Friday, June 27, 2008

Upcoming auction

Tomorrow I will send "Alaska", my glazed Stormwatch, to the Auction Barn. (Hopefully I will find that site easier to use. I always found setting up eBay auctions utterly baffling.)

He had been keeping me company while I worked, standing on my workbench, but I put him in his shipping box earlier in the week. I was starting to get too attached to him!

(Oh, and there are more pictures of him on the website now.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fifteen years

I will be here
And you can cry on my shoulder
When the mirror tells us we're older
I will hold you
And I will be here
To watch you grow in beauty
And tell you all the things you are to me
I will be here

I will be true to the promise I have made
To you and to the One who gave you to me

"I Will Be Here", Steven Curtis Chapman

Today is my anniversary - fifteen years happily married. I have been wonderfully blessed.

My wedding anniversary also marks another anniversary of sorts. Just a short time after we married, my husband talked me into leaving my job as a technical illustrator to pursue a career doing what I truly loved. So fifteen years happily making little horse-shaped objects, too!

I also noticed that yet another anniversary is approaching. I started this blog on July 14 of last year. I am going to try to make something special to celebrate, so check in on the fourteenth!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Little hairs everywhere

While working on the sabino roan Lirico, I've decided to take advantage of the fact that my own horse is roaned to get some good reference shots of hair growth patterns. Sprinkles is an appaloosa, of course, but I'm not really looking at the pattern of the white hair nearly so much as I am using the white hair to see the hair direction more clearly. (Though the roaning in the picture above - taken to show how the hair tends to whorl right along the crest - could just as easily be of a sabino roan or even a dark-headed roan.)

Here Sprinkles is most obviously not a roan. What I was after was how the hair changes direction on the flanks and loins, but after I took the pictures I realized that because her spots are small and plentiful, they do a rather good job of indicating the direction the hair is growing. Some appaloosa spots show a lot more skew in the direction of the hair growth (especially those with the grey gene like this little guy), but she shows enough.

(All these pictures were uploaded as huge files, in case anyone else found them useful. Hopefully the size won't cause problems for Blogger!)

I took a lot of belly shots, and at one point pulled her foreleg outward so I could get a good shot of the way the hair whorled around her armpits. (Sprinkles is a very patient horse.) It was only afterwards that I realized that laying on the ground shooting upwards at a large animal makes for some vertigo-inducing pictures. Too bad I didn't think of wetting her down so she would roll until after I got home again! I think I'll get more useful belly pictures that way. If I do, I'll post them here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

More Lirico roaning

This guy has sat on my workbench for a while now, waiting for me to return from Idaho and then to finish with the lottery horses. I had to leave him raw because I hadn't finished roaning him. Underglaze cannot be etched after it is fired. Before firing it's soft and chalk-like, which makes etching the horse easy. It also makes damaging the finish even easier! Leaving a horse to sit for over a month - and a Lirico no less - is living a bit more dangerously than I like.

Bone china is a little different, though, in that damaged raw underglaze can simply be washed away. Still, the idea of all those hours spent roaning running down the sink with the tap water was almost more unnerving. So I was happy to finally get back to ticking this guy today.

It's also allowing me to return to experimenting with a puzzle that I have worked on for some time now. What I want is to get in glaze the soft-focus roaning effects that are so easily achieved with cold paint. With cold paint it is possible to lay down transparent layers of white or near-white, so that in the best finish work the roaning is subtle and looks to be part of the coat, rather than scratched off or painted on. Underglaze cannot work this way, since paler colors "sink" below the darker colors after the final glaze is fired. We use this to our advantage when we tint the entire end of the muzzle pink, knowing that any overspray will sink below the dark skinned areas. But when it comes to light-on-dark roaning, it's a big limitation.

In some of my more recent roaned pieces, like the fall lottery piece Quinn, I started experimenting with scuffing the surface of the underglaze. One of the limitations of etching is that the "hairs" we create are really out of scale. Only using really sharp blades (I go through hundreds upon hundreds of them) and a really light touch helps, as does remembering that the goal is a roaned texture, not actual hair patterns. I still struggle with keeping it soft - with hiding the tool behind the technique - but I think I'm getting closer.

This is the area I worked on this afternoon. Right now about half his back is done and I'm particularly pleased with the texture. After the horse is fully ticked and fired, my plan is to go back again with a darker tint in hopes of setting some of the ticking back into the coat much like I do now with dapples on greys. I can experiment with it once this is all fired, since I can wash it off if it doesn't work and not bother this layer of work.

But right now, with most of one side still left to tick, the results from that experiment seem a long way off!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Taking pictures of shiny things

When I hold a lottery, I often get questions about how I get good pictures of the horses even though they are shiny. The trick is using a light box. The box diffuses the light from the photo lamps, which helps to cut down on glare from the glaze.

Because most of what I am photographing is small, I normally use a collapsing light cube.

This one is a 16" x 16". I like it because it collapses flat, so it stores easily in the cabinet below my work table. It's only real flaw is that lip along the bottom edge. Horse sculptures are best photographed by angling the camera slightly upwards to the area just above the elbow, since this mimics the angle we view real horses. (Nothing will spoil the illusion that this is really a horse like taking picture from above the sculpture!) That lip makes it impossible to get that correct angle. That's why there is a book on the floor of the cube. It raises the horse high enough to get the right angle. The book also helps stabilize the cube, which can rock a little when the table is bumped.

Here is the cube in use. The blue background is just a sheet of colored paper suspended from small plastic clips at the top of the cube. The other end of the paper has been taped to the surface of the book, and the horse is placed on top of it. This gives a continuous one-color background with no horizon line.

The cube has worked well, and it's really convenient, even if it has some design issues. But it only worked for really small models. My new Stormwatch was never going to fit inside it. I decided to make a larger do-it-yourself light box.

You can find plans for these all over the internet. Some of them are quite fancy, but since I was making it (my always-engineering husband was in Ireland) it was going to be really simple. The poles are all 1/2" PVC piping cut to length by the nice folks at the hardware store. The square "top" is held together with T-joints, while the legs are attached with elbows. I used stoppers on the bottoms of the legs to protect my wooden tabletop from the cut edge of the PVC, but they aren't really necessary. I believe the supplies all cost me less than $8. (And they would have cost me less still, if I hadn't mistakenly bought threaded joints on the first trip. You want the smooth kind!)

And here is the frame all assembled with the blue paper backdrop. I've just suspended the paper from the frame with low-tack masking tape. There's also a loop of tape under the paper holding it in place on the table.

Here I've added my photo lamps. I actually had to cut the top pieces of the PVC shorter, so my frame wasn't so long. I hadn't taken into account the length of my table, and the room I would need for the lamps. Oops! It could still be narrower to give my lamps more space.

And here is the box in use. This time I just draped two yards of white cotton broadcloth over the top and three sides. Eventually I will make nice velcro-tabbed panels from the white fabric, but I wanted to use the box for a while to see if I wanted to adjust the dimensions before I did that. Certainly the box works well enough with just the drape, even if it isn't the most elegant solution.

And here is a photo of my Stormy from the same shoot as the one above. In this particular shot, I pulled one of the lights around a little to get slightly more dramatic shadows on the piece. This sculpture has a lot of neat detail, and I wanted to highlight it. I find that while the light box is helpful for eliminating the worst of the glare, it's still necessary to play around with the placement of the lights to get the best effect.

Oh, and if you pick up a few extra T-joints and elbows, there will be enough left over PVC to make two Marshmellow Shooters. They aren't particularly useful for getting horses photographed, but they are a great way to get boys out of the house so you can take pictures without interruption!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Post-Lottery Chaos

If you have ever spoken to me before, you can probably attest that I take a lot of conversational detours. If someone took the parenthesis keys off my computer, I would no longer be able to write. (See?) As much as I might wish for one, I don't have an orderly, linear mind. This is never more obvious than the week after I finish a lottery. The weeks running up to the lottery are when all that disorder spills out and ends up visible on ever flat surface of my studio.

Not that I am brave enough to show this. All I have here is a corner of my main work table. It's one of the cleaner parts of the studio right now. I wasn't even willing to take pictures of the rest!

That's why the week after the lottery ends, I spend a lot of time cleaning and organizing - and asking myself, "now where was I on this?" It seems to take forever, but nothing perks up my enthusiasm for my work like clear counters!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Here are a few more pictures of the Stormwatch I glazed last month during Mayhem. He's the kilnmate to Joan's Stormwatch, Vajra.

I decided to call my guy "Alaska", because the golden-brown ends of his dirty mane and tail reminded me of the meringue topping on a Baked Alaska. And it did seem appropriate to name the fellow after some kind of food!

I plan to auction him sometime later this month on the Auction Barn. Like many artists who only do occasional auctions, I have found the recent changes to eBay rather discouraging. I also like the idea that the auction fees will go to a business within our own community. But first I need to get more pictures of the guy. I ran out of card space during my photo shoot with him an the lottery horses, and then ran out of time and had to take down the setup. That's the downside to using the kitchen table; eventually people want room to eat on it!

How do you like my pretty teeth?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


What do you mean you are sending me away??

This is always the hardest part of running the lotteries. Most of the entries are in and most of the confirmations have been sent out. A few more will probably come in at the last minute, but mostly it's just waiting until 6pm to draw the names. I really want to know where each one is going now!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

At long last...

I finally have lottery horses! This little guy, Gossamer, is one of them. I am so pleased with him. When I contacted Deborah about the possibility of casting Al-Hadiye in ceramic, this was exactly how I envisioned him. His matte finish held up the lottery for a few extra days (matte glaze is maddening to work with), but it was worth it.

Now I just have to finish cleaning up the photos and getting the website set up. With luck, the lottery will start tomorrow.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Six-word biography

My family came up with a new six-word biography for me.

Finish, photograph, lottery, box and ship.

For the moment, that pretty much sums up everything. I just wish I was further down that list of words! But I do hope to get to the middle ("lottery") my mid-week.

I now know better than to set a lottery date during the last two weeks of school. I suspect I am testing the limits of the six words I usually claim for my biography. (I know I am loved unconditionally.)

I have a backlog of pictures and posts for the blog, so I'll have a lot of catching up to do when the lottery is up.