Sunday, May 20, 2018

Grapes to Glass Gala 3D Printed Centerpieces

3D Printed form printed, altered and glazed by Humberto Urrutia-Jr

This weekend the Yakima Valley College viticulture (wine) program held their Grapes to Glass Gala fundraiser event. Earlier this quarter, I was asked if my clay students could make centerpieces for the event. The idea was that I would make the forms with student involvement, donate them to the viticulture program, they would be used for the event, and then they would be auctioned off with proceeds going to scholarships for students.

printed vase altered at the top and decorated with underglaze and two glaze colors

At the start of the quarter, I thought this sounded like a reasonable thing for our class to do. They were asking for 10 centerpieces, which isn't that much to make, especially with student help. After a bit of discussion, we decided to use the 3D printer to make the forms, which could then be altered and decorated by student in my spring pottery classes.

the 3D printer in our clay studio

One of my goals for this quarter was to use our 3D printer and get to the point where I felt comfortable controlling some of the print parameters. (This sounded eminently do-able in April and was, in reality, harder than it should have been.) I figured that agreeing to print a bunch of things with the printer would give me practice and make me better with the printer. 

the basic 3D printed form before decoration

My plan sort of worked. Agreeing to make the centerpieces did get me practice using the printer. Given how one's time tends to fill up with all the things that could be done to improve a class, I might not have made the time in my schedule to use the printer, had I not agree to do this. On the other hand, I spent basically all my 3D printer time printing these forms and trouble shooting the printer, but I didn't really spend any of that time adjusting the print settings in the software, which is what I really need to spend some time doing to improve my control of the printer.

underglaze surface with sgraffito carving

All in all, though, the printing was fine and it was what I agreed to do. The thing that ended up being a surprise was how much extra work became attached to the project. I don't blame the organizer, but I think there were several people involved, and the plan kept growing. After the prints had been printed and the students had started their work, I was asked for photos of the students and brief bios or descriptions of the process. A little bit later, it turned out that we needed permission to use the photos and I needed to get the students to sign a release. Then, of course, some students didn't write the bios, so I needed to write general descriptions myself. 

flower decoration on a vase altered by Danielle Littlefield

By the last day or two, I discovered that I didn't know who had decorated which form. I was able to mostly identify the work, but the work was still in the kiln when I last saw the students, and their descriptions were sometimes too vague to be useful in identifying the work. By Friday morning, as I was writing the last of the bios, I discovered that I had probably lost one of the pieces before the first firing.

top and interior view of Danielle's vase

After the pieces were initially printed, I offered extra credit to students to alter and decorate one of the pieces. The printer prints very wet clay, so all of the pieces had varying levels of workability when the students first encountered them. The neat thing, in my opinion, about this printed form, is that it is fairly thick and also so wet. Because of this, the clay can be stretched without danger of ripping the walls. In my example piece for the students, I used a rib on the inside of the print to stretch the walls. The texture stays visible but the shape of the vase changes. The student who originally made this print in the winter quarter also stretched the walls using a rib.

Exterior view of my stretched vase

This quarter students mostly didn't alter the walls by stretching, but several cut into the walls to change the shape of piece itself. Some students left the printer lines visible on the surface, but others smoothed the interior, exterior or both. Some also used sgraffito or carving through colored slips to create a different surface texture.

two views of a vase with cut wall, and underglaze layered under two glazes

Students also added clay in the form of sprigged decorations of leaves, butterflies, or hand-built flowers or coils. One student used a texture roller on the smoothed surface. Most students used colored underglazes (because I put them out during that class). 

short glazed form, I wiped the glaze off of the surface of the leaf sprigs

The original student and I both attached coils to obscure the one side of the print that was a bit rough. 
When the printer changes directions, it leaves a bit of residue at the change location. I'm not sure why the printer won't going in one direction through the whole print, but that's pretty much why I need to spend more time with the software. 

printed form with rough seam and coils attached to obscure the seam

I ended up glazing most of the students' work, simply based on the timing of the project and how much work was required. The deadline for firing the work came just after the deadline for our clay sale on campus. The student work wasn't dry enough to get glazed and fired in the firing we did before the clay sale, so we glaze fired twice this month.

piece textured with two texture rollers and then glazed with a runny glaze that ends near the bottom third

An additional complication came up the week the work was supposed to be picked up. I glazed and loaded the kiln on Monday, but Monday night the breaker tripped. We discovered the problem on Tuesday morning, but it took about 4 hours to get the breaker reset. Lights had been flickering on and off all over the building on Monday and the air conditioning was operating in every other room, so I guessed our power issue was related in some way. Once the breaker was reset, the firing restarted. Wednesday morning the breaker had tripped again, so the entire kiln was unloaded, the stuff was moved to another kind and that one fired fine. The kiln was too hot to unload Thursday evening, so I unloaded it Friday morning, minutes before the works were to be picked up.

sgraffito glazed form before and after glaze and biscuit grinding

Everything would have been fine, but one of the vases had damage that I tried to repair with glaze. I used too much glaze and the glaze dripped down the walls, onto the biscuits, and onto the shelf. I spent an extra 20 minutes grinding the base on Friday morning before I could send it on its way to the Grandview campus.

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