Sunday, December 30, 2007

What happens when you play Dirty Santa

You get stuck with the St. Bernard Head Slippers. That's my dad being a good sport about what he won in our family's Dirty Santa exchange. He even promised us that he'll wear them to work tomorrow. (Dad, are you reading? We will be checking so don't conveniently forget!)

I was far more fortunate, having won the Books-a-Million gift card. It did come with one of those sproingy Santa hats, and the requirement that it had to be worn when using the card. I suspect the only thing that kept me from having it taken was pity. On the first day in Alabama my mother accidentally backed into my car. On the second day, I walked into one of my father's baseball bats and broke my toe. So I guess after that, no one had the heart to stick me with the stuffed, singing penguins.

And now we are back home in Charlotte. It's technically still Christmas for us, and will be for another week, but I am already looking ahead to work and the New Year. I finally reclaimed the studio from its Christmas rush chaos, and have all my horses and references on the table and the underglazes mixed, so I am ready to hit the ground running. Well, painting at least. (Running isn't working so good for me right now.)

I do hope all my customers and colleagues have had a good holiday season filled with fun and family. I'm looking forward to all that 2008 will bring. And now I've got a humiliating hat to wear while I buy some books - online, where no one will see me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A present I can share

I haven't posted to the blog as much this month, mostly because I have been working on so many things that I cannot share without spoiling some Christmas surprises. But I can share this one, since it's a gift for my oldest friend and I'm pretty sure she doesn't read the blog. (Guess I'll find out if I'm mistaken!)

This is the first of the pendant-sized pony medallions that I have done in a realistic glaze, and I am really happy with it. The green and coral stones in the necklace are unakite, a semiprecious stone common here in the Carolinas. I was especially happy with how well they tied in with the colors in the pendant.

After I finished this piece, I was really tempted to do some of the tiny ponies (5/8") in realistic glazes. But I waited a bit, and came to my senses!

Friday, December 14, 2007

It's getting hot in here

I often spend December making gifts for my friends and family. The month is always full of interruptions which make the kind of focused work I usually do difficult, but small experiments work well. This year one of those experiments was working with some stoneware clay. I had ordered some Silver Falls Porcelain from Georgies, which was advertised as a true porcelain that fired at the lower stoneware temperature.

What I wanted to make were small beads and tiny tiles for my mother to use as embellishments on her handmade cards. For those that have seen the Somerset Studio family of magazines, that is the type of collage art my mother makes. I've given her small test tiles and glazed beads in the past, but she's tended to hoard them. My thinking was that if I filled a tote bag full of them, she might not see them as so rare and valuable and might actually use them. But I guessed that the number required to reach that tipping point would be pretty high, so slipcasting wasn't going to work. At two castings per mold per day, I was going to be a long time making little trinkets!

That's where the moist stoneware clay came in. Instead of pouring liquid clay into molds, I could just flatten out the moist clay and stamp designs onto it. Thanks to my mother's interests, I had a stash of ready-made rubber stamps. (In hindsight, I wish I had started my project early enough to have made stamps from my own artwork. Maybe next year!)

The clay took the stamped image beautifully. Afterwards I just cut the design out from the piece of clay with a cookie cutter, removed the excess clay and allowed it to dry there on the table. The clay had a wonderful buttery, soft feel to it that reminded me of the high-talc content slip we use to make the horses.

My only problem was in rolling it flat. Working that small, any uneven areas become really visible. That's when I decided to see if running it through a pasta machine might work.

As you can see in this picture, it worked just fine! Every now and again I had to rub a little vegetable oil on the rollers, and then run a folded paper towel through to soak up any excess, or the clay would begin to tear apart as it went through. But otherwise it was the perfect solution.

The only downside was that firing to 2167° instead of my normal 1945° made my little studio unbearably hot for a very long time. I keep currently active plaster molds on a shelf at that end of the room, and when the kiln reached 2000° all the rubber bands broke and went sailing through the air! I had just walked in to (nervously) check the kiln when it happened, so I now have a few more gray hairs. I can move the molds (or expect to duck when things get hot enough), but I'm not sure that stoneware is practical with my current setup.

My mother's trinkets did turn out nicely, though. I forgot to get a picture of them before I wrapped them up in her tote, but maybe later I can post some pictures of the cards she makes. (Instead of the decorative jars where she stores the previous ones I have made.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Seeing things anew

Or... Is my website really that shade of eye-popping violet?

This is getting to be a rather unwelcome tradition, but I have once again had to replace my computer during the holidays. The technicians pronounced my (eight month old) laptop unworthy of repair and issued a credit. At least by now I am well-trained when it comes to backing things up. But after five laptops in six years, we decided that perhaps returning to a desktop model was a good idea. With one of those spiffy new LCD flat-screen monitors, it could even fit on the desk in the kitchen.

But boy do the colors on websites look different! What was a pleasant, rich purple on my laptop is rather garish and way too close to magenta for my taste. Hopefully it's just that way on this end, and I haven't been unwittingly assaulting my customers eyes for months.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Holiday Season

This past Sunday was the start of Advent, so the holiday season is here. I am one of those annoying people that just really loves the holidays, so I always look forward to Advent. I consider permissible to play Christmas music after the start of Advent. (In hopes of not becoming one of those crazy old ladies that keeps teddy bears dressed like Santa and plays Christmas music all year round, I set limits for myself.)

Normally I close the studio down for the season, and focus on making gifts for family and friends. I haven't done that this year, mostly because I have too many work projects that have fallen behind. But I have been trying to squeeze in a little time for gift-making. This Celtic Pony got to be the guinea pig for a new crackle glaze I wanted to use on some of the gifts.

(Ooo - the big model horse photography no-no! I took his picture on the back deck!)

Unlike the glazes we use on the horses, glazes like that are supposed to craze. They start doing it almost immediately after you pull them from the kiln. And they are loud about it, making the most alarming pinging sounds. (Exactly the kind of sound a collector doesn't want to hear.) Most of the sounds are done within the first little while the piece is out, but they do seem to save a few pings for later in the day, after you've forgotten the piece is there.

Once they finish the cracks get tinted with mineral spirit oil. It's really messy and rather smelly.

(The scary part about this photo is that the other hand is holding the camera. What was I thinking?)

I liked the effect, but decided that it probably wasn't going to work for my gifts. The smell seems to linger for a while. I'm told it eventually goes away, but I'm going to be cutting it too close with my production. I'd hate to hand someone a gift bag and have them toss it out because it smelled like something inside had turned! It's bad enough that they end up with horse-related things all the time. So remember when you get something scary for Christmas, for every horse collector out there with family who give them really ugly horse-shaped knick-knacks because they know they "collect little toy horses", I have a friend or family member thinking, "Oh. A... horse. How... umm, nice."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The best laid plans

I had hoped to test out Etsy and some of the new giftware this holiday season. Unfortunately, my laptop was not on board with this program. In its defense, it had been sending me signals for some time that it was not up to long hours and tight deadlines. (Needing to give a little diagonal torque to the monitor to remove white noise from the screen is not usually considered a good sign.)

I did learn from my adventure during the last holiday season, so at least all my data is on a separate hard drive. But the programs I use for photos and website updates are all on their way to wherever it is that computers go for hardware fixes these days. I don't know where that is (other than the fact that it is not, apparently, Charlotte!), but it is a place where they don't seem to know about same day service or next day shipping. The closest estimate I could get was "a few weeks" and "we'll call you".

So I am retreating to the studio to play with clay. Nice, simple, never-needs-a-technician clay!

Friday, November 23, 2007

The new shop!

I Took The Handmade Pledge!

Today was the day I planned to open my new Etsy shop with some of the ceramic giftware I have been making here in the studio. I am now questioning the wisdom of planning a grand opening - or a grand anything! - for the holiday season. The items have been made for a long time now, but I sure didn't allow for enough time to get photos and write descriptions, nevermind learn a new interface. There are just a few things in the store at the moment, but more will be added as I get the listings set up.

And if you haven't explored Etsy yet, please do. As my little badge above shows, I have taken the "Buy Handmade Pledge" this year. Or perhaps I should say I've taken a partial pledge, and will be getting handmade items for most of the women in my life. (Guys are too hard to do this for!) In a world full of out-sourcing and questionable items made in distant countries, it seems like a small, positive step I can take. And Etsy is one of the best places to find unusual, handmade items.

I'll leave off with a picture of the chaos I created while I was working on some of the jewelry destined for the Etsy shop.

Belated Thanksgiving wishes

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I know - I'm a day late. I need all the holidays to be like the Anglican version of Christmas. A twelve day spread gives you a lot of room to fudge things!

We had a lovely holiday here. We spent the morning installing a saddle rack at the new barn. Or rather, my husband installed it while the boys and I visited all the horses and enjoyed the fall leaves (we are just a week or so past peak color) and the unusually warm weather. And now I have a polished wood rack that collapses to save space. The joys of German craftsman husbands!

Afterwards we went home to prepare the feast. Some years ago I had set up an Election Day poll to teach my oldest son (then six or seven) about voting. Since it was early November, we voted on the main dish for Thanksgiving. It was so popular that it has now become a family tradition. Alan and I form the nominating committee that draws up the ballot. Nomination committe members have to be over the age of 30 so we don't end up having pizza and pasta for Thanksgiving. Sometimes we end up with the traditional turkey, but often it is something less common. The most consistent winner has been Cornish game hens, which are referred to in our family as TPCs (Tiny Personal Chickens). This year ham was a first-time winner.

I had never cooked a ham before. I figured it couldn't be hard, after all the thing is technically already cooked! And it was easy, but I sure did miscalculate when I bought it. A ten-pound turkey and a ten-pound ham are two very different things! Needless to say, we'll be looking for a lot of creative ham recipes. Or Emma is going to be a very happy dog.

I hope all my friends and customers had an equally good holiday (and a more reasonable level of leftovers). One of the things I listed as being thankful for was the chance to do what I most love for a living, and to do so surrounded by people whose company I enjoy and whose qualities I admire. Not enough people are so blessed. So thank you to all who make that possible for me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Veering off into horse color again...

Model horse folks will probably recognize this picture as the infamous "skjevet" Fjord. The picture comes from Dutch book De Haarkleur bij Het Paard, written by Reiner Geurts and published in 1973. Geurts refers to this as a "unique form of spotting with large white marks" that was "found in Norway, among certain strains of Fjord horses".

I have long suspected that this "unique form of spotting" was in fact tobiano. The description given in the book sounds like tobiano, especially when you factor in how the pattern behaves in other Nordic breeds like the Shetland and the Icelandic. The pattern has a "white oblong patch, running diagonally from the neck over the wither and the shoulder downwards" that is sometimes linked to "spots on the back and ribs". "Not infrequently" there is "white on the legs". The Norse term skjevet even sounds similar to the Icelandic term for tobiano, skjottur. And older texts on Shetland Ponies often refer to the pattern as coming from ancient "Norse ponies". With the pattern appearing in related breeds, it seemed more likely than a completely new pattern.

But it was hard to know for sure, with just one photo to go on. (And with the horse in knee-high grass no less!) So I was especially happy to learn of this thread on one of the Fjord forums. If you scroll down, you'll see a historical photo of a skjevet Fjord. This horse is completely visible, though, and obviously a tobiano. Now that we know that tobiano was once part of the Fjord gene pool, I think its safe to assume that the horse from the Geurts book was also a tobiano. And since he mentions that white legs were "not infrequent" (rather than uniformly present), it's probably likely that the expression was often minimal like it is in present-day Shetlands and Icelandics.

There are also non-dun Fjords pictured in that thread. Unfortunately a lot of inaccurate information has been spread, often in popular general-market horse books, that the uniform dun color was proof of the "ancient" nature of the breed. The truth is that the breed varied in color much like any other until the 1920s, when the influence of a few popular sire lines changed that.

What I do find interesting is that the thread appears to have started with someone mentioning that their horse had a white foot. If there are, indeed, white feet in the breed then it is likely that some type of pinto pattern remains - or has entered the gene pool. Much has been written about lower lips as markers for sabino, but what I have seen is that in breeds where no form of sabino is thought to exist (primarily the primitive ponies) what you do not see is leg white. In breeds with just tobiano, any leg white at all is indicative of the tobiano pattern. In breeds with just splash overo, any white on the feet indicates the horse is a (heterozygous) splash. Which leads me to wonder if the tobiano pattern has truly been lost in the breed.

For a look at just how minimal the pattern can be in the Shetland, here is a good example. We tend to think of tobiano as a pattern that, unlike the overos, cannot "hide" across generations. But in breeds where tobiano can look like this, perhaps it is possible.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lottery wrap-up and a thank-you

The Fall Lottery is now over, and all the winners have been contacted. Whew!

We had a record number of participants this time around. I also received a lot of comments, both with the entries and afterwards, about how much people appreciate the lottery system.

Recently lotteries have used more high-tech methods, but when I started the names were literally drawn from a hat. I would write the names on bits of paper, and then have my son pull one out. The first time we did this, I had the entries for each horse in a separate plastic cup, which I would pour into the hat when it was time to get a name. My son - who was probably about five at the time - would pull out a name and read it, and then dump the rest of the papers on the floor so we could fill the hat for the next horse. When it was all done, I had the half-dozen or so names laid out and he asked what we did next. I told him I was going to call these people and tell them they each got a horse. He then looked over at the (now rather large!) pile of papers that he had been dumping out each time, and asked "And now what do these people get?" I explained that this time around, they hadn't won anything. "They don't get anything?" I explained that no, not this time. "But Mom, do you think that's really FAIR?" He pestered me for days about how I was going to make it up to all those people! "You can't just let them be sad," he told me.

That's always stuck with me, each time I do the lottery. So I really do appreciate how gracious everyone is about the odds, and about not having their name pulled yet again. I really do have wonderful customers!

And now I will get back to work. I have so many things planned for the holiday season and beyond!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fall Lottery!

The 2007 Fall Lottery has started! You can see all the horses here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Not a lottery horse

This fellow isn't one of the Fall Lottery horses, but he was finished just recently and I wanted to share him. If you look really carefully on his sides, you might be able to see faint dappling. (I'm not sure how visible it will be once Blogger shrinks the image.) I really like this color on Finn - it flatters him.

(Oh, and there are some new teaser photos on the website.)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Silver in the Welsh Mountain Ponies

I thought I'd share a little horse color news while I put the finishing touches on the lottery horses.

There have been confirmed silver dapple Welsh in this country, but many British breeders suspected outside influence and doubted the purity of the ponies involved. And a number have prominant Welsh breeders have publicly insisted that the color did not exist in purebreds. Add in the fact that many bay Welsh sport flaxen tails, and it could be hard to be sure.

Still, I have long suspected that some of the Forlan ponies were truly red silvers, particularly the stallion Fronbach Hello Charlie. So many of his descendants - and quite a few of his relatives - looked silver to me. It turns out that it was there all along, with Charlie now the first Welsh in Europe to have tested positive for silver. This is especially neat because he comes from very old lines, which suggests that the color has been within the breed for some time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Getting close to the wire

The 2007 Fall Lottery is only a little more than a week away! In the meantime, I've posted another teaser photo (a full picture this time) to the website. He's the only non-Finn, non-Al-Hadiye piece in this particular group.

I originally wanted to sneak him in here, on the blog, as a "hidden" lottery piece. But the lottery is going to be small this time around, so I decided it was best to put him in with the rest of them. Maybe next time, though!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A fun challenge

A few months ago, some other ceramic artists and I were discussing techniques, and I thought it would be fun to see how each one of us might approach the same color. I picked this guy as our guinea pig, since he had a lot of things going on with his pattern that might highlight our different methods.

Here is the first one that was completed - a "Jitterbug" by Addi Velasquez. (He's even for sale.) Addi says she will post her step-by-step process to her blog.

My guy - a "Finn" - is also finished, though I haven't gotten a chance to get his final pictures yet. I will have a step-by-step, too, though I probably won't have time to compose it until after the lottery is finished. And I did jump off a bit from the pictured color, so it will probably be as much a look at how I design colors and patterns as much as how I glaze things. I'm not sure my actual techniques are that much different from Addi or any of the other "Pour Horse School" glazier, so perhaps that will be more interesting that way.

And please tell me if the blog gets too focused on technical things - or if I get too pedantic! Because blog conversations tend to be rather one-sided, there isn't the normal feedback that lets you know that you are maddening to others!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What did you do to him?!

I thought Finn looked a bit seasonal like this, with his orange tobiano patterning and his purple socks. It was also the closest thing to something scary that I could find, not having prepared anything fun for Halloween. Next year I'll have to plan better so we can do something here at the studio to celebrate.

Fortunately all Finn's unpleasant colors are temporary. Each one is a different type of masking, and it happened that this pattern and color called for all three.

The orange areas are covered with liquid latex (Miskit). This is my general purpose masking material. It's great because I can pull it off and detail the edges of a pattern, or I can leave it on and it will fire off - though cooking latex smells quite awful! Latex is especially good for large areas because it goes on pretty quickly.

The purple on his feet is Saranwrap. I like the tinted wrap they sell during the holidays because I can see any gaps I leave. Saranwrap is really useful for legs because it just unwinds. Latex has to be pulled off, which can put a lot of pressure on fragile legs. (It also tends to make a rather unnerving "ping" sound when it finally pops free from the leg.)

And finally the green halo around the spots is wax. Liquid wax resist is the traditional masking material for ceramics, but I rarely use it. Unlike the latex, it cannot be removed prior to firing. This makes cleaning up and detailing patterns difficult. The upside is that it isn't sticky and gloppy like the latex, so it can be used for finer details.

Even so, the best tool for fine details is an Xacto blade. I like a lot of control over my final pattern, so I usually use the latex and then etch in the details with the blade. But this guy will be a silver dapple tobiano, so I need a base color that will withstand the eraser used to create the dapples. Underglaze that is impervious to the erasers is also impervious to the etching blade. I could use a chalkier underglaze and paint him backwards, like I did with the Oatsville in the previous post, but I want more control over my final tones than working blind like that allows. So I've given up some control over the pattern edges to get the control over the shading and dappling.

But for now, he does look a bit scary. But I suppose if I really wanted to scare everyone, I could include a picture of what my workspace looks like in the depths of lottery horse creation. It is not for the faint of heart!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Older work

Since I can't share pictures of what I'm currently working on (lottery horses), here is an older piece. This fellow was done from Paul Sanders' "Oatsville" in September 2002, so almost exactly five years ago. He is one of the few pieces that have remained in my personal collection over the years.

He is interesting from a technical standpoint because he was painted backwards. One of the more unusual qualities of underglazes is that lighter colors sink beneath darker colors. This makes it possible to add all manner of shading to the body (like the dappling on this guy's shoulders) first, get them just so, and then add the base color on top. This is useful because dappling is typically done with erasers which can damage the chalky base colors.

But it is a leap of faith, because the darker details cannot be seen until after the clear glaze has been added and fired. With a buckskin like this one, the horse looks unpleasantly yellow, and just have to trust that when you open the kiln the next morning he will be dappled. For a former obsessive cold-painter, it's an excellent excercise in giving up some control!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hard at work

The blog might be a little quiet these next few weeks while I work on the lottery horses. I thought about posting another peek at them, but right now they are either in the kiln or uniformly pink. The glaze that goes over the color fires clear and glossy, but before that the unfired glaze is pink. Pepto-Bismol pink. They don't look particularly interesting that way.

But I did want to share some links to some splash overo Kathiawari Horses. There is an unmistakable homozygous splash on this site (scroll down a bit), and here is a heterozygous one. This tobiano probably has the gene as well, since it tends to skew the dark chest of the tobiano pattern upward towards the neck when the two patterns are combined. The Kathiawari is the second eastern breed to display the pattern, if you count the suspected Arabian stallion The Moneymaker. I have also seen Tekes with suspicious "bottom-heavy" face markings and blue eyes, so perhaps the pattern is not Nordic in origin as many have suspected.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Answered Prayers

Finally some rain!

Like much of the southeast, Charlotte has been experiencing an extreme drought. We've been under mandatory water restrictions for some time now, and were recently told that some areas have less than 90 days water supply left. We've had less rainfall this year than what Tuscon, Arizona or El Paso, Texas might see in an average year.

So walking to the bus in the rain this morning was a treat, even if it did result in a wet, smelly dog. (We could only find two umbrellas, so Emma and I were on our own!) It seems like a good day to open the windows to the damp air, and catch up on some neglected chores.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Sneak Peek... my particular form of insanity!

My continued obsession with getting more subtle "hair by hair" patterns is probably not helping me in the goal of finishing the lottery horses. But the horses look really cool!

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Someone recently asked me about "chimers". A chimer is a ceramic horse that makes a clinking sound - chimes - when you rattle it. Collectors have traditionally held that chimers are lucky, though I am not sure how that belief got started. Perhaps it was from the relief that the rattling sound in the newly-arrived box wasn't coming from a broken horse!

The chime comes from a small bit of clay trapped inside the body of the horse. To show how this happens, I took some pictures of what happens to a horse right after it is taken out of the mold.

But first I should explain, for those that haven't seen a ceramic horse poured, that the horses are upside down in the mold. They are feet-up, rather than feet-down. The slip is poured down a long pour hole into their bellies. After the clay has formed a skin inside the mold cavity, the mold it tipped back over and the excess clay is drained. That's why the larger areas of our horses are hollow. Eventually the plaster pulls enough moisture from the clay that it hardens to a leathery stage. At that point the clay along the walls of the pour hole are removed.

This guy is a raw casting just pulled from the mold. You can see the opening created by the pour hole. The trick is to create a pour hole large enough that the slip can drain easily, but small enough that the belly doesn't require major reconstruction.

This is the stage where most horses acquire their chiming bits. Small pieces from the pour hole clay often fall into the body when that clay is removed. I give my horses a few gentle shakes to encourage any remaining bits to fall out, but the clay is still damp at this point. Bits can stick slightly to the interior of the body, only to fall free once they dry. We can't, however, leave a huge gap in his belly until he dries.

That hole has to be plugged while the horse is still damp so the clay bonds properly. Here I've cut a small circle to fit the hole in the belly. I've added more liquid clay around the edges, and set the plug inside the gap.

Now I've taken an Xacto blade and blended the borders between the plug and the body. I don't want any chance this area could develop a crack during firing. This is another time when a small bit of clay (or a drip from the slip around the edges) can get trapped inside the body.

Once the belly is plugged, I will take a drill bit (not the drill, just the bit) and make the air hole. Anything that is hollow needs an air hole to fire properly. I drill a hole large enough that I can stilt the horse on a post later when the glaze is fired. Glaze would fuse to the kiln floor during firing, so the horses either have to go on posts or be 'dry footed'. Most Hagen-Renaker pieces are dry-footed - they have no glaze on the bottoms of their hooves. Most artist-produced earthenware chinas are posted.

So here my guy is with his post hole. I've also attached his tail, also with an air hole. Most of the time the horses are cast in one solid piece, but sculptures with thin tail attachments (like this Arab, and like Sarah's recently released Dafydd) have tails that are cast separately and attached afterwards. That's because the tail could not drain properly. The thin area at the base of the tail would harden and trap the wet clay inside the tail. A heavy, solid tail would put too much stress on the tail attachment. What's worse is that slip also tends to sink inward, so I'd have a heavy, collasped tail!

Here you can see my really high-tech pony drying rack! I cut circular sponges in half, then cut a scoop along the top to hold the belly. This keeps the most of the weight off the legs so they don't warp while drying, but still keeps the horse upright so the legs don't warp to either side. I also cut a small scoop from the bottom so the sponge doesn't stress that forward-most hindleg.

I checked this guy this morning, since he was completely dry, and he is silent. No chimes this time.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Returning to moldmaking

Sorry I got the moldmaking off-track for a few days. I thought it would post the last part as soon as I got back home from the show, but instead I have been playing catch-up all week. (Not very successfully, I might add!)

But when I left off, I had my rubber positive of the smaller Celtic Pony bead. This will become my master to make prodution molds. Right now the positive image is flush with the Lego frame, so once again I'll need to build mold walls to hold the material I will be pouring.

I only need to build the walls as tall as I want my finished plaster mold to be, which in this case was three layers of bricks. I don't need any releasing agent because neither the rubber nor the Legos will stick to the plaster. I can just pour the plaster directly into the Lego box.

Once the plaster has set up I will once again break my box in half. A thin screwdriver is good from breaking the seal between the two sets of Legos so they break apart neatly. This will reveal the first half of the plaster mold.

If I was making a press mold, all I would need to do is remove the Lego frame. But I want to make a slipcasting mold, so I need to make a lid. I will also need to cut natches to key the bottom half to the lid. In the picture above, I made the circular natches by twirling a coin in each corner. (This works a lot better with newly-poured, damp plaster. It takes a lot more force to cut them after the plaster dries.)

Because I am pouring plaster against plaster, I need mold soap to form a barrier between the two pieces. The soap makes the plaster waterproof, so it only goes on the non-design area. The last thing I want is a mold cavity than cannot draw the water out of the slip I pour! Usually I fill the design area before I paint on the mold soap, but I couldn't find my tiny rubber insert. (I usually pour a rubber version of the design so I can temporarily fill the design when I pour lids.) Here I'm painting without the design filled because I am still hoping the insert is lying around somewhere.

In this picture, I have given up and just filled the design area with moist pottery clay. :)

And once again, I build up the walls - this time with upside down Legos. I will pour the plaster lid in this box and let it set up. Then I can take off all the Legos, break the two mold pieces apart and remove the clay insert. After drilling a pour hole in the lid, I have a working slipcasting mold.

Unfortunately I didn't think to get a picture of the finished slipcast mold. But this is a finished (and slightly used) press mold. You can see that I sanded the outside (no Lego brick pattern) and rounded the corners. I started rounding the corners and finishing out my production molds so I could tell at a glance that they were production molds. I leave my 'waste molds' - the molds where there is only one copy - raw. It's a bit of craftsmanship overkill, but I handle the molds a lot, and I like having tools that feel pleasant in my hands.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Southern Model Horse Convention

I just returned from the Southern Model Horse Convention held at Laura Behning's Brookridge Morgans in Covington, Georgia, and I had to share this photo. The two horses are Foxton Frosty Dawn and her filly Positively Charmed - two of just a handful of silver dapple Morgans. Towards the end of what had been an overcast, drizzly day several of us spotted the rainbow in the distance. I thought this made a particularly neat picture given Laura's long-time involvement in the Rainbow Morgan Horse Association (a group devoted to identifying and preserving rare colors in the Morgan breed).

(I believe you can click the picture and get the larger version.)

Laura not only had the two silvers, but she also had her mare Coral Forest. I thought I would share her picture, too. I've always thought Coral was one of the prettiest mares I've ever met. But she's also such a unique color.

If I told you to discount the orange tones on her mane, tail and legs (those come from the red Georgia clay), what color would you guess Coral to be? She looks like one of the rare grey Morgans, doesn't she? But Coral is actually a palomino - easily the palest one I have encountered. Even in person, she would be easy to mistake for a white grey.

With horses like Frosty, Charli and Coral right outside the show hall, it would be hard not to have a good time at the show. But it was also special to me because of its history. This was the 20th annual SMHC, which makes it one of the longest continuously running shows in the industry. It was also, seventeen years ago, my first live show. While I had been actively involved in the model horse community since the mid-1970s, up until then my involvement was limited to clubs and photo showing. I'm still not sure what made me decide, in 1990, to pack up my small collection of customized mini models and head off to Georgia, but I'm sure glad that I did. Laura couldn't have been more encouraging to a new (and terribly shy, if you can believe it!) artist, and everyone was so warm and welcoming. I was hooked!

And here we were once again. Only this time, I was watching Paula Hecker's oldest daughter, Jessica, show for the first time. Seventeen years ago at my first show, I was too intimidated by Paula's fame as the editor of the Hobby Horse News to actually speak to her. That magazine has long since ceased publication and Paula has since moved on to other things. But our friendship (I did eventually get brave enough to talk!) has remained, and I was especially pleased to see Jessica win an Original Finish Plastic Championship with a "Keepsake" - the special run I had designed for the Hobby Horse News (during Tina Ferro's tenure as editor). Seeing our community's past tied to our future made me smile. Well, that and cool-colored horses and rainbows!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Moldmaking with Legos (Part 2)

For this project, I will be making a production mold for the smaller Celtic Ponies. This rubber mold will be used to make a simple two-part plaster medallion mold, one piece for the design and one piece acting as a "lid" across the flat back of the design.

To start, I will take my original and glue it to a base. In this case, I've used a 4x4 glazed tile because it separates easily from the rubber. Then I build a box around the design using Legos. To keep the Legos from sliding on the slick surface of the tile, I stick them down with double-sided tape (the kind used in scrapbooking). My Lego mold box is then filled with silicone rubber.

Normally I would key the back of the rubber, as I did in this post, and then pour a plaster base. The base keeps the rubber from distorting when it is clamped inside the mold boards. But here I'm not going to pour a base because I won't be removing the Legos. They will act as my stabilizer instead. But I do need to pull the tile off and expose the negative of my design.

Now I have a negative image of my design, encased in Legos. My next step is to pour a positive image, also in rubber. I won't pour just the design, though. I want to pour the design and the base - all in one piece - so that I won't have to glue the design to a tile like I did in the first step. But to do this I need to box the area around the positive image, since right now that area is flush with the Legos. This is where the Legos come in handy because I can extend my box (in either direction) by adding more blocks.

Okay, so I've built my mold box up(side down) and I can now pour the positive piece.

This was the trick that it took me an embarassingly long time to discover. I didn't have to take the rubber piece out and rebox it. I could just build the box up. Of course, I'm actually building the Legos upside down, but that works just as well. In fact, because Legos can be added to the top or bottom of my box, I never really have to remove them from the rubber. They can function as the stabilizer (eliminating the plaster back), and serve as a base to add mold box walls. And since the rubber is never removed from the box in which it is poured, the box never has to be re-sealed. (Resealing mold boxes is my least favorite job.)

I did key this one, and pour a plaster base, only because my kids were beginning to notice an odd shortage of rectangular Legos. Here I poured the rubber flush with the top (the dark grey Legos), cut the keys, added another layer of Legos, and then poured plaster.

(Bad plaster pour there - look at all my air bubbles!)

I have both a negative (inside the bottom half of the Legos above) and a positive (in the top half). I can now split the stack apart, and reveal my positive.

Now I have an original that gives, yet will hold up to repeated pours of plaster (the amber piece to the right). My negative (the light blue piece on the left) can remain in its Lego frame in case I ever need to pour another positive. In the next post I'll use the new rubber original to make a working plaster mold.

Moldmaking with Legos (Part 1)

I wanted to share what I thought was a rather clever trick involving Legos and moldmaking. But as I was taking pictures of the process, I realized that it might not make sense unless someone already knew how plaster medallion molds were made. Well, that and I wasn't completely sure that my "discovery" was anything new to other moldmakers, because when I figured it out it was rather obvious. Maybe I am just slow!

So I decided to post a general how-to on ceramic medallion molds, using Legos instead of traditional mold boards. This is going to be rather long, so I'll split into two posts. In this first one I'll talk about slipcasting molds in general, and in the second I'll start posting the step-by-step pictures.

The first rule of mold-making is that something has to give. Our plaster molds work because the leatherhard clay inside will give. If it didn't, the casting would remain inside the mold unless it (or the mold) was broken. Likewise, when we make the initial plaster mold the original must give. It is possible to make a plaster mold from a plastecine clay original, but not from a hard resin copy. The resin cannot give, so removing the original will damage the plaster mold. This is our first constraint - one half of the equation (the mold or the casting/original) must be made from a flexible material.

Our second constraint is the fact that slipcasting wears plaster down rather quickly. The plaster wicks the water from the slip, which erodes the surface of the plaster. Over time this will eliminate detail. The difference between a new mold and one with the detail eroded is what makes some Hagen-Renakers "crisp" while others are softer. With artist-produced ceramics, we stop using the molds when they start to lose detail - when they no longer produce "crisp" copies. That means our molds are good for around 20 copies. This dynamic is why some ceramic horses have been released in extremely small editions. In those cases, a plaster mold was made from a clay original. Since the original is usually destroyed in the process, there was only the one mold with a very limited number of castings.

If we want to make more than twenty horses, we have to make a production mold. In short, we need a mold to make more molds. That is where rubber molds come in. Rubber gives, so we can pour plaster on it. And unlike the clay original, it survives the process so we can use it again and again. All we have to do is replace the artwork with a rubber copy, and stabilize it so that it gives just enough to make the mold, but not so much that it distorts.

That's what these are - production, or master, molds. They are rubber molds with a plaster back to keep them stable. In the next post, I'll start the step-by-step of how one of these is made, only we'll replace both the mold boards and the stabilizing plaster with Legos.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

No crutches!

A few weeks ago, I fell while playing with my kids. Remember the trebuchet? My family was testing recent improvements, and I foolishly entered The Zone of Death. Apparently this is the area where, when your kids are laying seige to the neighbors, you are most likely to get clobbered by week-old produce. In my haste to get out of the way, I stepped wrong and twisted my leg.

I have spent most of the time since in denial. Some of you might remember that I broke my foot a little more than a year ago. That's when my youngest son drew my portrait (above). I love how he made me look so darned happy! It wasn't, however, a lot of fun. It's amazing how difficult the simplest things can be when you cannot walk and carry things the same time! Needless to say, I wasn't keen to repeat the experience even if my leg was hurting. (Doctors cannot give you bad news if you don't give them the chance to talk to you!)

By this weekend, though, it was pretty clear that my plan wasn't working. (Knees, it seems, are quite capable of giving you bad news without going through a doctor.) So I made the appointment.

Thankfully, I was not placed on crutches. I did damage my LCL (lateral collateral ligament), but I was able to escape with just a knee brace and physical therapy. I still have to go in for my evaluation with the therapist, but it looks like I will be spending enough time there to throw things a little off schedule for the Fall Lottery. Still, it's better than crutches! And I won't have to miss the 20th Annual Southern Model Horse Convention this weekend. I will be braced-up and gimpy, but I'll be there!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Unseen horses

I do quite a number of horses each year that never get seen. Unless the horse was done to auction, or for one of the lotteries, they have often gone off to their new homes without appearing on the website. Since many ceramic collectors do not show, or do not show often, these horses are largely unknown to other collectors. So sharing them here will be like showing off new work... even when I've not actually been productive!

This little guy was done a few years ago. I was experimenting with subtle variations in color formulas for dapple grey, so there were a bunch of them done around the same time so I could set them side-by-side. Some might remember a much darker grey Collier, Beauxbaton, who was also part of that same group. She and this one were painted with the same colors, only Beauxbaton had many more layers of the darkest tones. She was also matte finished, while this guy was glossed. The other piece from the set was another lottery piece, an Animal Artistry (bone china) Welsh Pony named Clan Revel. He was painted almost indentically to this Collier. What I was looking for was the different in heavier dark tones, in gloss versus matte, and bone china versus earthenware. The tonal differences were rather striking in all three, at least in person.

So if you encounter a group of my horses at a show, and they look "related", chances are they were part of some kind of studio experiment. I tend to do a lot of them!

Friday, September 28, 2007

More shrinking

Here are all three sizes of the Celtic Pony - 3.25", 1.5" and 7/8". I used the same glaze on all three, and fired them together, but for some reason the smallest one came out a very different shade of green. That's part of the fun of ceramics. You never know exactly what you are going to get until you open the kiln!

I have another neat trick with moldmaking that I want to share, but I need to color-correct the photos first. Hopefully I'll get those up this weekend.

Edit: I forgot to mention. I made another of the smallest size, and placed a tab on the back to make it a button. My only problem was that I didn't mark the mold before I pressed the clay, so I had to guess how to orient the tab. I guessed wrong, so it's oddly oriented relative the the direction of the pony. But it's a really cute button otherwise! And now I have the mold marked for the future.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Shipping and Receiving

I've noticed on sites like Etsy and eBay, sellers sometimes specify that their item comes from a "smoke-free, pet-free" home. I am used to seeing the first, but that last one is new to me. So I thought perhaps I should introduce Emmaline, manager of Shipping and Receiving. That's her there, receiving a package. She was given her position due to her enthusiasm for brown trucks and the men who drive them.

I figured a warning might be in order, with all the Pirate Ponies about to arrive at their new homes. We really try to keep Emma from putting too much of herself into her work, but still packages often go out with... well, evidence that this is most certainly not a "pet-free home"! (Don't look closely under the tape and all will be fine...)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Honey, I shrunk the pony!

I mentioned earlier that I'd been doing some experiments on the Celtic Pony medallion over the summer. Not only did the poor guy turn pirate, but he got shrunk! Now he's tiny. Really, really tiny! The original medallion (the cream-colored one in the first photo) is around 3 1/4" across. The little guy there is 7/8" across.

There's also an intermediate one between these two which measures 1 5/8", but he needed another coat of glaze so he's not pictured here.

I still need to experiment a bit more. The intermediate piece was slip-cast, and it took the detail beautifully. But then the slip we use is designed to capture really fine detail well. The smallest one, however, was press-molded with moist clay. I need a finer clay than the one I used, because the coarser clay just doesn't pick up the detail as well. There is actually a lot more detail in the mold of the tiny piece than the finished one shows!

My goal with these was to be able to use these guys as jewelry components. Wouldn't a group of the little ones there make a cute bracelet?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

That was fun!

I had a great time celebrating International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Thank you to everyone who participated. I think this will have to be an annual event!

Oh, and we're not done playing with the little Celtic Pony medallion, either. He has another trick I'll show here shortly. (I'm afraid the poor fellow spent much of the summer as a guinea pig for a lot of silly ideas!)

But for now I must go and return the website to its usual purple self, and set up a page for "Dawson" since he'll go to eBay here shortly.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


If'n ye be wantin' some fine pirate booty, be addin' yer name to the roster!

(Landlubber translation: The first five people to post their names in the comments section get a Pirate Pony medallion.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Boxes and more boxes!

I have all my goodies boxed up and ready for tomorrow's festivities! So join us on the website in the morning. ARGH!!!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Another sneak peek

This is "Dawson", from the group of SMB claybody customs I have been working on. He'll be headed to ebay later this week.