Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Expanding the studio

My family just returned from a visit to my husband's parents in Ohio. We went out there to pick up an old wood lathe from my father-in-law. I fear that now that he has fully retired from carpentry, we'll be moving his shop toys to Charlotte one long truck ride at a time!

The trouble with this is that we really don't have anywhere to put large woodworking equipment. We weren't even sure where the wood lathe would go when we returned. Having accumulated more than a decade's worth of kid-raising debris, it's been years since we could park our cars in the garage, nevermind use it for something as practical as a wood shop.

But the more we talked (and nine hours trying not to think about just how much gas a Chevy Silverado uses is a long time to talk), the more we decided it was time to convert the garage to a his-and-hers workshop. When I started making ceramics, I really only ever intended to glaze them. I wasn't going to cast them, and I sure wasn't going to make any molds. It wouldn't take much space! Of course, making ceramics seems a bit like buying them; you find yourself in deeper, and by then it's too late to turn back! So as my involvement has grown, the studio has seemed more cramped by the day.

What I most wanted to do was move the noisier and messier aspects away from my regular work space. The messy part is easy, since all I really need is another plexiglass-covered workbench where I can pour rubber and plaster. The noisy part is a little harder, because what I need is a permanent spray booth that vents to the outside. Small hobby booths - the kind that can be removed from a desk when it's needed for detailing - vent down into filters below the work. That means there isn't a lot of distance between the work area and the fan, so the noise is harder to control.

I could purchase or build a stationary booth, but there really wasn't anywhere to place it within the studio room. And even if I did have a spot, installing one would required cutting a hole to the outside of the house. I could justify installing a utility sink in the studio, which - located next to the kitchen - should have been a dining room. If we ever needed to sell the house, the sink and counter could be converted into a wet bar without much trouble. It's hard to imagine how I could turn a gaping hole, suitable for running ductwork, into an added feature in a dining room!

But a spray booth would easily fit in our garage-turned-workshop. So I offered to dig through the garage (braving snakes, as it turned out!), and pitch or donate everything not absolutely necessary (really, how many non-functioning, but surely-repairable, waffle makers does a family of four need?). I would do all that, if he would install a bench and a booth for me when I was done.

That part has been kind of fun, and a neat break between etching sessions. I've even found some treasures, like these old back issues of "minis!", a newsletter I published back in the early 1990s.

My only mistake was discussing the specs for the different spray booths with my husband. I should have known that he would become convinced that none of the commercially available booths would really fix my noise problem quite as well as something specifically designed to reduce noise. I guess the urge to engineer things isn't much different from the urge to color things!

I'm just wondering if he'd find some design reason to give the booth ornate, turned wooden legs. We do have a cool old lathe!

Monday, July 20, 2009

No tricks

Since posting the pictures of Gaudi, I've had several people ask what the trick was to the roaning on his coat. Unfortunately there isn't any real trick - no special tool or technique. The pattern was created using a #11 Xacto blade, or rather dozens of those blades. (I set the blade aside as soon as it begins to dull, and that happens pretty quickly when it is being scraped against ceramic bisque.) The process isn't really all that different from the etching some use to customize factory finish plastic horses, though potters usually use the term "scraffito".

So there isn't really a trick, other than training yourself to maintain a really light touch with the blade. It also helps if you work in small areas for short periods of time. The temptation to rush and the mind's tendency to create a regimented pattern are the biggest obstacles to achieving a realistic roaning pattern. That means they take a lot longer than it seems they should, but the end result is pretty cool.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Showing options

Percy, a custom-glazed Otto from my own collection, currently entered in the online show at Model Horse Blab.

When I started this blog - two years ago this month! - I promised myself that I would avoid commenting on structural issues within the model horse community. There was a time when I was very involved and very vocal on the topics of shows and particularly judging, but I decided it was time to step back and focus on the goings-on here at the pottery.

But I have been tempted several times to put in a small plug for online showing. A slowing economy (and I suspect an somewhat aging hobby population) has hit our show system pretty hard. Those that show ceramics have added issues with transporting their entries. Security procedures and new rules about carry-on luggage make it more difficult than ever to fly to shows with anything more than a minimal group of entries. Shipping entries to the show ahead of time (if you can find a show that allows this) has become cost-prohibitive for many. If someone is going to show more than a few ceramic horses, they pretty much are going to need to drive.

That's why I think online showing could be such a boon to showing ceramic showers. There are no transport issues. And unlike the "photo shows" of old, entrants and even non-entrants can actually see the competition. (This may be a bit unlike regular shows, too, where most entrants are too busy to really look at the rest of the horses in the classes.)

Right now there are four places that have regular online shows. (Clicking the logos will take you to each show's information site.)

Model Horse Blab is one of the largest forum sites in the model horse community, and it recently started hosting online shows. One has already been held earlier this year, and the second one is currently accepting entries until the end of July. Blab is the only one of the four that offers a separate Custom Glaze Division. It also has one of the easiest uploading interfaces, so it is a good "first show" for those new to online showing.

TOPSA (Totally Online Photo Show Association) is the oldest of the four, having been established in 1999. It's also one of the largest in terms of entries. (The current Artist Resin Arabians, traditional-scale, has 69 entries with the gates not yet closed. As a comparison, there were 34 entries in that same class at the North American Nationals.) There is no Custom Glaze Division; custom glazes show in the Custom Division. There are separate divisions for minis, though, and these are well attended. The shows are hosted on Webshots, so mastering the uploading and labeling takes a little time, but the organization provides very detailed instructions.

MHOSS (Model Horse Online Show Series) is a newer group, set up in 2008. Like TOPSA, the shows are hosted on Webshots using the same uploading and labeling procedures. The shows are somewhat smaller, and there is no Custom Glaze Division. Instead, custom glazes show in the China Division along with the original finish chinas (and, unfortunately, the cold-painted chinas).

IPABRA (International Pedigree Assignment and Bloodline Research Association) hosts online club shows. This is the smallest of the four, but the club tends to attract judges with a really good base of knowledge. (This is not surprising given the focus of the organization.) The shows are hosted at Photobucket, so they work a great deal like TOPSA and MHOSS.

For most of these shows, there is a membership or subscription fee that entitles the member to a year of shows. The one exception is MHOSS, which currently has free entry. The highest is Model Horse Blab, which is only open to paid forum members ($18/year). But even that is lower than the entry fee to a regular show.

And as a side note, for those that own Blackberry Lane horses and would like to try out online showing, please feel to use any of the promotional photos of your horse taken here at the studio when you enter. I sure won't mind!

Of course, this has all been on my mind as I have been thinking of those lucky enough to attend the Breakables show in Kentucky! Like most of us who couldn't attend, I am looking forward to show reports and pictures.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Here are full side shots of "Gaudi", the Lirico from the previous post. The images are a bit larger than they show up on Blogger, so click on them to get a better view.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New family member

Okay, this has nothing to do with ceramic horses, but I had to share this picture of our newest pet, "Napoleon". Well, he actually belongs to my oldest son. Brandon had lost his much-loved leopard gecko, Stradivarius, last year and had been on the fence about what pet he might like next. I had a strong preference for something with fur, and I probably wasn't playing fair when I showed him these Roborovski hamsters. How could we not take one home?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The first Vixen

This is the first finished Vixen, "Antoinette". She was named, of course, because I was forced to lop off her head.

Here is me doing just that, with my vellum guillotine.

I doubt I'll continue using this method, since I suspect the new multi-part molds will work better. (I still haven't poured with them yet, since I've been focused on glazing.) Future Vixens will come pre-decapitated, so I probably won't be wielding the deadly paper any more.

If you'd like to see more pictures of Antoinette (with her head firmly back on), she has her own pages here and here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Joan's Lirico

Here is Joan's Lirico, "Gaudi". He was named for the famed Spanish architect best known for his excessively detailed Sagrada Familia, and there have been times when I wondered if, like Gaudi's cathedral, he might never be finished!

Unfortunately it was nearly impossible to capture the detail in his pale coat. It's too subtle, and easier to see if you are holding him and can turn him to minimize the glare on the glaze. But here is an attempt:

I am going to be sad to see him go, but I learned a lot about effective roaning techniques from him so he'll be influencing horses here for a while to come.

Upcoming lottery horses

I'll be posting three lottery horses to my website later today. This guy is "Dutch", a light bay tovero Finn. There's also a palomino overo Vixen ("Antionette") and the donkey-spotted Brownie that's already on the website. (More information on how lottery sales work can be found here.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A new article

I've added a PDF file of the most recent installment of my column "Hoist the Colors", done for the Realistic Equine Sculpture Society's newsletter, The Boat.

One of the nice things about writing for The Boat is that authors are allowed to retain their copyright, so I can share articles after they are published. I'm not sure I'll post all future columns - I'm not sure I have that much space on the site! - but it's nice to have the option, especially for the articles that might be helpful to a broader range of readers. In the case of this particular article, there's a simple overview of what is currently known about appaloosa genetics. Although that might seem overly technical, in truth it has a lot of implications for painters (and judges) of model horses.

And if you find articles like this one helpful, I'd highly recommend membership in the organization. The newsletter, which usually numbers close to 200 pages, is full of these kinds of in-depth articles on just about every topic concerning the making of horse figurines. The cost of the membership is worth it on the quality of the newsletter alone!

Back to work

Sprinkles does not approve of working, unless by working you mean "feeding peppermints to the pony"

After a whirlwind few weeks that involved too many days spent sleeping in tents or on boats (interrupted by one wonderful week of nothing but studio time), I am back to work. I have a few pieces that are finished and ready to photograph, so I should have some pictures up shortly. A few pieces belong to (very patient) customers, so those pictures will have to wait until their new owners receive them. But there are sales pieces that I can share, including the first Vixen, "Antionette". Her buddy from the previous post, "Vincent", is still a few firings away. Appaloosas are always so difficult...