Monday, April 26, 2010

The key to ceramics 101

Those little keys up there are bronze toggles I’ve been working on. They are prototypes and that I am not entirely sure will make it beyond this stage. They are little horrors to make and I'm not really sure I like them. But I really wanted something to go with the oval filigree pattern that could work as a clasp. They are up there to lure you into this blog post.

But the ceramics part of this is an answer to a comment by Kelley. I’m so happy she asked about the ceramic process. You know, I often talk like everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about. A lot of times this is not the case, as my children like to point out, sometimes rudely. They also like to point out that to assume makes an …. oh well lets not go there on this nice clean blog.

So here’s what I do from start to finish to make a bead and a few definitions thrown in for good measure.

bisque kiln
The bead gets made, dried and cleaned. Then it and all its brothers and sisters go through the first firing, the bisque. The bisque is the firing that goes before glazing. It makes the bead hard enough to glaze without falling apart but porous enough for the glaze to sink in and bond to the surface. This is a pretty low temperature firing in terms of ceramics, cone 04 (around 1900 F). I’m not going to go into the whole Orton cone stuff, because, yawn, because heat work and cone bending is far too boring even for me. The pieces can touch at this point because nothing melts in this firing.
glazing bisque beads and pendants
Once out of the kiln, I brush glaze on the bead. Fresh out of my glaze jars, it’s a thick liquid. Fired to maturity, it’s a glass surface bonded to the bead. Lot’s of chemistry here, also far too boring to go into. But for those of us who have a bit of mad scientist lurking in our psyche, it’s pretty amazing stuff.

Then it’s off to the glaze firing. I fire to cone 6 (around 2300 F). This one takes about 10 hours and another 8 hours to cool before I can unload the kiln. All of the pendants and beads are put on metal rods that won’t melt at that temperature. They get loaded so that nothing is touching, because if the beads touch they will become melted together in interesting but totally unusable ways.
cabachons and buttons on bottom shelf

pendants on middle shelf

beads on top shelf

18 hours later, shiny sparkly finished beads

So there you have it, ceramic beads in a nutshell.

One other little note. I do use metal clay as well and refer to that as a bronze/copper firing. Metal clay in fact has nothing to do with ceramics other than it’s plastic like clay in its moist state. And firing really isn’t what happens in a ceramic sense. In the kiln metal clay sinters and all of the stuff that held it together burns away and the microscopic particles of metal melt together. More geeky science here.

And if you made it this far in this post you need to head to your nearest ceramics studio and get your hands muddy. Oh and do join me on the Beads Of Clay blog tomorrow for a little behind the scenes as I get ready for my first ever bead show.

Thanks everyone for your lovely sweet comments on the bird and branch pendant. I love that feedback and it always inspires me to new things.


Kella said...

thanks for sharing your processes. it surely made me want to visit a little studio too. maybe i'll treat myself this summer.

maryharding said...

Great post LeAnn. And about the keys, they are very nice and a good touch with the decorative ovals. I imagine you can find a way to make them work. I think they would be a huge success. I like their antique baroque style. Looking forward to your BOC post tomorrow.

Judy said...

I just love the little key,it goes so nicely with with the filigree toggle. Hopefully you can perfect a way to create them without it being so difficult.
I loved learning about your process it was so nice to see the beginning and end. I would love to know how you create your molds...maybe another post.
Wishes to you for a fabulous bead show!

Pearl and Pebble said...

Well now LeAnn you make the whole process sound so unintimidating!!!Thanks for sharing. I love to see behind the scenes stuff - so cool:) And I do like the little keys!

Barbara Lewis said...

What a great post, LeAnn. Your pictures represent a lot of work! I agree with the yawn on the cone business!

sharon said...

I adore the toggle with the key...I think it is great the way it is, although I can see it could be a lot of work. Once again I admire you so...I would go crazy with all of these tiny pieces, loading that kiln gives me the shakes! I really enjoyed reading this because I didn't have a clue......thanks LeAnn for sharing and your wonderful products!!

Jen V. said...

Thanks so much for all the goodie info!! I always wondered how they all got jammed into the kiln without touching each other. Love it!!

The Joy of Nesting said...

Lands ah Gosha LeAnn!!!

I thought the little branch was the coolest piece and can't wait till it comes out of the trial phase to the production!!! :) But OH MY the key is sooooo way cool!!! The perfact size for tons of different applications!!! I can see it as pendants, toggles, connectors and and even closures in clothing!!!! YEAH!!! Geee I hope you are able to work the bugs out of this little darlin's birth!!! I'll even volunteer to be the ginny pig :)

Thanks ever so much for your little tutorial. I think it always helps to know how a process works It appeals to that geeky part of me but it also gives me a whole new appreciation for a person's art to know how they create their magic!!

Pattie ;)
Mazatlan Mx.

kelleysbeads said...

How cool?! I wish I could have a bisque firing for my beads and not worry about them touching. But like your glaze firing, they don't play very nice if they touch. At least if they touch too soon.

I LOVE how you can stack them in layers. How tall is the firing kiln? I'm imagining one as tall as me. The before/after pics are fantastic to see such transformations. As much as I know I would enjoy getting my hands muddy and pushing the clay around, I would have a hard time waiting that 18 hours for the kiln to pop. That's too long, PQ. Too long.

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! for posting pics & explanations! :D

TesoriTrovati said...

That is just downright intriguing. i am not sure that I would have the patience you do to make so many things. I get bored really easily. I would love to make something that someone would want! For now I will have to settle for making things out of beautiful components like yours. Thanks for sharing your inspiration. Enjoy the day! Erin

TesoriTrovati said...

P.S. You know I love the keys, and I would take your rejects in a heart beat! *wink*
Enjoy the day!

stregata said...

Thanks for sharing your magic, LeAnn. You know it is magic. So much knowledge and experience - in a nutshell! Love the little keys - a stroke of genius! I hope they grow on you - they are sure to appeal.

sasha and max said...

Very interesting post LeAnn - great to see how all your gorgeous pieces are made - looks like you are super organized in how to get the best out of the kiln. Thanks so much, Vicki :)

Esther said...

what a crazy job LeAnn!! thanks for sharing!! it's very interesting.. beautiful pieces!! love the key clasp!! awesome!!

hint said...

Great to see your process and I know there must be a ton of work leading up to the bisque firing!

hint said...

Great to see your process and I know there must be a ton of work leading up to the bisque firing!

Mary Ann Carroll said...

That's a great post. I like to see how other ceramic bead artists do it! Thanks for sharing all that!

Marie Cramp said...

I love that!! I would love to learn even more about how it is done. BTW, those little keys are wicked!! LOVE them!! Love how rough they are too, makes them more rustic!! Thanks so much for sharing your world with us :)

Marie said...

Great to see your process, I was wondering how do you stop your buttons and beads from warping as they dry?