Monday, August 27, 2012

The Making of Hallowe'en

Everyone who reads this blog likes Hallowe'en, and at least puts up with my posts on ceramics, Christmas Ape, Hauntcast, and whatever off-topic rant of the day happens to run across my mind (Beware, Martha Stewart. I've heard you've been naughty again this year!)

This post will be about making stuff to sell for the Hallowe'en Season. I may wander all over the map on this one. The title of the post is more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast statement!

A couple of years ago, when I had my booth at Jack Russell Farm Brewery, a guy was looking at one of my jacks and said that I cast it (and all of them) from molds. The way he said it sort of took me aback; the tone was accusatory. 

I was polite and said that no, I threw them by hand on my pottery wheel at home, but I could see how he might think that I did. (I didn't, but I was going to let him save face.) He got a bit belligerent, and said, "No you didn't. These came from a mold. Just admit it!"

Needless to say, I didn't make a sale that day with that guy. (I think I may have even had the urge to punch him in the nose.) The exchange also let me know that if one person thinks that and verbalizes it, someone else probably thinks that and says nothing.

Mind you, there is nothing wrong with making a mold and slip-casting a form. If you have multiples to do, it saves time, and you can really push limits of the clay in different directions with the technique. I just haven't done that as of yet, for various reasons.

Anywho, I decided to circumnavigate that potential argument my having Mr. ShellHawk take a couple of pictures as I was working on a few projects. (I suppose the truly argumentative customer could claim the picture was Photo Shopped, but whatever!) For the porcelain punch bowl set I completed over the weekend, I thought it would be particularly important.

I was all prepared for that kind of guy. I figured a couple of these pictures in the booth would be proof that I didn't buy the set from China!

Once the bowl is thrown, it has to dry slowly, particularly the rim, which dries more quickly than the rest of the bowl. As I've mentioned before, porcelain is really fussy, and picks up every little piece of contaminant possible, even body oils.

Note broken toe. It was also over 105° that day, and sweat was pouring out of my gloves.
Who says I don't suffer for my art?

Lucky me, I got to wear my latex gloves to handle the bowl and the cups that came after. I got to have a towel over my lap to protect it from the puddles of sweat I was generating, and what can you say about dust masks? So very fashionable, and suffocating in heat!

Handling is really touchy, too. Since the bowl hadn't gone through the first firing, it was at its most vulnerable point. If anyone had grabbed the rim, it would very likely have just broken off, and I would be forced to murder him and bury him in the back yard!
Carve a little, brush away the dust. Repeat. Often.
I didn't include the pic Mr. ShellHawk took down my shirt.
No one really needs to see that.

After it comes out of the bisque firing, (as has the cup, left) it's time for glazing. (No, it's not painting. You paint at Color Me Mine. When you do ceramics from start to finish, you glaze!)

Glazing will make or break the piece. It can take a very ordinary shape and make it exceptional, or take a beautiful shape and utterly destroy it. Once you add fire (or in this case, electricity) and heat, anything can happen. You can control your results to a point, but nothing is ever guaranteed. After spending all the time carving the set, I wanted the glaze to be perfect! I chose a celadon, because celadon and porcelain are truly made for each other. 

Celadon can run from pale blues and greens to grays. The one I chose was one of the pale greens. Eventually, I'll mix my own, but I was short on time and testing glazes was out of the question. What if it turned out runny when fired? It would ruin everything and the whole project would wind up in the garbage! I tested it on another porcelain bowl I had thrown for the purpose, and it seemed stable...

So the set was glazed, cleaned up, and put in the kiln for the firing. It probably made it up to about 2269°. I was stressed for the twenty-four hours or so it was in the kiln, until it cooled off enough so I could open it without ruining the piece! When I did finally open it, I did the happy dance!
The time-sucking monster project came out just in time for my open house yesterday. Although the photos really don't do it justice, it turned out really, really well. The places where the glaze was a little thinner ended up looking like fog creeping along the graveyard ground.

I have to admit, I was truly amazed. Not in a "I am all that and a bag of chips!" way, but in a "Wow! I didn't know I could do that!" way.

I had priced it well, perhaps a little too fairly (I deliberately did not keep track of the hours I spent on it, but it probably totaled around sixty), but I felt that if I priced it higher, I wouldn't sell it.

It sold yesterday.

It went to a really nice couple I know, and I can go visit it every so often. I even got an email last night, saying how great it was to have it. It felt strange, but really good at the same time. I'm very happy it went to someone who will really treasure it!

I'll post about another large project, maybe later this week. My niece is coming for a visit, I may have jury duty, I have four more classes to teach at Parks and Rec, and school starts tonight. NOw, it's out to the studio to throw some jacks. Yo people are cleaning me out! :oD


  1. Excellent post! A lot of work goes into your art and it's nice to see the process. Beautiful set - what a lucky buyer!!

  2. Wow! Your punch bowl is amazingly beautiful! I had no idea so much work went into something like that.

  3. Those cup designs would work great a coffee mugs!

    1. Thanks, Scott! Yes, I've been rolling that around in my mind as to how in would work. Porcelain behaves much differently from stoneware, so the effect on the glaze is different. So I have to figure out how to do the relief carvings and find a glaze that has a certain amount of translucency.
      Porcelain doesn't hold up as well to constant use as stoneware does, so that's why stoneware would be a better material to use.

  4. Your patience and talent are amazing. There is no way in hell I would be able to do something like that.

    Maybe I will come up with a jacko design that will really throw you over the edge....then you would send me a bomb U.S.P.S.

  5. A beautiful set -- as always, your work is just sensational. I am jealous of that couple. What a piece (the whole set!).

    I also love that the jack at the top of this post is MINE now!

  6. Stunning set. The design, the execution, and color...incredible. Not surprised it sold immediately. Pricing is always hard on a new one of a kind piece of work. Having been on the road selling all handmade costumes and masks we used to get customers like Mr. Oh no you didn't! We used a photo display on foam core to just point to at bigger shows. The days with guys like that when balanced with someone who runs across the room to hug your work makes it all worthwhile.
    :o )

  7. I'll never understand people like that guy. What, is he trying to prove he's an "expert"? Is he trying to show he's got a "trained eye"? All he proved is that he's a total douche nozzle.

    Back in the days when I used to work in a movie theater, we had a semi-regular customer who would ALWAYS start some crazy crap like that. He once claimed, rather vehemently, that we had moved all of the chairs in the auditorium. Why he thought we would do that, or why he thought we would bother with denying it if we had, was completely beyond me. He'd also accuse us of changing our popcorn or drink brands (they were the same the entire time I worked there), or of altering movie run times and other such goofy conspiratorial plots!

  8. Always fun to peek behind the curtain and see the process. And they turned out wonderfully!

    I had both ends of the spectrum this year. I had one guy who thought I bought all my sculptures, repainted them, and sold them. But also, for the first time, I had a number of people (granted, mainly artists) who saw my stuff, and you could see the mental process clicking before they finally said with amazement "You don't use any molds at all. EVERYTHING is one of a kind".

    I think having the pictures with you at the show would be nice for folks to see (not just to show that it IS one of a kind, but there is a certain magic that happens when people see something being made). At one point I was sculpting heads at the convention this year and got huge reactions from folks (and they immediately saw that I make the items on the table).


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