Sunday, December 26, 2010

Season's Greetings!

I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year!

(The blog will be back to it's semi-regular posting schedule after the holidays.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Deep thoughts on a Monday morning

Earlier this year, many of us in the equine collectibles industry pulled together to help a dear friend with her husband's medical bills. The response grew into something way beyond what any of us expected, but while all this love and effort worked to restore our friend's financial security, it could not conquer such a deadly form of cancer.

This left those with outstanding donations in a quandary. This was especially puzzling when it came to what to do with the outstanding pieces of the Terra Cotta Tile Project. Like many, I still had a handful to glaze and even more left to "festoon". What was the right thing to do now that they could no longer serve their original purpose? Equally important, what decision might best preserve the value of the pieces in the project which had been sold as collectibles?

Yesterday those of us involved in the project received word that we were to destroy whatever unfinished, unadorned tiles were left in our possession. By the close of the day, I had done exactly that. I knew it would be hard. Destroying handmade items is not something I find easy, but it was all the harder for me because I knew what went into them. Coming from my faith tradition, these tiles were what we would call "widow's pennies". That is the parable where Jesus instructs his followers that the penny given by the poor widow is worth more then the entire fortune of a wealthy man. What comes from someone's bounty is not worth the same as what comes from someone's poverty. I knew those tiles had been made over long hours by someone who was herself facing horrible financial threats, yet still she was donating her time (and therefor her income) to someone else. It seemed a horrible sin to literally smash all that generosity - all that sacrifice.

But it also made me think about starting over with clean slates. As most of my friends and customers know, I am perpetually overcommitted and almost always falling behind. After losing more time than I expected earlier this year following my surgery, that normal situation has snowballed. This motivated me to set into motion some changes that will allow me a more sane level of responsibilities, but my to-do list is still a discouraging read at the moment. Literally smashing one small commitment was a good reminder for me not to replace the jobs I am finishing with new obligations. I've placed the broken heart from one of the tiles on my whiteboard (the one where I write my daily task list) to remind myself how hard this lesson is for me to learn!

Friday, December 3, 2010

New giftware products

I have been working on some new giftware items the past few weeks, in between cleaning greenware and detailing some horses. The first is the new pendant, shown here in my favorite purple art glaze wired from the top. The piece is designed so I can drill a hole for hanging at the top or one on each side, depending on how the necklace needs to be strung. This particular one has a twisted antique brass jump ring for the bail, but I've also experimented with wrapped wire bails, too. Those are fun because I can add a bead accent to them, as well as work with less common metal finishes.

My second item is a zipper pull. I've taken the same cabochon that I've used with the bookmarks and trimmed it to fit inside a heavier setting. I thought these would work well as zipper pulls because the bead is almost entirely recessed, which makes it a little more sturdy. I have to admit I have yet to chip one of the unset cabochons, despite intentionally treating them carelessly, but it never hurts to have a little extra protection. This is especially true when you hang around a pony that has an obession with zippers. This particular one has been hanging from my barn jacket for a few weeks now and is none the worse for wear, so I am considering it suitable for the task.

I hope to add both items to the Etsy store in the next week.

[Edited to correct the link to the Etsy store. Sorry about that!]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fixing the leak (mostly)

Thanks to the now-working mold straps and some tips from fellow ceramists, my Elsie mold has gone from extremely leaky (bottom) to a more normal amount of flashing (top). I had underestimated just how much I needed to thicken the slip when working with a much larger casting.

I also discovered that I got much better results by pouring successive castings. Because I live in a pretty humid climate, my molds have to sit for considerably longer before I remove a casting. Not wanting to wear my molds out - which getting them too damp too often will do - I had been spacing my castings out over a period of days. My typical routine was to pour one casting and then let the mold sit for one or two days, then casting another. Joan at Pour Horse had suggested doing two castings in a row and then resting the mold. That is working much better.

Now if I could just find enough uninterrupted time to glaze a set. As much as I would like to have a set finished before the end of the year, scheduling tends to conspire against me during the holidays when it comes to things like underglazing. I can do a lot of tasks (like art glaze giftware or clean greenware) in small bits of time with lots of interruptions, but not underglazing. The threat of being interrupted - which seems worse that usual during this time of year - is enough to make me avoid the spray booth. Perhaps I should ask for a day of isolation for Christmas!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Etsy Store is stocked again!

To help with holiday shopping, I have more bookmarks in the Etsy store.

I have also added a few of the "Inspire" Artist Trading Cards (also known as ACEOs, for "Art Cards, Editions and Originals") in both glazed and bisque versions. My original plan for the trading card tiles was to offer them in bisque so that those interested in learning to glaze might have a sturdy, less-expensive canvas for practicing. I also hoped to use them for their traditional purpose, which is for trading between artists. I love the idea of being able to swap techniques in this way, because I have always found so much value in being able to really look at someone else's work up close.

That hasn't come to pass yet. I fear that I fell behind with all my projects after my surgery earlier this year, and I haven't yet managed to catch back up. Eventually there will be some realistically colored samples, though! In the meantime, pick up some of the bisques if you would like to try some glazing.

And here is a more traditional Trading Card, done on paper with ink, Copic markers and colored pencils. I was experimenting with the card in anticipation of a project for the upcoming Bring Out Your Chinas Convention. I'll post a little more about that soon.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another sneak peek

This is the first bisque Elsie with one of the Olivers. I love how these two pieces work as a set.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sneak Peek

Since a batch of these guys just went into the kiln with the first Elsie bisque, I thought I would share a sneak peek. Each year I try to make something for Christmas. Usually it is a medallion or an ornament, but this year I wanted to do a pendant. He is really small - just over an inch tall. He is a shrunken and reworked version of the 2008 Christmas ornament. Unlike previous bas relief shrinks, which were done using the shrinkage of the clay, this (and the ornament before it) were done using a material called HydroShrink. I had hoped that it would make shrinking quicker (which it did) and easier (that part is a little questionable). I will try to get some pictures of the process and talk about its pros and cons in a later post.

He is designed so that holes for stringing can be worked in his mane, either one at the top or one to either side.

A not-so-small breakthrough

One of my mare's barn buddies, Abby, showing the varnish roan coloring associated with the Leopard Complex gene.

The Appaloosa Project, a research group devoted to unlocking the mysteries behind appaloosa patterning in horses, announced today that they had isolated several of changes in the genetic code that correlate with the "leopard complex" gene. Leopard complex is the name given to the gene responsible for the color horseman call varnish roan. It's important because it is thought to be the master switch that sets the stage for the other appaloosa patterns (blankets and leopards). This discovery is important because it means that tests can be offered to determine if a horse has the gene. Since varnish roan is not always visible at birth (especially when none of the patterning genes are present), being able to test for it will be a great boon to breeders of appaloosas.

The article with the information appears in this month's Animal Genetics, in a special issue on horse genomics. An article that explains the leopard complex gene is available in PDF form on my website. (I need to format and upload the other articles from that series!)

This is exciting news for those of us that follow equine coat color research. This is the first step towards a better understanding of the whole picture when it comes to appaloosa patterns. It is likely that research in this area will shed light on how the other complex, multi-gene patterns (like sabino) work. Kudos to the team of scientists at The Appaloosa Project!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Small breakthroughs

One day when my youngest son was a toddler, he decided he was too old for baths and requested a shower. I set him inside the shower stall in our master bedroom, and went to get extra towels just in case things got especially wet. I was only gone for a minute - just long enough to walk down the hall to the linen closet. When I came back I found him sitting on the floor of the shower, oblivious to the water falling on his head, with all the pieces of the drain scattered around him. In just that brief time he had taken it apart. I didn't even know it came apart.

He is one of those people who are just seem born with an instinctive understanding of how things work. He gets this from his father, because I am most assuredly not one of those people. I often struggle with relatively simple machinery.

Which brings me to the item in the picture. That is the fastener on a mold strap. Mold straps hold the pieces of a mold tight while the slip is poured. I haven't needed mold straps in the past because I have always dealt with molds smaller molds that could be held together with wide rubber bands. This has been a good thing, because I never could figure out how the fasteners worked. What is sad is that I have seen them used at Pour Horse. I'd even unfastened and refastened them, so I know how they are supposed to feel when they lock. I just couldn't seem to make mine work.

I thought I could avoid dealing with them at all by simply using the same kind of large black rubber bands that I had used on the rubber master. They actually came off a set of "moon shoes" that my kids got for Christmas one year. When he first saw them, my friend Joe insisted that the shoes were the best job security he had seen in a while. Joe is a emergency room doctor. Shortly after that the shoes went missing (funny, that!), all except those useful-looking black bands.

I became skeptical though, when I had the completed mold. The rubber master tends to stick together a bit all on its own, so it doesn't need to be cranked closed quite like the plaster one. I wasn't sure the rubber bands were up to holding the large side pieces tightly enough.

As this picture of the first pour shows, they were not. The extra clay around the leg is where the liquid slip leaked between the pieces. (The white areas are from the mold soap that is present on the sides of the mold pieces.) This wouldn't work. Not only does that slight gap distort the casting, but the clay between the pieces effectively glues the whole thing shut. It is almost impossible to remove a horse in this kind of situation without tearing it.

So I had to figure out the mold straps. I felt a little better when even my husband was at a loss. They looked simple enough, and he works in an engineering field. We must not have been the only ones, because in my search for a picture online of how they looked like closed, I found this online tutorial. Suddenly it all made sense, and now I have a tightly strapped mold. I thought it might be worthwhile to share the link, in case others were having similar trouble.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Listing to starboard

The first casting from a new mold is where you make the big mistakes. I knew that was particularly likely with Oliver because of the placement of his feet. Legs often get shifted during the demolding process. There is also the problem of how drying clay can effect the balance of the horse. Because this is particularly a problem with standing horses, and because Oliver is "tripoded" (that is, he balances on three points), I expected the first casting to be a little off. As the picture above shows, he was more than a little off! He is listing to starboard in a pretty obvious way.

We usually adjust for a weight-bearing leg "pulling up" by shifting it ever so slightly in the opposite direction. The idea is that as it dries, it will pull into the proper place. But to know what constitutes a small shift, I need to have the legs lined up properly.

Since the change is usually too subtle to see even when placing the original next to the casting, I needed another way to check.

Here I've painted the hoof bottoms of the resin Oliver with underglaze. I could have used any paint, but the underglaze was handy and it washes off the resin easily. While the feet were still wet, I set him down on a sheet of white cardstock. Now I have a guide for proper foot placement.

It is not, however, the right size. My final clay shrinkage is around 6%, with most of that happening during the drying process. Usually there is a tiny amount of shrinkage while the horse is still in the mold; that's what enables us to wiggle the casting free of the plaster. That is the point at which I'm usually adjusting the legs. So I needed my placement guide to be just a hair smaller. To do that, I scanned the card stock with the footprints and then printed it out at a 1% reduction. I printed a second page out at a 6% reduction so that I could check it again once the piece was dry. I can't change the legs after that point, but at least it gives me a chance to check that casting isn't hopeless before I invest the time in cleaning the greenware.

So far this has worked and all the subsequent Olivers have stood level. I also have Elsie's pattern ready for when her molds are working, just in case!

You might wonder, looking at the tilting Oliver, why I bothered to clean and fire him. I've found out the hard way that no matter what goes wrong with the first casting early, it is best to keep working because there are sometimes more discoveries. It is better to find them on a casting that is already a loss than to lose one casting for each lesson. In the case of Oliver, I also found that I needed to cast him thicker than usual so I could clean out the clay from the gap between his front legs. Otherwise he ends up with an oddly placed post hole between his front legs. We are used to seeing a belly hole where the horse is posted in the kiln, but a hole in the chest area looked a bit disturbing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Finishing up the Elsie molds

In the last post, I had pictures of the first large side of the head mold being made. I thought it might be helpful to show the next few steps, since they might not be obvious.

These pictures might be a little confusing, though, because I normally make two copies of each mold. This one is the second copy of the mold, and the other pictures are of the making of the first copy. As I mentioned before, after I made the first mold of her head I decided to reverse the order that I poured the sides.

Elsie's head mold has three sides: left, right and a gusset. The gusset piece runs from between her ears (like a typical hat piece) down her face and up under her mouth. That piece is designed to break so that the final mold actually has four pieces, but it pours in three. The gusset is the first to pour, and it can be seen in that first picture of the clay barrier. The second piece there is the left side of the face, but for the picture above the second pour was the right side of the face. The left side is the third and last pour.

In this picture above I have already used a planer to clean up the edges so the head can be boxed and the last side poured. Since it is a relatively small mold, I've used Legos. I still had to use clay on the right-hand side of the mold since I am going to be pouring directly into the opening at her neck. Since that cut is not straight (making an uneven cut helps to "key" the pieces back together properly), that side cannot be level and must be shaped with plastelina.

Here is the second mold after it was removed from the Lego box. I haven't yet used the planing tool (left) to level out the other sides of the mold. The top of the mold will still slope along the line of the neck opening, but I will clean up as much of that as possible. It might seem like an unnecessary step, but leveling the sides makes it much easier to stack the molds in the storage cabinet, and it makes it a lot less likely that the corners will get chipped.

Here are all three of Elsie's finished production molds. As you can see, the head mold (top left) is all cleaned and planed. The smaller mold to the right is her tail, and the large mold on the bottom is her body. All totaled, it takes 19 mold pieces to make her. All together, her molds weigh just over 30 lbs. when still damp.

Now all that is left is the waiting. It will take 2-3 weeks, depending on the weather, before the head and body molds are dry enough to use. That's when I will know if this set works.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Learning from mistakes

I tend to focus a lot on mold-making on the blog, probably because it is the area of my work where I still have so much to learn. Blogging is a lot like talking, and like most extroverts I process my thoughts best outside my own head. It has made for a messy conversation, at least for anyone else wanting to learn mold-making by reading, because it seems many of my posts are about what I should not have done.

I have been blessed throughout my adventures in ceramics with an extremely generous and patient mentor. Joan has always been available to answer any questions I have had, and to offer whatever help she could. But she does live 2,400 miles away. That means she cannot look in horror at something I am about to do, and cry out, "Oh no! Don't do that!"

Which is a big limitation when I assume I understand the next steps. I am usually a pretty decent problem-solver, but sometimes I just miss the obvious.

For some reason, when I made the second version of the Vixen master, I had it my head that I needed to end up with two separate, complete masters for the two different molds. I was used to thinking of master molds as exact - or at least almost exact - copies of the plaster molds they made. I knew the first master, which cast a whole Vixen, would need to hold the different rubber pieces (her head, her one front leg) so that separate molds could be made of those. What I didn't realize is that I didn't have to destroy that original master to do it.

I didn't need perfect masters of the eventual production molds. All I needed to do was temporarily modify the master to make the separate molds. If I could do it once, I could do it again when another production mold was needed. And if it didn't work, I could always modify it a different way the next time. (That is what I cannot do with the current Vixen master mold, now that I am unhappy with the modified design. Darn!)

This is what I should have done. I've boxed up the (unharmed!) Elsie master and just blocked off the area that will make up the separate mold for the head.

The mold sides are rough since I didn't bother to smooth the clay barrier, but a planing tool can fix that easily enough. That way this piece, and the one already poured (visible in the previous picture) and the rubber head can all be boxed and the final piece poured.

I did find that because of the angles of the cut to her neck, it was better to cast the other side of her face second since it gave me more control over the angle the plaster made with the opening of her neck. When this particular mold was finished, the edge was thin enough that I suspected it would crack before too many pieces were cast.

What I didn't remember was that when I poured the plaster for the first piece, I had inserted both the rubber head and the rubber body because there is a small gap where that inner piece meets up with the body. I didn't include the body the second time, so of course some of the plaster poured down the gap and into the body cavity, where it pooled in the tail.

Now I have two Elsie head molds and a white plaster Elsie butt. Next up - the body! I am sure it will be a learning process as well, and I'll share any of the mistakes here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Etsy Store is open!

I stocked the Etsy store with several colors of the Arabian Mare bookmark today, and was tickled to find someone had put the slate blue one (to the far left) in a "Treasury" listing. Those are groupings of items users pick out from the site, usually following a theme, to display on the front page of the site. Unfortunately I haven't yet figured out how to link those directly to the blog, but it was neat to see it there.

I'm still in the process of listing some of the pendants and tiles. I thought it would be a good idea to get them up in time for folks that do their holiday shopping early!

I've also in the process of updating the website with pages for the giftware. There has actually been a fair bit of it made here over the years, but a lot of it has never been seen since I tend to make it for my own gift-giving! I've also started formalizing my glaze colors and giving them names. I've had people ask me to glaze something to match an earlier piece and realized that unless I named the color formulas, we'd all have a hard time knowing which blue or which green was wanted. After laughing at the exotic names people sometimes give to product colors, I now have a new appreciation for how difficult it is to come up with a name that gives the buyer a good idea of the tone without sounding too generic and bland or too over-the-top and silly.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Off with her head! (again)

I never imagined, when I began molding horses here at the pottery, that I'd be decapitating so many of my ponies. I had hopes early on that Elsie would cast bob-tailed but otherwise whole, but there was just too much of a turn so off went the head.

The one I'm holding in the picture isn't the real Elsie master head; since I had a poor casting I had the luxury of making a test cut. I wanted to see how it would set in the rest of the mold and how I would create the two separate molds - one for the head and one for the body - from the pieces. I think this extra needs to go live with my friend Jackie Arns, to keep the infamous Beowulf company. Jackie won't mind that Emma, the ever-shedding studio dog, left a little bit of herself in the rubber.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bowl o' Beads

There is a lot of waiting involved with making a rubber master, so I've been testing glazes colors on bookmark beads in between curing times. I thought all the bright colors made them look like candies, so I set them out in my special "mudhen" bowl. The bowl was a gift from fellow potter Karen Gerhardt during her recent stay in England. Later they will go into bookmarks and pendant settings, but for now they are making my table look festive!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wrapped in plastic!

Becky Turner commented in the previous post about the foil saving clean-up time. I was so pleased with this side benefit to my clay-saving tactic that I decided to try something similar with the inner pieces. This is a picture of Elsie before I formed the inner pieces with clay. I used plastic wrap to line the inside of her belly and legs, then added the clay on top.

When the piece I poured this morning - the second large side - cures, I will have to remove the clay placeholders. It is best if that can be done without breaking the seal on the two side pieces, but that can be impossible when soft clay is stuck to all the detailed bits under the belly. My hope is that by lining some of that area with the plastic, I can pull it free more easily and leave less of a mess. Tomorrow I'll get to see if it worked.


I was so excited that my largest mold boards fit Elsie's length that I completely overlooked the other important factor: depth. Mold boards have to be deep enough to box the mold twice over, because the first side forms the bottom for pouring the second side. As can be seen in the picture above, the first side pretty much fills the depth of my mold boards. Ooops. Not sure how I missed that, but I sure did!

Obviously I am going to need some deeper mold boards after all, but I wasn't willing to wait for them so I had to find a temporary fix. My husband claims that the universal solution is duct tape, but I think in the studio it is Legos. Here I've built a platform around the bottom of the first side to raise the mold boards.

The platform lifted the boards to a more workable height, and proved more solid than I expected. It didn't need to be tremendously stable since I've been doing on my pouring for this one on the floor, but it was sturdy enough to pick up and move without breaking the seals on the clayed-up areas.

So now it's 8 more pounds of rubber (give or take) and I'll be ready to pour the inside pieces!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Getting back to Elsie

Extra rubber arrived earlier this week, so I was able to top off the first side of Elsie's mold. It took a total of 8 lbs. of rubber to do this one side. I wanted to pour the side pretty deep because I was spanning a fair distance (11" inches across) and I wanted to be sure there wasn't any flex to the mold. In this picture, I've embedded beads to make keys for the plaster support that will reinforce this side.

With the plaster poured and the mold board removed, this is what I have. The bottom is the wooden shelf piece that I used to build up the clay around Elsie. The next layer is the plastalina clay that was used to block off the area. After that is the first rubber side piece, and finally the plaster reinforcement.

You can see to the left what a steep drop her turned head (just barely visible in the left hand corner) creates. That kind of abrupt change will not work for a plaster mold, but the purpose of this mold isn't to make a plaster mold - at least not yet. At this point my goal is simply to get a rubber Elsie.

The top two pieces (rubber and plaster) make one major side of the mold. My next task will be to block off the inner pieces with clay and pour the second side piece.

In this photo I have peeled off the wooden base that was used to build up the clay. Because I was concerned about weight, I used tin foil to fill the inner area and then added the clay. Even so, I ended up using almost 5 lbs. of plastalina. (The entire assembly in the first picture weighed close to 24 lbs.)

I should add that I have set the mold piece down on a towel because the plaster support is still quite damp. Until it truly dries, a good blow on a hard surface can fracture it. The towel is a softer surface, but mostly it serves to remind me to set the mold down carefully!

One of the side benefits of using the foil was that the original was much cleaner than usual, since very little clay was actually touching the resin surface.

In fact, it peeled off in one long piece, leaving behind a fairly clean original.

There is a little bit of clean-up to get her ready for the shaping of the inner pieces, but using the foil was a great time-saver in addition to minimizing the weight.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some useful tools

I was grateful for the tip about the grids on Lynn Fraley's blog. In the previous post, you can probably see the bubble wrap lining the smaller damp box. That had been my own solution for keeping the greenware elevated from the damp plaster, but I can see her tool will work so much better. It also reminded me that I've meant to share some of the tools I've come to depend on for some odd jobs around the studio. Since I've been absorbed in mold-making these last few weeks most of these are tools used either for that or for prepping the resin masters.

1) Sponge-backed sanding pads
Although they are here with mold-making tools, I really use these for everything from cleaning masters, to polishing plaster to cleaning greenware. They often aren't sold by standard grit numbers, so I like to buy them in person by feel, and I use all kinds. Often I cut them into small strips and round the edges (a big help when they are used on soft greenware, since the corners can gouge), then strip off most of the padding from the back. I find for some tasks I need them a little more flexible than the thick layer of foam allows.

2) Miskit Liquid Latex
This is another all-purpose tool in the studio. It's primary purpose is to mask off bisques during underglazing, but I also use it when I want to clay up a resin original. The blocking clay I use, Plastalina, is really soft and sticky, so I find that masking areas with deep grooves (like the mane or the eyes) before I place that side down in the clay makes the later clean-up much easier. Just be careful to keep it well away from the mold lines, since the seal against the master needs to be tight there.

The exposed face of the resin master tends to get clay residue as well, especially near the mold lines. To clean those places without disturbing the clay, you can paint the latex over the area (including the plastalina itself) and allow it to dry. When it is peeled off, it takes the residue with it. The small square under the Miskit bottle is a rubber cement eraser, which is useful for removing dry latex. It is quite rigid, so it can be cut into shapes to reach tight areas.

3) Clay Shaper

These tools are really popular with sculptors and can be purchased with different tips and with varying firmness. I use the smallest firm (black) wedges to apply the liquid latex. The have just enough give and dried latex peels right off of them.

4) Fingertip Swivel Knife

I found this tool, made by Fiskars, at a scrapbooking store and immediately fell in love with it. (That hobby has more cool tools!) The tiny blade is just the right size for cleaning seams, and the loop that fits around your finger braces the knife in a much more controlled fashion than an ordinary Xacto handle. Even better, the blade can be positioned at any angle to the handle, so it is perfect for getting into tight spots. It was made for cleaning out the "keyholes" in manes and tails - and Oliver's crossed legs!

5) Schwan All-Stabilo Pencil

We used these water-soluble pencils at my family's sign shop to mark cut lines. They were great because they gave a very visible blue line that didn't brush off easily, but could be removed completely with water. I use them to help mark out mold lines on resin masters. I can see the lines more clearly than with a regular pencil, but I can still remove the marks (or change them) when I am done.

6) Embossing Stylus

This is another cool tool from the scrapbooking store, also made by Fiskars. One of the most time-consuming - and truly boring - tasks in making molds is sealing the mold boards. The clay needs to be sealed against the edges, as do the corners of the box. It has to be done reaching inside the box, and without bothering the soft clay around the horse. It is messy work, and it always left a messy edge around the rubber master. Now I just run the larger end of the embossing stylus along the seam, and it makes a clean seal in minutes.

Here is the stylus sealing the edge of the mold in yesterday's picture. I love this tool!

7) Swizzle Stick Sanders

I found these at a hobby store that catered to military miniatures, and they are particularly handy for sanding hard to reach areas of hard surfaces like resin. They are more rigid than the sanding pads, and can be bend at angles when needed. They come in four different grits, with the finest pretty comparable to 600 grit sandpaper.

Most of these tools are pretty inexpensive, but it is really the time saved (and frustration avoided) that makes such a difference. Hopefully some of them will prove useful to others.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Supersize me!

When I first converted my studio for full-time work in ceramics, I imagined that like my previous efforts with resin-cast figures, most of my work would be in the smaller "mini" scale. (For readers that are not involved in equine collectibles, that makes an adult horse just a little under 3" tall.) Most ceramic horses were either minis (often called "thumb" scale by ceramics collectors) or the slightly larger "curio" scale, with few horses going more than "classic" scale (the standard dollhouse scale). So I got a Skutt 614, which is a hexagonal kiln that measures around 12" across the diagonal. That seemed a safe bet for almost anything I wanted to fire.

Later I added the smaller AIM 88-D, which is a square 8". It's the workhorse in the studio that does most of the bisque firing. It is rare that I have anything that won't fit in the AIM, nevermind that larger Skutt. But I knew that with ceramic horses getting bigger, the time would come when I would need to replace the Skutt with something a little bigger. Since that will also mean rewiring the studio, I have been putting it off until I had a horse that no longer fit. Although it was a squeeze, so far even Stormwatch fit. But while he is a larger horse than Elsie, she takes up a lot of horizontal space so I wondered if she might be the one. I was relieved when she fit.

But what I didn't realize back when she first arrived was just how many other items would be too small. As can be seen from the first picture, my largest mold boards proved just barely long enough to hold her master mold. I've included the master for Imp, a mini-scale foal, and my foot for scale. I tried to hold my hand up for scale first, but I didn't have enough arm length to get back enough to get the whole mold in the frame. (I guess by now my liking for flowers painted on my toes is obvious.) The Imp mold is 3" across its length, whereas Elsie is 12".

The mold boards did fit, but I realized as I assembled my supplies that I didn't have a container large enough for mixing that much rubber. I usually use small throw-away rubbermaid containers, but the largest ones only hold a gallon. I thought I would need around 5 lbs of rubber. I ended up purchasing a few plastic dishwashing bins that could hold 3 gallons. I got them home and realized that they were too large to sit on my scale. So I constructed a platform that would hold the bin (and still let me read the weight).

That is when I was reminded of my inability to estimate volume. I'd already done that with the Plastalina, which is the brown clay used to block out the areas that don't yet get rubber. Not once, but twice, I had to run out to get still more of it. I probably should have known better with the rubber, but it spoils quickly and is quite expensive. I order it as it is needed for each step. So now I have an Elsie that is covered in rubber, but not really deeply enough to be stable. Luckily, additional rubber can be added after the first pour cures, so it's just a matter of waiting for the next delivery.

I almost forgot the "damp box". When horses are cast in separate pieces, those pieces stay in a damp box while they are cleaned and assembled. That's my mini-scale damp box on top: a tupperware sandwich container with a thin layer of plaster on the bottom. Not even Elsie's tail will fit in there, so I had to find a container that would work. It was surprisingly difficult to find a box deep enough for her (with the attached tail) that wasn't also really large, but this 12 quart tote looks like it will work out well. I liked that it had flip-down handles, rather than a pull-off lid, since it will keep jostling to a minimum when I have to open the container.

I can see that going larger is going to take some adjustment when it comes to tools and materials!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Buckskin Silver

One of the best places to find horses with unusual coloring are trail rides. In many breeds, traditional colors dominate the show ring, but among the horses used for pleasure riding there is often a lot more variation. That is what I was hoping to find at the recent Latta Plantation Poker Run. I got there a little too early to see many horses, but I did get these pictures of "Peaches", a Rocky Mountain Horse.

I wanted to share her because she is a really good example of what happens to silver dilutes with age. Peaches is a buckskin silver, and according to her owner she is seventeen. I apologize for the extreme in perspective (my camera has been out-of-whack in that regard for a while), but I wanted to show just how dark her tail was. Pale manes and tails tend to darken with age, and silvers are no exception. It is not unusual to find an aged silver with a tail almost indistinguishable from a non-diluted horse of the same color. The manes usually keep their lighter ends, but it might be a stretch to call them flaxen. It could also be easily mistaken for sun-fading.

Peaches also had a really cool trait that seems to be more common in horses carrying two separate dilution genes (silver and cream in this case), but it can be found in horses without any dilution at all. That is a hazel eye.

Peaches was great for holding still while I got a number of close-ups, although I did have to keep brushing her long forelock out of the way. (Click on the picture to see a larger version.) I am going to have to try to work this trait into a ceramic horse at some point, because it sure is striking.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Appaloosa patterns have been on my mind lately. Some of that comes from watching the changes in my own mare's pattern. After years of without much change, she has begun to roan more visibly.

She still has her rib stripes, though the background color is far closer to gray than chocolate these days. It never ceases to amaze me how very vertical the lines are. They do not follow the contour of the body (like the stripes on a zebra) or the direction of hair growth. Instead they look like someone drew them with a ruler.

I have been pondering the lines because I considered placing Sprinkle's pattern on an Oliver, but I need to do a little research on how the stripes appear in foals (if in fact they do at all). That's one of the pitfalls with appaloosa patterns; they are progressive so age matters.

Sprinkles did get more white hairs each year, but the process was so slow I thought she'd be quite old before she looked really different. Then last fall I noticed she was getting a few white dots on the back of her ears. I have tried a few times to photograph them, but getting her head to point away from me when I am holding something as interesting as a camera is hard to do!

This summer she started getting the same white dots on her legs. They are more numerous on her hind legs than her front, and far more to the inside than the outside. At the same time she is getting darker dots there, too, though they are much harder to catch since they are only visible in the right light. (The faded parts of her coat are somewhat iridescent.) The spots are quite muted and soft in outline, much like the Tetrarch spots some grey horses get.

You can also see that she has a completely shell hoof on that leg. Appaloosas have stripes on their hooves when they have solid legs, but when there are white markings they have shell hooves just like any other horse. That is, unless they are homozygous for the "master switch" for the appaloosa patterns. Those horses have shell hooves (or nearly so) no matter what color the leg is.

Which is why I find one of Sprinkle's buddies so interesting. I have shared pictures of Jag before. He is a black blanket appaloosa with the splash gene. He is certainly not homozygous because his blanket is spotted; homozygous blanket appaloosas end up as snowcaps.

These are the two sides of his blanket pattern. He certainly has spots. He also has the neatest white patches that run all along his spine up to his withers. One of these days I'll remember to get a shot of that, too.

So he is heterozygous and black. Yet his hooves are almost shell colored, they are so minimally striped.

I only got a shot of his two hind feet, but the front look much the same. They are faintly striped, and that one hind has a dark patch, but they are predominantly shell. Sprinkles, and most of the other genetically black appaloosas I have encountered, have had predominantly dark hooves on their solid legs. (I should mention that Jag has no white on his feet at all.)

I have wondered if this is just a normal variation of expression, or if it is related to his carrying the splash gene, or some other combination of factors. That is what makes appaloosas (and sabinos, for that matter) so very interesting to me. The appearance of the pattern depends on the interaction of many different genes rather than a single one, so it is a puzzle to determine which traits can occur in conjunction and which ones cannot.

Like I said, part of my interest comes from being around Sprinkles. But I am also looking forward to glazing, which I will begin again in earnest as soon as Elsie's molds are drying. Almost all the horses that come up next in line are appaloosas, or appaloosas in combination with some other pattern. I want to get all these little things right when the time comes, so I've been asking myself these kinds of questions.

Oh, and one last photo. This one is for my friend Sarah. Jag is the only pony at my barn that is plumper than my own, so when he turned to scratch his leg I just had to catch all those wrinkles for her!