Saturday, June 15, 2013

Some work in progress

            I purchased my kickwheel used from a ceramics studio in Massachusetts, and it was a great deal. They didn't need it, since everyone there preferred the electric wheels, and I needed a wheel and preferred a kickwheel. So I took it apart and packed it in my car along with my other belongings when Mr. Riverdragon and I moved to Maine.
            The wheel is a Thomas Stuart, and it's a fine piece of equipment in my opinion. The flywheel is nice and heavy, making it a pain to move but a delight to use. The frame can be taken apart to fit the whole thing into a car or through a doorway. For the most part, this wheel will last forever. It didn't mind being ignored for several years before I purchased it - it's practically as good as new. The one thing that's been bugging me about it is the surface of the table part.
            The table was originally varnished to protect the wood from wet clay. This is a good idea! But over the years, enough wet things have been set upon the table to damage that surface. I found it annoying because the varnish was starting to flake off into my clay. That's just troublesome.
            So Mr. Riverdragon volunteered to fix it up for me this spring. He took off the table part, sanded off all the old varnish, and put on new varnish. That put my wheel out of commission for a couple of days. But now it's as good as new! It turns out that the wood underneath has a nice looking grain. While we just used clear varnish and didn't bother doing anything fancy to make it look special, it looks even better than I thought it would. And it works so much better!
            So I celebrated by throwing some bowls and getting Mr. Riverdragon to take pictures of me happily working on my good-as-new wheel. He focused on me rather than on the table, though. I'm probably more interesting.

            So there I am, throwing bowls off the hump. (That's what it's called when you put a big lump of clay on the wheel, but throw many small objects off the top of it rather than using individual tiny lumps, which are hard to center.) You can see these pictures were taken in the house rather than in the barn. We've been slowly moving my clay things back into the barn studio, and it just so happens that the wheel is one of the few things still in the house. But I can use it just fine there, so that's ok for now.
            This is my nice translucent porcelain, although these bowls are not going to be translucent. They will be black and red, and the light will not be able to pass through the glaze and slip I'm going to use. But they will be lovely and smooth!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

While Sleeping Dragons Lie, technical considerations

            June has brought lovely warm weather to us in coastal Maine. The tulips have bloomed and faded. The lilacs are out in full force, and the peonies are covered in buds.
            In the process of moving my kickwheel back to the barn studio, we saw that its table is not doing so well. The varnish has suffered from years of contact with wet clay. So Mr. Riverdragon sanded off the old, and soon will be painting on new. My wheel will look so lovely when he is done, and be pleasanter to use as well! It turns out that the wood is fairly nice looking under the cracking varnish.
            I'm also in the process of setting up my thesis, While Sleeping Dragons Lie, in the barn studio. This will be its permanent home now. After sitting about in pieces for months, it needs some cleaning, repainting, and repairs.
            The pools themselves are actually fairly mundane objects: two sleds and a kiddie pool that I spray painted black. Here's a picture from last summer when I was setting up at the Meeting House Gallery:

            The difficulty with painting these objects is that they are plastic, and the paint doesn't adhere to them incredibly well. Oh, it sticks - but don't scrape it with anything, or it comes right off. This is even with paint intended for plastic items! No matter how careful I was during the traveling required to move the display from place to place, I always carried a roll of black electrical tape along to fix these little scrapes that appeared, almost inexplicably, in the most visible possible places as I was setting up or checking things over just before a reception. Today I peeled off all the little tape fixes and repainted the pools. Now that they'll be staying in one spot for the foreseeable future, hopefully I won't have to make so many cover-ups.
            My original intent when I planned my thesis was for the water to circulate all the way through from the top pool to the bottom one. I wanted to imply a stream through the forest. It turned out that the clay portions of my clever idea took so long to make that I had no time left over for great feats of engineering!
            So now I'm taking this opportunity to go ahead and do the necessary plumbing to create the stream. I made spouts out of stray bits of gutter by cutting the gutter to appropriate lengths. (A saw worked well; a box cutter did not, FYI.) I cut out places for the spouts to go on each sled, tracing the spout shape on the sled with a sharpie. (Box cutters work great for sleds!) Then I used aquarium silicone to attach the spouts to their pools.
            Why aquarium silicone, specifically? Well, I'm a big fan of aquarium silicone for a number of reasons. 1. It sticks to a lot of things, including plastic and ceramic. 2. It's waterproof! 3. It's fish safe. I want to have fish living in the bottom pool, so I better use fish safe materials. 4. It's flexible, so changes in temperature (like when the sun comes in the window and heats up the inside of the barn) won't just pop the join apart. I hope.
            I've also cut a hole just the right size for half-inch tubing to fit through in the top pool. The tube will run from the pump - submersed in the bottom pool - to the top of the tube in the highest pool. The tube comes up about in the middle underneath the stump, so it will be hidden. The stump itself is also a fountain, with a separate, smaller pump.
            The stump isn't designed to have as much water flow as is needed for the whole piece. That pump pushes 75 gallons per hour, and I'm looking for about 300 gallons per hour for the whole stream. 300 gph won't be a lot of current, but it will be enough for a gentle stream and should suffice for the fish. Thus, two separate pumps for two separate purposes. It will appear as though the water flow is all originating from the stump, as that will be the obvious source. But this way I won't have to sacrifice the amount of flow further down the stream or the peaceful trickling of the stump fountain.
            As for the fish in the bottom pool, I'm still mulling over different possibilities. I don't think I will use zebrafish - the fish I used last time - because of how tiny and hard to see they were. I'm certainly not going to try something giant like goldfish, but I think a small school of some kind of barbs would be super. (And some algae eating something-or-other. I love critters that eat algae! They make my plants happy.) With about thirty gallons in the bottom pool and so much surface area, plus the extra five-ish gallons in the upper pools, I have room for a fair number of fish.
            I've also been growing out some aquatic plants this winter, so ideally the display will be quite verdant. I still need to get some lights to put up in the display area. It's rather dark there most of the day, as the barn was not built to let in light particularly well. Even though I'm choosing plants that don't need loads of light, both in and out of the water, they do need more than what is there.
            I think this time around will be the best yet for While Sleeping Dragons Lie. I'm very much looking forward to having my original idea fully developed, including plants, fish, and running water from top to bottom. The dragons will be very happy in their habitat!