Monday, July 28, 2008

Patience is a Virtue

I just finished a low fire glaze firing early this afternoon and I am so anxious and excited to see my wares completed.  However, I have to wait until tomorrow morning before cracking the kiln.  

Many folks don't realize just how many steps are involved with pottery and ceramics.  I've always wondered just how many steps there are in making a pot, so here goes.

1- Purchase or recycle clay
2- Soften clay for throwing
3- Wedge clay for throwing
4- Throw pot on the wheel
5- Remove pot from wheel and allow to air dry
6- Trim foot of pot
7- Add handles or stamp impressions etc.
8- Allow pot to dry completely
9- Clean up rough edging marks or bumps
10- Load kiln for bisque firing
11- Bisque fire kiln for 6-8 hours
12- Unload kiln and rinse pots
13- Put wax resist on pots
14- Prepare glazes and glaze pots by dipping or brushing 3 coats
15- Load kiln again for glaze firing
16- Fire kiln for 6+ hours
17- Patiently wait to unload kiln

Okay, there are approximately 17 steps in the basic creation of a pot.  I did not include the methods of recycling clay, cleaning the wheel and equipment, the making of glazes, or the cleaning of the kiln and shelves.  Then there are the additional steps of selling your wares either in shows or online, taking photos, writing listings, figuring out expenses and shipping costs etc.  

I suppose that with anything we do in life there are many steps involved. One of the many aspects of ceramics that I truly appreciate is how it encompasses earth, water, air, fire and metals. If I am not mistaken it is the only craft that encompasses all of those elements.

I'm afraid I patiently have to wait out the night before opening the kiln.  It's my hope that these wares will be 95% successful and then I can take photographs and start my listings on Etsy.

Clay Stamp Crafting for the Home Studio

Alright, I have been pretty lazy lately about my blog and today I was determined to create an entry.  What I didn't expect was that when the inspiration hit I could not get into blogger. After hours of waiting, here I am, finally and my inspiration is lacking.  It could also have a lot to do with the fact that I was out until 2 AM on Saturday morning.  Yep, I still have not recovered from that late night of good conversation and laughter with new friends.  I'm just not used to staying up so late.

Anywho, I really wanted to talk about clay stamp making.  Lately I have been browsing my supply catalogs and seeing a lot of bisque stamps available.  Stamps are on the expensive side but there can be a lot of work involved in making the masters depending on how intricate they are.  I'm the kind of person who enjoys crafting my own clay tools when I can and stamps are something I have been making for years.  

Here's a pretty simple method of crafting your own personalized ceramic bisque stamps for use on pottery and hand built ceramics. This technique will allow you to make the first negative impression of your designs.  Roll out an even slab of smooth earthenware clay, the larger the slab the more designs you can create.  Allow it to air dry for a few hours almost to the point of leather hard stage.  Taking a sharp pencil and draw or carve a design into the leather hard slab. You can pre draw your designs on paper or print them up from your computer.  Simply place the paper on top of the slab and lightly retrace the design with a pencil.  By removing the paper you can then go in and make the lines deeper, tracing allows you to get the line proportions correct.

The pencil or any carving tool will leave behind some rough edging.  After the slab is dry, gently scrape away the raised rough edges with a trimming tool. To remove the clay dust left behind in the carved designs, gently pat the slab with a moist piece of clay.  After this is done you can further clean the edging with a damp soft bristled paint brush.  At this point I recommend you fire your clay slab in the kiln before making positive stamp impressions or you may run the risk of breaking your slab and ruining all of your new designs.  Been there, done that.

To make the positive after the bisque is completed roll out a fresh coil of clay which has a higher moisture content than you would normally use for throwing or hand building, this will limit the cracking around the edges when you make the impression.  Your coil should be approximately 1" thick and  2" long.  Flatten it into the stamp impression allowing yourself a few finger holds.  Another method is to make a flat slab and press it or roll it with a rolling pin into the impression.  After it stiffens up you can remove the excess edging and add a finger hold to the back by slipping and scoring.  Once you create a good impression set it aside to dry and bisque fire your new stamp before using. 

Crafting your own ceramic stamps can be a intricate as you desire just remember that they do not need to be perfect to make a nice impression on your work of art which will be covered with glaze.  

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ye Olde Shanty Shack, Home Sweet Home

It's early, maybe even too early but the chirping Robins outside my window don't care about my rest.  They are too excited for a brand new day to begin,"wake up everyone, the sun is rising!" Chirp, chirp, chirp.

In my morning slumber with a cup of coffee in my hand and notebook in my lap I began to daydream of the days past.  I was thinking about my beginnings in New Mexico, my friendships, freedoms and lessons learned.  My early 20's.  Those were difficult lessons and often they were difficult to swallow.  Equally they were some of the best times I ever had.  I flew with the wind.

Maturity is humorous in retrospect.  In our teens we know everything about everything.  In our 20's we realize we know nothing.  Our sheltered view of the world is not one of reality.  In our 30's we begin to get comfortable in our own skin and learn that it's okay to say no without going into a guilt ridden downward spiral.  Our 40's, well, those lessons are still years away for me.

In my 20's I did something most unexpected and somewhat uncommon compared to others my age.  I packed up and left college due to my many disappointments at the University and found a potter to apprentice with.   He taught me a tremendous amount about clay and firing, his name is Jarrett West.  Jarrett has more spirit and enthusiasm for clay and life than anyone I have ever met. 

In my apprenticeship with the West family, my friend and I needed a place to live.  We were granted permission to put up a tipi or build a temporary structure on their land.  Build a temporary structure we did.  The shanty shack, complete with attached dog shack on the outside.  

The shanty was an 8' X 10' structure that cost us about $80.00 to build and was primarily constructed with recycled building material.  We had scrap pieces of rusted tin complete with multiple holes, plywood, a broken door, old windows and an old gymnasium hardwood floor. The flooring was the centerpiece of the shanty although hardly enough space to play a game of basketball.  Inside we had bunk beds, an old wood stove for heating and cooking, shelving and a milk crate to lounge on.  

Much of our time was spent surviving and taking care of our daily needs.  Gathering firewood in the arroyo, hauling in water by hand, preparing dinner, washing dishes and taking solar showers. Water was most precious and the minimal waste of it was of the utmost importance. There was such a simplicity and honesty in those daily chores, something that takes minutes to do in a conventional home took us hours to complete.  I loved it and in many ways miss the challenges of simple living.

To me, life in the shanty shack was a way of testing myself.  It was a cleansing of my selfish and over indulgent ways and attitudes.  I had to learn that happiness can only be found in your heart and contentedness could only be found within.  Could I survive in the world?  What did I truly need to survive in the world?  In those 6 months that I lived in the shanty shack I learned that I needed water, food, warmth, friendship, good health and love. After that I knew that I would be okay.

As the years have flown by there have many other hardships and challenges in my life. During those times I reflect on the shanty with fondness and remind myself that I have what I need.  Someway, somehow, as I am getting older and a smidgen wiser my life has become more complicated and my responsibilities greater.  I'm still figuring out who I am and what I desire but one certainty is that I have what I need and more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Inexpensive shelving for your craft space

Okay, I have been slacking on my blogging lately.  It's not because I am lazy, simply that life has been a little chaotic these last few weeks. 

I recently participated in a clean your craft space day forum on Etsy and someone commented on my shelving.  It's not pretty or perfect but it is functional as well as inexpensive to build.  I have over 78 feet of shelving space that cost less than $100.00 to construct.

Somethings you will need for this time consuming project.

1- A handy guy or woman, if you are not.
2- A circular saw, a drill press, electric drill, a pipe cutter or a jig saw, tape measure, safety gear.
3- 2' X 4's,  3/4" conduit pipe, 2 1/2" sheet metal screws and MDF shelves or MDF sheets, you can also substitute 3/4" thick plywood for the MDF if you can afford it.

Construction needs to happen outside due to metal chipping and sawdust.  If you have ever cut MDF you know what I am taking about, it's made from sawdust and it makes a ton of sawdust.  For shelving that is longer that 5 feet expect your MDF to warp a little.

Basically the the 2" X 4"s screw into the studs of your wall and act as peg holders.  The conduit pipe pieces are your pegs and the MDF or plywood is your removable shelf. 

Most importantly you need to know what kind of shelving is appropriate for your craft. How much space do you have available? How much height do you need between shelves? How many studs, pipe pieces and shelf footage do you need?

For example, we are going to create 6 shelves that are 4 feet in length and 10" wide and spaced 1 foot apart.  For this project you will need two 2' X 4' X 8's, Twelve pieces of conduit pipe that are 11" in length (11 feet of piping), six shelves that are 10" wide and 4 feet in length which can be cut out of a 4' X 8' piece of MDF or plywood.

Begin with the pipe cutting , 12 pieces 11" in length.  You will need a jig saw with a metal blade to cut these or a pipe cutter.  A round file or dremel tool is also good to deburr the ends. The tricky part is the drilling of the 2" X 4"s.  Take into consideration whether or not you have baseboard in your measurements as well, you will need to screw the studs above the baseboard. You really need a drill press for this part, drill the holes in the center spaced 1 foot apart, slightly smaller than the width of the conduit pipe and know which end is the bottom and the top of the stud.  After the holes are drilled, pound in the conduit pipe pieces.  There should be approximately 9 1/2" of pipe sticking out of the stud ready to support a 10" wide shelf.  Now you need to screw the studs into the wall studs.  Often times these are spaced on 16" centers if you're lucky.  And lastly place your shelves on top of the pegs and your ready to begin filling them up and asking for more shelving.

It's an in depth process that requires resourcefulness and know how if your not a talented carpenter.  Even though mine are not perfect, no surface in our home is level or square (old 1800's house) I do appreciate not living out of boxes anymore.  Of course, an easier method would be to simply purchase 12 heavy duty shelf brackets.  Nothing in my life is ever that simple, it's just how I am.  I am a process and learn kind of gal.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Couch Potato

This is how I am feeling today.  I kind of wonder if I wouldn't be better off simply relaxing on the couch than attempting any more projects today.  It's just that nothing is coming together no matter how hard I fight against it.  Hmm. 

I could give it one more try...