Friday, February 08, 2008

Surface Decoration Techniques: faceting with a wire.

Faceting the walls of pots is a great way to change the surface of a piece. The facets can be highlighted with atmospheric firings and glazes that break on high points. There are many ways to facet a pot - wet or leather hard, with a wire or a special faceting tool, with a straight wire or a curly wire. Each choice will give you a different final look. I do have a personal preference for faceting while wet. If you facet right on the wheel after your piece is thrown, you can still alter the shape while pushing out from the inside of the piece and you can "re-throw" the lip which is great for a drinking vessel! And if you happen to go through the wall of your pot, you can still re-wedge the clay and try again.

Below are images of a sample cup of wire faceting techniques:




top left: a curly wire that I made that you can see in a previous blog post.
top right: a Bill Van Gilder Wiggle Wire.
bottom left: a Mud Tool straight wire tool.
bottom right: a Mud Tool curly wire.

And below you can see the finished result of the sampler cup:
clay body: Lillstreet Soda Clay
firing: soda fired, c. 10 reduction
slip: top half dipped in Bob Briscoe's Slip for all Occasions
glaze: rutile blue

This is part of my "Surface Decoration Technique" series.
I have been creating, soda firing and documenting simple straight sided cylinders with a variety of surface treatments for examples for my classes and this blog. The original idea was to create demos to show students that aren't specifically "my pieces." The fun result of this project has been that it's given me an excuse to return to things long forgotten and to try some new techniques.
Watch out for upcoming tutorials with lots of pictures and slip and glaze recipes.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

How to: make a cut off wire

I have some issues with the standard cut off wire. They can break and it usually isn't easy to replace the wire. Sometimes you need a longer wire to cut off a big platter. And sometimes you want something different from you wire - either a thinner wire or maybe something that will add texture.

To make a cut off "wire" that fits your needs, this is what you need to get started:
  • A pair of corks. I prefer the rubber wine corks.
  • A drill with a small drill bit.
  • A wire of some sort: fishing line, thin wire, a stretched out spring.**
Drill a hole into the center of your cork.

Thread your cord, wire or spring through the cork. If you're using fishing line, thread it through multiple times and tie a couple of knots. If you're using beading wire, use a crimp bead. If you're using a spring or other single ply wire, twist the wire after you thread it through the cork.



An added bonus: they float!
Next blog post will have some images of the wires in action.

**Some ideas for "wires:"
  • Fishing line of whatever thickness you prefer. You can find it as hardware stores, Target, craft stores, sporting good stores, etc...
  • If you prefer to have an actual wire, beading wire is perfect! There are a bunch of different brands out there. Look for multi-strand braided wire. You can find it at craft stores and anywhere they sell beads. Or you can find it here.
  • To make a wavy texture wire, you need to find a spring that is made from a thin gauge wire that will be easy to stretch out. I have found the BEST springs at one of my favorite stores - American Science Surplus in Chicago (and they only cost 20 cents!). Unfortunately, they don't sell the exact wire online, but you can get a package of assorted springs from them here, and I'm pretty sure that you can find something that'll work in the package.
Check out some more of my "How to" posts. If you have any suggestions for future tutorials, send me an email or add a comment!

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

How to: Make a texture roller for clay

This project is instant gratification. Something that is not that common in the world of clay. With this texture roller, you can use it as soon as the hot glue has cooling, which is very fast. It's a great project to do in a class, or on your own so you have a custom tool that no one else has.

Supplies:
  • a roller of some sort (cut up pieces of PVC, empty rolls of tape, couplings for PVC, plastic rolling pins from the dollar store or craft store).
  • a sharpie.
  • a hot glue gun. They only cost a couple of bucks.
  • extra hot glue sticks.
Draw your pattern onto the rolling pin. It's easier to work out the pattern before with a Sharpie than it is later with the hot glue. Think about some sort of connected pattern, they tend to have the best results. And don't go overboard with the lines, you'll regret it later. And remember that the hot glue line aren't going to be perfect, so just go with the imperfection.

While you're drawing, plug in your hot glue gun. Make sure that you do it on a surface that you can toss when done, like newspaper or cardboard. When you're done drawing on your design, start gluing. Be a bit heavy handed with the glue. If the lines are too thin, they won't show up on the clay as well.

After the glue seems cool, start rolling away... The first attempt might stick a bit, but after there is some dusty clay on the roller, it won't really stick.

If you're not a hand builder, a nice use for one of these textured slabs is in the bottom of a thrown and altered casserole.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Simple Tweaks to a Better Wheel Set-up

I have seen too many potter friends suffer with back problems over the years. It's made me be very conscious about the health of my back and my efforts to stop any problems before they begin. Every potter who throws at a wheel has a different set-up. Although mine is based on a pretty traditional set-up, I have tweaked it enough to be both a more efficient work space and back friendly.
You might notice that there is a 2nd wheel in the background. I have a throwing wheel and a trimming wheel. I love being able to move back and forth between the two wheel and not have to clean up and change the set up. I keep either my Giffin Grip or my foam bat on my trimming wheel. I have it set up in the corner of my studio so I do not track any clay trimmings around my studio.

I know many potters who throw standing up to alleviate any potential back problems. For me this just creates another problem from being on your feet all the time. I think the most important thing I can do is to constantly change my tasks (throwing, trimming, wedging, decorating, glazing, paperwork, cleaning, etc...) and my sitting and standing positions throughout the day. Sometimes I will even give up efficiency for this.

Another thing that I did to help keep my back happy is to get a new throwing stool. After a ridiculous amount of research, I found this great stool from Creative Industries. It's totally adjustable- both the height and the tilt. It tilts your hips into your work so your back can stay nice and straight. This has made a HUGE difference for me. I also put my non-pedal foot on a brick to keep me balanced and symmetrical.

You might have also noticed from the picture the mirror in front of my wheel. I started doing this a couple of years ago and it has also made my throwing life much happier. It took me about 2 days to get used to it (I had to remember to look up!). It stops me from constantly cranking my head over to the side to see what my piece looks like. It also makes a huge difference in the forms that I thrown. I can see exactly what is happening by looking straight ahead. You can make sure that each piece you throw actually has the shape that you think it does. The result is that both me and my pots have better posture. My back and neck are straighter and my pots end up having more lift.

I feel like I've lost a lot of time over the years looking tools on the other side of my splash pan. To stop this problem from continuing, I built this little shelf on the right side of my wheel. All the tools I use regularly are kept right there- nice and easy for me to find. (The mini-Altoids tin is perfect for a pair of bat bins). The tools in the picture are on the list of "clay tools that I cannot live without." (I'll talk about that in another post.) This little shelf mean less bending forward trying to search for the clay covered rib that has slipped under the splash pan.... My throwing bucket sits right in front of the shelf also for easy access (I'm right handed).

I realize how much I miss my tweaked space when I am teaching and do not have this set up.
A couple of (cheap!) things that you can do, even if it's in a shared space, like a classroom:
  • Tilt a standard throwing stool by sticking a 2 x 4 under the back 2 legs. You can even drill into the wood about 1/4 - 1/2 an inch so the stool won't accidentally slip off the wood.
  • Get a mirror. A hardware store, thrift store or Ikea are all great places to find a mirror. The just lean it up against whatever is in front of the wheel- shelves, a table, a wall. You'll really see a difference in your throwing, and your back might be a bit less achy.
  • Keep your tools and water bucket on a stool next to your wheel. You can keep the stool clean by putting a bat on top of the stool, and tools and bucket on top of that.
update (10/29/07)- a post from John Zentner about his standing wheel set-up on his blog pots and other things.

update (10/30/07)- another great post from Anne Webb at Webb Pottery about her favorite tools and her wheel set-up.

update (10/30/07)- an article from the archives of Studio Potter magazine on back problems and potters.

update (10/31/07)- a post from Jeanette Harris about tools that she can't do without.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

How to make a bat gripper

I went through a period of time early in my ceramics career where I was a tool minimalist. It's something that I think every potter should go through. I had 3 tools that I would use: a wire tool, a wooden knife tool, and a basic wooden rib. I was even flexible with what tool filled those 3 slots. I like the idea that it was really about how I moved the clay, not the tools or gadgets. And I also like the idea that wherever I was in the world, I would be able to throw a pot- regardless of the tools. This idea has also led me to using many different types of clay, and to throw on different types of wheels. It makes me a portable potter. So even though that's my philosophy on clay tools...
..I LOVE TOOLS! I know how to work with the fewest possible tools, but I really enjoy working with many tools. It can allow you to do something with greater ease, or achieve a new surface, or just make you happy because of its cleverness.
At some point over the last 5 or 6 years a little boom of new tools popped up, many as a side business from a potter who was making cool tools for themselves. I'm happy to be a potter during this period. I love trying out different things, and sometimes (many times) I get hooked on one. I am going to be sharing with you some tools that I really love, and some tools that I make myself in the tool section of this blog.
A tool that I really dug was the Bat Grabber.
I loved it for teaching when I was working on a wheel that had worn holes for bat pins to stop the wobble. I also loved it under the little square bats that tend to lift a little when making a tall piece in my studio. But it had a problem where it would start to erode over time (you can see that from the pictures). And then they stopped being made (the material was no longer manufactured). So I had to do something to fill my need of a new Bat Grabber and here is what I did...
I got a roll of rubbery shelf liner. The cheapest one I could find; but I think that any would work. You can probably use a rug pad too.









With a Sharpie, I used a bat to trace out the circle and to draw in the placement of the bat pin holes. I made both a 14" circle and a 12" circle. Just because.









Then you cut it out, including the holes.
To use it: dip it in some water and squeeze out the excess. Then stick it on your wheel head, and use a bat on top. Circular, square, plastic, wood or foam covered. They will all stay a little bit more secure with this do-it-yourself bat gripper.









(Don't forget to make pots when you're not making tools...)

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Monday, August 13, 2007

How to: Make a Foam Bat

A foam bat is endlessly helpful for trimming large pieces, and having a soft surface to work with altered pieces on.

You will need:
*A new clean bat. I used a 22" Hydra Bat from Continental Clay.
*High density foam (it won't flatten out when you put a heavy piece on it).
*A can of spray adhesive.
*An electric knife.
*A Sharpie or any permanent marker.

Take the bat outside and spray the bottom of it with spray adhesive.

Spray one side of the foam with spray adhesive. Put the adhesive sides together and press evenly.

Put the bat, bat side up on a banding wheel and cut off excessive foam with the electric knife. This will give you a nice clean edge.

Place the bat on your wheel using bat pins to ensure it's perfectly centered. Use your marker and ruler to make concentric circles.

Until you get to the outside edge.

Then trim away!

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A Potter's Mark: Signing Pots

I just got a new stamp with my signature to sign the bottoms of my pots with. I ordered the stamp at NCECA, and it arrived in the mail last week. Todd Scholtz, owner of claystamps.com was set up at the Brackers Good Earth Clay, Inc booth.

He had me sign a piece of paper to get the right signature. I think that I wrote it about 40 times to get the feel and look that is most consistent with how I usually sign my work. The 10th signature ended up being the one that I used.

He then scanned the chosen signature into a computer and resized to my specifications. He then engraved the stamp and added a nice wooden handle. I am really happy with the results. It stamps beautifully- wet, leather hard, and even a little past leather hard all come out clearly and easily. If I want another stamp- smaller or larger, I can have the same signature, just resized. If you have some other sort of mark, it would work as well- whether you have it as a digital image already, or you have Todd scan it in for you.

I've tried to figure out a good signature stamp for years. I don't like the chunkiness of a clay stamp for my signature, and the fragility always worried me. Rubber stamps are easy to have made, but they aren't deep enough or firm enough for stamping the bottom of a trimmed, leather hard piece. This stamp seems to be a good alternative.
Take a look at the results:

The flashing from the soda kiln on the bottom of this plate could not have been any more picture perfect!

I have always felt that it is important for me to sign my work. Here are some thoughts on signing or not signing pots...
  • It is an historical record of the maker. There are lots of books about the marks on old pots. I'm not saying that my mark is going to end up in a book, but the idea of being able to figure out who made a pot, a print or a painting is still interesting to me. Having a clear and identifiable signature would make that much easier.
  • I own several pots by different potters that aren't signed (or it's hard to make out). When I bought them, I remembered clearly who made them, but as time has passed, some of those names have left me. If I wanted more work by the same artist, I'd sort of have to wait to come upon it again at a gallery.
  • Ceramics Monthly has started including the stamp or mark of each of the ceramic artists that are featured in their magazine. This seems to be some sort of recognition of the importance of the stamp even in contemporary ceramics (as opposed to the historical documentation that I talked about above).
  • The Potter's Council is asking for potter's to send in their marks to create an archive of stamps and signatures. They can be sent to: Jennifer Poellet, 735 Ceramic Place, Suite 100, Westerville, OH, 43081.
  • Over time my signature or stamp have changed and evolved. All clearly are by the same maker, but it is a way that I can sort of "date" my pieces, without actually recording a date on them.
  • I come from a family of artists, and the bold signature of MURPHY is something of a common occurrence on our work. Here is my dad's signature (Jim Murphy) from one of his paintings:


I think that this blog entry will be the first of many about signing work. There is much more to talk about. I'd love to hear your ideas about signing or not signing pottery, or what your method is.

If you'd like to sign up for the Pottery Blog mailing list, go here. You'll get automatic emails when I write and post a new entry. As always, it is a private mailing list- no information will ever be shared!

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