Thursday, December 2, 2010

Two Studios are Better than One!

Ceramics Studio
Two studios are better than one! I'm actually surprised at myself for getting this far. It took me so many years to get my ceramics studio up and running. I guess you could say years of procrastination, fear, and saving the money to get my kiln hooked up and repaired. It's hard to save a lot of money when you're just getting started in the world and not paid a large salary. Slowly I saved and accumulated materials to fill up my space. Small purchases and "trash to treasure" items over time, has led me to quite the inventory! And now that I have a small supply of mirrors, tiles, and peppers, it is high time I get this stuff out to the public.

Storage and Finishing Studio
After making my first sale on Etsy last month (Hooray!) I realized I have no place to pack and store my work. Well, it turns out we have this neat little space in our utility room that was hidden underneath mounds of wires, broken computers, computer parts, stereo parts, empty boxes, wires and... did I mention wires? Apparently it was a storage room for my husband's "projects in progress" and most recently, "projects on hold". And because I have such a love for projects, I decided to take over a part of the room. The idea of organizing this mess for my own benefit was very appealing to me and I think it was completed in three days. I wish I had taken a "before" photograph because it's hard to imagine the transformation now.  And although I am still sharing a good portion of the room with tools and trophies, it feels good to have a place to finalize and store my pieces.

The best part of this takeover, as strange as this may sound, was taking those old computers - SIX of them! to the recycling center. It saddens me to see people leaving out electronics for the trash each week. And saddens me even more that the workers will take them to the dump. There are harmful heavy metals in old electronics, and they should be disposed of properly. Next stop: Metal Recycling!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Super Inspiration Day

I woke up much earlier than usual today with great inspiration. I have my first street festival coming up next week and my mind is churning. My brain was thinking about other possible things I could sell at the festival. I remembered that I have several of the Valentine hearts I made last February  as well as the Elmo magnets left over from Mia's birthday party So I got out of bed and ransacked the studio for any possible tiles to use for magnets or ornaments. With Christmas coming up, I have high hopes of making some sales at this festival. I hope it's not a huge disappointment.

After sorting through the tiles, I had plenty of time to glaze a couple of the peppers for my upcoming firing. I was working so fast as the sun was coming up. I guess I was in some kind of trance as I was painting because I don't even remember hearing birds sing or crickets, or people leaving for work. Finally after going inside to make coffee,  I listed a few pieces on Ebay, and it turns out that most of the listings were free! I guess they were running a deal. Let's hope Ryan doesn't get a bill later. HA! Then I found the magnets I need for the show at a local store! Awesome! I really thought I'd have to work harder. So that was pretty lucky.

I'm a little anxious about the show next week although I have plenty of materials to show and sell. I've never done a street festival so I hope I can make some sales. It seems like a lot of work to drag my things out there and shmooze with the locals. I hope it's worth it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Keep it Simple

After seeing my old drawings photographed I decided to really edit them down to just a few. Less is More. And I'm calling them My Folk Art. Although I am not a true Folk Artist, I am not self taught, I do have a great love and appreciation for Folk Art. I drew some pictures in this style during my middle of the night rants with the chalk and paper and my dreams.

I first learned about Folk Art in a college course I took. I had a wonderful, passionate professor, Dr. Kristen Congdon, who loved these artists. She would meet them and sit and talk with them and really learn about their lives. And so began my love for these artists too. I began to really study the artists, collect their art and I even met a few of the artists. They always told me not to learn too much. Keep it simple. And this is a motto that I try to live by.

I have placed a few of my drawings for free download on my blog. The would make great covers for notecards or postcards. Please use them. Send them to your friends. And Keep it Simple.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Going Back in Time

Today I went through an old portfolio to look for some drawings that I will make into Art Postcards. Back in college I was really into drawing with pastels. I would draw my dreams in the middle of the night, and even give my beloved cat, Sneezer, a piece of chalk and let him bat it around the paper. He was drawing too!

Going through my portfolios of the past reminds me of who I used to be and how far I have come. It is a time travel of where I was back then and memories of dreams that only make sense to me. These things I would never remember if I had not written them down, or drawn a picture of it. I see where I was influenced; by books, teachers, friends. Sort of like a photo album, but more personal.

I think have a few different series to use as postcards: Angels and Demons, Sex, and Flowers. Some of these I will post online for free downloads that fans can print themselves. I will also have an option to buy the cards already printed. I am a big fan of sending out personal notes. I guess I just like to write!

Anyhow, please check back soon for the downloadable postcards. I need to photoograph and post.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action!

I had my first photo shoot for the peppers last weekend. After my bad firing, I went into panic mode and quickly re-glazed and re-fired the peppers. Even though I had hooked up the kiln wires not quite right, somehow I lucked out and the firing went as planned. The peppers looked great! Ahhh, what a relief! All of my pieces went into this firing and the pressure was on to have them completed and looking awesome for the shoot. My friends and I had planned the shoot several weeks ago and had been working up to this moment.

I arrived to my friend's house and the photographer and other artists arrived shortly after. We set up the room for the shoot by covering the windows and blocking out all other light sources, set up the photography lights, and tacked the photo paper onto the wall. I set up my pieces and the photographer got to work! What a great job she did! The peppers look fantastic! And the high resolution camera she used picked up the shine of the glaze.

Now I have to do my part in marketing these things. I've listed them on Etsy at
And I will post on Twitter and Facebook to try and generate some fan base. I am also looking into local outdoor shows like farmers markets and art shows. Just in time for the holidays, I hope my fans will find a place in their homes for my work. The pieces are truly beautiful, one of a kind and of a limited edition. They also make for great collector pieces if you'd like to group them together.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Bad Week

I had a bad week last week. All kinds of things went wrong... my water system blew up and we lived like Little House on the Prairie for a few days - washing hands out of buckets of water, dirty dishes piling up on the counter, and taking sponge baths for a couple of days. Next, my daughter and husband came down with Roto Virus, vomiting through the night (and on me as well) and a 2am hospital visit for Mia. And to top things off, what would be more complete than a faulty kiln firing? The peppers that I have been so feverishly working on for weeks, though not completely ruined, are a mess right now. Somehow... I guess I didn't put the cone in correctly, or I got a faulty cone (yes, lets blame the cone and not me).

Anyhow, the cone is fused to the sitter inside the kiln. I called for help and it looks like I can fix it. The glazes on the peppers didn't vitrify, so the kiln must have under fired. I am so glad I went out there at 10pm to check and see if it turned off. The latch fell which should have turned off the kiln but the kiln was still running. I have enough experience to know to shut if off manually and check it in the morning when it has cooled. Although this feels like a disaster, I have faith that things can be saved. I did lose a couple of peppers - the glaze fused the lids shut. But that is a glazing issue. I'm still learning. These stupid vertical lids! They are so difficult! So once I get the melted cone scraped off the cone sitter I should be able to re-fire the pieces and get some good results. Hopefully? My photo shoot for the peppers is this Saturday. I better make it there with something to show for myself.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Karmic Reward

I feel like I was rewarded by the Universe this week.

For the past few weeks I have been going through stacks of books, clothes and household goods, purging things I no longer use or want. I got myself into an organization tizzy and for days I was clearing out cupboards and shelves, and even one person from my life! It became addictive and refreshing to create empty space. I picked up my book on Feng Shui to start over again.

Something about the fall makes me want to start fresh; open the doors and windows and let the air rush through the house. There are new birds here as the fall has almost arrived. I heard a new owl last night. Now there are two.

The pile in my garage had grown large enough and I decided to load it into my car to drop off at the thrift store. I went inside to look around and I found the cedar chest I've been wanting for two years. My heart soared! It was $80 and a little beat up, but still a beauty. Refinished, these things run $400. Of course I bought it and now it is home, awaiting dusting in my garage.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Peppers

My progress seems unreal lately. I have been churning out these things like a madwoman. I am so happy to have found a system that seems to work. I can pour two molds each day while working on the previous days' molds. I don't want you to think these are production pieces. Though they are, they are still handmade and each one is sculpted by me. The mold serves as a template. After I remove it from the plaster cast, I cut each lid and add some decorative finishes onto each one. Each pepper is an original. I had my tarot cards read recently at a friend's house. The cards said that I would experience a new beginning in the fall. And that my problems of the spring would seem forever away. This was the first time I'd had my cards read by someone other than myself. It was a great reading. She was surprised at the good fortune of my reading. Anyhow, it is just fun to see the connections here. I am quickly filling my kiln for the next firing.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ryan saves the day...

Today Ryan saved my day. How lucky I am to have my own personal Superman from time to time... someone who opens jars of olives and finds solutions to my studio madness. It's funny how we all see things so differently.

I have produced several peppers with the slip casting. The small bell peppers have been going well and I have about 8 completed- glazed and ready to go. Hooray for me! But I have had significant troubles with cutting the lid on the larger poblano pepper. I have cut and trashed about 8 so far. It is essentially a vertical lid that needs to fit well. I tried several different cuts, thinking I was onto something, only to have the damn thing slide off once the clay dried. Ugh! Stupid clay!

Frustrated with my wasted efforts, I contacted my mentor to help with finding a solution for the lid, but he never replied.

Ryan offered to help me with the cut. He came into the studio, assessed the shape of the pepper and drew on the shape of the lid that he thought would work best. "It's simple physics" he tells me. Yea, I'm not a physics girl. Science is difficult for me. Art and color are easy. So I made the cut and it seems like it will work. It also seems like an obvious cut now that it is done. So Ryan saved the day today, in the ceramics studio. I can work through a series of these designs without having to trash the mold. My new goal is to have about 50 of these things done by November. I think I can do it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

27 Elmos

I never thought I'd be making ceramic Elmos for my kid's birthday party as favors for her friends. But here I am doing it. My daughter absolutely adores Elmo. Her short television viewing each day gives me a few moments to myself, to read or unload the dishes or check my email. These short breaks from mothering are truly least at her wee age of two. One day I'll look back and miss these times where she is so needy. But for now, I'm loving her love for Elmo.

So as time has it, her second birthday is coming up sooner than I imagined possible. And faced with the idea of buying more junk for kids' party favors, I have decided to make some ceramic magnets for the children. I decided to use paper clay again for this project. I really don't like this clay but am using it for 2 reasons: I have a bag to use up before it starts molding, and it is rather strong and lightweight so will likely work well for this project.

I started rolling out a slab of paper clay. Then I cut out circles with a small jar and made them slightly oblong for the head. I rolled out some balls of clay for the eyes and nose, which were pasted on with slip (liquid clay) and pressed in with a tool to create the eyes. I smoothed it all out (hopefully) to hide the creases and imperfections in the clay, then drew on his happy smile and signed the back. Wallah! Here are the Elmos! Once they are dry I will paint and fire them. I made way more than needed, but figured some of them will be messed up in the process. It's always good to be prepared. I was a girlscout for 6 years. I'm pretty sure I learned something from it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

More Pizza Stones

The last pizza stone I made recently broke in half. Oh NO! I thought mine were better than those production stones found at Bed Bath and Beyond... those broke in half too.

I made 2 more pizza stones this week. And decided to use paper clay this time. Paper clay is special because it is easier to sculpt with. The paper helps hold the shape of the clay and it also burns out during firing, which results in a lighter weight for the final product. Ryan, my husband, requested 2 stones this time, so he can make more pizzas at a time.

So I started the same way as last time, weighing out about 13 pounds of clay. I wedge it into a circle, and start throwing it into a slab. There is a bit of technique to learn in throwing slabs. I don't own a slab roller so this is my only option. Luckily, I learned the technique from an old college professor so it's no big deal to do.

I throw the slab as large as I can and then use the rolling pin to finish up. I made the slab as large as my kiln interior, about 17". Then made a compass with a couple of pencils and a string, and cut out the shape. It's not perfect. At first this bothered me, but I have to remind myself that I am human, and handmade things are never perfect. They shouldn't be. It can be a little uneven, or not perfectly round. It's just a pizza stone. It's not being sold at Bed Bath and Beyond. Just being used in my kitchen for Friday night pizzas. It's fine. It's important to move the stone as little as possible during dry time. So I carefully place it onto a wall board and place another weighted board on top. And leave it alone! No feet this time. Just a plain slab. The feet from the last stone weren't attached well and busted off. Ryan says there is no need for the feet if the stone is just sitting on the oven rack. So we'll see how this one goes. Hopefully better than the last.

Who Eats Beets?

I have never yet in my life had a beet... not that I can recall anyway. Who eats these things? But for some reason I found myself sketching one out a few weeks ago. I must have had a vision. So after my sketch I made my way to the market and bought a real one and then sculpted one out of clay. A large one of course. Why is it so hard for me to work small? Anyhow, I can't wait to paint it, with purple swirls coming from the root. The great thing about this sculpture, it could easily be a radish. I am excited to see these vegetables come to life! They look rather dull in the gray clay when sculpted. But once I get to the point where I can glaze them... the color will bring them alive! Ha. I sound like Dr. Frankenstein.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pepper Progress

I am happy to say that I have successfully cast three peppers to fire. We will see how things progress as the project goes on... if there are issues with where the lids were cut, or with glazing. I am also on my way to sculpting some new peppers so that I can make some new molds. I trashed the #2 mold this week. After a second attempt at casting it, and it falling apart, I came to the conclusion that it is a faulty design. Why beat a dead horse? It's just not working. So I'm moving on. I would like to cast a few more samples of the two existing molds, but again I am out of slip. So before I drive out to Smalltown America to get more, I'll use up the 50 pounds of plaster for my new designs. I really hate driving out to my supplier! I'll just have to spend more money next time so I don't have to make so many trips.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Making More Messes

If anyone can make a mess, it's me. Just ask my husband. He'll tell you how he picks up after me all the time, though it seems like I'm the one doing most of the cleaning. Hmmm.
I guess I've always loved ceramics because it's messy. It gets everywhere! The clay, the dust, the slip, and I don't care. I love it! One reason I had such a hard time as a graphic designer was because I had to be clean and neat. How can I be creative if I'm neat? I can be orderly without being neat.

This week I'm back at slip casting. Four attempts: 1 failure, 2 successes, and 1 partial success. I feel happy that I am seeing some progress with this project. That it hasn't been a total waste of time. The partial failure from today resulted with draining the mold into a bucket and the mold falling apart into the bucket. Thank God I had the sense to drain into the slip bucket, otherwise it would have been bad. The slip feels like really thick cake batter and doesn't wash off easily. But it is fun and really messy. And I have learned from this: Band the #2 Mold from all angles. Set up the draining bucket with ledges or boards to hold the mold. That way I don't have to stand there holding a really heavy thing. Duh!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Taking Time Off

Taking time off from my artwork is one of the hardest, yet necessary things I can do for myself. So why is it so hard to do? And once I do it, why is it so hard to get back into the swing of things? I had really been burning the candle at both ends with the sculpture class, running the house and taking care of the baby all day. When I finally ran out of supplies in the studio and took a family trip to Chicago, I was forced to take a couple of weeks off from creating. Ahhh... what a relief! I was not able to work. Out of town for a few days, supplies were a good 30 minute drive away. What could I do but focus on other things. Although I felt guilty about this, there was not much I could do until I made my way to Oviedo to load up the car with more plaster, slip and casting supplies.

So it has been about 2 weeks now, maybe longer. I drove to Smalltown America and got my plaster, cleaned my studio, and I should be ready to go. Why do I feel so exhausted now? I should be well rested, inspired, etc. I guess the thought of going back out there to fail again is uninspiring. It has been months since I have worked on a mosaic. I could be ready to start a new one. But I can't abandon the plaster casting now! I have come this far... I need to continue until I get it. It isn't rocket science. I'm sure I can figure it out! Though it is some kind of science, and I never liked science.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Baby Steps

I did a few slip castings with my first mold. After my first bout with failure on this step, I decided it wasn't the end of the world and went back for another try. After about 2-3 castings I got a hold of it. I had to play around a little with the timing.

I used to think that cast ceramic pieces were not art, just reproductions. But through my recent lessons I have come to find that making molds is an art in itself… learning to mix the plaster, how long it takes for the plaster to set up, the mess it creates, and how to open the plaster mold once it is dry and remove the original. After all that, the mold needs to be dried completely, sanded and repaired before even casting.

I have also learned that slip casting is another art to learn... luckily I can buy pre-mixed slip. I could learn to mix it myself and save some money... we'll see how things unfold before taking on that chore! The setup time for the slip to dry is trial and error (mostly error so far) and removing it from the plaster successfully is yet another technique that should be mastered with making any molded piece. It’s a huge undertaking.

I was very excited about the first cast piece coming out in good form.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Early Morning Thoughts...

It is good to have Ryan home. I worry a lot when he is gone. My back is aching. My cat got in a fight last night. I really need to practice yoga each day. If I can get myself out of bed like I did this morning it’s not a problem. There is plenty of time to write and yoga. My kitchen floor is covered in sugar. Ryan made cookies last night and apparently spilled something everywhere. I’ll have to mop today. Not a big deal. Why is Mia waking right now? I should have a good 30 minutes!

I have felt uninspired to go into the studio this week. I had another failure with my molds. I’m tired of failing with this project. I tried the slip casting the other day. It spilled everywhere. I don’t know how to use the ties for mold making. I used bungee cords, which, after a couple of tries were ok. It still spilled all over. What a mess. My shirt looks like someone shit on it. I really should wear my apron all the time. The slip doesn't wash out well. I will try again. I learned that 15-20 minutes is not long enough for the slip to sit in the mold. I’ll give it maybe 35 minutes the next time. 20 minutes was just too thin. Then I let the shell sit for 45 minutes. The thing came apart with the mold. And then wouldn’t come out clean. At 2 hours it was too hard. And tore. Why am I torturing myself with this project? I can go back to mosaics and work away. No major problems to overcome. I’ve gotten that figured out pretty well. But these molds! They aren’t even coming apart for me. The 1st one is ok. The 2nd and 3rd are stuck together. I’m bringing them to class next week and have David break them open for me. If they break, they break. But I don’t want to break them. He can do it. Ugh. When will I succeed with this or end my aggravation? I think the heart of the matter is that I don’t want to learn it. I want to know it. Learning brings ups and downs. Success and failure. I don’t want that. I just want to know the answers and move on! Sounds familiar to when I was in high school Geometry... thanks Ray and Joel!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Plaster Progress

I feel I am finally making progress with my plaster work. Whew! I thought it would never come. I have learned how not to mix plaster, and finally, how to do it correctly. First make sure your plaster is not old and ruined like mine was! I am also using pottery plaster for my projects, which is necessary for clay work. You have to start with a small amount of water and slowly add the plaster to it until the plaster does not sink. Then mix gently for a few minutes. It will thicken on its own in about 15 minutes. I found it quite frustrating that the bag of plaster did not come with instructions printed on it. Hello? I had to call some douche bag from the plaster company and listen to him jabbering on for 15 minutes before getting the information I needed to start my plaster mixing. I have no patience... I know this.

I can now see why so many people have declined to teach me this casting technique. It's tricky! And involved. Thankfully, I have my superstar mentor now and I am getting the help I need.

I start out finding the largest surface on the pepper without undercuts. Then I have to block it off with clay and stabilize it on a table. It is good to put dimples into the clay block, so that the plaster will fit into it - like a key. Once the piece is ready to go, soap up any plaster that will be touching plaster, and put alcohol on the clay piece and also into the plaster mix. Paint a thin layer over the piece to get it started nicely. Continue slowly adding thin layers of plaster. Once the plaster begins to harden you can plop it on with your hands. You want to be finished before it heats up. Let it heat for about 10 minutes or so, and you can begin to peel off the clay blocking and shape the plaster with some tools if needed.

My peppers are full of undercuts and funny shapes, so I have to do this for several sections... about 4 or 5. Next I have to pour the molds and see how the casting turned out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Plaster Disaster

My latest disaster for the week is with plaster. Luckily I have finally found a mentor to help me with casting my peppers! Finally! And I do feel grateful to have found him. We were supposed to have a weekend workshop this past weekend where I was going to learn all about mold making, various methods, secrets, etc. Well it just so happens that I am one of two people in this town who are actually interested in learning this... so they canceled the class. Of course nobody called me to tell me, so I got to drive for 60 minutes in the rain only to find out that the class was canceled. Anyhow, the teacher was kind enough to invite me into his sculpture class and teach me the techniques on Tuesday nights for the next several weeks. As difficult as it is for me to break away from my 1 year old daughter for the evening, it is something I have to do.

So last night was the first class. I have to say I got the royal treatment from my instructor, probably due to the workshop being canceled. We got started on casting my pepper and I was supposed to finish at home on my own. I have all the materials here, that I bought years ago when trying to learn mold making by myself. So here I am during nap time, mixing up plaster, laying down newsprint and getting the space ready, only to find that the plaster has gone bad. Oye! Well, I had a feeling this might happen. Moisture got into the plaster and created small chunks that will not dissolve in the water. It is also not allowing the plaster to harden. So I have to drive out to the clay store tomorrow and get another bag of pottery plaster. I wish I had known and I could have gone today. This is putting another 2 days onto the project and the pepper may shrink before I can finish casting it. Oh well, if it does I'll just sculpt another one for casting.

I guess it's just another obstacle in the road to the pepper project.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pepper Disaster

My latest firing was a complete and utter disaster. I fired the giant pepper, the one that is supposed to go to the mold maker later this month. It blew up and the kiln was a giant mess with fired blocks of clay spattered about and small pieces stuck to the glazed tiles that were also in the kiln. It was bad. Really bad. I actually had to take a couple of days to process all of it before being able to unload the mess. All that work, hours of sculpting, destroyed. Why can't I get this project off the ground? Is it really this hard to figure out? Maybe I made a mistake in firing. Here is a link to The Pepper Project if you would like to read further about it.

I wanted to leave the mess to sit a few days more but knew I'd have to deal with it at some point. Plus, I practice feng shui, and I knew it was really bad to leave sitting about for any period of time. It seemed silly to me, the need to mourn this piece. It's just a lump of clay for crying out loud! But I guess I love my work. Spending hours with these pieces, I get to know them. I create them. The pepper project was an idea born to me years ago. And obstacle after obstacle has been thrown in my way. When can I get one of these things made the way I want it?

I finally cleaned out the kiln to see what went on. Apparently the pepper blew out early in the firing (thanks to my cone packs I think I must have been told many years ago not to fire a solid block of clay. Probably in the ninth grade I learned this. And so I never did it. Then I guess I forgot, because I had never done it. So when sculpting the piece it didn't really occur to me that this was a bad idea. And the mold maker asked me to fire it in order to cast it. I guess there was an air pocket in the pepper, or probably several air pockets. What a mess...

Well the good news is that I was able to find someone to teach me to make molds. I recently wrote to one of the local art schools and asked the director if he had anyone. The school came up with a weekend workshop where the instructor shows a few different ways to cast molds. So that is coming up soon. I'll have to sculpt a new pepper for the class and see what he says about it.