Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dragon pendant mold, and kiln news

            This morning I finished putting the last few scales on the dragon pendant mold. (A sketch and discussion of this process can be found in this post.) Now it needs to dry in a nice safe place until the kiln arrives. 

            I have counted up everyone's dragon pendant orders, and I'll be making 29 of these this fall. About 60% of you asked for red stoneware (40% porcelain). I have guess-timated that it will take me three days to make all of these if I spend about two hours a day on them. (The rest of the day, of course, I'll be making other pieces.) They will likely be the first thing to ship. This is not to say that you'll have yours in a week, though - first I need to bisque fire the mold, and I will need to fire the final pieces too. 
            The kiln will likely arrive in a couple or three weeks, but the arrival date is still a little up in the air. It's on its way from Canada, and once it reaches the US I will get a call from the distributor. Hopefully they'll be able to give me a clearer date at that point. Once I know when it's going to show up, I can make an appointment with the electrician. Ideally I'd like to get it set up and ready to fire the next day, and then go ahead and have the first bisque right away. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Caterpillars and my creative process

            I continue to be amazed every time I go outside here. Maine is still a new place to me, and there are plants and animals all around that are different than what I grew up with in Virginia.
            For instance, in Virginia we have fuzzy caterpillars - lots of them. They come in a bunch of colors, too. But here, we have really exotic (to me) fuzzy caterpillars, with some hairs long and some short, some with tufts of different colored fuzz sticking out all over the place. They are everywhere, too. I've seen them down by the shore, on the lilac bushes near the house, out in the grass in the meadow. Here are some that I've seen recently:

            It almost makes me want to make a series of pots with caterpillar carvings on them. They look like fantasy creatures. That's why I like going outside to get my inspiration - the real world is actually way more interesting than anything I can make up in my head. My inventions (including the dragons) are created from pieces of the natural world that I reassemble.
            I guess that's my way of paying homage to the environment around me - I absorb new ideas and images by splicing them into the context of whatever my brain happens to be working on at the time. Thus, when I taught myself to draw cats my dragons began to have cat-like bodies, and when I studied images of bats my dragons began to have more plausible wings. (Also, bats have super cute fangs, like dragons!)

            I also have to show this lucky shot of a dragonfly that decided it wanted to land on these flowers just as I decided I wanted a picture of them:

            How often does that happen, anyway? I've tried so many times to take pictures of dragonflies this summer, and they just won't stay still at the crucial moment! It's no wonder I have more pictures of caterpillars. They amble along at a pretty sedate pace.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Swirl bowls

             I had Mr. Riverdragon take some pictures while I was trimming these so you could see me in action.

           And the product:

            You may have noticed that there are seven bowls in this picture even though only five people requested swirl bowls. It is easier to make extras of similar objects all at the same time than to make a few each of many different objects. Since I want to create enough work to continue selling, when I sit down to make a group of rewards that are similar, I'm making "extras." That way I can build up a bit of inventory.
            These bowls are ready to fire now. When the kiln comes, I'll bisque them and then glaze them. My first glaze firing is going to mostly contain test pieces, since I'm using all new glazes that I'm not used to, and I want to make sure that they behave as advertised. The second glaze firing will be packed with pots I made for you!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Things in the barn-studio

            The barn-studio, being a barn, also happens to have a loft. The loft is sort of the place where I put all the stuff that was in the way when I first started setting up my studio space. It's kind of annoying to get up into it when holding something, because it has a ladder rather than a staircase. But it's nice to have the storage space.
            Anyway, I discovered that taking pictures of the studio below from up in the loft is kind of fun. Here is a picture of my wheel plus the ladder into the loft, and a picture of the kiln area with no kiln, but two cat carriers and a fan.

            It's traditional to have some kind of kiln god or kiln charm to encourage glaze firings to go well. I'm not superstitious, but we just happened to have a horseshoe knocking about, so I gave it something to do.

            This horseshoe was found on the property by Mr. Riverdragon and his mom when they first bought the house. It looks to me like it belonged to a draft horse. There was some attempt to affix it to the outside of the barn, but it never really stayed put. I'm hoping that it can have a better home above my kiln (and that it won't punish me for a poor glazing job by falling on my head).
            I also have a bell now! I hung it just inside the door, and I'm hoping it will ring when it's windy. I like to keep the doors open when I'm working. We'll see whether it's a pleasant companion, or I find it annoying.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Work in progress: bowls for Kickstarter

            I've started making your rewards. These are future swirl bowls that I threw this morning with my nice new porcelain:

            For those unfamiliar with how to make bowls, this is not what they will end up looking like. Bowls are thrown with extra clay around the bottom area, and then later I will trim away the excess so that the outside shape matches the inside shape.
            This clay is cone 6 porcelain # 15, made by Laguna. I've never used it before today; so far it's super duper! It does seem to be a bit thixotropic, but if I just bang it on the table a couple times it gets nice and soft, so that's ok. I'm looking forward to seeing how it looks fired. It's advertised to be translucent, so I'll be making a very thin test tile to see what that looks like.
            Many folks seem to have a love-hate relationship with porcelain. I personally think porcelain is great to work with. It does what I want it to and it's smooth and pretty. How could it get any better?

Monday, September 10, 2012


            On Saturday I took a trip to Portland to have a look around at Portland Pottery, which is where I'm planning to get my clay and glazes. It's a long drive, but I wanted to go in person and see the glazes and clays available.
            I also picked up some tools:

            Tiny brushes; I've needed some of these for a while now. It really helps to have small enough brushes to make tiny dragon eyes and claws and whiskers. I've been fighting with too-large brushes, and it's annoying. Now I'm all set!
            A tiny trimming tool; similarly to the brushes, when you need a smaller tool to make a smaller corner, the bigger tools just don't do the job. I like to make a deep corner between the foot and the bowl/plate, because it adds an extra shadow there and makes a nice separation between the parts. It's also a way to encourage glaze to pool a little.
            And a big sponge; there's a lot of cleaning in a ceramics studio that needs a big sponge, so now I have one!
            I did get some clay - a box of porcelain. I also asked them to order in some interesting red clay I'd like to try out, so that's exciting. I also noticed that they have some pretty dark brown clays that I might want to try in the future.
            I'm still thinking about the glazes I saw. Those of you who are wanting scarlet red may just be in luck; it looks like there are some options in commercial glazes for that. I thought there would be. I'll be giving one or two of them a try when the kiln arrives.
            There's also a very handsome brown I'll almost certainly get and make into a standard glaze in my studio. "Brown, that doesn't sound exciting," you might think, but really, brown glazes can be super awesome. (Unless you just don't like brown. I do know a potter who is of that opinion.)
            I promise there will be pictures of pots here again soon-ish! With 98 pledges on my Kickstarter, I'm going to be a very busy potter this fall and winter, so there will be lots of pictures to go along with that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How the $6 dragon pendant rewards are made

            I like to share my making process with those who are interested, so this is a post about how I'm planning to make the $6.00 rewards for the Kickstarter project.
            This is my sketch for the dragon pendants:

            You may be wondering how it is that I am willing to offer such detailed work for only $6.00. Part of the reason is that this is my Kickstarter project, so my prices are somewhat reduced from usual. However, the main reason is that I will be making and using a mold to create the dragon pendants, rather than carving out hundreds of scales on each individual pendant.
            The mold is a press mold. The way this works is that I carve out the shape I want, either from clay or from plaster. This includes the basic shape of the dragon, as well as all the texture that I want on its surface, and this step takes a while. (I have already begun this part.) I am using clay for this particular mold, as I have a lot of it here and it's easy for me to use. Also this mold is small - if I wanted to make a large mold I would use plaster. Once I am done with the carving, I will bisque fire the mold. This will let the clay remain porous so that it will absorb water, but it will not fall apart. Think of the texture of a terracotta flowerpot. That is what bisqued clay is like. (In fact, that's basically what those flowerpots are, but I digress...)
            Once the mold has been bisque fired, I can use it! I will take a little patty of clay and press it into the mold. There it will take on the shape of the carved area of the mold. I will let it rest in the mold for a few minutes so that the surface dries a bit. This makes it easier to remove. When it is ready, I will gently pull it out and lay it flat on a board to dry. Ta-da! A beautiful dragon, which is thin, light, and as detailed as I made my mold.
            In theory I could glaze these and make them many colors. Glazing something small like this and doing it well takes testing and some practicing, so for the purposes of the Kickstarter project I will only be glazing the eyes of the dragons. Glazing the entire piece is an idea for the future. However, I am offering a choice of either porcelain, which is bright white, or red clay, which will be this color:

            I love the look of bare clay, and often I find the idea of covering up all the marks I lovingly made in the surface of a piece disappointing. A bare clay surface can be just as refined and beautiful as one that is glazed, and I can hardly wait to see the first of these pendants come out of the kiln. You're going to love them!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The kiln space is ready to go!

            All it needs is the kiln! Here are some progress pictures. We had to score the cement board with a razor:

            Dandy, my 15-years-and-11-months-old dog, decided she had to see what was going on:

            Really at that part of the process I was wearing more face protection than was necessary, but it was a good idea for the next part:

            For the most part, we were able to get a clean break, although there was one smaller piece that ended up not perfectly square because it refused to cooperate and we got annoyed at it. Here's a picture of me driving the first nail, and then the last nail. Mr. Riverdragon did most of the nails in between.

            Then Mr. Riverdragon took a break and I put down the rest of the cinder blocks. Hooray! All done!

            So if you just imagine that instead of Dandy and me in the middle, there's a kiln, you've got a pretty good idea how it'll look.