Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Day 5 in Ceramics Course

Today we did some glazing in our ceramics course today.  I glazed 14 mugs.  Most of them using 2 glazes, in various combinations.  My instructor suggested to me that I keep to one glaze each, but since I didn't have time to decorate the mugs as I would have liked prior to the bisque firing, that was not even an option for me.

We also threw some bowls, and then pressed two bowls together (with a hole between them to form a sort of handle for carrying), for serving condiments or candies or whatever.  Someone in the class decided to try pressing 3 bowls together, and I liked the effect, so after I finished the 2-bowl set, I made a 3-bowl set.  Then I needed to make a different handle, so I decided to try a hollow knob, which was a bit of a challenge for me to throw, but turned out great.  I wish I had taken a few photos, but I was so busy during class and workshop - not to mention my hands are always quite mucky - that I didn't take time.

I also tried throwing a bowl with a hollow rim.  It was also a challenge but turned out beautifully.  It will be a small bowl, maybe a cereal bowl size.  It is interesting to try to imagine the finished product, since there is so much shrinkage (something like 10 or 15 percent).

I also set out some of last class's items for the bisque firing.  The vase with 2 snakes for handles (I am not the only one who likes it, one of the ladies in my class thought it was really cool too).  The other decorated vase which will be a Christmas present, so I can't say too much, other than that I was getting quite a few compliments on it today when I set it out.

Sadly, I found out that this was class 5 of only 8 classes.  I thought it was 10 classes.  I don't know where I got that idea.  But anyhow, if my notes are correct, I have some 26 items already, in various states of completion.  I believe we will be making casserole dishes next week.  That should be fun.

I'll try to remember to take a few photos.  At least I am keeping notes on the items and glazes, so if I find a combination I like, I can repeat it.  Although I hear that every time you glaze, you get a different result.  Apparently the final result even depends on where in the kiln the item is placed.  So I have much to learn.  That's fine with me.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fimo Mickey Mouse : Part 1

My sister Rose is a big Mickey Mouse and Disney fan.  So she bought some Fimo clay when it was on sale, with the intent of making some sort of Mickey Mouse figure when she had the chance.  But the other day when I showed her my dragon gloves, where the scales and claws were made with fimo clay, she offered her Fimo to me, if I could use it.  I jokingly said I could make her a Mickey Mouse some time.  But when I got home, I realized that it wasn't a joke, perhaps I could actually make her a Mickey Mouse.  So here is one evening's work toward that goal:

I have to say the result is working out better than I had expected.  I was able to form much of the character, with only my hands and needle tool from ceramics.  But I realize that to make the character stand up will be a bigger challenge.  At first I had problem with the head, it kept drooping forward, and eventually fell off.  Then when I left him propped overnight in a standing position, I found him fallen the next morning, with his feet broken off.  So I think I will need to reinforce the neck as well as both legs with a strong wire.  I'm not sure about the tail, I am thinking of using a strong wire with Fimo wrapped on top of it.  If I make the tail long enough, it could serve as support for Mickey.  My husband was more practical, he said I should make him holding an umbrella.  But I don't know if I want that pose, and then it would be an issue of reinforcing the whole umbrella and arm.

To be continued one day, when I have time, or another insane burst of late night creativity.

On the ceramics side, I have already created or at started 24 items in the first 4 weeks of my 10 week course.  A few of the early pieces have been bisque fired, and I will be glazing them next week.  Although I am full of more ideas, I think the glazing will be a nice break, because today I was so exhausted I could hardly center a 4 1/2 lb lump of clay.  I think I hadn't kneaded it enough, and I must have wrestled with it for 20 or 30 minutes to center it, before I could throw a nice vase.  So I think I will have no problem sleeping tonight, I am still quite exhausted.  But in the most wonderful way.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Leaving My Mark

In my first ceramics course, my classmate Angela stamped her pieces with a beautiful copy of her signature.  I was intrigued, and found out that she had ordered this custom stamp online.  So I was decided to investigate.

It was not hard to find a few websites which offered custom clay stamps.  I spent a couple of weeks playing with design ideas.  I knew I wanted my signature in combination with a drawing of a lily, or at least some sort of flower.  I ordered my 1" wooden stamp from, and received it just in time for this second course.  This is a sample impression of the stamp into wet clay (sorry for the out of focus photo, but I'm too tired to try again tonight) :
It has been a fun challenge to try to include my stamp in all of my pieces.  Especially since we have been mostly making mugs, and I like a trimmed or at least concave base, rather than a flat base.  So it has been a challenge.  I asked Angela yesterday if she had any tips for how to stamp her mugs (my classmates are WONDERFUL for providing advice and tips on anything they have learned - I owe them all so much!).  I discovered that she had an alternative stamp, with just a small "A", which she used for these difficult pieces.  Ha.  Maybe I need to consider that.  In the meantime, I find all sorts of interesting places to squeeze in my stamp.

So far, I have made 13 pieces out of grey stoneware, mostly mugs, and none of them as decorative as I would have liked, since I had a hard time keeping up making so many.  We were asked to make 5 or 6 good mugs, but it took me some tries (the first ones were too small!) to throw 5 or 6 which I was happy with.  Then I decided that since I had them, I would add handles to them all.  So I'm getting my money's worth of experience in this course, which focuses on the art of making handles.

I also ended up with 3 good sized mugs in the white stoneware.  All my mugs have now gone to the kiln shed, to dry and be bisque fired.  I'll need to be a bit more creative with the glazing, since I didn't have time to decorate with slip or stamps or sgraffito, as I would have liked.

This week's assignment was to throw 3 jugs or vases, for which we will make handles next week.  This time, I managed 3 reasonable sized ones on first try.  After throwing the 3 pieces, of about 4 to 4.5 pounds each, I was quite exhausted, and then played around with a few rolled pieces, which I hope will turn out decent enough to be a gift for my friend Lily.  We'll see.

I spend a good part of my non-working hours daydreaming about ceramics, and browsing the internet for ideas.  I am collecting and compiling into a binder, photos of pieces I have seen and liked, for inspiration.  When I am too tired to search for more, I just flip through the book.  I often wish I could increase my "play with clay" days from 1 per week to 2 per week.  But for now, I will enjoy what I have.  Besides, I don't know how I'm going to find homes for all the pieces I am making.  I don't know if I have so many friends.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

My Ceramics - Where Are They Now?

When I brought home 22 ceramic items from my first course in August, it occurred to me that I'd better find homes for some of these pieces, otherwise my house could easily become overrun with ceramics.  A number of them have now settled into new homes, or into pretty reasonable places in our home.

#1 and #2 and #14 will likely stay in my personal collection, since these were some of my favourites.  They are currently sitting on top of the kitchen cabinets (with a cardboard box holding them up to a reasonable viewing height).  I added the bouquet of dried crocosmia stems / seed heads today:

This one, my #12, was inspired by my friend Helen, so I gave it to her recently as a belated birthday gift.  She sent me this wonderful photo collage of it, now happily serving as a candy bowl :

My sister Rose liked my footed bowl #16, so I gave it to her, and it is also a happy candy bowl.  Here it is on her kitchen table :
Rose also commented that #11 would look good with a dried flower arrangement.  So I decided to take up the challenge, with dried flowers from my garden (and some from my mother-in-law's).  At about the same time, my mom's South Burnaby Garden Club was having its annual Fall Fair, so she suggested I enter it into the Air Dried and/or Preserved Flowers category.  I jokingly replied that then I could give Rose "an award-winning flower arrangement".  Which is what happened!
I can't remember how we got on that topic, but my dance instructor, Lisa, mentioned that she loved handmade ceramics and things.  So she ended up with this little bowl, my #19 :
I love the colours and shape of #10, even though it reminds me of my mistake of applying slip when the clay was already too dry.  But I decided that it could sit on my kitchen counter, and hold garlic for me.  I learned recently that garlic lasts longer when left in a cool dark place rather than in the bottom drawer of the fridge, so this is where I keep my garlic now :
The little items #4, 5, 6 and 7 are in my 14-year-old's room, which is too messy for photos.  :-)
The tiny tiny bowl #22 reminded me of an egg cup, so it is now holding a stone egg in my dining room cabinet.  Notice that behind it is a really cool carved horse hair ceramic vase which we bought in the Southwest (Utah, I believe) :
#17 is my least favourite piece.  But I figured it could sit on my office desk, holding paper clips and other odds and ends, and look slightly better than the plastic container which was its predecessor :
#15 is sitting on the granite windowsill above my kitchen sink, waiting for me to drill the hole, so it can be hung outside on the fence....  But then again, what's the rush to do that for Winter?  It may as well wait until Spring...
That leaves just #3, #8, #9, #13, #18, and #22, which are sitting on the windowsill in our livingroom, waiting for someone to love them and take them home, or for me to find a more permanent place in our home.
Funny, as I write this, I can't remember what happened to my wonky rose candleholder #20.  But hopefully wherever it is, it is happy.
In the meantime, I am creating a number of mugs in my current ceramics course, so I should already start planning homes for them...

First Ceramics Course

This summer, I took my first ceramics course.  I have been wanting to try it for a few years now.  I didn't know what to expect, but very soon after I started the course, I knew I was hooked.  I am now starting into my second course, so I've decided to move the ceramics to its own blog, to avoid overwhelming my gardening blog (which already contains too much of my other craziness such as creating dragon gloves, building fursuits, and breeding my spiny leaf insects).  I hope you will join me on my journey into the world of ceramics.

This is my first ceramics-related post from 3 Aug 2013 :
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As my kids are now 14 and 12, and we have enough highly competent people at work that I don't need to feel responsible for everything anymore, I finally decided this summer to do something entirely for myself.  I have been wanting to learn and play with ceramics for years now, and finally signed up for a course.

It was an ideal course for me, since it was for all skill levels, not just beginners.  I find that I learn pretty quickly, so I wanted a challenge.  It was even better than my expectations.  The instructor, Sabrina, was super helpful and patient, and demonstrated and tempted us to try many different techniques.  The other students were an amazing group.  I owe so much to each of them, for their inspiration, and encouragement, and for being so open with their tips and suggestions.  I signed up for a course, but what I discovered was a community of wonderful and talented people.  I am already signed up again for another course in September, and in January also.

This is a record (probably more for me than for anyone else, and includes my glaze notes) of the many (22 !) creations which I brought home earlier this week, after my 4 week ceramics course (which was twice a week for 3 hours followed by a 4 hour workshop).  I am really pleased that I ended up with a few interesting pieces, but more importantly, each one represents a lot of learning - both of what worked and what failed.  All were made from grey stoneware.

I would love to hear from you if you enjoyed any of these.
#1 and #2 - These 2 pieces are among my favorites.  They represent some of the first vases/bowls which I successfully threw on the wheel, to which I attached lily petals.  In the smaller one, I not only attached the petals, but cut out a small section of the rim (as perhaps seen in the bottom right photo).  For both pieces, the lilies were painted with Red underglaze, Clear glaze applied to them by brush, then protected by wax resist (I forgot to add spots with overglaze before doing so, since I intended for my lilies to be freckled), while the remainder of the piece was dipped in glaze.  The large one (5" across) was first filled with Copper Red, then the entire piece dipped in Matt Green, then sprayed with Clear glaze.  I like the effect of the red showing through the green on the inside.  For the smaller one (4" across), it was dipped in Matt Green then sprayed with Clear.

#3 - This little candle holder (it is spherical, with a hole cut in the bottom so that it can sit on top of a tea light) was inspired by some beautiful spherical creations which I discovered in the Czech Republic during our trip last summer, but didn't dare buy any since I couldn't imagine them surviving the trip successfully, so I took a photo to remember them.  I didn't expect to try to create my own, but I am drawn to the spherical shape, so encouraged by Sabrina, I gave it a try.  I am pretty pleased with the result, although my next ones ( :-) ) will be much bigger, since the piece heats up too quickly with a tea light inside.  I dipped it first in Amber Celadon, then in Clear.

#4, 5, 6 and 7 - These were a few little items I made for my 14 year old.  The pony is Fluttershy from My Little Pony, except that I forgot to make her wings.  For the mane & tail, I mixed Red and White underglaze to make pink.  I had inscribed the eye detail when forming the clay, and dabbed Black underglaze into the impression.  The whole piece was sprayed in a matt clear glaze (I didn't quite catch the name, it was something like Grisly Bore), since I wanted it to look like ceramic rather than shiny plastic.  Same with the little skeleton decoration, where Black underglaze was brushed and then wiped away to reveal the etchings.  The little "rat bowls" were decorated in White and Black slip, then dipped in glaze (Bamboo for the small one, and Clear for the bigger one).

#8 - It's funny, I had expected this bowl to be my favorite, but it didn't turn out as stunning as I had expected at the time (nor did I expect to fall under the spell of the wheel so soon thereafter).  It was formed from a flat sheet of clay, cut and folded to form the bowl shape.  I painted the petal edges and outside of the bowl with Red slip.  The center was a mix of Red and Yellow and maybe Brown underglazes, I believe, and then the whole piece was dipped in Clear glaze.  The result would likely have been more vibrant if a thin coat of Clear were sprayed on, since it seems to have muted the colors, and also filled in some of the textures on the inside of the petals.

#9 - This little footed cup was just an early piece thrown on the wheel, and an experiment in glazing.  I dipped the whole piece in Shino.  Then painted Liquid Latex in the 4 card suits, and dripped Matt Green and Deep Blue while held upside down, and then the Latex removed to reveal the pattern.  This is a technique I would like to explore again.

#10 - This small footed bowl is also an early piece in my throwing experience.  As you can see, I am very fond of the spherical shapes.  The wiggly decoration is Blue slip which was applied when the stoneware was already too dry.  However, the glaze helped to secure it, otherwise it was wanting to break away.  The dots are Black underglaze.  I filled/dipped the inside with Deep Blue glaze, then sprayed the whole piece with Clear glaze.

#11 - My second sphere thrown on the wheel.  This one I didn't have time to make into another candle holder, so instead experimented again with glazes.  The inside is filled with Deep Blue.  The outside was dipped in one direction in Ash Yellow, and then in the other (overlapping) with Deep Blue.  I see in my notes that I also applied some dots of #3 overglaze.  I had forgotten, and thought they were just imperfections.  (Good reason to take notes while glazing.)

#12 and 13 - These 2 bowls were the first projects in our course, allowing us to explore a number of techniques, including paper relief (e.g. the word "Love", created by Blue slip applied to a Xerox copy of the backward word, and pressed into the moist clay), direct writing, stamping, paper relief (the little triangles, protecting Black slip while the turquoise was applied overtop).  The Love/Peace/Patience/Joy bowl is inspired by my neighbor Helen.  The other one, an ikebana vase, was textured on the inside corners (as well as rolled with a pattern on the reverse side).  But now I forgot if I applied Black slip and sponged away around it, or applied white slip on top, but the texture was smoothed by the thick coat of Clear glaze resulting from dipping the piece, and only the color left behind.  If sprayed, I suspect it would have retained some of the texture too.

#14 - This is the piece which got the most attention from my classmates.  After only a short time on the wheel, I managed to throw this large container (8" across and more than 6" high).  I seem to remember I threw the bottom 2/3 first into a curved bowl, and then learned that I could throw on top of that, so continued the curve and wide rim.  I was not quite content with the shape, which was on one hand almost too perfect, yet not perfect enough for me.  So my fellow student Darlene mentioned some technique she had seen on video, where slip / soft clay was applied randomly to create texture.  I dug into the sludge bucket and created my own colored slip/slop, which I enthusiastically slapped on, and I really like the result.  The inside was dipped/filled with Matt Green.  When some of it dripped, I sponged more Matt Green on the outside to hide the drip.  The whole piece was then sprayed in Clear.  I really like the result.

$15 - This little piece I made early in the course, from rolled sections of clay, and handmade flowers.  The flowers were colored with Red underglaze.  The blue leaves were supposed to be green, from a mixture of Blue and Yellow underglaze.  The whole piece was dipped in Clear glaze, which went on a bit too thick.  If I had known, I would have sprayed it on.  The nail hole has filled in with glaze, so I don't know if I will be able to drill that out successfully?  I think I'll need to read up on that before I attempt anything.

#16 - This footed bowl was my first bowl thrown on the wheel.  It looked too ordinary so I tried fluting the edges.  I fought with cracking several times as it dried, but managed to keep the piece intact.  The rings of pink and blue were from a failed attempt at feathering (see bowl further down).  The clay was already fairly dry, so once I added rings of Red and Blue slip, they dried too quickly to do anything with them.  So instead I added some radial lines in blue slip, but then the whole thing looked too geometric, clashing with the casual shape.  So I sponged red and blue and black slip all over the surface.  I liked the effect, which I sprayed with Clear glaze.  But during the firing, it looks like that sponge pattern disappeared.  The back was dipped and brushed with Tenmoku glaze.  Pretty funky coloration there.

#17 - I really don't have any affection for this piece, but I learned a lot from my mistakes on this one.  The main pattern was created in Black slip.  Which of course didn't look black at the time, so when I squeezed on the leaf pattern in Black underglaze, I didn't realize I had picked a color which wouldn't show up.  The black areas were covered with wax resist, and the body of the pot eroded with wet sponge, to create the 3D effect.  Except I broke through the clay (bottom left photo) and needed to patch the pot from inside.  When glazing, I covered the black areas with wax again (so they are unglazed), and dipped the outside in Matt Green then sprayed Clear.  The inside was filled/dipped in Tenmoku, which came out as a rich coffee bean color.

#18 - This cylinder turned out okay.  It started with a simple rolled slab, attached to a flat base.  I covered the whole piece in & out with Turquoise slip, added the dots in Red slip, and imprinted them with the rose pattern (from a button).  The whole piece was sprayed in Clear.  I like the result, and it was quite simple to achieve.

#19 - This was the piece which was successfully feathered, but adding rings of Turquoise, Blue and White slip on the inside while the clay was still quite moist.  Then the pattern was created by pulling a small stem from the center outward.  The inside walls were Blue slip, and the outside walls are Black slip.  The whole piece was sprayed in Clear glaze.
#20 - This candleholders was one of my early mistakes on the wheel, prior to receiving any instruction.  I had started to form a bowl, when the whole thing collapsed.  The effect was kind of cool, and with some additional pinching, ended up being a bit rose-like.  I added a small piece in the center to hold a candle.  The piece was dipped in Copper Red glaze twice (since I didn't dip it completely the first time, so I tried again).  I like how the glaze pulls away from the edges, giving it a weathered look.  But it's not a beautiful piece, I don't think.

#21 - This one is a bit too wide to be a goblet, but is a wonderful little footed container.  If I understand my notes correctly, the inside was filled with Matt Green.  Then I realized I wanted the inside blue, so the whole piece was dipped in Deep Blue (I love that color!).  Then I turned it upside down, and dipped just the top in Matt Green.  So a bit of the blue is showing through.

#22 - I may be listing this tiny bowl last, but this is what was left over from my earliest attempts at the wheel, before receiving instruction.  I decided to let it dry anyhow, and after shrinking during bisque and glaze firings, it is pretty tiny indeed.  But it let me play with some more glazes.  I think it was drops of Black slip or underglaze on the rim.  It was dipped in Celadon completely, then the bottom part dipped in Amber Celadon.
For anyone who actually read down this far, you are either very interested in ceramics, are a very good friend to me, or ??? (fill in the blanks).  But thanks for reading, and please drop me a note or comment on which, if any, of these pieces you enjoyed most.