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Monday, March 31, 2014

Yet Another Shaman

Yes, another shaman!  But at least it's not another mouse!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Mouse Shaman

Mice have been quite fascinating for me lately.  Here's the little clay creation I sculpted today - a mouse shaman.  Her "robe" is a slab of clay that I pressed into a polymer clay texture mold I made a few years ago.  I've always liked this mold and have used it many times.  I made it by pressing leaves and grass heads I collected from around the property into a slab of the polymer clay then baking it.

I'd like to make some more of these texture molds but there just aren't appropriate materials available this time of year.  I need things that are small, have distinct patterns, and are hard enough to stand up to pressing into the polymer.

When this piece is fired and glazed I'm planning to glue a little feather behind the leaf on her head. I pressed a hole with a toothpick under the leaf so I'll have a place to glue to feather later.  Planning ahead!  Can you imagine that?

This view of her shows a bit of her tail which is curled up against her robe.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mouse #3

As predicted, a third mouse has now appeared.  The little "crumbs" come from scratching the fur lines for his coat.  When he's dry I'll be able to brush them off.  By the way, this standing mouse is 3" tall.

These three mice are going to be "bell-ringers."  I have several small rusty tin bells like the one on the table beside him.  When the mice are finished and glazed, I'll attach the bells so it looks like each of the mice is holding one.

I'm not sure what to do about the glazing.  I now have a few nice soft gray glazes, but my first thought was to use more colorful glazes with each mouse different.  We'll see...

Mice on My Work Table


There are two mice on my work table, and by tomorrow there may be three!

Sunday, March 23, 2014



 I finally got a glazed piece that I liked out of the kiln - and it was cracked!

I have two kilns that both run on standard household current.  One is tiny - a six inch cube on the inside - and it heats quite nicely to at least cone 5 so I can successfully fire either stoneware or low-fire clay.  The other one is larger, but is only rated to go to 1900, which is a few degrees lower than cone 04 - the recommended bisque firing temperature for low-fire clay.  So, theoretically, I can make larger pieces as long at they're low-fire clay.  The problem is that the kiln doesn't really go to 1900.  Anything much over 1800 is really pushing it.

So I think the crack either came from firing too low - perhaps I fired a bit lower on the bisque fire than on the glaze fire.  Or maybe the piece was too thin.

Well, I'm not too crushed about the crack because it just means I'll keep this piece and not put it in my Etsy shop - I don't mind the crack at all.

But it does give me a new resolve to get a new kiln.  I'm planning on ordering it tomorrow.  It's pretty large inside (though, at 19" high and 17" in diameter, it's not huge).  It takes a special outlet on a dedicated 30 amp circuit, so I'll need to get an electrician - it will be a while.  Once I get that kiln I'm planning to set up a firing schedule and fire no more than one bisque fire and one glaze fire a week.  Meanwhile, I'm limiting myself to small pieces so I can use my little kiln.  Hence, the smaller version, below, of my bear icon.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Part of the Problem

These two photos illustrate a large part of the problems I'm having with glazing - visualizing the final result.  You can see how different the colors of the raw glaze (first photo) and the fired glaze (second photo) are.  The two pieces in the second photo are the right and lower pieces in the first photo which is a shot inside the kiln just before I fired them.

And it's not just the colors.  Some glazes are opaque, some transparent, some glossy, and some matte. Some are speckled and some aren't.   Huh?  How are you supposed to keep that straight?  My only guess at the answer is "practice."

The other parts of the challenge are that you only get one chance - there's no "painting over."  And you can't get rid of mistakes very easily - if at all.  Once the glaze is on the bisque ware it's very difficult to remove, even with lots of water.

Failure Brings Perspective

Considering the number of colors and the fact that everything needs three coats, I can honestly say that there is a lot of work involved in applying the glaze to these mosaic pieces.  So when I opened the kiln and saw this result, I was horrified.  In my mind it was a complete failure - all that work wasted!
But my favorite cat was near death with cancer, and suddenly none of this mattered.  Truly.
I decided to go ahead and finish the piece to get practice with assembly and grouting and to flush out any problems that would play into planning future mosaic pieces.  My sister says she likes this.  So, maybe if I donate it to the KVIE (public television station in Sacramento) auction someone might buy it and enjoy it while raising a bit of money for the station.
But, really, making Starbuck's last days the best that they can be is all that counts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Painting Project Packet on Etsy

I used to work primarily with decorative acrylic painting, and in those days I designed my own pieces and produced instruction packets for many of them.  For a few years I advertised every month in the "Decorative Painter" which is the official magazine of the Society of Decorative Painters.

The other day a woman found my ad for this project packet in an old issue of the magazine and e-mailed me to ask if I still had the packets available.  In the old days, making the packets was labor intensive as I had to print the instructions, go to the copy center to get copies of the line drawings, have the photos developed, then assemble and mail the packet.

Melissa's question prompted me to re-do this one as a PDF and offer it in my Etsy shop. Here's the link if you're interested - I'll be converting others as time allows.  I have dozens, and it seems like a shame to just let them languish.  Thanks, Melissa, for the boost! 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mini Shamans

Most days I do a bit of surfing on Etsy and while I was doing so about a week ago I ran across a sweet shop,   When I surf Etsy it's mostly looking for supplies to use in my art, but I also like to see what other artists are doing.  Among Jill's many charming ceramic pieces are little ornaments with animal heads.  The bottoms of the ornaments are wrapped with a circle of clay, suggesting some sort of cloak, and she has a few beads dangling from the bottom.

These two little pieces were inspired by Jill's ornaments.  The larger one, the cat, is a bit under 3" tall.  The mold I used for the cat's cloak is one I made from polymer clay impressed with hemlock needles.  The mold I used on the lamb's cloak is a floral rubber stamp, but it was too deep for this purpose.  Although the stamp provided some texture, the image is not at all "readable."

Making these is a captivating process and I imagine I'll make more.

By the way, the eyes, mouth line, and nostril dots are acrylic paint which I applied after the pieces were glazed.  These details are just too small and precise for glaze - at least for me!  Once the acrylic paint dried I covered it with gloss acrylic varnish and it's indistinguishable from the surrounding glazed areas.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Woodland Cross

I made this cross as a birthday present for a friend.  It's about 6" tall and hangs on the wall.  There is a word stamped into each leaf and as you read clockwise from the top right it says "NEW LIFE IN GOD."  I was happy with the sculpting, and surprisingly happy with the way the glaze turned out.  The birds are dark blue and are too dark.  I glazed a bit of a lighter, brighter blue on the tops of their heads and backs and I should have used that color for the whole birds.

I'm in the process of making another one for my Etsy shop.

Goats Need a Shaman Too!

Here are three of my recent greenware animals, with the goat being the newest.  My friend Cathy gave me a sample of a clay she likes which is called "Steve's White" from Alpha Ceramics in Sacramento.  She says it has very little grog (whatever that is!).  I used it for both the goat and the wolf.  It's a low fire clay.  (By the way, the bear is from "Speckled Brown," a stoneware from, a clay which I like very much.)

It was interesting to work with the Steve's White and compare it to the only other low-fire clay I've used which is a Laguna white clay.  I found that Steve's White was wonderful to sculpt with.  It molds smoothly with my fingers or my wood tools  I can get good detail.  And when I scratched the fur detail there were hardly any annoying little blobs accumulating at the sides of the scratches.  On the other hand, when I rolled out the slab for the cloak and then bent it, it cracked a lot - which I didn't like.

As for the piece, I made a squirrel shaman recently which is larger, so I wanted to try something small.  In the back of my mind as I create these pieces I wonder if they could be the basis of a "product line" that would be good in my Etsy shop.  In any case, they're quite fun to make.

In preparation for making the goat's cloak, I made two texture plates from polymer clay using leaves I collected from my property for the designs.  Although I thought the impressions in the polymer were pretty good, they didn't seem to transfer well to this clay, and once I bent the clay the cracking was so bad that I lost the design anyway.  So, for this one, I ended up just using wire spirals to make the impressions, punctuated by little clusters of dots from the end of a brush.

Too bad the process takes so long with the drying time.  I'm anxious to see what he'll look like glazed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Bard is a Wolf

Should a wolf be cute?  Should a bard be cute?  I don't know, but I think this one is.

So here's yet another new piece of clay sculpture.  In other words, another new project to add to my ever-growing collection of the Unfinished!

But the good news is that I think I'll be happy with him.

Actually, I applied the glaze to three small pieces today and will fire them tonight.  So tomorrow I should have something finished to post.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Squirrel Shaman

There are a lot of unfinished projects in the form of greenware and bisque building up around here.  That's because the past three weeks have been difficult and sad.  My dear cat, Starbuck, who is only 6 years old, is dying of liver and pancreatic cancer.  Of course he is my number one priority, but I do take time to do some art and I always seem to choose working with clay.  My sister, who is an MFT, says that clay is the most comforting medium to work with and I guess I'd have to say that that's true.

A few days ago I made this little squirrel shaman.  His cloak is imprinted with leaves and sculpted leaves form the epaulettes and stand-up collar.  I've poked a few holes in the cloak for beading later.  And his left paw is curled so he can hold a staff.  He's just under 6" tall.  The time I spend working on him was a welcome respite from sorrow.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Moon and Stars Bear

I just finished sculpting this "moon and stars" bear.  The new thing I'm trying here is combining two different types of clay in the same piece.  The bear is made from Speckled Brown stoneware from while the moon and starts are made from a white stoneware.  The shrinkage rates are approximately the same and they fire at the same temperatures.  I don't think the difference in the shrinkage rates will be a problem on a piece this small (she's about 7" long) but we'll see.
This bear is hollow.  I began by sculpting the head from a solid piece (except for the ears and nose which are attached) and then I hollowed it out from the neck with a wire sculpting tool.  Next I made the body from a rolled out sheet of clay, leaving an opening at the rear.  I sculpted each of the legs from solid pieces then hollowed them out from the top and attached them to the body.  To finish the assembly, I covered the hole at the rear, added the tail, and poked holes on the upper insides of each of the legs and on the bottom of the body to allow for air expansion.  I then added more clay wherever I thought I needed it and fine-tuned the sculpting.
For texture, I covered the whole piece - except for the muzzle which I want to be relatively smooth - with slip and when it had dried slightly I tapped it all over with my fingertip to raise tiny peaks, like with frosting.  I'm not sure yet whether I'm going to texture the fur with individual strokes.   

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Minor Diversion

I liked the center top motif of my large bear mosaic so much that I thought I'd make a small wall piece with just that single theme.  So here it is, ready for drying.

I'd added two more stars as well as incised embellishment to the crown and "wings" of leaves at her sides.  She also has a little leaf platform to stand on.

One feature that I particularly like is the torn edge.  Surprisingly, clay is difficult to tear!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Bear Mosaic

This photo is not too good, but perhaps you get the idea.  This will be a ceramic mosaic with a bear theme. In this picture, the greenware is drying.  Before I cut it apart, it was 12" wide and 20" tall .  Of course it will shrink, maybe about 12%.
I got the idea because I was thinking about how to make bigger pieces without either investing in a new kiln or taking the pieces out for firing.  One solution - at least for flat-ish wall pieces - seemed to be to construct bigger pieces out of smaller ones.  Hence, a mosaic or collage.  In further developments of this idea, it might be interesting to plan a piece so that the cuts formed a meaningful design in themselves.
The theme of this one is bears.  I especially liked adding the words with alphabet rubber stamps.  The top bear's label is "the priestess wears the starry crown."  The three bears in a row underneath the priestess are labeled "the bears go up the mountain to the ceremony."  The little bear at the lower left is "the dreamer dreams."  The bear in the middle at the right is "the hermit ponders."  And the big bear is "the elder keeps the key to all wisdom."

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Fairy Garden Update

I've done some more work on my fairy garden, so I thought an update would be in order.  Here in the original garden I added a few pieces.  In front of the house to the left is a little bird bath with a black bird in it.  To the right is a gazing ball.  The stand is ceramic while the ball itself is a marble.  But the more complicated piece that I made and added is in the far left, in the "shadow" of the violets - a gazebo.  This little piece is a rustic style.  It has six "posts" which are sculpted to look like branches.  The roof is glazed the same color as the house roof, and the "tiles" are the same style.  But to carry out the rustic style, I added a little leaf at the peak.
But, still, I hadn't had enough!  So I built another 14" x 24" box - the fairy garden extension.

The garden clearly needed a water feature, so here it is, still in progress.  I've sunk an oval pyrex baking dish for the pond and added some luscious mossy rocks that I found by the stream on my property.  The weird construction of flower pots will house the pump with the tube going up through the saucer with the water spilling over the edge. The terracotta pots were surprisingly easy to drill holes through with a masonry bit.  Then I found that I could enlarge the hole with a round wood rasp to just the size I needed for the water tube.  I placed tiny pebbles and larger rocks in the bottom of the "pond," and eventually the ground cover should come right to the edge and effectively cover the glass rim of the dish.

The terracotta pots are a bit unsightly, but I'm hoping to encourage moss to cover them - we'll see.

The little building is another of my stoneware creations.  It was originally intended to be an artist's studio.  The banner over the door says "MAGICK HAPPENS HERE."  I also made the tiny bench in front of the building.  There's a window box below the side window.  I was careful to put holes in the bottom of it for drainage and I'm hoping I can find a plant tiny enough to grow in it - perhaps baby tears.  By the way, to the left, directly below the violet leaf, is a little stoneware lantern on a copper wire "shepherd's hook" holder.

This project has been so fun and satisfying, and I expect the day to day maintenance to continue to be a joy.  I so enjoyed making the little houses that I made one for my sister and two to put in my Etsy shop once I finally get around to taking the photos.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Druid Owl

The little Druid Owl that I sculpted a few weeks ago is now nearly finished.  I don't know if there were any female druids, but I think of her as a she - named Alana. 
As always in my (so far) brief glazing career, it was a challenge.  The hard part is imagining what the colors will become once they're fired and then keeping track of what you put where, especially since so many of the unfired colors are so similar to each other.  For example, the black and one of the buffs are both nearly the same color of red.  And, of course, a mix-up of those two colors would be a real problem!
I tried to detail the eyes with glaze but it didn't work out as well as I had hoped, so I painted over the glaze in the eyes with acrylic paint, and then added two coats of gloss acrylic varnish over the paint so that its finish would fit with the glaze on the rest of the piece.
I really like the glaze on the Celtic knot on her chest.  Although it's a low-fire glaze, it has the look of a sroneware glaze.  I'll have to find out what it is and update this post with that information.
I consider myself a pretty good painter, so when I approached the task of glazing I told myself that I would have to develop a different "painting" style for ceramics.  This piece represents a success for me, so I think I'm on my way.
When I began this post I was thinking that this owl was finished.  But then I remembered I had one more step in mind.  I think you'll find it surprising, so stay tuned!