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!

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: