Christmas Goodies!

It’s Christmas! I think it’s finally safe to say… and as such, I have been making Christmas themed goodies! All hand made by yours truly. Check out my Etsy Shop!

Christmas Tree decorations! Two for £5. Two designs in four colours:

20171206_195414

20171206_200508

Snowflake Vases (20cm tall) £20 each!

24291445_2006677039621821_950171526384416343_o

And a load of other lovely things including bowls, vases and mugs!

PS xx

Advertisements

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.

20171028_111819.jpg

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.

IMG_20171028_214200_023.jpg

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!

20171030_095957.jpg

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

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.

IMG_20170809_201507_105

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

IMG_20170917_084302.jpg

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!

20170805_145327

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

Throwing and Kiln shelf issues!

During the week I very nearly signed up to an intensive throwing class… it was far away and expensive. But I really want to improve my throwing. However money is tight at the moment and so rather than spend the time and money going somewhere else, I thought I should try and have a good few sessions at home! I was hoping that the sun would be out and I’d be able to save the mess in the house by throwing outside… but no. It’s rained on and off all weekend.

Nonetheless! I got my little table top Shimpo out of the toilet in the garden and cut out about 8-10 chunks of 500g clay, and two 750 chunks. I wanted to throw some mugs and a couple of bowls.

Throwing, unlike previous times, went well! I’ve really tried to put into practice what I have been told and seen online on youtube and Instagram. Gus the Pothead is one of my favourites on Instagram, I’d definitely recommend checking out his throwing videos!

I managed to make eight mugs about the same shape and size. I wired them off and then let them dry a little on the bat. I think I might be going wrong here – should I be taking them off the bat straight away? Two got damaged when I was trying to take them off so I let them dry a little. Any advice on taking things off the bat would be appreciated! What works for you?

I threw two more mugs and then my bowls suffered a similar fate as the two mugs – they completely collapsed as I was trying to take them off the bat. It was so frustrating! I finally managed to throw another large bowl and keep it. But I did as I described earlier, I wired it off and let it dry out a little before moving it off the bat.

My plan is to glaze at greenware stage with Amaco Potters Choice and do a single firing. However herein lies my next issue. My kiln shelves are flaking! The bat wash flakes off and falls onto a pot. How do I stop this happening? Does bat wash come off with water or do I need to do something else to remove it all? I read perhaps a very thin coat is better than a thick one… Please! I don’t want to ruin the cups and bowl I’ve thrown this weekend. And as SB’s studio is closed I don’t have another kiln to use!

Love in advance

PS xxx

Coiling (& Raku preparation)!

Apologies for the long delay in posts, life has gotten extremely busy. Working full time and taking care of a family doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Access to SB’s studio has been on and off as well due to similar circumstances. However the last week or so has seen some pottery action!

We are doing a raku firing in about a week, which meant making a couple of pieces early enough to have them bisque fired, glazed and dry enough in good time!

I have grown in confidence in my slab building however coiling is probably my weakest skill. Therefore I decided to take the opportunity to try and get better at coiling whilst preparing some items for a raku firing – two birds; one stone!

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to keep a coherent shape when coiling. Perhaps I’m working with the clay too wet? Should I be waiting until the clay is drier before coiling? The pot seems to sag and lose shape. Getting the sides smooth inside and out is tricky too. Perhaps my coils are too thin as well.. Any tips or advice would be great!

I read in Clay Craft about using a former to begin the piece and then to coil on top of this. This was more successful, but still not easy!

Nonetheless I created a few items – a coiled bottle, two coiled bowls using a former for the base and then an orb using two pieces shaped using the former. I shaped one of the bowls into a triangular shape just to mix things up a bit!

SB had created about six or seven glazes for the firing. I dipped items, used tape to keep parts of the clay clean, brushed on glaze and dripped it to create movement! Hopefully this will mean I get a lot of contrast between the colourful glazed areas and the naked clay, which will go black in the firing. Plunging the hot pieces into a bin of sawdust and paper will also affect the colours, so I will consider how to create as much reduction as possible before the big day!

I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of the glazed items, but we’re doing the raku firing on the 22nd July so I’ll take as many photos as possible.

SB’s studio is now closed for the summer but I bought a new bag of clay, so I’m hoping to get back to throwing and building more regularly over the next few weeks – and blogging of course!!

As ever, keep up to date with my comings and goings on Instagram and keep an eye on my etsy page for some lovely things!

P Stratford xx