Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dragon pendants

            The dragon pendant mold is now in use! It looks like this now:

            So it basically looks the same, except it is sturdy now. I made the 8 porcelain pendants before leaving for Thanksgiving. It took a surprisingly long time to figure out how to best make the pendants from the mold, but it turned out the solution was to use a rolling pin to squish the clay in. Just using my hands didn't allow the clay to pick up the texture evenly, but the even pressure from the rolling pin worked a lot better. Here are the pendants as they are drying:

            And this is what the back looks like:

            The eyes were all done individually after I removed the pendants from the mold. The mold technically has eyes, but it seems that I put them in the wrong place! If I leave the eyes alone, they are on top of the dragon's forehead, which just looks wrong. It's easy to fix, though, and otherwise I'm happy with the mold. 
            I'll be making a few extras each of the porcelain and the red clay dragons with the Kickstarter inscription on them as back-ups, and any that are left over after everyone has received theirs will be available for sale on my Etsy shop at the price they were on the Kickstarter. (You can find the link to my Etsy shop at the top right side of this page.) 
            I'm also considering using the mold to make some thinner dragons that are translucent. I think they would be very nice hung in a window or used as an ornament where the glow of the light through the porcelain would be visible. (The red clay will not be translucent, unfortunately, so these would only be available in porcelain.) These will take a bit more time and effort to make, as they will be very delicate before firing. The nice thing about the mold is that it allows me to avoid handling the clay very much, which makes it a lot easier to make the pendants so thin. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

First bisque!

            As soon as I was able to unload the test firing and assess the results, I loaded the kiln up for a bisque! This was much more exciting to me because I was able to put actual work in the kiln... it's more fun to fire my pieces than to fire a couple cone packs. The bisque was a success, too. I made some test tiles out of the three different clays I'm using, and when I do my first real glaze firing they'll be in there with glazes on them. I'll be posting pictures here with the results for all to see.
            For now, here are some pictures of bisqued work. First shelf:

            Second shelf:

            Some little dragons:

            And a cup with a cuttlefish that I'm particularly happy with:

            I think that this cuttlefish is going to be pale green, and the water around him will probably be a darker green. I also think I'm going to make a bunch more cups, and likely other dishes, with cuttlefish in this style on them. I really enjoyed making the little guy, so it would be fun to make him some friends.

Test firing!

            The first firing of the kiln was successful! I had a lot of fun playing with the controller to practice programming it. The controller is very easy to operate, and I feel that even if I were to lose the manual I would be able to program the kiln to do what I want just fine. The controller has two "modes," one where you can choose a pre-programmed firing schedule, and one where you can program your own firing schedule. For the test firing, I went with a pre-programmed cone 6 firing. This is what cone a normal glaze firing would be for the clay I'm using.
            I was fairly satisfied with the test firing. One thing I was a little worried about for the first firing was that the kiln draws a lot of power, and the house has an old electrical setup, and thus not a whole lot of power available. I was not sure prior to the first firing how using power in the house would be affected by the firing of the kiln. The lights do dim whenever the elements switch on, so there's a sort of flickering effect throughout the firing, but it's not severe enough to be worrisome. At some point in the future I might get the electrical service to the house upgraded, especially if I want a bigger kiln, but for now it's fine. 
            I used pyrometric cones to check on how the kiln fires. I used cones 5, 6, and 7, since I was aiming for cone 6. The thing about cones is that they don't just melt at a certain temperature, but rather once they've absorbed a certain amount of heat. (Yes, these two things are different, for the uninitiated.) So the kiln can fire to a certain temperature according to the pyrometer, yet not bend the cone for that temperature. The opposite happened in my test firing: it seems to have been pretty solidly a cone 7 firing, despite that the final temperature reached was within "cone 6" range. (This is not terribly unusual. The kilns I used at Simon's Rock often over fire by a cone, or at least they did when I was there.) 
            So I don't think I want to use that firing program when I actually have glazed work in the kiln. It probably wouldn't have horrible effects, but the clay and glazes I'm using are formulated for cone 5/6, so over firing them is less than ideal. The clay should be fine, but the glazes will likely be a bit runny at cone 7. There are a few things I could change to fix the problem, but I think the easiest one is to make my own program, and ask it to fire to cone 5 instead of cone 6. If it really does fire to cone 5, that's fine, and if it fires to cone 6 we'll still be good to go. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Finally, the kiln is installed!

            It seems as though each step involved with getting the kiln and getting it installed took an extra couple of weeks beyond my original estimate. But at last, we are wired up and ready to go!
            The electrician came this morning and installed the kiln. I'm going to do the test firing tonight, and if all goes as planned, then I'll finally be able bisque fire all the lovely pots and dragon sculptures that are hanging around the house. And then I'll be taking off to visit my family for Thanksgiving. I don't think I'll have enough time to push through a glaze firing before then, but we'll see how it goes!
            After Thanksgiving, things will get super extra busy around here, and I expect to be firing often to get your rewards out as soon as possible. I have a glossy translucent red glaze that looks promising. Many of you requested red, so this particular glaze is of special interest. I have a number of greens to test as well. I'm still deliberating about some of the other glaze options. It's hard to choose, because I want to try everything! Thanks to my backers from the Kickstarter project, I can try out more glazes than I originally planned to, since we hurtled past the goal and kept going. Hooray!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Throwing big

            This is the reason it is more important to me to have a kiln that is wide than one that is tall:

            This bowl is 12.5 inches in diameter, my biggest bowl yet! (Although not my largest thrown object.) My kiln is 28 inches wide, so I'm planning to keep working up until I can barely fit them in the kiln. I'm very pleased with this bowl, and I could tell when I was throwing it that I wasn't pushing my limits - it was easy. Sometimes when I'm trying something new with throwing, the clay just seems to know what I want from it, and that was the case with this piece. I love throwing bowls, so I couldn't be more delighted that I'm already capable of expanding my repertoire to include extra large ones. 
            I had Mr. Riverdragon take some pictures while I was throwing so you could get a more complete experience of the event.

            Next step for this bowl is drying slowly to leather hard, then trimming. Once I've trimmed it, I'll be carving a ripply pattern in the space between the two lines on the inside. I have my eye on a green glaze called "Seaweed" that looks like it would run and drip nicely over such a pattern. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Happy late Halloween!

            My computer decided to celebrate Halloween by refusing to boot up, so my Halloween post was delayed somewhat. I'm currently using a computer that may or may not be functioning properly, so if I suddenly vanish from the internet in the weeks before Thanksgiving, it's because we have no computers anymore. I'll be able to retrieve an old computer during Thanksgiving family visits, so all should return to normal thereafter.
            Now for the Halloween post! The pumpkin vine here was planted rather late in the season, so the single small pumpkin that it produced never progressed beyond the green stage. Nonetheless, I made a jack-o-lantern out of it:

            Vampire kitty will be happy to take your treats, and your finger, too!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The electrician is coming! The electrician is coming!

            He's coming next week. He says hopefully Monday, so the kiln could be firing as soon as Monday afternoon! I've been perusing the user manuals that came with the kiln, and they say that I should do a test firing to cone 6 as the first firing. It says that there are things left over from the manufacturing process that will need to burn off in the first firing that would affect any glazes in the kiln, possibly in unpleasant ways. So the first firing will actually be really boring - assuming everything goes as planned - since there won't be any pretty pots for me to take pictures of afterward.
            So then if the first firing goes well (I'm sure it will), I'll be loading up a bisque firing! It will have swirl bowls, dragons, dragon egg vases, and the dragon pendant mold in it, as well as test tiles. The dragon pendant mold will be finished and ready to use after the bisque, while the other things will have a glaze firing to cone 6 before they are finished.