Monday, May 27, 2013

Kickwheel, rain, and furbeasts

            The sun has finally returned after a week of rain here. The rain came at just the wrong time, as I had just finished cleaning and reorganizing the barn studio for the spring/summer season. I was all set to get Mr. Riverdragon to help me move my kickwheel across to the barn... and then the rain came. No way are we rolling that 140 lb flywheel across a muddy lawn. Nuh-uh. So we waited. And finally, the sun is back! But the lawn is still muddy, so hopefully tomorrow we'll be able to go ahead without fear of getting stuck.
            In other news, I have a new cat! This is the internet, so cats are always relevant, right? You may remember that when Mr. Riverdragon and I first moved to Maine, we brought my wonderful, ancient dog. Dandy is now sixteen and a half years old, and still kicking. Here's a picture of her asking why I'm taking a picture instead of handing over the treats:

            Then, in early January, Mr. Riverdragon was given an opportunity to adopt a kitten from our local SPCA. So, off we went to the shelter, where we met wonderful people and wonderful kittens. We brought home Warbear, a short haired silver tabby. Isn't she a lovely lady? She is now an intrepid explorer in her Kitty Holster, a super harness that we recommend for all kitty explorers who wish to take their humans along.

            But with only one cat, we couldn't keep up with Warbear's play needs. She's very sweet, and actually doesn't wake us in the night, but she does play. All the time. With our ankles, or hands, or anything really that she notices. We also found that one cat with two laps means that one lap will always be lonely. (Dandy isn't really a lap dog, with the condition of her joints.) So... off to the shelter again!
            I found a long haired tortoiseshell, who was a tad shy but quite curious. Meet Brenna, our latest addition: 

            Now our little family has just the right number of furbeasts. Brenna and Warbear are still working on  getting comfortable with each other, but we have hopes that they will become great buddies in time. Dandy has gotten used to the idea of lightning-fast cats scampering past her at random times, and has clearly opted to not worry about it. 
            So when you come to visit the studio this summer, you may encounter an explorer cat or two and an elderly pooch who's still a puppy at heart. They'll be happy to see you, and you can be sure that Warbear has inspected any pot or sculpture you purchase.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Translucent dragon cups, some more

            Here are some more pictures of the translucent dragon cups. I threw them on the wheel and trimmed them, then brushed black slip on around the outside. After letting the slip stiffen, I carved out the dragons. The reason they are so translucent is that they are made of porcelain. Not all porcelain and porcelain-like clays have this property, so when I chose my clays back in the fall I specifically selected one that was recommended for its translucence.
            Having never worked with translucent porcelain before, I'm amazed with the stuff. I love working with porcelainous clays, I knew that before. But after hearing all about how difficult it is to make translucent pots, I guess I never expected it to work this well. It really worked!

            I knew as soon as I took these out of the kiln that they were even better than I had hoped. The first thing I usually do when I pull something out of the kiln is to scoot into the sunshine to get a good look at it. These cups are translucent enough that you can see the effect in normal light. You can see it as a little creamy glow around the foot in these pictures:

             I'm pleased with nearly all the pots in this firing, but these are the best. The translucence is something I can only guess at when I'm making them, so I paid a lot of attention to the other aspects. I used my tiny rubber rib to make them smooth, and worked hard on the carvings to make them clean and crisp. I also sanded them gently after both firings, so the bottoms feel good in the hand. I love my abstract dragon design; it looks good in two colors like this and I can reliably make the dragons look related to each other. I also love making them, especially the carving part. I do get tired of doing the same thing after six cups, but that's what bowls and plates (and Kickstarter rewards...) are for.
            And fussy though my camera seems to be about bright sunlight, I have to give it credit for doing a good job in the dark. All I did was click the button and hold very, very still. (It helps to rest my hands on something sturdy. A tripod would work, too.) And when I hold still enough, I get pictures like these: 

            That's what they actually look like with candles in them. It's beautiful. I also found that the sides of the cup remained cool despite the hot candle inside, so I could pick them up and move them around without worrying about hot fingers. I think at this point I have to 1. make more of these cups; and 2. make some "cups" with shades/lids specifically for the purpose of holding candles. Because, wow. Ceramics = the real magic we have in the world. I can make mud that glows.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Translucent dragon cups

            I just took some photos of a set of dragon cups from this firing. I took the pictures at night so that I could try putting tea candles in the cups to photograph the translucence... and it worked very well! I'll put up some more pictures in the morning, but I couldn't wait to post this.
            The cups in normal light:

             The cups with candles inside them as the only light source:

            I think I'm a little less depressed now. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Glaze adventures!

            I recently mentioned my glazing experiments in the latest firing. Now I have some more pictures to share! I already showed the octopus cup and the blue and white dragon plates. This post is about the rest of the group of cups that the octopus cup is related to.
            These cups aren't really a set - they are all different shapes, all have different designs, and don't really "go together." But they are all the same size, made of the same red stoneware, and glazed using only two glazes (Mottled Spice and Deep Firebrick).
            The octopus cup is different from the others in that I left most of the cup unglazed, and painted the octopus design directly on the bare clay. That looks like this:

            The red octopus is shiny, while the clay is rough and matte, so the edges of the design are sharp and clear. On the other cups, I glazed the outside of each cup and brushed the design on top of that background glaze. This resulted in more smudgy, less defined edges. Like this tree:

            Since both the background and the tree design are shiny, the tree doesn't stand out as much as the octopus on the previous cup. Another difference is that the brown glaze of the tree melted flat into the red glaze, so the tree isn't raised - you won't feel a bump under your fingers when you hold the cup. It's more like a drawing on a piece of paper.
            The Mottled Spice (brown) doesn't contrast in color as much as I expected from the red. The tree is actually much subtler than I thought it would be. It was difficult to photograph because of this, but I like how the cup looks. It encourages you to really look at the cup as you are holding it, because the tree doesn't pop out at you. I'm all for people taking a closer look!
            I used this glaze combination for a dragon cup, as well. The effect is similar:

            I'm calling this a shadow dragon. You can see the design, but it's understated. You see the dragon as you turn the cup, but never all of the dragon at once.  Again, this is difficult to capture in photos, but I found that in the sunshine there was enough light to allow the dragon to show. Although the dragon is visible in indoor light, I wasn't very good at capturing it in a picture.
            Then I have cups with the opposite glazing: red against brown. This cup has mushrooms on it:

            As you can see, the red glaze slid down a bit as it melted. The lines of the design are thus less sharp, particularly on the undersides of the mushroom caps. This makes a neat-o looking texture on the mushrooms. I think they look like lava mushrooms. I don't think this combination would work well with an octopus, because it would muddy up the tentacles, but I think it's just fine for these mushrooms. They don't have such fine details.
            I also used this combination for a design that included finer details:

            Am I upset that some of those details vanished in a wash of red? Nope. I was hoping that the red would help this bird look like a phoenix. The selective loss of detail doesn't strike me as out of place because of the coloring - it's a flaming phoenix, so parts of the bird are obscured by fire. I am pleased, however, that the upper wing retained the feathers that I carefully brushed there.
            Overall I'm happy with these cups. Sometimes glaze experiments go well, and sometimes they don't. Often they don't quite look how one imagined they would! I am glad I was able to make hypotheses about how these glazes would act that came out so well. I think the earthy colors are handsome and warm. I like these glazes with red clay. I ended up with five great cups. I count this glaze experiment as a success!
            If you think these cups are super and want to have one (or two, or five) for your very own, here are the links to them on my Etsy shop:

            Octopus cup:

            Autumn tree cup:

            Shadow dragon cup:

            Lava mushrooms cup:

            Phoenix cup:

            There are other lovely things on my Etsy shop, some of which have appeared here on my blog and some of which have not. You can always get from here to there by clicking on my Etsy link, found on the upper right hand side of each page of this blog. I post new items periodically, with the highest concentration appearing in the two weeks after a glaze firing.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Unicorn vase

            This is a tiny vase with a flaming unicorn. I carved the unicorn, then used orange and red washes for the color, then a clear glaze on top.

            This vase is really quite small: 3.25 inches tall. Just the right size for several grape hyacinths!

             The grape hyacinths are from the garden here. They are blooming along with the daffodils currently. I'm doing a lot of work in the garden this spring, and it's great to be able to take pictures of my work outside again. 
            I leave you with a close up of the unicorn: 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Blue and white dragons

            Another glaze adventure: blue and white dragon plates. These are porcelain plates that I painted dragons on with blue glaze, then poured an even layer of clear glaze over the dragons. I'm using a Mason stain for my blue, so it's not the deep color of pure cobalt, but a softer, brighter blue.

           The plate above is my favorite of the two. The dragon is more complex, and curled in a way that fills up the space on the plate with its presence. I also like its face and wing a lot.

            On the other hand, the dragon on the second plate has a pretty cute face, and I like the frill and wing on this one, too. This dragon is a little simpler and a little coarser.
            Another difference between these two plates is the way I glazed the underside of each. On the first plate, I allowed the clear glaze to spill over when I was glazing the top of the plate and left the drips rather than removing them. On the second plate, I painstakingly removed all the dripped glaze (except for one tiny bit I missed. White glaze on white pot - hard to see!). The clear glaze is glossy, but the bare porcelain is matte. So the drips are a bit subtle on the first plate, appearing mostly through the way they reflect light.

            The second plate looks like this:

            Bare porcelain is still very white without glaze, and I gently sanded the unglazed areas with fine sandpaper after the plates came out of the kiln. Sanded porcelain feels very nice under the fingers, and I usually do this to the foot of every pot I make. It makes the pot feel more refined. I think often about how pots will feel when touched as I am making them. Where will it be rough? Smooth? Slick? Grippy? Glossy glaze feels different than matte glaze, and porcelain feels different than stoneware.
            I often use the roughness of my red stoneware on purpose as a contrasting sensation to shiny glazes. I often smooth porcelain as much as I can in the raw state, then sand it after bisque firing and after glaze firing. The last sanding of the porcelain usually doesn't require much time at all. I also do my best to make the bottoms of pots and sculptures tabletop friendly. I once gave someone a handsome vase I had made, and she set it on a wooden table. This was just fine until someone decided to turn it around to look at the other side without lifting it from the table, and the rough clay left scratch marks. Yikes! Since then I think about the bottoms a lot more. Every pot gets set down somewhere, and it needn't leave damage behind.