Mold Making!

Inspired by the recent factory tours in Stoke I have done this year and my love of Kate Malone’s work (her Instagram #Kate_Malone_Ceramics is great by the way! I bought one of her famous pumpkins that featured in her Waddesdon Manner exhibition this year during her open studio – photos on my Instgram #pstratfordceramics) I have long wanted to make my own mold. But it looks messy and a little complicated. And messy it is, but complicated less so, as I found out!

Until this weekend despite my desire to make a plaster mold, I hadn’t actually found something I wanted to create and repeat multiple times. More often than not the same thing can be hand built to the same dimensions using the same templates and tools. However this weekend I came across my first Munchkin pumpkin! Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t the first time I’d ever seen one, but they aren’t usually for sale in the local supermarket and if they are they’re priced at something ridiculous. However these ones were just £1! And were beautiful. Sumptuous, perfectly shaped and a gorgeous deep orange colour. I had to have one! (Two. I bought two).

Now that I had an object of desire I wanted to reproduce (channelling my inner Malone) I needed some plaster. As you may have read in earlier posts, I’m used to working with plaster to make wedging boards and my local art shop, which is usually quite pricey, sells 2.5kg buckets of plaster of paris for £7.95. Which isn’t too bad – online it can be a little cheaper but postage usually brings it to around £10 or so. Plus the wait. And impatient I certainly am! So I ran down to the art shop to purchase my plaster – but they were out of stock! They only had 1kg bag left. After a little friendly chat and explanation of what I was doing, they very kindly said they had a couple of kilos in the warehouse which they could bring in the next day and even more kindly said that because of the wait, I could have 3kg for the price of 2.5kg – woo hoo!

I headed back home one happy potter. The next stage was a little tricky however.

I knew I needed to cast the pumpkin in a container, as I don’t have the wooden molds that you see in the videos online or blogs. Hmm. I also knew I needed to re-use the mold in order to get the same shape for both sides, or have two disposable molds. HMMMM. After a lot of thinking and trying out of cardboard, chopping boards, emptying food and trying to find matching shapes, I came across a bucket container I had from a previous batt wash purchase. The bucket was perfect in shape, not too big and not too small, and tall enough to fit the clay, the munchkin and the plaster. Sorted!

In order to make extraction possible, I lined the container with a plastic bag before putting in a clay base, then building up clay around my munchkin. It was tricker than I had thought to get a nice smooth, even surface. I had previously marked the halfway point of the pumpkin with black marker, so that I knew where to bring the clay up to. It also occurred to me it’d be incredibly difficult to remove once set due to the air vacuum, so I poked a hole down one side. This could also serve as a marker so I knew which way to line up the molds when casting. I read about needing to ‘soap’ the item as well, to make sure it released easily from the plaster. I wasn’t sure what ‘soaping’ was, I understood the concept and read about people using some specialist kind of soap or oil… I just went for the fairy liquid, diluted just a tiny bit, and tried to be careful to keep the bubbles to a minimum.

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Evertyhing was working out wonderfully! Until..

I mixed up half the plaster (500g) with approx half a pint of water. It immediately went into little rocks. CRAP. I hurredly tried to add more water… didn’t work… pass it through a sieve… didn’t work… perhaps it would be fine?! I poured it over the munchkin.

3 hours later it still had not set.

I scrapped the custard like mix out and started again. This time, I thought, I’ll sieve the plaster before it goes in the water and I’ll be really accurate with my measurements.

For a second time in just a few hours, the plaster was slopped off the top and thrown in the bin. I was annoyed. I’ve used plaster many times before. What was I doing wrong? It hadn’t behaved like nay plaster I’d used before.

The next morning I wandered down to the art shop to collect my two extra kilos. I wasn’t looking forward to this – what if the plaster behaved exactly like the last attempts? I spoke to the store manager and he said, helpfully, to follow the instructions. I couldn’t be mad I felt, because they’d given me 0.5kg plaster for free. But it didn’t matter how much I paid, if the product didn’t work. On the way home I did some googling and read that if the plaster was damp it can create these pebble like beads and is essentially unusable. I think this must be what had happened – it described the condition of the plaster accurately. Perhaps this last bag had been sat on the shelf for a long time in damp conditions. Who knows.

Nonetheless I persevered on, determined to cast my Munchkin.

This time I went for the full kilo and one pint of water.. straight away, the plaster felt different in my hand as I mixed it, and I knew I was on to a winner! I poured the plaster over my munchkin and it set beautifully in less than 10mins. WHOOOPPEEEEEEEEEE!!

The plastic bag trick worked well and I was able to remove my clay and plaster easily. I turned it upside down and pulled the clay off – and out came the munchkin! OH NO. OUT CAME THE MUNCHKIN. I knew if I wanted make the second cast, I’d need to try and line up the pumpkin. Arse.

I used the shape of the stalk of the munchkin to line up the second clay setting as best I could. The fairy liquid seemed to have worked well last time, so I repeated that process by painting on a few layers of soap and letting them dry. The final kilo of plaster worked perfectly as well, and before I knew it – I had made my first casts!

The edges were a little untidy and the two surfaces a little uneven, so I used the grater tool (that’s definitely not its proper name) to neaten up the edges and smooth out the top surfaces.

 

 

I let the plaster molds dry a little more and in the afternoon I had a go at making my first munchkin!

I made two discs of clay and pressed them into the mold. I added a little extra for the stalk side, evened out the edges, scored, slipped, stuck the two together and smoothed out the join. As you can see the clay munchkin is a little smaller than the real one, but I was really happy with how it turned out! I think it might be smaller because I trimmed down the edges before putting the two halves together. It seemed to have lost some of the volume of the original munchkin.

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This morning I had another go at making a munchkin. I did the same work with two even discs of clay but this time, I worked up the edges a little – in the photo below, the first munchkin is on the left and the second is on the right. I’m really happy with both to be honest!

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The biggest problems I experienced were with the plaster (but I think I know why now) and finding a suitable reusable mold shape.

Of course before they’re fired they’ll need a hole poked in the bottom of them, and they’re a little late to be ready in time for halloween, but overall I’m really happy with how they went and I’ll happily make as many munchkins as I can over the next few weeks! I’m thinking I can cut out some faces or use underglaze to paint them different colours and spooky designs. Of course I’ll post the results when they’re finished!

Now I just need to find something else worth casting..

Happy Halloween!

PS xx

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Two Glazes:One pot!

Earlier this year I wanted to make some high contrast pots. I invested in some Amaco Potters Choice glazes. However my lighter colour choice, toasted sage, came out more grey than white.

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I decided that the Amaco Celadons, which can be used with the Potters Choice looked a lot like the Mayco Foundations glazes I have and thought I might try out a combination piece! I did two layers of Mayco and two of Amaco and fired at the higher Amaco glaze temperature and I’m really happy with the results!

One little bowl and two espresso cups

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The glazes are Mayco Milk Bottle White, Amaco Seaweed (green) and Indigo Float (blue).

This was the contrast effect I was looking for with the bowl and mugs I made for my work colleagues – but at least now I know for the future how to get the glaze effect I want!

PS xx

Second glazing

Following on from my single firing post – where the glazed greenware came out in one piece, but the glaze hadn’t been quite as dynamic as I had hoped… I re-glazed everything and fired again!

In order for the glaze to take well I heated the mugs/bowls etc using a hair dryer and added thin layers of extra glaze, two extra coats in total. I also added an extra stripe of green or blue as the best interaction was between the indigo float and seaweed.

I don’t think the toasted sage Amaco Potters Choice glaze is a great one for encouraging movement and interaction between the two glazes, in the same way the tenmoku glaze is, but nonetheless I am much happier with the results so I thought I’d share a couple of before and after photos!

Here is an example of the mug, with an added stripe of blue:

And this is the bowl!

I like the green seaweed and the indigo float, but I want to find a better base for the two of them. The range seems to focus on darker under coats, which wasn’t what I was after. The only other lighter colour seems to be oatmeal which is quite yellow-y from the picture.

Actually the toasted sage comes out quite grey as the photos show, which in of itself is a lovely tone but wasn’t as light as I’d hoped it to be. But at least now I know I have a nice grey glaze – so every cloud has a silver (toasted sage!) lining!

A couple more things using this glaze combination and tenmoku in my etsy shop – check it out!

PS xx

Single firing

First of all, to clear up an issue from the previous post. I soaked my flaky kiln shelf and used a steel wire scrubber to remove the flaky batt wash and it worked like a dream! I thinned my batt wash with water to the consistency of skimmed milk and reapplied a thin layer and left it to dry. My kiln shelves look as good as new!

And now to single firing. I had used this technique when I made a birdbath as I was tight on time. The Mayco glazes are pretty steady with no movement at all. They also give a pretty good colour and coverage with just two thin coats. I glazed greenware and single fired the birdbath and it came out great. However I didn’t know how this technique would work with Amaco glazes.

I did a lot of throwing last weekend knowing that I wanted to use my Amaco glazes. However when I looked at my pyrometric bars, I saw I only had one or two bisque temp bars left! My little Olympic Kiln is old skool with a manual ramp dial and kiln sitter. So with precious bisque bars in short supply I thought about single firing my thrown mugs and bowls.

Amaco Potter’s Choice glazes mix and move and create beautiful effects but in order to do so, you need to apply 2, 3 even 4 coats depending on the thickness. I let my pieces dry to leather-hard and applied two coats of Toasted Sage then two coats of Indigo Float and two of Seaweed on alternate pieces. With all the glaze on they took a long time to dry but I was patient. I didn’t want to add too much because I didn’t want them running and ruining my lovely new clean kiln shelves.

I managed to pack the kiln with 3 layers and get everything in! And as I was doing a single firing I did a really slow low heat before raising the temp after an hour or two.

I fired to cone 5 and it took longer than expected to get to temperature, but it did get there in the end! I left the kiln to cool and opened up the lid holding my breath..

..Everything was in one piece! fantastic. But the glaze? ..it looked dull and thin. Not like Amaco at all and obviously not the effect I was hoping for!

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The only ones that looked decent were the two pots I used the tenmoku on first. I was hoping the Toasted Sage would be a little lighter than the grey but then again I hadn’t done a test tile and trying to guess colours from the Internet isn’t a good idea.

I admit I was a little disappointed but it’s all part of the learning process! I think overall I was happy that my single firing worked, it was just a lack of experience with Amaco glazes that meant I didn’t add enough layers.

I am confident that should I want to single fire again I could achieve results close to what I wanted.

I spent this morning re-glazing my mugs and bowls for a second firing! At least it won’t need such a long slow ramp as the mugs ceramic now but I still don’t want to rush and risk an exploding kiln! I added more layers of each glaze but also more stripes of Indigo Float and Seaweed. The colours look great when they interact so hopefully this will achieve that effect.

20170805_145347 Once they’re dry I will fire them again, sometime early this week if not tomorrow and post the final results!

I guess I’m must also admit that I’m keen to get single firing experience as it saves a lot on the electricity bill!! And if it produces the effect you want, then why not single fire? My only advice is to make sure your pieces are dry as a bone before firing and then allowing a long slow ramp. I was advised to leave extra clay clean from glaze to allow gas to escape from ghee clay body, but I just left the bottoms clean as usual and this was fine.

Happy potting!

PS xx

Update & Etsy site

Hello friends,

It’s been a flurry of pottery related lovely things these past few weeks! I must have watched every episode of The Great Pottery Throw Down at least four times, SB’s studio is back up and running one evening a week and there has been lots of buzz on social media about pottery with the new Turning Earth facility open, KBJ attending lots of events in London and the new Clay Craft magazine on the shelves!

A veritable schmorges board of pottery related paraphernalia for enthusiasts new and old.

I’ve also been busy making, throwing & glazing! So much so that our little home has pots and vases and cups and plates and trinket boxes stacked up on every shelf & flat surface. Normally I give things away to friends and relatives but increasingly people are asking to buy them – which is very flattering! But knowing that I only started making pottery about two years ago and considering myself very much a hobbyist (AND seeing all the weaknesses of a pot rather than the strengths); I have always said no. I thought I would feel embarrassed selling my work because I know I have not yet mastered the skills to produce something of true quality. I love making and I am proud of what I make, but I have enough self awareness to acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses.

Having said all that! Space is a premium for a home potter and an increasing appetite for glazes and tools comes at a cost. Therefore I have taken the plunge and set up an Etsy page. To tackle my insecurities, I have created a cheap, generic price structure (small items £5, medium £10 and large £15) and outlined what I think are the strengths and weaknesses of each item in the descriptions.

The idea is to clear space and put any money towards covering costs of clay, glaze & firing.

At the moment items are listed with 2nd class UK postage only (as I am familiar with this price and who doesn’t love cheap postage) but if anyone outside of the UK wants something then we can look into alternative postage options.

So I guess a link to my page would be useful, right? Well here it is

PStratford Ceramics

I’ll add items as I go and adjust pricing when appropriate but hopefully you might see something you like and a little something that I made finds a home!

I can’t believe it. I’ve set up an Etsy page!

PS X

Botz Glaze Review

Bots glazes! Thick brush on glaze that can give a punchy colour, but that can also be sensitive and shift around or not come out as expected. Botz were the first glazes I used because these were the glazes SB had in her studio and they are affordable at around £5-13 depending on the supplier and size of pot.

I began by buying ‘Black Blue Speckle’ and ‘Ice Crystal’. However I used them on two pieces that had quite a lot of detail and these were ultimately swamped I felt and the overall effect did not bring out the detail in a way I had hoped. The Black Blue colour had been as expected but the Ice Crystal had given a more sandy, beige effect rather than the white/blue speckle I had been hoping for. These items were made at home and fired at SB’s studio.

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When I fired the Ice Crystal at home however, it gave a dramatically different effect! This is exactly the same glaze as the top white pot, but fired by myself to cone 9 (1260 oC).

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I used the Black Blue again on a coffee jar with a white from SB’s studio and this was much more successful I felt.

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With my confidence restored a little, I decided to buy a couple more Botz glazes from Bath Potters as they were offering 10% off for first time customers. So, I decided to buy a Basalt Grey and a satin matt white called Creme. I didn’t have time to do testers and so used the glazes on some thrown pieces I did recently, and a couple of left over stars from Christmas to be used as testers.

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Overall I was reasonably happy with out the pieces came out, however the Basalt Grey was really more brown. I was surprised as I painted it on quite thickly for two coats. I didn’t think I would be able to get a third coat on without it pulling away, however perhaps that’s just what it needed to reach that deep stoney grey colour.

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Overall I find the Botz glazes to give good coverage and depth of colour (holding judgement on Basalt Grey), however they are far less predictable than say the Mayco and you use up much more glaze per coat than the thinner applying Mayco. For example air bubbles appeared in the white and in one area it completely shifted away from the ceramic underneath – there must have been grease or something on the clay, as I’ve no idea why this would have happened. The white also showed brush strokes in some areas, which I found with the Ice Crystal and grey as well, wheres this was not the case with the Black Blue. I had hoped the colours would interact between the gray/blue and white more, but this didn’t really happen.

Overall I like Botz glazes, however I think to get the desired effect I need to spend more time with testers and experimenting with firing at different temperatures. I would definitely buy them again but they are less versatile in terms of mixing and layering. (Perhaps they aren’t, if you have a different experience please let me know!). They also obscure surface texture quite a lot due to the thick layering required, but the colours can be striking and have a depth and quality to them that I really love.

Mayco Glaze Review

I said a few months ago I would review the glazes I bought before Christmas and despite having used them and put a few posts up, I haven’t given my opinion on how they work, their colour, their versatility, or overall effect.

So this is what I am hoping to get across now! Of course these are just my opinions and I hope I have explained them properly but please feel free to comment and agree or disagree! And obviously with all ceramics, so much with the glaze depends on the application, layering and how long they are fired to and what temperature. I will explain these as I go along, in order to give you the clearest idea of my making process!

So. Where to begin. Well, before Christmas I was looking to build up a glaze collection (formerly only owning two Botz glazes – review here) with glazes that were versatile and reliable. I took to Twitter and Mayco glazes were recommended as reliable, even in coverage, less-drippy and forgiving for want of a better word.

I decided to go for the Mayco Foundations glazes, Sheer. I hoped with these glazes I would be able to intermix the colours and any stamp/texture decoration would come through. My experience from the Botz glazes, which are heavier, thicker glazes, was that the decoration was often lost. I bought 5 tubs:

  1. Milk Glass White
  2. Clearly Jade
  3. Blue Diamond
  4. Sooty Grey
  5. Crystal Coral

I also bought three ‘Designer Liners’, white, red and green.

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In one of my first firings at home I did some colour testers and following the recommendations on the bottles, did a gradient of 1-3 layers. All the colours were a little less bold than expected despite the recommended 3 layers, but overall I was happy with them apart from the Crystal Coral. The first picture here shows the Blue Diamond tester with 1-3 layers of glaze and the one below in my hand shows 4 colours (except Milk Glass White) in 4 layer stripes. The second image shows Crystal Coral on my tester and the third square image shows how Crystal Coral looks online. As you can see, it is much more pink and vibrant. In reality, the Crystal Coral even with 4 layers, was no where near this colour. In hindsight if I had wanted a more vibrant pink, perhaps I should have gone for Floral Pink. In these instances the glazes were fired to cone 04 so perhaps 06 would have made a difference, I don’t know.

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Despite being a little more ‘sheer’ than I anticipated and the coral colour being more clear/white than pink, the glazes behaved really well in the kiln! They were easy to apply, they give a thin layer which can be built up to the desired thickness which as I have said, can significantly change the depth and boldness of the colour. They are a really steady glaze to work with and were great for my Christmas decorations!

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I also used the designer liners one a few items. These are clay based glazes (or does that make them slips?) that you can use to add fine detail to something. I found that without adding a clear glaze on top (for which I just used a single layer of Milk Bottle White) they flattened and were matt against an otherwise shiny background. The flow of the green was much better than the white for some reason, but the green smudged with a thin layer of white on top – or perhaps the white did too but it wasn’t visible. Regardless you certainly need a steady hand as they don’t budge an inch! I found the green to be more successful than the white overall. The white looked a little like Tippex in my opinion… But they are definitely useful for accentuating detail.

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Finally I tried to use the glaze for the bubble effect, (inside the grey cup with the green detail). I knew it was a long shot and I was right – it didn’t really have the desired effect, but it is certainly a technique I’ll try again in the future.

Overall these glazes, for the most part, do what they say on the tin. They don’t shift or move when firing, they can be layered, are easy to apply and accentuate detail nicely. They are very much a safe option and a little goes a long way. For me, I was hoping they would be a little bolder and the colours as strong as their depictions online, but then that’s always the trouble with buying something you haven’t seen or used before online!

In terms of value for money, I bought 1 pint (472ml) pots for roughly £15 including VAT from PotClays which was pretty much a standard price across the different sites. PotClays are expensive for delivery however, starting at just under £10 (whereas Scarva for example, adjust to the weight of the item and can be as little as £2) which is a shame. The PotClays people are really lovely to deal with and quick to communicate. If their postage was cheaper I would buy more from them as their website and range is pretty great compared to other sites, but I know they are also a family business and need support and so I try to buy from them when I seem them at events.

Overall, I’d definitely buy Mayco again, but I’d explore their other glaze options before buying more of the Foundations Sheer range.

PS xx