As much as I love making tiles, it’s nice to take a break from it and make other things.
Over the years, I’ve been making clay stamps. Most are tessellating shapes – some are simple shapes, some more complex shapes, some are figurative, and others are abstract. I love the way they look pressed into clay. I’ve made vessels from the stamped slabs in the past but haven’t really spent much time or energy on these projects. A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to make some stamped mugs that I really like.
Since I have about 10 bags of porcelain that’s too hard for tile making but fine for rolling out slabs, I decided to use it for the mugs. I rolled out about a dozen big sheets of porcelain and stamped out my patterns. I then cut and assembled the mugs. I knew from previous attempts that there would be some warping and cracking along the way. I did everything I could think of to minimize this including drying them slowly and waxing the most fragile parts but nothing worked. Eleven of the twelve mugs completely split down the side. It was amazing (and annoying) how consistent the problem was.
I decided to literally bag the porcelain and try a more forgiving clay – stoneware with grog. I chose this clay because it is specifically geared to sculpting. I assumed it would be considerably stronger and more plastic than porcelain and it is. The first few cylinders I built were so stable that I decided to put them on the potters wheel and alter the shape. I could never do that with porcelain.
While I love working with the stoneware, I do have one major reservation. Unlike the smooth white porcelain surface, stoneware is a dull putty color. Most of my glazes are translucent celadons and they look muted on stoneware. As you can see in the side-by-side monkey photos above, the porcelain monkey is jade green but the stoneware monkey is a dark yellowish green. I guess both have their merits but I prefer the jade green.
I could try some new glazes that might work well with the stoneware but one of the things I like best about the stamped clay is the way celadons pool into the recesses of the texture when dipped into the glaze. I decided that maybe if I spray the stoneware with a thin layer of white underglaze, like gesso, it will provide the white surface needed to get the colors I’m looking for. Unfortunately, the white Amaco underglaze I’ve been using for years is completely sold out everywhere (supply chain issues). I decided to use this Speedball underglaze as a back-up. It looks off-white in the jar and has an odd pudding-like consistency but when thinned with water, it sprays pretty well.
It will take a few more days for everything to dry before I can fire these mugs. I’ll have a better idea once they’re fired if the underglaze coverage is good. If I need to add more underglaze I can probably apply it to the bisqueware as well. Hopefully, I’ll have some nice photos of glazed mugs in a week or two.
It’s been so long since posting anything here – seems like time for an update.
It’s been a beautiful, but unusually dry summer here in Seattle. I stepped away from clay for a few weeks but have been busy with a number of things since then. Most notably, I’ve designed three brand new tiles and made some modifications/variations to a few previous designs. These tiles are still in development so I’ll post more about them, with hopefully good photos, next time.
I’ve also been working on a set of trim tile templates for all of my animal tiles. These are intended to allow individual and pairs of animal tiles to easily be set into standard square and subway tile patterns. Next step is glazing and photographing these in some type of context. Maybe boards or instructional videos, not quite sure yet.
I’ve also been starting to work my way through several bags of hard clay. A hard bag of clay isn’t great for tile making or wheel throwing but it’s fine for making slabs so I’ve been using it for slab built sgraffito pieces for serving ware. Stuff gets broken around here a lot, especially serving plates. Hand building with porcelain is challenging (warping and cracking) but if the piece makes it to the leather hard stage, I get to enjoy the relaxing task of carving fruits and vegetables into it!
These two vessels came out of the kiln yesterday. They’re first attempts at experimenting with underglaze transfers. I saw a demonstration on Facebook of a similar technique and thought it would be fun to try. Basically, you fill a small squeeze bottle with thinned underglaze and draw on newsprint. When the drawing dries, cut around it with a scissors or Xacto knife and position it on your pot. Using a fairly wet sponge, carefully press it onto the surface. When the newsprint is wet, it clings to the pot. Using the sponge, or a soft rubber rib, gently press on all areas of the transfer. After a couple of minutes, you can peel the newspaper away and your image should be on the pot. I did notice that the longer a transfer sits after drying, the longer it takes to “rehydrate” it.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
In an effort to better utilized cabinet space, I’ve modified my original porcelain tea cup design with bases that allow the cups to be stacked. These cups also have a wider band of clear glaze at the lip for easier cleaning. It’s also been fun to experiment with some new tessellation stamps. My next project will be designing a mug with an integral handle. I’ve got some ideas on paper – looking forward to seeing if they’ll work in clay.