Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sneak Peek - "Vincent"

I thought I would post a sneak peek of "Vincent", the Taboo that I am working on. I know in this picture he looks like a mulberry grey, but he'll actually be a leopard appaloosa when he's done. I have always liked the Prince Plaudit type of pattern, and have done a number of pieces with that kind of coloring. (Probably the best known is Melissa Gaulding's Okie, "Asheville".) I thought it would be fun to try it on Taboo where a varigated mane could play up some of the movement in the different strands of hair.

But I do like the look of him with a white body and a darkly shaded face. He reminds me a bit of the white grey Liricos that Joan did some years ago. I'll have to do one of those at some point!

In fact, I'll probably be looking that that type of coloring a lot with this mold. That face, with all it's lovely detailing, presents a big painting challenge. Because underglazes have to be airbrushed, getting the right angle with the brush is really important. To add a bit of difficulty, the paint, once the paint hits the bisque, can never really be completely removed because it stains. The problem with Taboo is that the angle of spray is blocked by his raised shoulder! And it's impossible to hit this side of his face without hitting his mane and ears.

What I've done with them so far is spray the darker facial shading first, before there is any other color on the mold. That way I can remove overspray (at least as much as might be possible) without damaging anything else. And if I really botch it, I have plenty of room to change to a more fixable color. Or, in the worst case, at least I don't have a lot of time invested if I can't fix it!

With luck, this guy and several other pieces will be done at the end of the week. I've been taking advantage of my (temporarily) child-free home to spend some long hours in the studio. There are too many half-finished projects here, so if my blogging is light in the next month or so, it's because I'm determined to get caught up.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Some finished Taboos

My own first glazed Taboo (to be named "Vincent" in honor of this mold's ear troubles!) is in the kiln at the moment, but Joan has some already finished so I thought I would share them here. The dun sabino above is currently being offered on My Auction Barn.

This guy was done in the style of the old Hagen-Renaker rose greys. Joan told his story on the Model Horse Sales pages, where he was offered for sale. He's my favorite finished one so far.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Studio Tour

One of the best parts about getting together with other artists is that you get to see how they set up their studios. I'm always looking for better ideas to organize my workspace.

Unfortunately lately "organization" was not exactly a word one might use to describe my own studio. I think more accurate terms might have been "disaster area" or "simply frightening". Of course not being able to find the right tool is bad for productivity, but when dealing with ceramics neatness isn't just about that. Dust from the various clays and glazes contain silica, which are dangerous to inhale. The problem is common enough among those working in ceramics to have it's own name - Potter's Rot. Keeping the studio tidy helps to control the silica, which is good for the long-term health of my lungs.

Needless to say, watching my husband struggle with pneumonia these last few weeks has given me a renewed interest in taming the mess that has been my studio. And now that's it's clean, I can give a partial tour.

This is my main desk. It's where I do most of my detail work like scritching, erasing and handpainting. The big whiteboard behind the desk was an idea taken from my first visit to Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig's studio. She kept a large board behind her workbench that she could use to hang references. I believe hers was actually corkboard, and that when I got home I could not find that material in a long enough length so I settled for a whiteboard. The advantage, obviously, was that I could leave myself notes. The writing in the upper lefthand of the board are the ratios to mix the plaster and various rubbers that I use. (You'd think after Vixen that I would have this all memorized!)

But this is the coolest part about using a whiteboard. I have a real problem with reversing images in my head. (Styling my own hair in a mirror is really beyond me.) With the whiteboard I have a long strip of adhesive-backed velcro along the top of the board. Then I print some of the more common references I use on clear acetate and slip them inside clear, heavyweight sheet protectors. Along the edge of the sheet protector (the area with the three holes punched for notebook) I've placed velcro dots. This way I can insert the image facing whichever direction I need, inside the sheet protector, and the white of the board makes it perfectly visible.

Usually I have copies of the Ellenberger plates, like the undersides of the hooves here, hanging up. I've also used it for some of the more symetrical patterns (like leopard appaloosas and dapple greys). I don't copy patterns verbatim, but use them to get a sense of the look I am after, so using the same image flipped over will usually give me two compatible sides on the finished piece.

This is my latest addition, also taken from Sarah's studio. I noticed that Sarah had these wonderful magnetic strips that ran along the wall next to her sculpting table, all to hold her tools. I am terrible for misplacing small tools like minarettes and hand drills, so I set about looking for something like this when I got back this time. At first I was disappointed that all I could find was this small metal tray. It was designed to attach (magnetically) inside a toolbox, not hang from the wall, but it was the only thing like this I could find. As it turned out, it fit perfectly on the side of the little dorm fridge that sits beneath my workbench. This arrangement actually puts the tools more conventiently in reach than if it did hang on the wall.

Oh, and I've shown the open fridge, too, just to show that it is not used to hold Frapaccinos! That's where I keep the moldy-oldy sculptures from years past. I learned the hard way with the Celtic Pony sculpture that the kilns heat the room enough to melt plastilene.

Another item I'm really fond of is my flat file cabinet. It has large, shallow drawers designed to hold flat artwork. For me it's the perfect depth to hold paint bottles. They are just one layer deep, so I can see everything I have at a glance. I keep some of the smaller kiln furniture in these drawers, too.

One of the other things that struck me about Sarah's workspace, the first time I visited it, was that every surface was covered with things friends had given her. There were cards and notes, as well as souvenirs and mementos. It made me realize that for all that much of my adult life has been spent in - and defined by - the model horse community, there was precious little of it displayed in my home (beyond the actual model horses themselves, that is). Since then I've been trying to bring more items into my workspace that remind me of my friends and colleagues. Flat surfaces are always at a premium in my too-small studio, but I've recently found these really short pedestal shelves that I can hang on the exposed sides of my cabinets.

I also hung a small bulletin board assembled from corkboard sheeting and an inexpensive picture frame, so I could pin up some of the smaller items like pins and pendants. (You can see it beside the whiteboard in the first picture.)

Since doing this, I've found the studio to be a warmer, more personal space. That keeps me bringing my work into the other areas of the house, which is a bad habit I've had in the past. (That's one of the reasons small metal tools go missing so often!)

One area that I didn't include here was the casting and mold-making table next to the sink. That area is still pretty scary! But it will wait. In the next few days I hope to post the comparisons between the old Vixen mold and the new one. I want to wait until the second set of molds are dry enough to cast, since it's easier to show how they work with a casting inside.

In the meantime, Joan posted a wonderful account of our time in Idaho on her blog. I'm going to include her picture of her buckskin Imp here, and encourage everyone to check out his other side, and her Taboos, in her post.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Kiln gods

With the recent string of small disasters lately, I've had some folks ask if I had broken a kiln god. I'm posting a picture to show that the kiln god (and the green kiln dog) are still intact.

For those not familiar with the practice, potters have traditionally made small figures - known as kiln gods - to guard their wares during firing. Usually they are made from scraps of clay. In my case, I couldn't resist making fun of the traditional pottery world's view of slipcast earthenware by using the dreaded ceramic, light-up Christmas tree. What's even better is that it was bought as greenware from the cavernous Treasure Valley Ceramics in Idaho. That means my little tree was probably cast back during the Eisenhower administration. Unfortunately it doesn't actually light up (though it is hollow and I have asked Alan to rig a battery-operated blinking light on a stand for it). It also doesn't have fired-on snow, which is really required for the appropriate amount of kitsch. But it has been an effective guard for the last few years. It's also darned-near impossible to break, which given my recent luck is probably a good thing!

I also thought this site with the winners from the 2009 Kiln God Nationals was fun. The contest was apparently also held in 2004 and 2007. (Sarah, you need the Golden Squirrel!)

All kidding aside, though, I'd like to thank everyone who has extended their well-wishes and prayers to my family. The car is easy enough to replace, and the kids will recover (with a little help from antibiotics) from their assorted infections. Alan's recovery is going to take a little longer, but he's already looking better now than he did after the first diagnosis. Hopefully I will be back to work (and blogging) soon.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Touching the weasel

I've always thought it was interesting that so many of us who make ceramic horses have a lot of interests and behaviors in common, all unrelated to our work. We all listen to a fair bit of Celtic music (or, as my husband terms it, "that danged Irish banshee wailing"). We gravitate towards Art Nouveau and Pre-Raphaelite art. We are almost all tea drinkers. But perhaps more than anything else, we tend to be avid storytellers. Over the years those stories have produced a lot of colorful sayings.

One of my favorites comes from Joan. She was relating a story about how some plague swept across Europe, carried by some rodent. She could not remember the specific species, so she simply referred to it as "the weasel". She pointed out that societies with a prohibition against getting too close to these animals were relatively unharmed by the disease. Knowing not to touch the weasel insured a longer, healthier life. After that story, we took to referring to getting involved with something likely to have a bad outcome as "touching the weasel".

I'm mentioning this now because that is exactly what I have been doing these last few weeks. Although I suspect that Joan would add that I've probably gone beyond touching this particular weasel. I petted it. I took the darned thing home and named it!

This is my "weasel". See, I promised myself that I had spent long enough messing around with the Vixen mold. What I had wasn't perfect by any means. In fact, the mold was more than a little tempermental. But it worked; I had four perfectly usable bisque Vixens when I left for Idaho. I was going to walk away and call it a day. I had already gotten so far behind on all my other work getting to where I was. It was time to declare it all "good enough".

But then I came home with one of the Taboo molds. I knew I should just put it down and get right to glazing. But I talked myself into casting "just one or two" to insure that I really understood the innovations involved with the mold. (Nothing really illustrates how a mold works like demolding it.) I also thought it would be a good idea to see how assembling a pieced mold in that scale might be, so I could better assess that as a potential path for future pieces. I didn't intend to make a multi-part assembly version of Vixen. (Little did I know that I was already staring at a weasel and thinking he looked kind of cute.)

But that Taboo cast so easily. And the assembly part wasn't that bad; certainly not as bad as babying things to come out in one piece. And if I was going to make a new version of Vixen, surely I should do this while the process behind the Taboo mold was still fresh in my mind. (At this point, I was picking up the weasel.) It would only take a few extra days, and besides, I didn't have all my special glaze mixes back from Idaho yet. I wouldn't be losing that much work!

And here I am, several weeks later, with no blog posts and no newly glazed horses. I do have a new set of molds which hopefully will work better. I have told myself if they don't, I'm turning this particular weasel back into the wild before he does more damage to my productivity!