Saturday, March 15, 2008

Continuing adventures in Ceramics

Two more color designs were attempted over the last few days. One of the color designs, Antiqued Sponged Paint is very effective. It is done using a soft taupe color lightly sponged over the background using a torn sea sponge. Very, very thin green is sponged very lightly over the leaves both at the top and bottom and the bird's body. Very thin red is sponged over the flowers, top and bottom and the throat of the bird. These colors are so thin that the result is a subtle, old finish. After bisque firing, the detail is scrubbed with thinned French Brown paint that is wiped away after drying, leaving color only in the detail. The other, Full Color - Light design is achieved using soft, lifelike colors. Green and yellow green on the leaves, deeper green on the bird, and neon red for the throat and flowers. It is a bit.... Hum... not exactly weak, just maybe a bit uninspiring or ordinary. All of the vases are glazed with clear, high gloss, food safe glaze.

Trying to come up with excellent designs that will fit into the variety of homes and personal taste is a bit daunting. However, have paint, will continue to try until satisfied.

A couple of days ago I sent an email to friends and family asking for their input on the colors. So far the Monochromatic Antiqued Purple, Snow White vase (with or without mother of pearl) and the Decorator Deep Tone colored vase with deep green/black background vases are the favorites. It has been fun hearing from all of them. They are very helpful, sharing what they liked or didn't like. Some even have sent ideas for the products that they would like to see. What started as a simple design before tackling the big design (6" flower pot with bunnies) has turned into a list for an entire line of hummingbird products.
It's funny how a small idea like a bud vase can grow into a large line of products.

Some of the ideas are - handles for serving pieces, kitchen cabinet door knobs and pulls; teacup or bowl; teapot; a lidded box and or jars; picture frames; light switch covers; bath accessories etc. And, of course, all of these ideas will start with sculptures made of polymer clay.

Having successfully cast a number of bud vases, we made a master mold of the bud vase mold so that we can easily make molds in the future. It's made of urethane rubber and will flex to release the molded parts.

We have been very busy in all parts of the creation of original ceramic molds, from the original sculpture, mold box, plaster casting, drying and cleaning the mold, pouring the part, cleaning and firing and finally, color and glaze finishing.

The molds are made of a special pottery plaster that needs to be smooth when poured. No matter how hard you try to get the bubbles out, the mold needs to be tapped or shaken to cause any air bubbles in the mix to rise to the top. After banging molds on the kitchen counter, making an unbelievable mess, Joe decided to build a shaker table. Using eight big bolts, sixteen big nuts and washers, four really, really big springs, an old vibrator motor and scrap lumber, he put together a shaker table. So far, he thinks it needs a bigger motor. (How very guy like.) It is helping to make smoother, bubble free casts.

If you have never made a ceramic mold, here is a Reader's Digest description.

To make a two or three part mold, the originals have to be buried in solid clay that is built up to the parting line. The hardest part of the entire thing for me is finding the parting line. It is the most frustrating part and takes the most time. Joe makes our mold boxes of wood. They are screwed together so that they can be easily taken apart and put back together easily. I clay up the baked polymer clay parts using ceramic sculpting clay, the kind used on a pottery wheel. The cracks in the wooden mold box are sealed with this same clay and the whole thing is given a spray of Original Pam.

The pottery plaster is mixed and poured into the mold, then the mold is taken to the shaker table to remove air bubbles. Then it is set aside to allow the plaster to set. This takes about an hour.

After the first part of the mold is set, the mold box is taken apart, the pottery clay is carefully removed from the polymer clay original parts that are now partly buried in the solid plaster. The parts and plaster are cleaned, and the box is put together again around the mold, corners sealed, sprayed with pam and plaster is mixed and poured again. Whew!!

The picture to the right shows three views of the vase, showing the three dimensional designs on the vase.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Adventures in Ceramics

Since the purchase of our 'new' 1999 motor home, we have wanted to see the USA and do craft and art shows to subsidize our travels. To build an inventory large enough to support the cost of diesel fuel, we needed to be able to make a fairly large inventory of assorted products. Thinking that ceramics might be a good idea, that's where we started.

I love OOAK's (One Of A Kind), but it also very satisfying to be able to produce a line of products. For this first original ceramic project, we chose to make a hummingbird bud vase with leaves and trumpet blossoms.

To make this bud vase, Joe cut the top of a glass champagne flute from it's stem, leaving only the slender glass top. Using Super Sculpey and Sweetbrier Studio™ mold #1011 "Hummingbird Lane" that I sculpted and designed in 2006, I added a clay base of leaves and flowers; a hummingbird in flight to the side and a spray of flowers at the top using super glue. Some of the parts are molded but the rest of the design is sculpted in and around the molded parts. After baking and sealing the polymer clay, we made a ceramic mold.

From this first mold we have cast 15 bud vases. Currently we are working on a variety of color designs. Above are the first four color schemes. The colors in the first two designs were painted onto the greenware (unfired clay). The next two designs were fired to bisque and then the color added. The last design has no color at all.

The first design is a watercolor effect, the colors being thinned to allow the white bisque to show through, with a deep, Hunter Green background. The second color design is full cover paint in lifelike colors.

The second two designs are monochromatic; one color on the white bisque background. The color is painted onto the bisque, allowed to dry and then most of the color is wiped away with a damp cloth. The color left in the detail reveals the sculpted design. It's a very effective finish called "antiquing". Of the two colors, our family and friends like the purple best.

The last design is pure white bisque. The all white vase is rather plain and may get a fired coat of mother of pearl.

After the colors are dry, three coats of high gloss glaze is painted onto all of the bisque designs, including the vase with no color, and fired in the kiln to seal and protect the finishes. Food safe glaze is used on all of our ceramics.

We are continuing to design color for the vases and will post the new pictures soon.