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!