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!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Patience is overrated

That's because the first Oliver casting came easily out of the mold. Sorry for the grainy picture, but it is dark outside so the studio has very little natural light at the moment - but I had to share!

A potter of little patience

This is my last look at this Oliver mold while it is still clean. They don't stay like this, of course. Once the slip gets poured, they get stained. Eventually a corner chips. And of course, I learn what parts don't work as well as I imagined, and what I should have done differently. But at this stage, when they are still pearly white, I can still believe they will turn out rows and rows of pain-free greenware.

I told myself that I'd leave the two Oliver molds until after the molds for his mother, Elsie, were done and drying. Although I do have her tail molds drying, the rest of her is no where close yet.

Here she is almost ready for the first rubber piece to be poured. This is actually an intermediate mold that will be used to get a rubber original, which will then be cut apart so that a separate master can be made for her head and neck. Needless to say, there are a lot more steps before I should be pouring an Oliver.

If I had been virtuous, I would have finished cleaning the studio. In my defense, I can say that half of it is very, very tidy. But then I got to the area where the Oliver molds were sitting in the sun, quite obviously dry. I couldn't resist. Surely it would be okay to test one, just to see?

I don't know yet how well it worked, since it won't be ready to demold for a while still. (More unbearable waiting!) I used to think that molds worked better when they had been "broken in" for a while, but I suspect the real issue is that the newness has to wear off enough that I am reasonably patient.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Evolution of molds

Or, "Why There are Fewer Custom Glazes Out There Now"

When I was first learning to glaze, my good friend and mentor Joan Berkwitz generously offered to send me a handful of old Pour Horse production molds. These allowed me to experiment with underglazing without fear of ruining an expensive bisque, which was a godsend. They also allowed me to learn to pour slip and clean greenware with what were some very forgiving molds.

But their true value came when I began to make my own molds. Nothing teaches how molds work like getting castings out - or not getting them out, as the case sometimes was! They also allowed me to see how Joanie solved mold-making problems. Although I rarely make castings from them anymore (some are truly worn out by now), I still use them in this way.

I had a bunch of them out the other day, weighing potential solutions to some of the challenges presented by Elsie, and it struck me that it might be fun to share a visual of just how far mold-making has come in the last decade. I took exploded views of three different mini-scale molds. All three were designed by Joanie, though the production copies of the middle one (Finn) were made here at Blackberry Lane.

This is "Limerick", which I believe was the second Pour Horse "thumb scale" release following the Shetland mare, "Bressay". Her mold is only three pieces: right side, left side and the ear hat. (Not only did I learn to pour slip with this mold, but I also learned that you don't clean a messy mold with a wet sponge. That's why the one side is discolored!)

The early minis like Limerick were designed with production in mind, so the sculpture was simplified. The hindquarters, for instance, were "diapered". That is, the whole area between the two legs and under the tail was filled in. Once ceramic producers started getting working with sculptures designed for resin casting - with their detailed fannies, chests and "boy parts" - molds had to have gusset pieces. Turned heads also added mold parts. This is "Finn" with eight pieces: right side, left side, ear hat, head/neck piece, two front gussets and two back gussets.

This is now pretty much the standard mold design for what I think of as an easy piece.

That's because we now make things like this. This is the three mold set for "Taboo" with a total of thirteen pieces. His three separate molds cast (top to bottom in the picture) his 1) head and tail, 2) one front and one back leg and 3) the rest of his body and legs. There are also numerous small pieces for the undercuts in this mane and tail, all handmade with each new mold. His various pieces are cast and then he is assembled while the greenware is still damp.

Needless to say, there are a lot fewer Taboos (and Vixen, who casts from a similarly complex set of molds) than Limericks out in the world! But each mold is pushing the envelope for what we once thought was possible in earthenware.

Which brings me to Elsie and Oliver. Those are two almost-dry Oliver molds off to the right. He is, by present-day standards, a relatively easy mold. I have high hopes that will allow me to get more Olivers out in the world.

The two molds to the left are copies of Elsie's tail mold. It takes six pieces to make her tail alone - twice as many as it takes to make a whole Limerick. I'm still designing the mold or molds for the rest of her, so I don't know what the final piece count will be for her. In many ways her size alone makes her easier to do than the minis, though, so hopefully there won't be a host of motherless Olivers.