Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fireproofing update: cinder blocks have been acquired!

            Yesterday it rained all day, sometimes drizzling and sometimes pouring, so we waited until today to go pick up more supplies. Nobody wants to lug around concrete blocks in the rain. Today has been nice and sunny, though, so off to the hardware store we went!
            Sweeping! You should always wear a respirator when you sweep in a ceramics studio. Silica is very bad for lungs.

            I wanted to get all the sawdust off the floor before putting down the concrete blocks. The less flammable stuff, the better! Then it was time to unload the car. This is how we got the blocks in and out of the car:

            Then I laid the first block!

            These pictures are a little misleading. They make it look like I did all the work, but we are an egalitarian household here and Mr. Riverdragon put down half of the blocks. He also took the pictures, except the one that has both of us. (That was Mr. Riverdragon's mom.)
            You can see that we aren't finished yet. Those blocks are heavy and we didn't want to overload the car, so we'll be picking up the rest of them in the next few days, and then putting up the cement board on the wall there under the windows. You can expect another update when that happens.

            Wondering why I'm writing about cinder blocks instead of pots? Go look at my Kickstarter project, and then tell all your friends and acquaintances about it!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kickstarter update: fireproofing!

            This is me, with my cement board and my trusty red car, parked in front of my house. The barn-studio is in a straight line to the left, just out of view. I thought that the cement board would easily fit into my trunk if I put down the backseats, but alas! For want of an inch and a half of space, I had to drive home with cement board hanging out the back of my trunk, tied on with a towing line to make sure it wouldn't escape. As you can see, we arrived safely.
            After the pictures we unloaded the car and took our prize indoors. We'll have to make a second trip for the rest of the materials. Expect more updates on how it goes in the next few days! You'll get to see me using a hammer, an Exact-o knife, and carrying cinder blocks.

            If you are wondering what this is all about, go have a look at my Kickstarter project!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Halfway funded! Wheeeee!

            Tonight my Kickstarter project ( crossed the halfway mark! That is, in terms of funding - we have a bit less than half the number of days we started with to go.
            Those of you who have been following along know what that means... tomorrow I'm off to the hardware store to get fireproofing materials for the kiln location! Hooray! Look for an update both here and on Kickstarter, with pictures. While I'll be doing it in the morning, the update may not appear until afternoon since I'll be working away getting the studio ready.
            As of today, August 26th, we have 8 days left to raise $1,805. This may sound like a lot, but spread among many it is not insurmountable. Keep in mind we have already raised more than that amount! So share my project with anyone you can. Together we can make this happen.

Edited to add: Actually now it's only $1,305 that we need. Thank you, wonderful $500 backer!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tabletop fountains

            I see that three backers on my Kickstarter project have selected the $100 fountain reward. (My project can be found at: This makes me so excited! I have lots of fountain ideas, and now I have a reason to make some of them come to life! It's time to show you what I'm thinking about for these fountains. For the images below, if you want a closer look please click on the image and a larger version will appear.
            There is a traditional fountain shape I would like to make, one with tiers and several levels of pouring water:

            This sketch shows one variation of this design where I would throw the bowls and supporting cylinders on the wheel and then alter the cylinders to have a scalloped shape. Another alteration I would like to play with is an adjustment to the shape of the rims of the bowls, such as making them have spouts to guide the water rather than the smooth edge pictured above. Something neat I could do would be carving dragons onto the supporting cylinders, or the inside or outside of each bowl. (Keep in mind, though, that the outsides of the upper bowls will have water pouring over them when the fountain is in action, so carvings there may not be visible.)
           Another fountain shape that I think would be fun is this one:

            This fountain, unlike the first one, has a distinct front and back. The outside shell sweeps up protectively to contain the fountain area. The inside egg or globe shape would have ridges on the surface that would agitate the water as it flows down into the reservoir. In this sketch I show a dragon design carved into the surface, as well as some of the ridges. This could be done with a different dragon design, perhaps with one elaborate Chinese-style dragon, or a phoenix. Or if you are not interested in imagery, the inside globe could just be textured.
           A variation on this design is this, and it might be my favorite:

            In this version, I am changing the shell part so that the inside part is emerging from it rather than enclosed within it. The outside shell will be carved into swirling wave-like shapes that are pierced in places to reveal the flowing water behind. This fountain is less directional than the one above, since the running water will be visible from all sides. The water will pool at the top of the interior globe before spilling out over it. I am thinking that the outside shell would be a light color and the inside globe would be a dark color so that the water flows down and then disappears into the reservoir.
            A translation of the relevant parts of my scribble-y notes from the sketch: I think some sea glass or stones in the upper reservoir would look pretty awesome. The surface of the interior globe would have a ridged texture, and a dark glaze, while the outside shell area would be lighter in color and smooth for contrast.
            When you receive your fountain, it will be packed in the safest way I can arrange. This means it most likely will be in separate parts, and I will provide instructions (with sketches) for how to put it together. Included will be a pump that is an appropriate size and power for your fountain, and I will have tested the piece to ensure that it functions as promised. In fact, I'll probably be so excited when it comes out of the kiln that I'll take lots of pictures and post them here on my blog so that you can see it before it arrives!
            (If you do not want me to post pictures of your reward on my blog, just let me know with an email and I'll honor your wishes. I can certainly email you the pictures if you'd like a sneak preview, though! This is true of all reward levels.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The kiln I'm planning to get and why

            This is a post about my Kickstarter project. If you haven’t yet, you should go look at it, and pre-order something awesome while you're there!

            The kiln I have chosen is the Cone Art BX2818. I have heard only good things about Cone Art kilns, the representatives I’ve talked to have been open and helpful, and most important the kiln has some awesome features I really want. The biggest of these is that it uses up to 30% less energy per firing than other kilns. If I’m going to have an electric kiln, I want one that does as little harm to our precious environment as I can find. This also means that although this kiln is a little on the pricy side, it will reduce costs in the long term. For those with the patience/interest, there are more details about how I made this decision below the fold.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What is sgraffito?

            Before I was introduced to the ceramics world, I had never heard this word, "sgraffito." For those in a similar position, here is an explanation, complete with pictures.
            Sgraffito is the surface decoration technique of carving through a slip that has been applied to the pot or sculpture. Slip is clay that has more water in it, which gives it a runny texture and allows one to apply it with a brush or by dipping the object in a bucket of it. Most of the time, one adds a colorant to the slip so that it will be a different color than the clay underneath. This is when the technique of sgraffito is most useful.
            Once the slip has stiffened, one carves through it to show the clay underneath. There are many different carving styles that look amazing with the contrast this provides. Here are some examples of my work in which I have used sgraffito to my advantage. If you want a closer look, you can click on the pictures.

            This is a very simple style of carving; it is basically a line drawing. But the contrast between the black slip and the white porcelain underneath provides the marks with drama.

            This is also sgraffito. The slip here is dominated by iron, and it is very red and metallic (it was fired in reduction to cone 6). I have taken a metal rib and scraped away at the surface, leaving some slip behind to create the pattern. Then I carved out the mushrooms and their roots. I carved all of the slip out of the mushrooms, but applied an iron oxide wash to make them look softer and reddish-brown.

            These pieces were fired in a wood kiln. They were made with a dark red stoneware, but then I brushed white slip on them and carved through to the dark clay underneath. The wood kiln did its magic, and the slip flashed different shades of orange, while the darker clay in the carvings remained maroon and red and brown.
            This is only the tip of the iceberg for sgraffito. You can use green slip, or blue slip, instead of the earthy colors in my examples. You can carve very elaborate things or very simple things. You can apply glaze over the surface to get altogether different effects. This is just one tool in the toolbox for ceramic artists to apply in whatever way we want to create the surface effects we like. And it's one of my current favorites!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some sketches in response to a query

            I was asked over at Kickstarter if I would do a sgraffito dragon on the $10 reward, which is a small bowl. The answer is yes! Because I want to make these bowls swiftly, I am aiming for simple, yet effective, designs. Here are the two dragons that I can make available at this reward level as a special request:

        There's this little guy, who is a Western-style dragon. He's appeared on my mushroom bowls before.

            And then there's this fellow, who I just sketched out this afternoon. He's more of an Eastern-style dragon, with whiskers but no wings.

This is the link...

... to my Kickstarter project! Click on it! Copy and paste it! Spread it on toast... er, I mean around to everyone you know! Let's do this thing.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Update on Kickstarter! Going live Friday at 8 am!

            I have just received notification that my Kickstarter project has been approved! Hooray! I will launch the project tomorrow, Friday August 17 2012, at 8 am. We have 18 days to reach or exceed $3,888. If we do, then I will have a kiln! If not, then I will have no kiln and everyone will be sad. So tell your friends and family! Tell your neighbors and coworkers! Tell artists you meet! Direct them to this blog and to the Kickstarter page!
            To find my project, go to the Kickstarter homepage (here) and type into the search bar: Bringing the Fire to Riverdragon Ceramics! In the morning I will have a direct link to the page up for you.

Press Release: Kickstarter, here I come!

            I have some exciting news! In the next couple of days, I will be launching a Kickstarter project. What is Kickstarter, you ask? The people who created it explain it here.
            What is my project for? As those of you who have been following this blog will know, I am well on my way to having a functioning ceramics studio here in the barn at Riverdragon Ceramics. But I do not have a kiln. My goal is for this studio to be fully functioning and as self-sufficient as possible. I am an independent spirit, and I want to do everything myself - I want to take clay and work it into the shapes I want, I want to do my own bisque firings, my own glazing, possibly with glazes that I mix myself, and my own glaze firings in my own kiln, right here at home. I now have the capability to do all of that... except for the firing, which is arguably the most important, and the most expensive, part of the process.
            I am so excited for this project! I have been planning and preparing all summer for this. The rewards you will get for pledging to my project will all be hand made here in my barn-studio by me, and fired in the new kiln. I am offering a wide array of objects for pre-order, and if you like what you see but want something specific, like "I like the sgraffito bowls! But can you do a gryphon instead of mushrooms?" I will make you a custom piece. Since I am in charge of the whole process, it costs me little to nothing to make such changes, and I love to make special things that will be cherished by the recipient. (Also? If you're pledging to this project, you are helping me get my first kiln, and as such you have my eternal gratitude and I would make any adjustments you want, within reason, to the reward for the pledge level you chose.)
            I have a place in the studio all ready to go for the kiln. All it needs is fire proofing (it is, after all, an old wooden barn), which I will begin doing once the Kickstater project is launched. I have a nice strong fan for ventilation that I will install above the kiln. I have had an electrician who is experienced in installing kilns look things over and let me know what is feasible in the space. So I'm ready to go; all I need is the kiln!
            So now you know what I was doing in July rather than posting here. Never fear; with this post I am returning to the usual arrangement of several posts per week. My project is undergoing the approval process at Kickstarter as I type this, and I expect it to come out the other side with a big red "approved!" stamp in the next couple of days. Stay tuned for the web address of my project! I will announce it here as soon as it is available to me!
            I am planning a series of posts about the various rewards I'm offering, the particular kiln I'm planning to get and why, and other odds and ends that may come up. Check back often!