014, then took it to Panera, ordered a smoothie and read it cover-to-cover. I read it with a grain of salt, but it got my wheels turning about how you can start a business without a trust fund or a risky loan.

Crazy is a Compliment by Linda Rottenberg - A useful read when it comes to getting yourself ready for making the leap. Rottenberg writes, “Entrepreneurship is about psyching yourself up instead of psyching yourself out.”

The Fortune Cookie Principal by Bernadette Jiwa - A fantastic book that will help you think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how to communicate your worth to customers.

Hearts, Smarts, Guts, and Luck by Anthony Tjan, Richard Harrington, and Tsun Yan-Hsieh – This book takes a look at personality traits and entrepreneurship. If you think running a business might be right for you, it’s interesting to read about how your personality may suit the job.

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin – Seth Godin is one of the most famous and celebrated business writers of our time. He has a lofty style of writing in snippets that all sound like tweets, which can sometimes sound a little glossy and unrealistic, albeit very quotable. A man of the digital age. But he’s inspirational and motivational. So it’s worth a read. And check out his blog, too.

Fast Company magazine – I have been introduced to some of the most interesting and innovative ideas in the world through this magazine. Most of them aren’t relevant to my business practice, but reading about new ideas keeps me on my toes. I like to bring this with me to waiting rooms, on trains, or anywhere I need something to occupy me for awhile.

New York Times small business section - Reading this will make you feel smart and current, but it will also help you stay aware of new trends and legislation that could affect your business.

The Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst – Hurst looks at different types of careers and argues that today’s workers are looking for purpose and fulfillment in their work and how it impacts society.


CEI - Coastal Enterprises, Inc. is a nonprofit that offers free business counseling for women in Maine. I had a really positive experience with the counselor there, and also benefited from attending their events and workshops.

Small Business Administration - Look up the SBA in your area, and you can find out about classes that are available. I didn’t feel like I needed to take one since I studied business in college, but I think the courses could be really helpful for folks who are staring at square one.

Good luck!

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Natural Winter Skincare from Small-batch Apothecaries

Organic & botanical winter skincare from Herbivore Botanicals, Caru Skincare, and Phoenix Botanicals


January and February can be brutally frigid and dry, so I like to treat my skin to some extra TLC to feel my best. This winter, I’m trying some new things from small-batch apothecaries. Here’s what’s in my medicine cabinet these days.

Herbivore Botanicals Brighten Mask

Mix a bit of this white clay mask with water to form a soothing, cooling mask that feels great and works well for sensitive skin that has been chapped by the winter wind. It contains tourmaline, geranium, and neroli, which I find to be uplifting.

Caru Rock & Rose Facial Toner

Caru Skincare Co. is a little company in Astoria, New York run by Dominique Caron, and they use organic ingredients, zero harmful chemicals, and take care to use sustainable packaging. This hydrosol is created for combination skin (meaning you have both oily and dry spots) and contains geranium and rose. As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of geranium.

Phoenix Botanicals Wild Mint Lip Balm

I’ve loved Phoenix Botanicals for a few years now. This mint lip balm is one of my favorite products that they make. Mint is the best lip balm flavor in my opinion, as it manages to both energize and relax me, and also can help make you feel like you have fresh breath. They use unique packaging for their lip balms that’s totally biodegradable and made of paper, but the tubes are sturdy. Phoenix has amazing customer service, and I highly recommend ordering from their Etsy shop.

Caru Jojoba Facial Oil

Another lovely Caru product. It’s inexpensive and super moisturizing. You can definitely get jojoba oil for cheaper at your local natural foods store, but I can guarantee the packaging wouldn’t be as beautiful. The design of this charming glass bottle makes me smile every time I open my cabinet.


One thing not pictured that’s been saving my skin lately is a lavender and calendula botanical cream that I made myself. It was my first attempt at making lotion, and to my surprise and delight, it turned out fabulous!

What is a Waxwing?

Cedar Waxwing

Photo ©iStock.com/lrh847

When I was brainstorming names for my business last summer, I kept coming back to Waxwing Mercantile. So out of curiosity, I did a small market survey of 100 strangers, and only 25% knew what a waxwing is. I have a feeling many of you reading this have heard of the waxwing bird before since y’all are nature people. But in case you haven’t, there are two varieties of waxwings: cedar and bohemian. The cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is of particular interest to me because of the colors of its plumage– slate blue, sunshine yellow, brilliant red, cedar brown, with hints of dusky purple. There’s nothing I love more than an interesting color scheme. Nature creates the prettiest palettes, doesn’t it?

The more I read about the cedar waxwing, the more fascinated I became. Here are some fun facts, which I learned on All About Birds. They tend to travel in flocks, flitting around the treetops. Their habitat covers open woodlands in much of the United States, as well as Canada and Mexico. Their main source of food is fruit. When they are courting, the male will offer a berry to the female bird, and if she eats it, it means she’s accepted him as her mate. The bright yellow tip of their tails can sometimes turn orange depending on what kind of berries they consume. The birds get their name from the little drops of red “wax” that appear on their wings.

Despite my fascination with the cedar waxwing, until last Friday I hadn’t yet seen one in person, even though I was constantly gazing up at the treetops throughout 2014 in hopes of spotting one. Then, when I least expected it, I was on a walk in downtown Portland with friends and saw a whole flock of them, which stopped me dead in my tracks. They were smaller and more delicate than I envisioned, but even more beautiful.


New year, new site, new name!

Welcome to the new blog– Folkloriat is now the blog for Waxwing Mercantile (shop to launch later this year)! You’ll notice that I have a new URL, too — blog.waxwingmercantile.com. All of the Folkloriat archives are still here on the site, and I will continue to post about handmade goods, nature, design, and life.

Now you will also start seeing “behind the scenes” posts about how the shop is coming along, and thoughts on starting a small business as I begin to build my shop from the ground up this year. That will involve working with a designer to create a modest branding package so the look of the site may change again once I have the logo and design figured out. But I am so thrilled about creating Waxwing that I didn’t want to wait until everything is “just so” to begin telling the story as plans take shape. Other things that I am excited to do this year are visiting trade shows, building an inventory, setting up my office, meeting makers and other shop owners, and learning to create an e-commerce site.

I want to thank everyone who has been following the blog, whether you’ve been here since I first started posting in the spring of 2013, or if you’re new! You all are really wonderful, and it’s been so great to hear words of encouragement.

I hope you enjoy the new site. I’ll be back later this week with a roundup of some of my winter skincare staples from small-batch apothecaries.

Thank you for stopping by!

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The future of Folkloriat

As a follow-up to my post yesterday about my plans to launch an online shop called Waxwing Mercantile, I’d like to fill you in about what I’m planning to do with Folkloriat.

I started this blog in 2013 when I was feeling a little lost creatively, and didn’t know what I wanted to make or how I was going to do it, but I had an itch to put something original out into the world. Over the past two years, I have connected with lots of inspiring people, enrolled in photography and design classes, and then in February 2014, had a light-bulb moment and realized that I wanted to start an online shop. Since then, I’ve been working hard to plan, learn, and make it happen.

My plan is to give the blog a simple makeover and rename it to become the blog space for the shop. Thank you in advance for bearing with me for the next week while I experiment with various layouts and colors. You will continue to see the same types of content in the future– features of handmade goods and makers, nature-related posts, and the occasional chatty post about life. In addition to these categories, I will post updates about how the business is coming along leading up to its launch. I will also share resources and inspiration that may interest other folks who are working on starting a business. If there are any particular topics you’d like to hear about, please let me know in the comments or shoot me an email – hello@waxwingmercantile.com

Let’s do this thing!Ariel signature