Monday, September 28, 2009

Gingko Leaves and Making Molds

I love gingko leaves. Other than having a very cool shape in my opinion, they are super cool because the trees are considered a living fossil and have no known living relatives in the plant world. Modern gingkos date back to the Permian, 270 million years. In Japan, it was often planted north of Buddhist temples as a symbol of immortality because of its longevity. There is even a gingko tree there that is estimated to be 800 years old and I’ve read that one gingko was the first tree to grow back after the bombing of Hiroshima. The gingko is one amazing tree, a true survivor.

A gingko leaf was among the first of the stamps I carved years ago for use with my pottery many years ago. I’ve updated the design a bit for use at a smaller scale with bronze and copper clay. Beth, over at Hint, showed us how she uses her art work made into stamps for molding her silver clay charms. You can see the video she made here. Actually, if you haven’t, you should check out her “behind the scenes” series which gives a lot of great detail on her process.

I use a similar process to Beth for molds, except that I don’t use the stamp itself as a mold. I use it to make a model and then make a mold from that. There are a lot of reasons why I work this way. But in fact it boils down to, yes I will admit it, I am a control freak and bronze and copper clay seem to be very particular in how they get handled. And for me, this method works pretty well.

So here’s a little 8 step instructional (is that a word?)

1) Tools. My tools for making the mold are simple. I’ve got a cookie cutter, a stamp made from my little sketch, a lump of conditioned polymer clay, and a rolling thingy with a thickness gauge on the ends.

2) I roll out a thin thickness of polymer clay and press that into the rubber stamp.

3) This picks up a raised pattern of the gingko leaves. I like bas relief. I almost never use impressed designs. That’s just me.

4) For this particular design, I used the burnishing tool to add detail to the gingko leaves. I like the burnishing tool because it’s got a very fine round tip and I can get quite a smooth line out of it without undercuts. Once, I’m satisfied with the piece I bake the model in the oven according to the directions. This, by the way, is the only thing I know how to do with polymer clay. I do love this stuff for how it picks up detail.

5) Once the model is cool, I use 2 part RTV compound to make a flexible silicon mold. This time I used the compound from Hobby Lobby. It is not my favourite, but what I had available. Cool Tools has a very good RTV compound but I didn’t have any and I wanted to do this right now.

6) This stuff uses equal parts of the yellow and white, and equal for me is what looks sort of equal. That seems to work. It gets kneaded together until there are no swirls of white in it. That is important. I know from experience that you can not skimp on this step.

7) My little clay model is stuck down on my work surface with a dab of polymer clay. Then the RTV compound is pressed over the model. The directions say to let it set up for 20 minutes. I usually let it set up for an hour, even overnight.

8) Once the RTV compound is cured, I pop out the model and voila! There is the mold that I can now use with the bronze and copper clays. This mold is just a wee bit over an inch in size.

A little note on rubber stamps. I’ve used a number of different companies to have them made. But this time, I used, as suggested by Beth. Now I’ve usually been statisfied with the stamps I’ve had made. But hands down, these are the best stamps ever. The detail is incredible and the cuts are sharp. My koi was made by a different company and if you look closely it just does not have the same level of crispness as the gingko stamp. The secret? They laser cut their stamps. They cost a little more but I think it’s worth it and it saves me a lot of time in the modeling process. Thanks Beth! This is a huge improvement in my studio practice.

But the very best part of this whole process is I get to wear these very attactive, very stylish glasses from the Dollar Store. Tres chic, no?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Moonika, Protection, & Luck

Moonika is an Estonian who uses traditional folk embroidery on contemporary linen items like iPod cozies, book covers, and laptop cases like the one pictured above, all designed by her and hand sewn. I have a real soft spot for embroidery as one of my grandmothers and an uncle were talented ‘fancy’ needleworkers, including embroidery. And Moonika’s traditional design with a contemporary twist is quite beautiful.

All of the embroidery designs she uses have a meaning. This is what she writes about the design on the laptop case:

“I love Estonian traditional folk patterns. Every single symbol has some meaning behind it. Old Estonians believed that putting these symbols on their clothes, work tools, house doors etc, it will give them protection and will bring luck.

This one has Trees of Life on it. The image has been considered the center of the world and the beginning of all processes of life.”

I love the her idea of using these old symbols of protection and luck in a modern way. You can see more of Moonika’s beautiful work in her Etsy shop Kuutydruk or on Flickr. If you read her Etsy profile you can even find out what Kuutydruk means. It's special. I didn’t actually find Moonika. She found me. Moonika writes a blog and was kind enough to include me in her weekly gallery of Etsy sellers. Thanks, Moonika!
heaven and chocolate, moonika at kuutydruk
Now lest you think I’ve just been sitting around for two days surfing the internet or napping, let me put that notion to rest. I have been out in the studio making more little acorns and leaves. I’ve even been working on something new today that with luck you might be able to see on Monday. But then again, I do feel a little like napping this weekend.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Look what Sharon made!

I've been doubly blessed in the last week to have my friend Sharon at LiveWire Jewelry use some of my porcelain pieces in her beautiful work. The earings above are called 'brocade' and combine, turquoise, silver, and ruby with her own head pins and jump rings into what I think are quite elegant earings.
The second pair of earings are called 'tranquility' and again use silver with my porcelain charms. I love these too and could see wearing them casually or all dressed up. Sharon says that they are called tranquility because that's what she felt when she touches the porcelain pieces. What an honour for me! But the real honour is seeing my humble pieces transformed into such beautiful works of art. You can see more photos of these lovely earings in her Etsy shop.
When I make things I don't have a clear vision of what they might look like when used in jewelry. Often I have a very simple idea. But when I see Sharon, or any of you, work your talent and magic I am really very thrilled.
I am very fond of Sharon. She and I started blogging at about the same time last year and was one of the first of the many wonderful people I met here on the blogs. Since that time, I've been able to watch her make beautiful jewelry, using different types of wire working techniques, gems, art beads, and all sorts of materials. I've also watched her branch out into mixed media works that are truly wonderful. I believe that Sharon started out as a fine art painter and all of the art she makes has a painters eye for composition and colour. Sharon is very talented! And she's just one of the bestest people around too!
I know some of you are familiar with Sharon's art. But if you aren't you should really go over to her blog and see for your self what she's up to. She's very generous with sharing her creative journey and it will be worth the trip. I promise.
Thanks Sharon! You've not only made my day, but my week too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Autumn is here!

I am seasonally challanged. But it is cool here now, actually it is cold by southern standards. I've been in my wind cheater for 2 days now. I know, I know by your hardy northern standards, 50F in the morning is still a balmy day. But for me it is coooold.

So, I unloaded my kiln this morning and I noticed that all but one thing I had in there was in autumn colours. Just one small teal button in a decidedly deep, autumn friendly colour. It is official, it is autumn! Well, until we get another streak of 90F weather. Which I am sure is just around the corner.

This is a little sampling of a few of the goodies that came out. See? Autumn, it is, all decidedly an autumn pallete.

And just in the spirit of total honesty and complete disclosure. Here is an OOOOps. Now I know that these Christmas ornaments need to be hung on larger rods. That's why I made them last year. But lo and behold, I put them on regular rods and see those sagging hangers? Well this is not good. Seven went in, 5 are salvagable, and 2 are glued together like siamese twins. Oh well, at least Christmas is a few months off. I've still got time to enjoy the lovely cool autumn. My favourite season of all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New batik patterns and glaze

I recently aquired a new batik stamp that is Persian in origin. It's got a much finer line detail than the Indian stamp I've been using and I wasn't sure how well the detail would get picked up when glazed. But, I just have to say I am pleased and this is a glaze combination that I could just use over and over again, and probably wouldn't get bored with for a while.

These are 4 of the little trays I fired yesterday. They are somewhere around 4 inches square. I love the orientation of the top right one. If you squint your eyes just right, it looks a little like a row of minarettes. I know some of you have wondered if I'll list any of these and I'm thinking that I've just about got figured out how to reasonably ship these in a safe way.

So here's the new glaze that I tweaked and tested yesterday. It's called ocean green and as far as I can see there is no ocean at all about it. It has also been described as a putrid brown and I find that a little harsh. On my white stoneware (left) I think it has a lovely autumnal feel to it. On porcelain (right), well, nothing to write home about, bit boring, bland.... but not putrid. Maybe putrid is an 'in the eye of the beholder' sort of judgement.

But that glaze overlays really nicely with the brown glaze I've been using on pots. The leaf on the right is just the brown glaze, which is OK but the one on the left, I am in love with. The detail shows the incredible crystal pattern that happened when I put the 'ocean green' over the brown. In the potter's world, this kind of crystal development is a whole science of it's own. Can I repeat it? Don't know, but I've got the small kiln going right now and we'll find out tomorrow.
Thanks everyone for stopping by my little corner!

Monday, September 21, 2009

A blaze of glaze

Ah, my neck and back ache. I've spent the day hoping to get this same glaze effect a second time on the new stoneware clay. But I've thrown a little twist into it by introducing a new pattern, a detailed pattern that needs to be glazed differently.

There are lots of ways to apply glaze to pottery. You can dip it in a big bucket, spray it, air brush, paint it on. Recently I've been painting it on to pots (jewelry components too) because it's really the only way to get the detail right. But painting it on has been a real trial and error and royal pain in the backside development process for me. I make all my own glazes and they don't formulate naturally to the techniques I want to use. But at last I think I've found the right combination of ingredients to make most of my glazes flow like paint, sort of.
The new batik pattern I'm using is pretty detailed and requires a fair bit of attention to what I'm doing. Attention to detail is not always my strong suit. And this isn't really like painting. It's more like coaxing the glaze to go where I want it to go rather than an actual brush stroke. Oh, and I have to do it twice for each piece in each colour, so by the end of the day....well let's just say that my natural tendancy for colourful language is enhanced.

A few trays and dishes have been committed to trial by fire and I've got my fingers crossed. And there are a couple of new glazes in there. I'm having a bit of a problem thinking about the acorns in other than natural acorn colours. Really, can you envision a purple acorn?
I've got another glaze experiement going on for an 'ocean green' that has been described by others as 'putrid' brown. This of course intrigued me and away I go experimenting without even testing the original formula. My tweek may indeed be putrid as well. But I'll let you know tomorrow. I am always optimistic, ....until I open the kiln.

And I do not necessarily have fate on my side this week. Alice (miss wiggle bottom) and I collided in the studio last week and the kiln god went arse over appetite. Many pieces are there waiting to be reassembled. But for now, just his earless head is left to gaurd my work. I sure hope this isn't a bad bad omen.

Friday, September 18, 2009

One little acorn

Busy, busy today with a little obsession that involves one little acorn. And it looks like someone really needs to do a bit of work on her cuticles. A little hand cream might be in order too.

But this story actually starts with these leaf pendants. Yesterday started out well enough until I started making leaf buttons. Now call me a fuddy duddy if you will, but I think buttons are quite nice when they are flat. And these little monsters kept coming out of the molds twisted. Frustration, cross words, I walked away for a bit and noticed the carpet of old pecan leaves in the corners of my deck. I also noticed how much that leaf shape echoes the shape of the pecan leaves and zap of inspiration, why not just make leaf pendants with that little twist that nature provides so well? I've made these as flat pendants before and never liked them much but after making 17 of them in this new way, I was feeling a bit more friendly to the shape and in need of a break.

So I walked out to the front garden and hapened to look up at my oak tree. Now this is a Texas red oak which I am told is special for reasons I can not recall. I did not plant this young tree but I did save its life. A while ago, the very nice arborist who was tending my neighbors pecan trees told me that the tree was infected with some sort of insect and that was why it was losing branches. I dutifully poured the required nasty chemicals on the roots of the tree and hoped for the best. I am actually very fond of this tree. It consistently has the most amazing blaze of glorious red in autumn for just a few days before the leaves come off the tree. It is a sight to behold.

While I was looking up at my tree I saw what I thought might be another tell tale sign of bad health in my lovely tree. I wandered over and low and behold it was an acorn. This tree has never had acorns before. This tree was either too young or too sick or both to have acorns. I felt jubilant, really truly over the moon. Yes, I know it's only a tree, but it is my special tree whose life I saved. AND zap....another bolt of inspiration. Just abandon those leaf buttons today. There is always tomorrow. Make acorn buttons.

My neighbor and friend happened out at about this time and plucked the acorn off the tree for me. She's much taller than me and almost never comments on the disarray of my clothes or the clay in my hair when I come out in my studio gear. Thanks, Liz!

A little mad frenzied carving of models later I had poured plaster molds to celebrate this one little acorn. BTW it is not the only acorn on the tree. When you look closely there are quite a few up there just waiting to become little oaks or most likely squirrel food.

So this morning I started making things. The molds were a bit to wet yet to use, so, ssshhh don't tell Peter, but I dried them in the oven. Very handy things are ovens. I don't bake much but they do very nicely to dry all sorts of things.

What started out as buttons became a whirl wind of other things. It went something like this:

Oh, as a cabachon that large acorn might make a nice autumn brooch....

Those little leaf charms could become connectors in a bracelet or necklace...

The fat little acorn charms might be nice as shank back buttons...

Curved properly that large oak leaf might make a nice large focal in a bangle type bracelet...

Maybe little sets of acorns and leaves....

So a few hours later my work surface is a forest floor of oak leaves and acorns. About those leaf buttons? Tomorrow, really truly tomorrow.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Products of Puttering

As you know from my last post, I spent yesterday in a delightfully list free day. Part of that was spent 'puttering,' a woefully underated state of being. Some of my puttering involved using some stamps I had made of my drawings. Beth at Hint, recently posted about how she makes fine silver jewelry components from molds of her own drawings. Well, I'm not really one to draw, but I do doodle. In fact doodling seems to be one of my best things. I don't keep a journal but I do keep a file of scraps of paper that I've put little pictoral thoughts on. What you see here are koi fish that I can't get enough of, and the lotus I drew based on the batik stamp I've been using in pottery. I use a little different method than Beth does, but more on that later.

I know koi and lotus are pretty out of step with Northern Hemispher seasons. But I find both images quite timeless, even seasonless. Couple that with having spent many years in Australia, where right now I'd be thinking spring thoughts, well this is what came out. In Australia, it is common practice to keep koi and often that involves keeping aquatic plant life like the lotus. So these 2 images just seemed a natural pairing. And I love koi. For fish, they are wonderfully affectionate. OK, maybe that stretches the truth. But if you've never done this and have the opportunity, put your fingers into a koi pond and most likely they will come up to nibble on your fingers. Wonderful!

These are the drawings my bronze and copper pieces were made from. I was quite skeptical of whether these would translate into useable molds. The koi in particular has a lot of detail and moving that detail down to a bit more than 1/2 inch size was a bit daunting.

But, these metal clays pick up an amazing amount of detail Yippeeee!
Cheers, LeAnn

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What if?

What if I.....
.....ate cereal for lunch and sandwhiches for breakfast
.....did my morning things in the afternoon a book for an hour, in bed, and fell asleep
.....took a shower in the middle of the day
.....sat in the sun, closed my eyes, and thought about nothing at all
What if I left till tomorrow those things I could do today? Will my world as I know it spin apart?
Well, actually, no. One, I'm neither that important or that powerful to effect my world in such a dramatic way. And, two, I know this to be true because those are things I did today. I was slothful. I puttered. I napped. And do you know what? It felt pretty darned good.
You should try this. It's good for the mind and soul. Seriously, though, I think many of us feel a pressure to be productive all of the time. I know I was raised in an environment where idle hands are the devils workshop. My old life in the 9-5 world, where 5pm was a figment of my imagination, did nothing but reinforce my early training. Old convictions are hard to put to rest. But I think we all need to give some thought to nurturing ourselves with little breaks. Little moments of nothingness.
The things I put off today are still there for tomorrow. The world is completely unaffected by my days dalliance. So I think I'll just finish off this perfectly slothful day with a bit of mindless television.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Copper Pieces

But first....where did the time go? It's been cool here, finally, and I've spent a lot of time in the studio. It seems like only yesterday that I showed you all photos of the new pots. I'd love to respond to each and every comment but you have once again just stunned and amazed me with all of your support and truly generous words. Thank you one and all!

A couple of things though. A few of you wondered about my kiln and it's size for large work. Well the shameful truth is I am a kiln hoarder. I have 4 kilns, ranging in size from teeny tiny to one I can fire things up to 26 inches tall. The big one only gets used a few times a year and is mostly likely a waste of space. But it was my first kiln so I hang onto it for nostagic reasons. Yes, you can fall in love with a kiln, a big ugly kiln.

Several of you commented on the Arts & Crafts feel of some of the pots. Well, I just could not be more pleased with that. I hadn't actually thought of those pots that way. But the Arts & Crafts period, both British and American is my favourite design period. Hands down, top favourite. In fact I live in a bungalow of sorts, built in 1928. I just sort of gravitate to all things Arts & Crafts and it tickles me pink that some of that feel is coming through my pottery without even trying.
I made these pieces out of copper clay a few weeks ago and forgot about them. It's that where did the time go thing I have going on right now. I think I buried them in my other things because I wasn't too sure of the patina on them. There's no bright copper feel to them but now that I get them back out again, I like the old coin feel they have. And speaking of copper clay. This stuff is fantastic to work with. It is like butter compared to the crunchy toast feel and working of the bronze clay.

I'm off to work on some more of the metal clay pieces. I've got a couple of new designs in the works and tonight seems like the night to just dive into it.

Cheers, LeAnn

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hold me back, please

I just pulled these pots from the kiln this morning and now all I want to do is glaze every pot in exactly this same way. But that would be boring in the end. There's a little work to be done on the brown glaze, applying it in a way that gets the richness I want but doesn't run all over the kiln shelves. I hate grinding glaze off kiln shelves. But overall, I am happy with these. Two firings in a row and I am happy. I am pretty sure I am due for a firing disaster soon.

Here's a closer look at the blue green glaze. It's the same one I use on porcelain and the same one that goes a yuck colour on another clay that I use. This is a new stoneware clay for me and much whiter and so far, pretty good working qualities. You might well ask why I've switched clays when I've deadlines looming. And that is a very good question, one others have in fact posed. Well, the short answer is I took a punt with one of my suppliers and had shipped their in house white stoneware. The other supplier is 8 hours away in Wichita and does not ship. I buy there because I love a great excuse to see my daughter. But neither of us has time right now. So necessity is the mother, right? And it worked out. And I can't tell you how relieved I am!

I've been making these small dragonfly dishes for years. I love dragonflies and I've always loved this stamp that I carved. It was one of my first ever and it's gone through many renditions. But this is the first time I've gotten the glaze the way I really wanted it. There are actually two from this kiln that came out virtually the same. OOPs, shush, I may be tempting fate here.

And this is Alice. She would like me to think that she's been keeping me safe from thunder storms today. She spent most of the afternoon out in the studio just about as close to my chair as possible. We've been having a lot of thunder and lightning and some pretty torrential rain and high winds. So in fact , I think sweet Alice is actually just hiding out with me. Meanwhile her big brother Bob knows that the safest place is in the closet.
Have a great tomorrow all, LeAnn

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

When the going gets tough

The tough get sewing.... OK, I was actually inspired by my friend Pattie over at the Joy of Nesting and the gorgeous sewing projects she's been up to lately. It has been a wee bit stressful over here getting ready for market this weekend and the studio tour in not nearly enough time. And besides, Pattie personally admonished me to get out of the studio for a little bit.

The dining room table was clear after a weekend with my son home and guests on Saturday. The timing was just right for getting out a project that's been waiting for a while. I love tunics. Not only are they comfortable, they hide all sorts of things in their roomy comfort. And I love to sew. I find it a wonderful stress reliever. That is when every thing goes right. And it is hard to go wrong with such a simple project as this one.

I think I'll leave fashion photography to the experts. That curly thing on the side is the end of a horn of my ram's skull. Nothing to worry about. Died of old age and no odd meaning. I just liked the shape of the horns. I'll show you the whole skull one day.

Meanwhile, I've returned to the studio. The kiln is firing with a few test pieces. But thank you Pattie! This was a wonderful break for me!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It just wouldn't do

I got juried in for ceramics for the local studio tour and there will be beads and such there in addition to pottery. I can't actually sell anything non-ceramic like jewelry or things made of bronze or copper. I have to have representative photos for the brochure. Umm...that would be Tuesday. Again working at the last minute. But it just wouldn't do to submit a photo of a naked bead for all of the world to see. So this is what I came up with. I know, I'm stretching the definition of ceramics just a wee bit. But I just could not help myself.

This was a really fun piece to make. I got to use my porcelain piece and a little bronze doodad I made. I wire wrapped, I pounded on the bench block, I stunk up the house with liver of sulphur. But best of all I got to use my torch. I love, love fire. I love melting things. The strangest thing about this piece is I can see it finished. That never happens. But that will be another day. It actually has to go into the show as is. If I put a bazillion dollar price tag on it maybe I can bring it home and finish it. But then maybe the vision will have passed by then.

Meanwhile I am off to the studio to turn pots. And wait for my son to get home. He's got leave for the holiday weekend and we've got lots of things planned. Unfortunately, my daughter will be working. Nurses have awful holiday schedules. Nurses who work and go to school full time have no leave at all. Ah, far is that way?

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Flat Out Like a Lizard Drinking

I did spend a major chunk of my adult years in Australia. And flat out like a lizard drinking is Australian for really busy. Think about the visual on that and it starts to make sense. And really busy is what I've been. I looked at the calendar and saw I have 8 weeks to get ready for the local studio tour. Which on the face of it seems a fair ways away. But....given all of the larger pots I make take up to a week, sometimes two, to dry, that deadline is creeping up.

I unloaded my small kiln this morning with 3 more of the barnacle pots in it. And mark your calendars, I've certainly put a star on September 2, 2009. This is the very first time ever that I've unloaded a kiln and been happy with what's in there. Sure, usually there are things I like and often most of the kiln load is OK. But usually it takes a few days. It is not love at first sight.

I am over the moon happy with how these three barnacle pots came out. An absolute, non-trivial first for me!

And here's a little sampler of beady type things. Horrendous exposure on the photo. But there were beads in there and you know what? I liked them too. For the most part.
Cheers, LeAnn

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

And the winner is.....

The random number generator picked out of 25 responses to this give away number 12. That is Joella, aka One Artsy Chick. Joella was born and raised in the wilderness of Ontario, Canada and is a wife to Chris and mom to a couple of children and a dog named Gracie. Joella works across media, including jewelry. So if you don't know her work, please give her a look. Joella, please send me your mailing address to and I'll send this pendant right out to you!

Thanks all of you for participating in this give-away and especially your wonderful, always supportive comments. I am a wee bit overwhelmed, in fact. I count among my many blessings your freindship and enduring support in this little journey of mine.