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."