So, after throwing what seemed like a hundred cylinders in my class these past two months, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to make things.
Inspired by the book Ceramics for Beginners, Animals and Figures by Susan Halls, I decided to make some animal containers using wheel thrown cylinders. With a title like “Ceramics for Beginners”, what could be easier? Well, as I discovered, many things are easier. Here are a few of the challenges that I encountered:
First, my elephant’s back legs and my sheep’s butt blew off in the kiln. Either I didn’t score them well enough or they weren’t completely dry when they went into the kiln. I was able to salvage the elephant by sticking with low-fire glazes (to minimize warping) and then gluing the legs on after with epoxy. With some carefully painted underglaze lines and splatters, the glue lines are barely noticeable. All I could do for the sheep was sand down his backside and then, using a dremel tool, carve a subtle tail where there was once a sculpted tail.
Next, the lids on my kangaroo and seal fused to their bodies during a cone 5 glaze firing. Guess I didn’t clean up those areas well enough before placing them in the kiln. Fortunately, the kangaroo survived but the seal broke while trying to detach the lid 😦
So, besides improving my throwing skills, what this class has really taught me is that I need to be a lot more careful and that, when working with clay, most problems can be solved (more or less). 🙂
Brrrrr, when the temperatures drop and the days get shorter, my studio space gets cold and dark. January is the perfect time to take a class in something that I’ve tried a few times but never really had the patience for – Wheel Throwing. This time around I’ve decided to focus on process rather than product. I see the class as an opportunity to “practice my scales”. Since I don’t plan to make many pieces, I won’t need to find places to store my amateurish pots and, at the same time, I’ll get a good workout recycling all that soggy clay at the wedging table. More photos to come (or not).
Look what came out of the kiln today – my first insect tile planters!
I made this series of insect tiles to use on the upper panel of my garage project. It will be awhile until I have the time to do that project so I decided to make some planters with these tiles in the meantime. I’ve made planters from tiles before but they were much larger and used many more tiles. These are relatively quick to make and nice for small house plants. I’ll be posting them in my Etsy shop soon, except for the yellow one. I’m keeping that one for myself. 🙂
To see a demonstration of how they’re made check out the video on my Etsy shop “About” page: https://www.etsy.com/shop/GoodPressCeramics
I’m always trying to keeps things simple in the studio (and in life) but here’s an instance where my efforts were kind of backfiring. For the past 5 years or so, I’ve insisted on rolling out all my slabs the old fashioned way – with rolling pins. The problem is, this is difficult to do without a lot of patience (which I don’t always have). I knew if I wanted to enjoy making vessels it was time to invest in a slab roller. I don’t have much space in the studio and they typically require 8 to 10 square feet. I’d seen table top versions but they seemed kind of cheap. Then, I came across one on Etsy that looked pretty good so I bought it. https://www.etsy.com/listing/449252632
So far, I’m very impressed. It was designed by the husband of a potter who was dealing with some of the same challenges. It’s well constructed of steel and wood (no plastics) and, although it required some assembly, the instructions were clear. The only flaw with this roller is that there should be measurements near the adjustment knobs. I printed out rulers and taped them on.
I couldn’t wait to try it out so I decided to make some mugs based on the “darted cups” by ceramic artist Liz Zlot Summerfield who posted a great demonstration video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w63bZyZ9svo
Everything went smoothly at first. I build the cups, painted the sides with underglaze, and carved my coffee beans. Then I made the mistake of attaching the handles at two points. My clay body is not very forgiving and all the handles broke. I managed to scrape them off but it’s kind of odd having tea cups decorated with coffee beans. I did make one cup with a different handle design that works as a mug but I’m still exploring other ideas. It’s so nice to be making vessels again 🙂
This past month I’ve focused alot of attention on testing glazes. I’m still not entirely comfortable with using colored glazes on my tiles and vessels. But this is the year of conquering my fears so I think it’s time to start addressing the issue.
My biggest problem with colored glazes is their unpredictable nature. This can sometimes lead to nice surprises but more often than not, I’ve been disappointed by them. The most common problem: they obscure details. When one has worked hours on carving or sculpting a piece, it’s a drag to see a glaze smother the effort.
The good news is that I’ve discovered a line of celadon glazes from Amaco http://www.amaco.com/t/glazes-and-underglazes/high-fire/celadons. I’m not sure how long these have been around but I wish that I’d known about them sooner. There are two things that I really like about these glazes. The first is that my favorite glaze (aside from clear) is Potter’s Choice Celadon PC-40. It’s the beautiful bluish green glaze that I use on most of my tiles in photographs. The reason I like it for my work is that it pools in lines, accentuating rather than obscuring detail. While I love the color of true celadon, I’m glad there are other color options that will give the same effect.
The second reason I like these glazes is that they’re mixable. This might not seem like a big deal but it really is. Mixing colors in most mediums is a fairly straight forward process. Not so with glazes. In the past, mixing two glazes would usually result in something completely unexpected and frequently undesired. Being able to blend colors, as well as, creating tints and shades is very exciting.
Well, I think that 2016 will be the year of conquering my fears. I’ve started putting handles on some of my pieces. I’ve struggled with the aesthetics of handles for awhile because they break the continuity of the patterns. I think the best way to resolve this is to straddle just one course of the pattern. The obvious benefit of mugs with handles is the ability to comfortably carry very hot liquids. Mugs without handles need thicker walls to minimize heat transfer. Adding the handles allows me to make thinner, lighter pieces that take advantage of the translucent properties of porcelain. The downside is that they generally take up more shelving space. I may have to develop a stacking version.
A few weeks ago I started working on a series of stackable cups. After experimenting with the simple geometric and more complex tessellation stamps I made last year I thought it was time to get back into doing some figurative work. I decided to translate my tessellation tiles into stamps. I’ve considered doing this for a long time but resisted because I thought it would be too hard to carve enough detail into the stamps to read well (the stamps are about the size of a quarter). Thankfully, carving detail wasn’t a problem. Whether or not they’ll read well (in reverse) when pressed into the slabs remains to be seen. Fingers crossed.
My first set of porcelain cups came out of the kiln today. They’re 3 1/2″ high, 3 1/2″ in diameter, and hold 12 ounces of liquid. Like the “prototype” I wrote about in my last post, they’re glazed on the inside and lip but the exterior surface has been left unglazed. I’ve been using the prototype every morning for my coffee and I love the way it feels in my hand – I definitely won’t put handles on theses!
Since building the slab roller, I bought a book titled 500 Cups. It’s inspired me to try a variety of shapes, textures, and glazes. This simple porcelain cup is my favorite so far. It’s about 4 inches tall and glazed with clear on the inside only. I think the stamped pieces express the softness of clay especially when left unglazed.