Thursday, August 24, 2017

Under Glazing Three-Color Pods: Part 2

pods with their final layers of underglaze, before final glaze firing
Over the course of several weeks, I applied the bottom layers of underglaze for a set of six pod shapes. I fired three of the pods to cone 06 and three to cone 04, which is a bit hotter. 

pod fired to cone 06 (left) and 04 (right)

The turquoise and red underglazes are darker in the cone 04 firing, because of the firing temperature. 

yellow underglaze being applied to turquoise

Now that the first colors have been fired, they no longer wash away when wiped with a sponge. At this point I was able to add the contrasting colors over the top of the red, turquoise and purple.

yellow underglaze applied, drying

I began by painting bright yellow onto the turquoise textured background. I tried to avoid getting the yellow on the red, with varying levels of success based on how long I had been sitting in the studio and how bored I was of the process.

close up of yellow underglaze highlighting turquoise texture

Once the yellow was dry, I gently wiped away it away with a wet sponge. The yellow remained in many of the holes, but was washed away from the raised areas, revealing the turquoise color underneath. In this case, the yellow wiped away somewhat irregularly, both because the texture is irregular and because it is difficult to use even pressure with the sponge in the cramped areas between sprigs.

wiping yellow underglaze

The results vary now because of the temperature to which the six pods were fired, as well as because the slightly different shapes and spacings left the yellow more visible in some areas and on some pods than on others.
yellow layer complete

Next I applied dark blue onto the red sprigs, carefully avoiding the yellow and turquoise background. 

blue underglaze applied

The process took a long time and to save my aching back and to make myself feel better, I moved to the couch for some of the blue application. There the cat kept me company.

applying blue underglaze with my helper

At one point, a friend stopped by. I kept applying blue while I talked with her. As she was about to leave, I took the now-blue pod into the other room and brought back a pod with red sprigs as yet uncovered. At first, she thought it was the same pod and the color had changed that quickly.

blue underglaze, wiped blue underglaze and raw red underglaze on three sections of one pod
Alas, I had to be the one to change the color. Once all the blue was dry, I grabbed a sponge and wiped away the blue in the same manner as the yellow, leaving the deep spaces of the sprig blue and the raised sections red.

close up view of wiped blue underglaze texture

I also added green to the purple interior/ends and wiped it away in the same fashion.

green and purple ends

The plan is to add a clear gloss glaze to all six pods and attach them to a rod once they have been fired. The group of pods will be raised up from a planter rather than laying on their sides as they are in my studio and in the kiln.

clearly the cat feels affection for my work

Monday, August 21, 2017

Chain Mugs

measuring the chain length before cleaning and trimming

At the start of the summer, I had this idea to make mugs with chains. They're totally impractical, but I wanted to try it anyway. I started these in June, then realized that something like a cookie jar would be better with a chain because it wouldn't need to be cleaned as often or heated. Too late. I threw and glazed mugs, not cookie jars.

thrown mugs from June

These particular mugs progressed slowly, though. I threw and trimmed them in a couple of days, then took ages to get them glazed. I threw them as straight walled forms, then pressed the chains into the wet clay as I wrapped it around the mug, gradually moving from top to bottom.

chain mug with sprigs and cut groove

On two of the mugs I carved out a slight indent for the chain and added sprigs for texture. For the others, I wrapped the chain around the mug and gently pressed the soft wall of the mug out to bulge between the loops of chain.

chain mug with bulging wall

I fired all four mugs to cone 6 so they'd be food safe, using some new to me glazes. Since I don't fire cone 6 as often as I fire to lower temperatures, it took a while to fill that kiln.

bike chain before and after cleaning

Once the mugs were glazed and fired, I cleaned and prepared the chains. I started by cleaning them in Simple Green with a stiff dishwashing brush, then I used a spinning wire brush to clean off rust and the remaining oil. Strangely, one of chains didn't get completely clean using this method and I can't quite quite figure out why. It looks as clean as the others, but leaves grease on my fingertips.

using a wire wheel to clean chain

After the bike chains were cleaned, I used a chain tool to trim the chain to the correct length. This chain tool can be used to remove a link from a chain, cutting it down to size. It can also be used, with some frustration, to add a link to a chain. 

chain tool for removing or adding links

Once I had cleaned, measured, and trimmed the chains to size, I used two-part epoxy to attach the chains. 

mug, cleaned chain, and chain tool

I started with PC-11, but didn't feel like I was getting a strong bond and didn't like the white residue left by the epoxy, so I went to the hardware store in search of some clear epoxy. I hadn't used PC Clear before, but I've been happy with PC-7 and PC-11 in the past.

chain taped in place for epoxy curing

Both of the epoxies I tried are slow curing, so I taped the chains on the mugs for 24 hours. The chains fit fairly well in their grooves, but I wish I had made the grooves a bit deeper. The chain adds some weight, obviously, so adding thickness to the walls might not make sense, but with a shallow groove for the chain, there is some wiggle room where the chain is placed.

the PC-11 didn't hold this chain in place

I used PC-11 on half of all the chains and then switched to PC Clear to finish each mug. The PC Clear is much less visible, allowing me to use more of it. It's texture is similar to the glazed surface of the mugs, helping to make it less visible agains the glazed surfaces. On one mug, the PC-11 didn't hold the chain in place at all, so I redid it with PC Clear.

finished mugs before clear coat

Another potential problem with these mugs is that the chains might rust, especially if they get wet from cleaning or humidity. To try to prevent rusting, I sprayed a clear coat on the chains. Obviously I don't want to drink from a clear coat, so I protected the interior, handle and other exposed clay with masking tape before I sprayed on the clear coat.

taped mugs ready for clear coat

The end result is what I wanted, even if what I wanted is kind of silly. Obviously I don't plan to sell these not-entirely-functional mugs, but I wanted to try combining a functional form with an industrial look. I am considering, if I do this in future, making the chain from clay as well. If the chain were clay, it could be used functionally and cleaned with less fuss, but I am afraid it would lose its industrial look.

finished blue bulge mug

The trouble with making the chain from clay is that the major material feature of the chain is that it is thin and flexible in one direction while rigid and strong in the other. A clay chain that looks convincing would probably need to be made from separate cast or cut links put together on the wet pot. The small, thin pieces of clay would me more likely to chip, bend, have rough edges, or crack. Scoring and slipping might remain visible on the mug behind the chain. The final result might be more fragile, and, of course, the process would be quite tedious.

finished blue sprig mug

I was trying to envision using a 3D printer for the chain, but I'm not sure 3D clay printers can do such fine detail. If a resin printer is more detailed, it would still result in the same sorts of epoxy issues as the metal chain, but without the risk of rusting. A resin printed chain would look like resin, whereas with clay I could us gold or silver decal to make it look like metal.

finished colorful sprig mug

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What's On My Plate

What's On Your Plate?

possible position for sculpture relative to plate

I was invited to participate in an upcoming show at Boxx Gallery in Tieton, called "What's On Your Plate?". Initially, I thought the idea was to try to combine the idea of a plate with representations of what things one is juggling in life, such as job, family, aspirations, responsibilities, hobbies. I had come up with an idea to make a large plate and include a representation of my sculpture growing out of the plate. 

chain wrapping around the bottom of the sculpture 

I hadn't quite figured out how I would represent other interests and responsibilities (such as my family, teaching, and blog) on the plate when I got an email with the official details of the show. It turns out that the concept is more simple, it is about table settings, cooking, and rituals around food. 

Plates Can Be Dull

But I've always been a little bored making regular plates or functional work. For a few years around 2003, I showed work at the Cambridge Pottery Festival. After the event, there was a Potter's Dinner and the artists/potters were invited to bring a plate to trade. We were supposed to put our plates on the table and take one of the other plates for ourselves. 

poster of exhibiting artists from the 2003 Cambridge Pottery Festival

The first year I participated must have been 2003. At the time, I was making raku-fired abstract sculpture and plenty of functional work in the form of hand-built lidded boxes. I wasn't making plates and by the time I knew about the plate trading event, I didn't have time to make a plate. 

my work in 2003

I figured, since I was juried into the Pottery Festival based on my non-plate work, the organizers must just be suggesting the rough size or value of a work; "Bring a plate to trade" probably meant "bring something roughly the size and/or value of a plate."

the plate base for this project

So, I brought a small lidded box. Admittedly I am partial, but these boxes I was making were fun. They had all these spikes and texture in contrasting colors and looked like sea anemones or alien plants. The lids fit snugly and it was clear how they were to be oriented. Often the lids had rattles in them, so you could take them off and shake them to make a sound. But, the boxes were clearly not plates. After I set my work down, I watched that box sit on that table, alone and unloved, while person after person walked in a picked up a boring ol' utilitarian plate for their trade. Eventually my box found a home, but the message was clear; it should have been a plate.

trimming the plate for this project

I hatched a plan. The next year, I would bring a plate, but I would defiantly make it the most annoying, least utilitarian plate I could manage. It would be in the form of a plate, but it would be less useful than my lidded boxes. I threw a plate, but instead of just glazing it like a normal person, I attached small round sprigs all over the surface, spaced out so as to maximize the bumpiness of the plate without leaving room for anything as large as a burger or even a hot dog to rest on the plate's surface. I glazed the bumps green so they would look like peas. I imagined the plate being used by someone who chose to eat a plate of peas or maybe a casserole that included peas so that the person would keep trying to scoop up the ceramic peas in place of the real peas. I also envisioned this plate being super annoying to clean.

pea plate from 2003/4

Of course the next year I had a conflict with the Potter's Dinner, so I didn't get a chance to go, trade my revenge plate, and laugh at all the functional potters who wanted only boring plates like those they made themselves. I still have the plate. it has a trimming hump in the middle, but I still think the spaced out peas decoration is hilarious. I crack me up.

The Sculptural Plate

Unless it were to be a reprise of my pea plate, I knew I didn't want to make just a straight "functional" place setting, so I decided to go with a slightly simplified version of the plate I envisioned earlier in the summer.

sculptural plate in progress

I threw several plates and the form of a small sculpture, a simplified version of sculptures I tend to make. Rather than just attaching the sculpture to the plate, I wanted to connect the plate and the sculpture visually in two ways: with chain and with sprigs.


sprig molds resting on the plate

The sprigs I used for this piece were all made from knots and textures found on a section of an old Christmas tree trunk. I used several different sprigs so that the textures seem to repeat, but are not all identical.

tree trunk section with beautiful knots I used as to form my sprig molds

I wanted the sprigs to be suggestive of barnacles in a tide pool and the way they encrust the surfaces. 

a tide pool near Port Angeles
I hoped the sprigs would to seem to cover over the separate surfaces of the sculpture and the plate indiscriminately like mussels or barnacles on the underside of a boat or dock.

textures on my sculpture and plate

In the end, the process of attaching the sprigs and adding the background texture of tiny holes (reminiscent of coral, rock, or corrosion) overwhelmed my view of the overall effect. I chose to put the sculpture dead center in the plate and not to build up the corner where the plate and the sculpture were once separate. The sculpture has the excessive texture I wanted, but I'm not sure if the placement is entirely what I wanted.

base of plate/sculpture read for drying and firing


I also wanted to incorporate bike chain into this sculpture. I knew that I wanted the bike chain to connect the sculpture with the plate, so a mini sculpture I had created earlier in the summer would not work for this project.

sculpture I started earlier this year for this project

I have another project in mind for bike chain, so I spent several hours cleaning several chains. I used some simple green and a scrub brush first and then took the chains to a wire brush on a stationary grinder. The process is fairly straight forward, but it was hot last week when I was cleaning the parts and I had on long sleeves, gloves, goggles and a mask, so I had to break up the cleaning into 15 minute bursts or end up really cranky and hot (I ended up cranky and hot anyway).

dirty and clean bike chains

The completed plate/sculpture will have a chain winding down the sculpture, around the plate, and out one side of the plate as a kind of tail. I also added a bike gear to visually and physically divide the smooth bulb of the sculpture from the textured complexity of the base and plate.

rough plan for gear and chain position in sculptural plate

I am considering adding a cup/mug and fork/knife to the place setting. The work is still a bit wet. I threw the form and added texture over the course of at least 5 days, so I wanted to make sure the piece dried slowly. After firing, I've got a few weeks before school begins in which to add color and put the pieces together.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Under Glazing Three-Color Pods: Part 1

pods with turquoise underglaze layer

One of the reasons I'm not a big fan of the process of under glazing my sculpture is that the process takes so long. I use layered underglazes and I realize that using underglazes, and using them this way causes my process to be slow and tedious. Unfortunately, I like the complex and colorful results. 

purple underglaze layer

I have been trying to get a solid start on under glazing a set of six forms. There are three sections with different textures on each form and I want to highlight each section separately with two colors each for a total of 6 colors. The undercoats will be fired for stability, then the top contrasting colors can be added and wiped away. Commercial underglazes require at least three coats applied for even coverage, so that means a total of 9 coats (3 coats each of three colors) before firing. After firing, the subsequent coats will not need to be applied as thickly or as carefully. 

under glazing at the table
During the first round I carefully applied three layers of turquoise on the base level of the whole sculpture, trying to avoid the sprigged sections. After I applied the turquoise three times and wiped away the excess from the sprigs, I applied three coats of purple to the end and three coats of red to each sprig. While I was applying the underglaze, I was careful to apply evenly for full coverage and no overlapping into other sections, but I also needed to be careful to not lose count of how many layers had been applied. Sometimes I could visually distinguish the first and second layer, but after that, all layers look the same.

edges of sprigs before clean-up
With so many sprigs placed in an irregular pattern, it is quite difficult to keep track of which sprigs have gotten a second or third coat of underglaze. What I generally do is draw a pencil line across each sprig (or several sprigs on each section) and apply underglaze until I cannot see any more pencil lines.
pencil lines and wet underglaze
Applying each coat of red took about 40 minutes per pod. I applied the turquoise in my studio but moved to the dining table for the red because the height difference between the chair and the table is more comfortable. On Friday afternoon and Saturday, I underglazed on the couch while watching marathon episodesof season two of The Great Pottery Throwdown.

the cat prefers me to glaze on the couch

Watching, or at least listening to the episodes helped ease the monotony of the process. Ironically, one of the contestants kept having trouble with time. I laughed at her struggles, but reflected that I had spent more time than her just completing the first part of the glazing on three pods. I also kept thinking of my friend Janice during the episodes, especially episode four with the fountains because she would enjoy both the show and trying some of the challenges.

third layer of red (looks a lot like the second)
I had been glazing almost all day long (with a few breaks for laundry, errands, and a game of Bananagrams played Scrabble-style) and I thought I could get all three completely finished before heading out to see The Warehouse Theatre's excellent production of Willy Wonka (it's really good; if you're in Yakima, I highly recommend it).

red and turquoise mostly complete

I was on track to finish before the show when disaster struck. I had just finished the third coat of red on all the sprigs of the last pod. I was going to go back and touch up the turquoise where it had worn off or had a drip or smear of red. I figured the touch up would take 5 or 10 minutes, then I could finish loading the kiln and program it to fire that night.

glazing with a lid as palette

I like to use the lid of the underglaze jar as a palette, especially when doing careful, detail work. I shake the closed jar to get some underglaze on the inside of the lid, then dip a small brush tip into the underglaze on the lid. Instead of dipping into the jar blind, the lid method allows me to get less glaze on the brush and keep the brush and the sculpture cleaner.


I had just screwed the lid back on the red jar when I went to shake the turquoise. Of course, for some reason, I hadn't screwed the lid back on. When I shook the jar, the lid came off, the underglaze came out and splashed on the table, the pod, my shoe, the carpet, the brushes, my daughter's stickers, and pretty much the whole house.

oops ameliorated

By the time I finished wiping off the underglaze from all those surfaces, including the pod, it was time to leave for Willy Wonka so I didn't finish or load the kiln until the next morning. I'm not that bothered by the wiped look, and the plan is to layer more color on top, but I touched up the red with one more layer anyway. Maybe another day I'll try the splash technique and leave the result, but not today.

three fired pods (from earlier)