There are a lot of steps that go into making a simple ceramic tile and through the years I’ve learned to enjoy doing all these different tasks. However, like most tile makers, my favorite part of the process is designing a new tile. I was recently asked if I had any farm animals besides the sheep. Unfortunately, I didn’t but thought the request was a great opportunity to start designing this year’s first new tiles. I usually don’t come up with new designs until the spring but I’ve decided to start a bit earlier this year.
The sheep, goat, cow, and pig are the first of the series and I may add a chicken or a duck too. I’m especially fond of the pig because when I first showed these tiles to my husband he thought the pig looked a little sad. I had to agree – the pig did seem a little out of place. A few adjustments in the mouth and cheeks seemed to do the trick. I think the happy pig is surprisingly cute.
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.
A few months ago, I designed a few miniature versions of some of my most popular tiles. At the time, I thought I might use them as borders on some of my larger tile panels. While I still plan on doing that, I began to think about other ways to use these little tiles. This led to experimenting with making clocks, buttons, and most recently, soap dishes.
The clocks are kind of cool but working with porcelain has been a challenge. There has been some warping and cracking with the first attempts. I’ve tried using low-fire finishing techniques to circumvent some of the problems but I just don’t like the look of the finishes as much. I’ll try switching to another clay body at some point but I do love how clean and clear colors are on porcelain and I have a lot of it in my studio to use before it dries up.
The buttons should be a fun addition to some of my sewing projects. During the coldest winter months it’s not much fun working in my unheated studio space. A couple of years ago I moved to the warmer rooms in the house and started designing fabrics based on my tile patterns. I dug out my old sewing machine and made some tote bags with the fabric. I’d like to make more of them this winter.
The latest application of these mini tiles has been this series of soap dishes. I’ve been wanting to add a few non-tile items to my Etsy shop before the holidays. I guess they’re still tiles. Anyway, they’ve been a lot fun to make and the first few are now available for purchase: www. Etsy/shop/goodpressceramics
Actually, they’ve been here for awhile but I’m finally getting around to posting some photos of this year’s new tiles. Every spring I try to create 3 or 4 new designs. This year was a little different than previous years because I received a couple of requests: one for a cicada and another for a lizard. I was delighted to take on these challenges and I’m very happy with the way they turned out. The Cicada is a nice addition to the hexagon insect series and the Lizard, combined with a Hibiscus flower turned out to be very flexible. It works well as an individual accent tile, a group arranged in a column or row, or as a pair of opposing accent tiles.
In addition, I’ve been wanting to make a sheep for awhile because I think it lends itself beautifully to repetition. The Grumpy Bird tile is a companion piece to last year’s Hungry Bird (formerly known as Baby Bird). I think too many Hungry Birds can be overwhelming so a more stoic counterpart was needed. While all the new designs are tessellations, I’ve been more interested in simple geometries lately. They’re a little less fussy than the more complicated tiles like the Sharks and Sea Lions but, who knows, the pendulum may swing back next year.
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!
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything so it’s definitely time for an update.
Since I last posted, I’ve been spending most of my time making monkey tiles for my client, Susan Yeley Homes in Bloomington, Indiana. I was surprised, and delighted, to hear that the tiles will adorn the walls of what is certain to be the coolest laundry room ever imagined. Making 720 tiles involves an entirely different set of skills than the panels I typically make but it’s been a really fun challenge. One thing’s for sure, I’ve had to get a lot better at multi-tasking in order to meet my deadline. The tiles should be finished in a week or two and I’ll post more photos when the job is complete.
This year’s started off a little challenging. A few weeks ago, my kiln broke down during a firing. This was pretty stressful since the only kiln repair shop within a couple hundred miles, Seattle Pottery Supply, isn’t doing house calls due to the pandemic. If you need your kiln fixed, you have to bring it to them. Fortunately, a really smart guy who works there was able to diagnose the problem without even looking at the kiln. With James’ help I was able to buy the parts and repair it.
With my newly repaired kiln, I’ve been able to glaze most of the tiles for my flag reclamation project. Just a few more perimeter trim tiles, and it will be ready to assemble. This month I’ve also begun to experiment with small versions of my tessellating tiles, handmade beads, and some new stamps. I’ll be posting some photos of these projects in the weeks ahead.
I’m very excited to be participating in this year’s CVG 2021 Juried Show. Each year Collective Visions Gallery in Bremerton, WA invites artists throughout the state to submit work in three categories: Photography/Digital, Two-Dimensional, and Three-Dimensional art. Black and White Llamas was selected for the Two-Dimensional category.
If you have some time, I encourage you to check out this virtual exhibit. There are so many beautiful pieces in a wide range of styles and mediums. https://www.cvgshow.com/gallery
There wasn’t much to celebrate this past year. No live music or theater. No art shows, museums, or galleries. For the most part it’s been a pretty solitary year. I was able to get in a pottery class before things shut down in early March but aside from that I’ve just continued with tile making and I’ve started to design fabrics. Making things has been somewhat inconsistent because I’ve been largely distracted with politics throughout the year. My final piece of 2020 is a large tile panel of the American flag. One of the most upsetting things to see this past year was how this symbol of freedom and democracy has been co-opted by a political party that has done nothing but undermine these values. With new leadership in Washington, I’m optimistic that things will get better in 2021. Happy New Year.