Friday, March 28, 2008

CT River Classic medallion

I was almost afraid to open the kiln this morning, since I wasn't sure the color on this guy would work out. But he turned out just as I had hoped, so he's off to Lisa for the CT River Classic Show.

And now I know this color formula works, so variations of it will probably appear on some of the upcoming lottery horses.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy (belated) Easter!

It's finally spring and I am back in the land of the caffeinated! Woo hoo! So this little bunny from Cuteoverload seemed especially appropriate. (I love that site, and the bunny pictures are always my favorites. Now if only Emma would let me have one of my own...)

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Maybe I should have titled this post something like "My continuing education in website design". I found that I can set up a shopping cart system through my existing PayPal account, which is good. The bad part is that the manual I printed out is almost 200 pages. Right now it sure seems like 200 pages of gibberish, but I keep reminding myself that learning new things keeps you young. (Something that I suppose, at more than forty, I should keep in mind!)

Certainly making jewelry with the small Celtic Pony beads has been far more fun. Less common metals like antique brass (above) and copper (below) are popular right now, and they have an earthly look that I really like when it is paired with the ceramic glaze.

I've also been working on shrinking the new plaque. The original is around 5" high, and this piece here (one of the rubber mold inserts) is a little less than half of that. My goal is to eventually get it down to pendant size, which should be around 1.5" high.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Another dappled horse

Here is another finished piece, this time a silver dapple rather than a dapple grey. He's one of the few glazed pintos I had done with mapping.

Today has been an "administrative" day. I finished up my taxes (my least favorite part of self-employment), boxed up horses for shipping (including this guy), and now I'm working on updates to the website. I have been really bad about working on the website gallery pages, even though I set it up so the individual lottery pages moved directly over to the gallery once the horses were sold. I need a good secretary!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Some shiny ponies (finally!)

Here is one of the horses from the previous post on painting greys, in his finished form.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


The last two posts had spam comments, which I deleted. I don't want to turn commenting off because I really like hearing from everyone, but I don't want to risk scams and viruses either. (The first comment I deleted had a link that immediately started a download if you clicked it.) So now if you want to leave a comment, you'll need to fill in one of those little alphanumeric boxes. I apologize for the extra work, but hopefully that will keep our comments entirely about pretty shiny things, and not about enhancing body parts that I suspect most of us don't have.

Friday, March 14, 2008

When mold-making goes wrong

As promised, here are some pictures that show how not to make a mold.

The project was the CT River Classic Live awards. I had a resin casting of Sonya's medallion "Moose". From that I would make a rubber master mold, and then plaster production molds. I was on a pretty tight deadline since some glaze artists had offered to finish a few pieces to auction for the show. I wanted them to have as much time as possible to work on their donations. The show also needed a number of unfinished bisques, so I wanted plenty of breathing room since I would be working in the rainy season. Because plaster molds have to dry (after they are made and each time after they are used), damp weather makes everything take longer.

My first mistake was in miscalculating the amount of rubber I would need to make the master. I didn't have enough to make the last pour, which was the rubber positive. Not wanting to lose a few days waiting for another rubber shipment, I added some "stale" rubber to make up for the shortage. Rubber works best when the two parts are fresh, so I try to order in small quantities and only when it's needed. When I have leftovers, I keep them to use for making mold inserts since the quality of casting doesn't matter; I just need something to fill the space while I pour the plaster lid. That was what I added to my last batch of rubber for medallion master.

Oh, how costly those two or three saved days have been!

Here is the rubber negative, made from fresh rubber. The design surface is nice and clean - no bubbles.

And here is the positive. The bubbles are highlighted because they have been filled with light blue plasticine. That was done later when I tried to fix the problems. The extent of the problem wasn't obvious before that, though. The rubber is a translucent amber, so bubbles are visible. It's just hard to tell, especially when they are tiny, if they are on the design surface or just slightly below. I knew my master was very bubbly, but I hoped that the surface was smooth.

I thought the true test would be the first plaster molds. If they came away clean, then the bubbles were either below the surface or too small for the plaster to fill. I poured several and looked for any roughness in the surface, and they were perfectly smooth. I was relieved and set them aside to dry. It was a process that could take up to two weeks.

All went well until I had pulled a few castings and the molds started showing wear really fast. Worn molds develop pock marks, which in turn create bumps on the greenware. Here is one of the molds showing the problem.

And here is the casting it produced. What a mess! Yet that same mold had made several good copies in the beginning.

At first I thought the wear was from pushing the molds too hard. I was pulling two castings a day in a damp studio. I kicked myself since new molds would have to dry, adding another two weeks to the process. Then I noticed that all three molds were producing the exact same bump patterns on their castings. So it wasn't mold abuse. It was inherent in the master. That's when I went back and used the blue plasticine to reveal (and partially fill) the pock marks in the master.

What I realize now is that the trapped bubbles in the master were indeed too small to admit the plaster. But what they could hold was air. Air that would migrate up into the plaster as it set, but not very far before the rapidly setting plaster would trap it. When I pulled the mold, that plaster would look pristine. But just under that smooth surface were all those little trapped air bubbles. Each use of a mold wears the plaster down, so with each casting I was revealing more of those bubbles.

I did make another set of molds using the filled master. It would have been better to pour a new master using fresh rubber, but by this point I really was running into some unpleasant deadline issues. Not only would the show need the bisques, but I had my own Spring Lottery deadline looming. I settled for filling the holes with the plasticine as best I could and making a few more molds. At worst I thought they would wear like the first, though hopefully with just a few more good castings. And that was what they did. They are also showing wear much like the first ones, though I got enough castings for the show.

Now they are all cleaned, fired, boxed and ready to ship. And I'll be glad to return to the much simpler world of glazing horses!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Riding weather

I had hoped to have pictures of finished, shiny horses up by now. That got derailed by some mold-making problems - caused by a really foolish mistake on my part - that I'll post about later. It made what should have been a simple task take most of this past week.

So I was really looking forward to Wednesday, which is "barn day" for me. The weather report was predicting temperatures in the 70s, and sure enough it was a lovely warm day. It was such a nice change from weeks of cold, wet rides. As you can see in the picture, Sprinkles is still quite woolly.

And she has Welsh Cob feet! But just on the front. For some reason her hind feet didn't get much feathering this winter. The folks at the barn were wondering why I was on the ground taking shots of her feet, but I loved how the hair swirled off to the outside on each leg. (They really wondered when I laid on the gravel under her to get some belly shots of the hair growth patterns.)

I also finally got some pictures of "Prince", one of the lesson horses there that has really unusual Bend Or spotting. His color reminds me a bit of the Thoroughbred stallion GPS Krugerrand, only with charcoal spots rather than chestnut.

Our red clay has stained his mane and tail and he's pretty dirty, but those dark grey spots are his coloring, not stains. Under the dirt he's a really pale isabella palomino, so those spots really stand out when he's clean. I realized after I got home that I took pictures of the wrong side, though. He has even more spots on the other side.

And aside from his odd markings, Prince is one of my favorites because he's got such a sweet disposition and big Maureen Love-style eyes!

Spending a warm afternoon with the horses was just the thing I needed to get charged back up about finishing up my wayward casting project and getting back to painting and sculpting.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What happens when you change your mind

I am really bad about changing directions midstream. I will have a color in mind, then part of the way through I will see something else in the horse. I think I must have developed this habit when I was still doing mixed media work, because it isn't really a problem there.

That cannot be said when working with underglaze. It's a medium with a lot of constraints, so each color requires a plan that works around them. Where will your handholds go? (Raw underglaze cannot be touched, and fired underglaze is only slightly better.) What might get overspray? (There is no removing it once it's on.) Which colors fade with multiple firings? (Those have to go last.) Mapping out a plan is a bit like piecing together a puzzle. Needless to say, rearranging your pieces after the plan is underway is a bad idea.

But the temptation to create a color you can suddenly see as "perfect" for the horse is really strong. Which is why the medallion above has all that purple SaranWrap on it. I originally planned to make him a true grey with dark points. That meant I could mask and spray his mane, then go back and do his neck dappling and face shading. It wouldn't change the mane color, because I wasn't going to hit the neck really hard, and any overspray was just more of the grey already used on the mane. The black already on the mane would overpower it.

But when he came out of the kiln with his first layer of grey dappling, I couldn't help but imagine him as a rose grey. What I saw was the kind of bay-going-grey that retains a lot of reds in the dappled areas, but has cooler grey tones on the lower face and mane. Unfortunately I had added a color to his glaze to make cleaning up the edges of his mane easier. But I wouldn't want the color to scratch off easily if I needed to mask it! And I would need to mask it if I wanted the mane and face to retain their cool color. I decided to cut pieces of the plastic wrap to fit the mane tendrils, and anchor them with latex masking (which is always slightly tacky to the touch) on the back and on strategic points on the mane. Those were the points were I thought I could convincingly handpaint detailing to obscure any marring. Oh, and my finger there was holding the piece in a way that masked that mane piece and the upper neck.

So far it did work. None of the mane got marred, and he's cooling in the kiln. But I'll need to pull it off at least one more time with another layer of dappling. I think he'll turn out really neat. Or he'll be a really good lesson on how I should put as much effort into the initial color selection as I do into color planning!

(Lisa, if you are reading this, yes, that is your show donation that I'm getting reckless with. I promise if I really hose him up, I'll make you a new one!)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The end of an era

As many of you have probably heard, Joan announced that she'll be closing Pour Horse Pottery. Otto, the Shetland pictured above, will be the company's last production run horse.

It's almost impossible to overstate the impact Joan has had on the model horse industry. She realized the dream so many of us had, that one day we would once again have fine earthenware horses in the tradition of Hagen-Renaker. Over the years she pushed the boundaries of both mold-making and glazing, releasing production pieces once thought impossible given the limitations of the medium.

Had that been all, it would have been an impressive achievement. But Joan has always been committed to sharing what she knew with others. Virtually all of us currently working in earthenware horses were taught by her. Whether it was glazing, or mold-making, or casting or setting up a studio, she gave information freely to anyone who asked. The rich, close-knit atmosphere of the model horse ceramic community owes a lot to the tone she set from the beginning.

I would not be doing what I am doing today without Joan. She's been my mentor for ten years now. She's also one of my closest and most treasured friends. I'm excited for her as she looks towards the future. She's told me that she wants to do more experimenting, more pushing of what we can do with our chosen medium. I am looking forward to seeing what she does.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Things that make me happy

I have been so pleased with the recently reorganized Realistic Equine Sculpture Society. I was particularly excited to learn that Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig would be taking the helm editing the organization's biannual ezine The Boat. Those of you who know Sarah know that she never does anything in moderation.

Over the weekend I received my copy of the first issue. The first full-color, 195 page issue! Nope, no moderation there. The magazine goes out to members in PDF form, so what you see in the above picture is the printout that I made and set inside sheet protectors. I thought that might be a wise precaution given the likelihood of the articles ending up in the studio for reference. In that photo the book is opened to an article on planning - and revising - sculptures. That's just one of many really in-depth articles. The article on hooves alone is fifty pages long! (I suspect my little version of Sprinkles would like it if I quit reading about revisions and just roughed in her last leg, or perhaps a proper head!)

That would have been enough to keep me happily reading for the rest of the week, but then this morning I found this. That's the Dutch horse color book Het Paard in Zijn Kleurenrijkdom, written by J.K. Wiersema and published in 1977. Almost twenty years after it was published, I found a copy in the rare book room at the old Arabian Horse Trust and was able to leave with a rather poor black-and-white xerox of the contents. The original book, however, was in color and I've often wished I had access to it again now that color copies can be so easily had. So when I accidentally stumbled across this, I was beyond thrilled! I don't speak Dutch, unfortunately, so I still cannot read a word of it. But the rare photographs of appaloosa Welsh Ponies and silver dapple Groningers were what I was really after.

None of this is getting my dapple greys finished, of course. Tomorrow the books get put away and it's back to the painting table.