Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Arivaderchi 2009, Helloooooo 2010

Oddly enough, only yesterday did I realize that today was New Year's Eve. Somehow, the week after Christmas sped by faster than I'd noticed! But it snowed yesterday, and quietly frosted us with about two inches of pretty white powder. With the beautiful blue skies and crisp air, it's like a winter wonderland. I'm just glad I have central heating, especially since we're predicted to have more snow today and tomorrow. But while it's chilly outside, Big Al happily cooked an entire batch of new tiles! I even popped in an experimental glaze combo -- I hope it turns out nice. The fire took 13.5 hours, which means I have to wait until tomorrow evening to open him up. Patience. Patience. Patience.

Each of our fence posts had a dollop of snow like this. Fun! Except along the Squirrel Monorail, where they've all been knocked off. Nothing stops the Squirrel Monorail from running on time!

Now I've been wondering how to sell these tiles. I want to give those on my special giftware list an advantage for being faithful collectors, but the tiles need more exposure, too. So I decided to offer a portion of every new design's first batch to those on my giftware list first, then the rest I'll pop up on something like Etsy. That way those folks get an exclusive opportunity, but I can enter other sales venues as well. As for the size of that exclusive batch, I really don't know yet. I figure it'll be hit-or-miss the first few times, then I'll get a better idea of how popular these things are with those collectors.

Anyway, I'm also interested in exploring other sales venues like Niche Marketplace (thanks for the reference, Karen Gerhardt!), Discovered Artists, eCrater, etc. If the name of the game is exposure, then I have to think that way, especially when it comes to a collectible giftware item such as these tiles. So while it would be great to stick with one place, like Etsy, or even my giftware list, I have to put more eggs in more baskets.

I also have come to a major decision. Despite my best attempts to eek in learning time here and there throughout the last two years, my dilapidated, out-dated
web site is simply beyond my comprehension to update or revamp. I just don't have the time to learn how to do it or actually even do it while I have so many crucial projects in development. This inability will (hopefully) change in the future, but I need something new pretty much now, especially if I want to present my "face" to a broader public. In short, my web site is the one significant piece of the "marketing puzzle" that's somewhere on the carpet or under the sofa. And in this day and age of selling -- an effective web site is critical.

So I've decided to hire a local professional to design my web site just to get the darned thing done, and then I can update it from there. And being local, I can work with him/her in person, too, which is something I prefer. I realize now that I'm an artist, and I need to focus on the one thing only I can do -- my art. Everything else can be hired out to those who are far more efficient and proficient than I am. So that's what I'm hoping to achieve after Ms. Haffie and her kidlet go up for sale. I really want to unveil a new web site in 2010 -- woot! That's my 2010 business resolution. Well, besides getting more caught up, which oddly enough has been a business resolution every year!

So aside from researching online arty marketplaces, I'll also be perusing local web site builders to find a good fit for me. I'm really rather excited about all this! Whether this collectible idea takes off or sputters out, I don't know, but now is the time to try. I also need to set myself up for my future bronze work and other concepts I'd like to explore, so I see all this as a kind of foundation-building for other things.

But looking back over the year, all in all, 2009 was a lost year, pretty much. It fizzled out in the production department due to various things, so I have my eyes set on 2010 to get back in the game in force. I think next year will be interesting on a personal level, too -- Hubby is graduating in September and will have to contend with what's considered to be the worst job market in recent US history. Indeed, the Year of the Tiger is associated with big changes and social upheaval, but change isn't necessarily something to be feared. Mediated when it spins out of control, yes, but not feared. Life is change -- that's the one thing that defines all of nature and existence. Such is life. keeps us from getting bored!

So...Happy New Year! May 2010 be joyous, enriching and prosperous for each of you!

"The older I get the more wisdom I find in the ancient rule of taking first things first. A process which often reduces the most complex human problem to a manageable proportion." ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Brain Twist

My new banner for my Facebook studio page.

Ay chihuahua. What a morning. You probably notice two new things in the layout of this blog. First, the nifty animated portfolio on the right and, second, the new Facebook button just below it.

Suffice to say, there's nothing that gets your brain into the red zone than attempting to tackle something (1) new and (2) technological. Especially when you aren't technologically minded. Like me. And especially when the necessary information needed to create such things is so cryptic that you have to scour the net trying to find tutorials and instructions on how to use the dang programs or services. Does it really need to be that difficult? No.

But so much about effective teaching is accounting for the most basic bits of information typically taken for granted, but when unknown, holds up the entire learning process.
"OK -- I know I need to make a new frame layer, but how do I actually do that without simply duplicating the previous one?!" ARGH. And, yes, I have those "Dummies" books, but lemme tell ya -- they are useless when it comes to these esoteric features. After much soul-searching and pleading to the powers that be on this matter, I came across this YouTube tutorial. I swear, I heard the trumpeting of angels when he spoke -- he understood how to communicate the steps to a rank beginner. Thank you, dude!

So voila!
Animated GIF done! I still have to learn how to use the "opacity stopwatch" so each frame can prettily fade into the next, but this'll do for now. However, it's all fine and dandy to make such a fancy thing, but now I need to actually use it. So in I go to Blogger and spend more time careening through the gadgets, trying to get my animation to work. Nada. ARGH. Then I came across this tutorial in my last desperate moments. The missing element was the simple fact that I needed to host my GIF elsewhere and get the HTML code to pop into the HTML gadget in Blogger. So thank you tons!

Now, as for Facebook, that was a hair less painful because I quickly ran across this tutorial. Phew. So click the new Facebook button on the sidebar, and it'll take you directly to my new Minkiewicz Studios Facebook page. Yay!

I swear -- there would have been no way for me to have accomplished any of this without the vast gestalt of the net. We are so fortunate in this day and age that just about anything we need to know is at our fingertips with just a few taps on the keyboard. Instant information, and with endless options. It's a global classroom right in your own home! It also highlights the happy fact of just how many people are so willing and eager to be teachers to others. This always puts a smile on my face, every day. Anyway, I cannot imagine a life without the net now!

But that's definitely enough technology for now. I need to get more kiln shelves so I can get into tile production in earnest, and then dive back into Ms. Haffie. So back into the clay, paint and epoxy!

Technology: No Place for Wimps!" ~ Scott Adams


Monday, December 28, 2009

Giddy with Glaze

Accidental "draft horse" version, in Laguna high fire Crackle Glaze "Ocean Teal." The rectangle indention you see in the belly area is my signature stamp to denote a "test." It's not present in the original design.

It worked - it worked - it worked - it worked! My first expedition into stoneware, stamped tiles, Cone 5 fire and use of high fire glazes was a huge success! Thank you Big Al! So I'm sorry to spoil any surprises, but I just couldn't sit on this one more minute...I'm just so excited!

Intended "light horse" design in Laguna high fire Crackle Glaze "Emerald Isle"

On slow-speed, the Cone 5 fire took thirteen hours -- Lucky 13? I was flabbergasted to wake up this morning to find that Big Al had cooled down to only 500˚ so quickly -- I thought for sure I wouldn't be able to open him for two days. Now granted, I probably should have done that, but I just couldn't wait. You know me and that baffling notion of "patience."

But any warping you see on those tiles was caused in greenware (warping on the flat-plane that is -- the bulging edges were caused by the stamping process). Since they were tests, I didn't handle them carefully. But I was tickled to see that no "introduced" warping occurred. I literally got a wysiwyg! Wow! They also shrunk down to be exactly 3 x 3 inch tiles, on the button. YES. And the hanging holes are perfect! No goofiness there, with either the size or glaze. Yippie!

(An interesting side note: I left one tile out to dry naturally, not sandwiched between the drywall boards. Interestingly enough, the potato-chip effect was far less than I expected -- minimal, actually. I suspect that rolling the clay through the slab roller may affect the platelets in a way that helps the tiles dry flatter. Dunno. But I'll be using the drywall boards regardless -- they really kept things flat very nicely.)

So not only did I learn what went right, I also learned what went wrong. For example, these are the two best tests in which you can see the design okay. The other tiles are so dense with pigment, you can barely make out the horse. Also, the "Desert Skye" crackle glaze really crackles. Holy cow! It may not be usable because the amount of crackling itself could obscure the design entirely no matter how thinly it's applied (then again -- I did open the kiln awfully fast). So I learned that I need to thin those crackle glazes down, and let them soak for only 5-7 seconds in the glaze -- not 20 seconds.

But Laguna does warn that its crackle glazes are very temperamental and can vary dramatically based on the clay body used
and the specifics of a fire (there were only eight test tiles in Big Al, not a packed load of 100+, which is the goal), so we'll see. "Desert Skye" may need another series of tests to be sure.

Anyhoo...I used Laguna high fire crackle glazes in
Tang Lime, Emerald Isle, Twilight Blue, Ocean Teal, Lacy Mauve and Desert Skye. I like how all the colors themselves turned out -- exactly like the examples provided by Laguna (at least on the web site). I bought them from Big Ceramic Store -- a great place to buy ceramic stuff. As for the clay, I used Laguna stoneware B-mix with grog (WC- 436), a very nice clay to work with, at least for these purposes. I bought it from my local Potter's Center, based on the advice they gave me (thank you Amanda!).

But you can see how the "draft horse" came to be from the reversed black/white original "light horse" design -- some interesting things to be learned there, not only for tiles, but for sculpture. Now while the "drafter" does lack the fun spirals (I have an obsession with spirals -- always have), those blank areas around him offer some provoking opportunities to fill them with a different color crackle glaze! Woot! That would kinda "make up" for the lost spirals in that design, I think.

You also can see that these tiles aren't "machined perfect," nor are they intended to be. They're supposed to reflect the process by which they are made -- hand made and stamped. I like all the quirkiness that gets introduced through a hand-made process -- it makes each piece truly special. I think it also speaks "clay" and "organic" much more than something absolutely precise, perfect and sterile. Any machine can crank out exact tiles all day long, but only a person can make each one unique. So I'm blissfully estatic at the creative prospects this process opens up for me and my customers. I already have several more stamp designs in the works to expand the options in this process, and I even have some dogs, cats, birds and other animals in store! Plus, I have a circle and a rectangle clay-cutter, and plan to get more sizes and shapes over time. I am just so thrilled -- I can barely keep from smiling like an idiot today.

And speaking of smiling like an idiot -- Wuzzle is miraculously doing far better today! Like nothing ever happened! It's amazing how something as basic as this can completely change the color of my mood from black to beaming. I suspect -- looking back and tracing the sequence of events -- that his condition may have been a reaction to the new fancy plug-in air freshener I got as a gift for Christmas. I plugged it in Christmas Eve, which is when Wuzzle's symptoms began to emerge. So while it smells wonderful and works great, I suspect those chemicals in the air affect the bronchs of my little fellas. So out it came yesterday, and I turned on fans to suck out the scent, and now Wuzzle is back to normal. So sorry gang -- you'll just have to deal with a "lived in" smelling house when you come over!

I also want to let you know that I'll be creating a Facebook page for the studio very soon, and I'll provide you with the link when I get it set up. I'll also be creating one on Twitter, too, a little bit later, along with an Etsy store if these tiles go over well enough. Now that I have these tiles potentially going (along with other ideas the process introduces), I have a means to keep a feasible inventory stocked, assuming that people like them.

And lastly, before I get back to the Haffie mare, I justed wanted to let you know that the Arabian ornament is now on eBay for a five-day auction. You can find it by clicking here, or the "ebay" link in the side panel on the right. So between that, and everything else, it's been a roller coaster of a weekend, lemme tell ya.

Success is often the result of taking a misstep in the right direction." ~ Al Bernstein


Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Whim and a Prayer

It's been a productive day today. Big Al is cookin' the first Cone 5 test tiles with my new high fire crackle glazes. Fingers and toes (and eyes) are crossed! If anything is going to go freakishly haywire, it's going to happen in this fire. So I'll either cry with delight or sob with despair. Stay tuned!

I also finished that for-fun painted square Christmas "ball" with the Arabian portrait (above). It felt a little odd painting flatwork after-- gosh -- twelve years? But it was fun, nonetheless. Felt kinda good. The ornament is 3.25 x 3.25 inches square, and all I had were small rounds to paint with. Made for an interesting challenge! I like how it came out, though, and I'll be popping it up on eBay sometime this week for kicks. I really don't know how to price it, or sell it, so I figure I'll let eBay take care of that. You can see more pix of it here.

The one thing that has overshadowed today is Wuzzle -- he's not sounding good. Despite my treatments, he's developed that gurgling, congested sound that strik
es fear into us rat people. It means that myco has started to take its toll, from which there is no escape. I'm not ready to lose him so soon. I'm really not. So I'll get more medications from my vet tomorrow and hope I can buy him a few more weeks, maybe months. Oh, for a vaccine or cure for myco!

Anyway, if all goes well with Big Al tomorrow, you'll be the first to see the results!

"Life at best is bittersweet." ~ Jack Kirby


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nom nom nom

Well, we here are all stuffed silly. It was fully 24 hours after our Christmas feast that I actually felt hungry again. I have no shame. Though I now know how my Well Wells feel after a feast -- only I don't have an expandable belly! And they don't have to wear pants!

And speaking of feasting, I've stuffed Big Al with the greenware tiles for their first fire today! After running out of near everything for these things, I realized when loading him that I'd quickly run out of kiln shelves, too. Each drywall sheet basically equals one big kiln shelf, and with five sheets and only two big kiln shelves, things got interesting really fast. So after the tests are done and I know if this scheme will work (or not), I'll be off to buy more big kiln shelves to create a more orderly and well-packed fire.

Because right now -- it's really dicey in there! (See Big Al, above.) I used every possible contraption to rig up a lattice work of ramshackle shelves to get them all in there. I know I may have been able to stack them on top of each other, but I didn't want to risk it with so little experience with all this, and because I want to get these out before the twelve days of Christmas are over. I also decided to switch Big Al from a medium-speed fire to a slow-speed fire just in case of warping. If there's no warping with this fire, then I'll do another test fire on medium speed, and then perhaps on high speed. If these things are going to be the most cost effective, I not only need a packed kiln with each fire, but I also need to run it at maximum speed without sacrificing quality because of the long downtime for the greenware to dry (8-10 days). So I'm very excited! My new high fire crackle glaze arrived a couple of days ago, and I'm itchin' to try them!

But as for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they were wonderful. We had a gorgeous blue-sky Christmas Day with snow on the ground. Picture perfect! And regarding are some from our Yuletide festivities...

Our little tree. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Santa on it. Instead, our tree is loaded with animals and whimsical things. And yes -- that's Emile on top of our tree. One of these days, I really want to make that rattie angel. This isn't even a quarter of our ornaments, though. I just didn't have the time or motivation to unpack them all. Besides that keeps things fresh for next year when I use another box of ornaments. But I am ridiculous for Christmas ornaments -- glitter, sparkle, sequins and weirdness. I'm like a budgie mesmerized by a mirror.

Here's Hubby carving his famous ham for Christmas Eve dinner. Now call me crazy, but in this photo, if Hubby added 200 lbs and grew a big white beard and white head of hair -- wouldn't he look just like Santa?! Ho ho honey!

The glorious pineapple custard pie my Mother in Law made for dessert Christmas Eve.

The (now infamous) rumkugeln we made for dessert for after the Christmas meal, to stay in keeping with the German theme. A whole pound of butter, a pound of chocolate, a pound of powdered sugar and more rum than I care to admit went into the creation of these decadent dollops. All eighty of them. Oy!

Here's what we had for Christmas dinner -- rouladen, klose, spaetzle, sauerkraut and roasted asparagus. Mom insisted I get the Santa in there. She also lamented about the white plate, but the food was so good, I don't think anyone noticed! It was a fabulous meal and worth all the work. I actually was surprised the pickle kept its flavor inside the rouladen -- an unexpected taste treat! But boy -- were we full afterwards. And my Well Wells certainly enjoyed a healthy serving of spaetzle, too! They scarfed it down. They're not stupid: Carbs + Butter = GOOD.

Here's how Hubby wraps gifts, of which I fully support. Not only is it cute, but less wasteful. Gift wrap you can reuse later!

Now some of you were curious about the Christmas balls I was talking about, so here they are for this year. However, mind you, the whole premise of these paint jobs are "quick and simple." I only allow myself a few quick strokes of color to paint them, which isn't only a challenge, but also entirely refreshing from the fiddly work I do for a living. Also, I don't sketch them out and transfer them, or pre-plan them. I wing each one -- each one is completely free handed with my brush, working from photos (though the carousel horse was completely made-up and with no photos used -- an interesting challenge). So if some things look a little goofy, it's either the round angle of the ball, or my free handing. You'll also see that I lean more towards a "cartoony" look with these, just for fun. These balls actually are a really good artistic exercise in this way -- they force me to "KISS" with pigment (which forces me to make some interesting decisions about color use) and the free-handing forces my brain to pay attention, two things that feed back into my regular studio work.

This first one is for my friend Tina and her husband. It's their daughter in her Snow White costume on a carousel horse.

This one is for Tina's younger brother and his wife. Their two kids are the little bells on each side.

This one is for Tina's older brother and his wife (both a partridge in a pear tree -- though it occurred to me after I'd sent it that I may have painted either two adult hens or two adult roosters!), with four chicks to represent their four kids.

This one is for Tina's parents, and each dove represents one of their grandchildren.

This one is for my parents. Mom loves piglets, so naturally, there had to be be all manner of pink piglets on their Christmas ball.

Speaking of pigs, that's Rachel from Pike's Place Market in Seattle. This is Hubby's Christmas ball, chronicling all the major things we did this year. It took me seven hours to paint. Yow. And just when I thought I was done (at 11pm), I realized I forgot to paint in our trip to Bald Head Island and Brookgreen Gardens! ACK. Which is why they're relatively so tiny up at the top. My eyes were crossing at that point. But if you look closely, you can see lots of little baby platy fish for all the babies we had in the tank this year! Anyhoo, you can see more images of all these balls here.

I actually started painting an additional ball (actually a square Christmas glass "ball") for kicks, with a realistic Arabian head. Kinda gearing up, thinking about my color decals for my flat fired ornaments I suppose. If I like how it comes out, I may put it up for sale because I can't think of what else to do with it. I think this would be a fun tradition to start, but obviously, get it done before Christmas next year!

Anyway, we're recuperating and taking it easy this weekend -- and wondering how "in the name of Mike" (for you fellow Polar Express fans) we're going to eat all the leftovers without exploding. We were supposed to start our diets on Monday. DOH. Well, not too much of a DOH. (wink) As Rizzo says in my favorite Christmas show, A Muppet Christmas Carol, "I'm in it for the food!"

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."
~ Melody Beattie


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's a Wuzzle World

Wuzzle? What are you doin'?

That's Wuzzle up there, casually bruxing away while laying atop his brother, Jeepie. The hammock is supporting him, but just barely, but Jeepie doesn't seem to care. They are both big, blobby boys, refined experts at eating, sleeping, and bruxing. Horribly spoiled, these two live the Life of Riley. It's hard to believe that when I first got them, their little baby bodies were as big as their heads are now. I'm still trying to get pix of them running amok on the rat couch (I had hoped I could snap one good enough to Photoshop into a Christmas card), but they still hog the camera. So I'm stuck snapping photos of them in their cage during the day when it's sleepy time. I'll keep trying, though.

But the stamped stoneware tiles are about ready to fire! I'd thought about just plowing forward and using up all the pugs for one big fire. But it occurred to me that (1) Christmas is around the corner and well...that entails things other than tiles tiles tiles and (2) I should probably do a small batch first to see if this grandiose plan will even work, otherwise I'll just be wasting a lot of time and clay.

So I need one day to clean up the ones I had to drills holes in a bit, and to fret and recheck everything about a dozen times. And then into Big Al they go for the first stage of fire (Cone 04, or
1945˚F). My new high-fire glazes should be arriving any day now, and when they get slapped on, the tiles are again fired and brought up to Cone 5 (about 2167˚F). This is reverse to earthenware clay which is bisque fired hottest (Cone 04), and then glazed at a lower temperature (Cone 06, or 1828˚F). Something new and experimental -- I can't wait! But it'll have to wait until after Christmas -- doooh. This is worse than the anticipation of Christmas morning!

Anyway, I also ordered some bisque ornament tiles from Cowtown Ceramics, Inc. They've been wonderful to work with, so I'm really excited about getting their tiles. The interesting thing is that their tiles are cut from a clay sheet, not slip cast from plaster molds. This means they can custom-cut any shape for you for a modest set-up fee, opening up whole new pathways of creativity.

But my grand plan is to create ceramic decals from my black and white drawings (some of them “serious” and some of them fun and doodle-ish) and fire them onto these tiles as giftware. If that works, I may even have color decals produced of some of my paintings (this company was recommended by a friend). My aim is create lines of giftware that are affordable and relatively quick to produce to start diversifying and expanding my studio. In economic downtimes, I’m not one to hunker down and entrench. I see it as an opportunity to grow and explore new markets, so we’ll see what happens. It could end up being a complete waste, but unless I try it, I'll never know, right? So onward!

And speaking of "onward!"...Mom came over today to help with the KP for the German Christmas feast. We pre-prepped the rouladen and made the rumkugeln (eighty of them!), and finalized plans for the big day. To grease the proceedings, Hubby kept us well coddled with plenty of spiked eggnog and made sure ol' Bing's Christmas CD was hummin' along.

But this morning, I delivered my finished painted Christmas balls to my friend, Tina, who'll take them to her family for Christmas. Every year I paint them for her family, who kinda adopted me when I first moved here to Idaho. So for a week every year, the studio stops so I can whip them up. I also paint one for my parents, which I gave to Mom today, so now I have one more to paint -- Hubby's. I've painted a Christmas ball for him each year since we first met (1997), and I paint onto them the major things that happened to us that year. Since I don't keep a photo album, they are the only record of that year. So it's a special ritual to unpack them one by one and reminisce.
We joke that when we're close to croaking, they'll be a collection of 50+ balls and we'll need to get another tree! And then all manner of salty jokes about balls comes into play, of which I'll spare you. Anyway, I'm going to have a rather late night finishing it tonight. After Christmas, so's not to spoil the surprise, I'll post pix so you can see what I'm talkin' about.

But I also have to get up early tomorrow morning to prep food for the Christmas Eve feast with my Mother in Law here. So let's just say this entire weekend is going to be a shameless wallowing in food and libations and indulgence. We're gonna live the Wuzzle Way and be a Jeepie for each other.

PS: And btw -- those funky dried seed pods I wrote about in this blog post are called "teasles." Thank you everyone for your heads-up! What a fun name -- it fits their alien-like shape!

"It is true I gained muscular vigour, but with it a prodigious appetite, which I was compelled to indulge, and consequently increased in weight, until my kind old friend advised me to forsake the exercise." ~ William Banting


Friday, December 18, 2009

Punching a Hole in Tradition

As I look outside, at the bitter cold and grey skies, it makes me so happy to look upon my Blobbies, all cozy and warm, content and safe. And gooey. I was able to snap this photo of Scruffles, aka Scruffallupagus Rex (he's a curly coat) or Scruff (for short), eating a breakfast of scrambled egg nestled in his nest. He's still a little bleary eyed from just waking up to munch. Ah, breakfast in bed. Life is rough being Scruff.

I'm starting to gear up for Christmas in earnest, and have immersed myself into the painting of the annual Christmas balls for some dear friends. These are a lot of fun -- cartoony and quick, they're a nice departure from realism. I'm playing Mystery Science Theater's "Santa Claus" on a loop, and even though I've watched it probably twenty times, I still crack up. "Santa's army of walking corpses," drones Tom Servo. Now that's what I call the holiday spirit! You can even catch the episode (in segments) on YouTube.

Speaking of Christmas spirit -- sometimes it can become, well, monumentally boring. In particular, the food. After thirty years of memory, it became unbearable to cram turkey, ham or capon, and all their various manifestations, down my gullet one more time. So last year, I put the kibosh on the traditional Christmas dinner, or rather, I was able to convince the rest of the family that we could no longer beat this dead tree anymore. So last year we opted for a Polish Christmas and this year
we decided on a German theme (and Hubby is blissfully happy about this!). We decided on rouladen, close/knodel, spaetzle and roasted asparagus (that last bit was my rather un-German addition just for kicks). For dessert, we'll be making these dollops of devilish delight, rumkugeln. For an appetizer, I'll be making my popular camenbert pastry puffs with cracked pepper. they're not classically German, but they're good and I know how to make them blind-folded.

So on the 23rd, Mom is coming over to do some pre-preparations, like wrapping up the rouladen, "sampling" the rumkugeln (I suspect I may have to quadruple the recipe for this) and finalizing plans. Mom and Hubby got our tree lights going today, too, and my plush Emile now sits atop our tree, grasping his wedge of cheese, as our Christmas angel. One of these days, I want to sculpt an angel rattie, using the slab technique with my slab roller, for atop our tree. I think this might actually be a fun sideline -- fun, whimsical angel animals to top Christmas trees.

And speaking of slabbin' -- Barry from Bear Cast LLC came over yesterday to drop off what's probably the last of my "Reflective" plaques and I showed him what I was doing with my slab roller. Because of that serendipitous decision, I noticed that I'd forgotten to punch holes in an entire batch of tiles! I'm just not ready to figure out what to do with thirty-six tiles with no hanging holes! But they were too dry to use the tube -- drat. So I ended up having to drill (very carefully) holes into either corner of all those tiles. That's seventy-two holes. Yow. It did create a different look to the back, but golly -- what a mess with all the clay "chips" from the drilling. I much prefer the tube! But they have holes now and all is right with the world again. Phew.

Anyway, I do hope your Christmas preparations are going as smooth as eggnog, and you're staying cozy and warm, too!

"A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together." ~ Garrison Keillor


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stampin' to Siouxsie

Just when you think you're totally rad, something occurs to you and you realize you weren't rad at all. Not even in the vicinity of radness. Your Rad-O-Meter reads zero. Heck, it's not even turned on. Instead, you see you've been an utter and complete dork. A dufus of the highest order.

I had one of the worst nights Sunday night -- my neck, shoulders and back were locked tight and the pain kept me up, well, pretty much all night. All of this due to hand-stamping. With this unignorable result, I knew there was no way I was going to survive my own idea. The quote came to mind from The Mincing Mockingbird, "My Personal Quest Would Have Been Much More Successful Had I Not Gotten Involved." And I have this piece hanging in my studio for obviously very important reasons. Anyway, I got to thinking...

Hey, I have a perfectly good tile press, why can't I use that? LO! YES. Cut the handle off the stamp with a hacksaw! Why not? Rather than pressing clay into a mold, why couldn't I press a mold into the clay? Out came the hacksaw and off came the handle. I zipped down to Potter's Center, got more clay and immediately dove in.

It worked. Beautifully! And with such ease. Nary a smidgen of pressure did the job! And what's more -- in a quarter of the time! In the time it took me to hand-press ten tiles -- about thirty minutes -- Sir Squish (my tile press) did in ten. BUCK A WAH.

Only a finger's touch does the job! I can sleep again! I got my tile press from J & J Mold Company and it's da bomb. Each one is hand made and works like a dream. It's geared, so the task of pressing is a breeze.

I've also gotten more proficient at rolling, so I'm getting more cut-outs from a single slab -- yay!

So I cranked up Siouxsie's Mantaray album and pressed away! I have all my Christmas tiles pressed in the blink of an eye, and now I can dive into sale pieces. But what irony! Though I now have plenty of clay and have the system down, I've run out of drywall boards! DOH! So I'm off to procure more. I suspect the next thing I'll run out of is space in the garage for drying. Oy.

"New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can't be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it's not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!" ~ Arthur C. Clarke


Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'm a Slabbin' FOOL

The custom-made stamps I had made from my design.

I'm a Mudhen Gone Wild! BA-GAAAK! Feathers are flying akimbo and my little pupils are dilating in and out, like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. I could not be more thrilled with how my new slab roller has worked. Rolling perfect slabs of clay could not be any easier!

And my stamp is working terrific! I drew my design out, scanned it and then finished it in PhotoShop. Still haven't mastered the vector pen tool, but this approach worked just fine (phew!). I got the stamps made at ABC Stamp Sign & Awards here in Boise. They were terrific to work with and had a 24 hr turnaround with my stamps -- wow! Thanks Lynn for the lead! I actually had two made, a positive and negative of the same design. I didn't know how the design would translate into a stamp, and how that would translate into the stamped clay. I'm glad I spent the extra to experiment because what I thought would be the better option, wasn't! However, I can use the reject anyway because it creates a "draft horse" version of the design (fun!) and a flatter background surface that I think would be cool for some art glaze experiments, like crystal glazes. And, of course, I can use it for ink stampin', too. But now that I know how things translate, I know how to design for my stamps and tile press pieces. However, I also know to ask them to leave off that knobby handle in the future. It would be much easier on my hands if there was just the flat back -- note to self. That way I might be able to stamp the puppy in Sir Squish, my tile press!

I do admit that I had a mixture of excitement and anxiety rolling my first slab! I must've watched the little video provided by Bailey Pottery four times. You can see it, too, on their slab roller page right under the first depicted slab roller for sale, the 16" Mini-Might Tabletop Slab Roller, which is the one I bought from them. It has worked perfectly! Bailey Pottery is a terrific company, with awesome customer service -- thanks Joan for the recommendation! So while jammin' to The B-52's, I dove in...

Here's me cutting the pug of Cone 5 stoneware clay with my nifty new adjustable clay cutter I got from Bailey Pottery. I'm just too impatient and far too clumsy to rig something up, so if I can buy something already made to do the job, that's what I'm gonna do. Like a hot knife through butter, and a perfect thickness every time.

Here are the first slices lightly pounded together and about ready to go through the roller.

Rolling my first slab! Easy peasy! The trick is to keep a smooth, steady turn of the crank. Any stops or inconsistencies of the turn leads to an uneven slab, which is definitely undesirable. To begin with, it'll cause an uneven drying of the greenware, which can lead to warping. And at the high temps of Cone 5 (about 2167˚F or 1186˚C), any inconsistencies may experience different rates of heating and cooling, which can lead to cracking or breakage.

Now it took me some screw-ups to get it right. The first two slabs I rolled were to thin, so I had to use different shims for the roller and increase the width of the cut clay slice on my clay slicer. I needed that sweet spot. But after I rolled my first usable slab, it was smooth sailin'...and I was able to cut n' stamp!

Here's the tile clay cutter I bought from Bailey Pottery -- it works just like a cookie cutter. It measures about 3.5 x 3.5 inch square because it's designed for stoneware clay, which has a considerable amount of shrinkage when brought up to Cone 5, after which I should have a 3 x 3 inch ornament. That button is very handy -- it pops out the cut tile so I don't have to dig it out.

I get about 6-8 squares from a single slab. That's a slab of drywall I'm cutting on.

Diane, my rat vet, works in clay, too. She creates these wonderful hand built animals and ware out of slabs (and some wonderful fused glass pieces!). So she's a slab-rollin' maven, with a mighty monolith of a slab roller in her studio. I went to her annual Open Studio Christmas sale and mentioned I also got a slab roller, albeit a "baby" version. To my delight, she gave me some great pointers! First, she recommended that I keep the freshly rolled slab as flat as possible. To do that, she told me to transfer the rolled slab evenly onto a slab of drywall, place another drywall slab on top of it, then flip it over. Only then peel off the paper (or canvas) backing. Otherwise, pulling the slab up from that backing will bend it, and at that point, even stoneware has a kind of "memory" and will express that bend when fired. Second, she recommended drying my tiles sandwiched between two drywall boards to keep them flat (they're the perfect weight to avoid that dreaded potato chip effect of the corners) and the gypsum in the drywall forms the perfect drying surface. Thanks Diane!

So now that I had the rolling and cutting thing down, I was able to start stamping! Now here's where my learning curve began to careen like a nectar-drunk bumblebee. At first I thought that wetting the stamp lightly would help the process. Nope. The exact opposite -- yuck. A big sloppy mess and a lousy imprint. I started to get alarmed -- maybe this won't work! ACK. But let's I lightly scrubbed the stamp with a soft toothbrush and let it dry. Try again with a dry stamp -- perfect! Nice imprint, and it released cleanly. I found that I had to wash and dry the stamp about every ten imprints, otherwise it started to get a bit too "sticky" with clay. This drying time also provided my hands with a needed break, too! Phew. Anyhoo....

But golly -- what a shallow imprint. Hmmmm. OK...the problem may be the plastic table I was stamping on -- it just didn't have enough resistance. So I try squishing the stamp into the clay square when on the drywall and on the concrete garage floor. Hey -- that worked much better!

But gosh -- it's still not exactly what I'm looking for -- what I know the stamp is capable of doing. So I grab one of my 4 x 4 porcelain bisque tiles (I have a few of them lying around for all sorts of sundry stuff in the ceramic studio), and gently place the clay square on that. Then I place that on the drywall, which is on the concrete floor, and squish -- yes! A nice, clean deep imprint. Being able to use my body weight on that bisque tile, which provided the proper resistance, was the trick. And the stamped clay lifted off the tile beautifully, much better than off the drywall. Bingo.

I know it doesn't seem like much, but I'm glad to know my brain can still deduce things on the fly. Sometimes I worry that I'm so comfortable with what I know, that my brain isn't able to actually think anymore! In the end, I was able to stamp out thirty pieces yesterday! Granted, eight of them were trashers created from my learning curve, but I'm going to use them for tests for the high fire glazes or oxides I'm considering for the piece.

But this is a expedited use of my time since it would have taken me significantly longer to create slip-cast versions and I just didn't have that kinda time. But even at this point, I may have to invoke the 12 Days of Christmas loophole! It'll take about 8-10 days alone for them to dry before I can fire them, so....Christmas is coming late from Minkdom. It had to happen sometime. The irony is that I had to stop only because I ran out of clay -- I could have stamped out all the pieces I needed in one day!

After the flurry of activity, I had about half the pug left over from the cut-outs. I cogitated about re-wedging them and reusing that through the roller, but you know -- my wedging abilities aren't that great. Besides, clay is cheap and it's perfectly wedged when you buy it from Potter's Center. So I decided to buy more pugs tomorrow, plus
it gave me a great excuse to see and get advice from great people who work there.

Things hummed along just fine, once I got the gist of it. Here's the back of my tile after signing and logo-stamping.

Here's all the stamping tools: (A) The 4 x 4 porcelain "pressing tile," (B) my steel microstamp of my studio logo, (C) the sculpting tool I use to inscribe my signature and date on the back and, (D) the stamped tile. The big white board is, again, a 2 x 2 ft slab of drywall. Lowe's has this handy size already pre-cut for only $4 a sheet.

Now...the last step. I needed to figure out how to put holes in the top corners of the piece for hanging. No -- as you may have already deduced, I don't think these things all the way through. But I knew I had to cut them into the fresh greenware to avoid cracking or breaking, and I didn't want to drill them because that was too fiddly (read: too time-consuming) and my ceramic drill tool was way too small in diameter (remember about the clay shrinkage). There had to be something in my studio, heck there had to be something in the house, that could cut a perfect circle of the right size for art wire. Yoicks! I remembered the brass tubing I bought at a hobby store that I had intended to use to make my own sculpting tools (as featured in The Boat). Perfecto!

Here's that brass tube. Poke it straight down into the freshly pressed piece and voila -- a perfect circle of the perfect size! Granted, there is an indention on the non-show side, but at least it's uniform. These tubes come in different sizes, so you can pick which size would work for you. Luckily I had the right size on hand. I can blow the clay from inside the tube out with a big blast from my airbrush. FOOM! Greenware projectiles! I don't think I'll find those puppies ever.

Here's the result. Easy as pie and, better yet, fast!

But like with all things and clay -- it's not over 'till the fat Mudhen sings. The ease at which things have gone so far makes me suspect that an unimaginable cornucopia of unforeseen catastrophe is waiting for me around the corner. These suckers still have to be fired and glazed, remember, allowing Fate to introduce a whole sordid menu of disaster. So my fingers are crossed -- tight! Regardless, I think Big Al (my big kiln) is eagerly awaiting his first high fire! He reminds me of Calcifer from Howl's Moving Castle, as he gobbles up the egg shells from breakfast (Calcifer was my favorite character from the movie -- so cute).

Now while I'm waiting for these thingers to dry, back to work on Ms. Haffie and more paint jobs. I have Christmas to contend with, too, and other old commissions that I finally feel able to tackle, plus more sale works comin' down the pike. 2009 was sort of a "lost year" for me, with all the trips and being sick and several other distractions. And Ms. Haffie was definitely taking much longer than I ever anticipated! So I lost a lot of time and a lot of production. I also got off to a really bad start for 2009 -- the year just started poorly, and that theme continued throughout the year for the studio. But knock on wood, I have a good feeling about 2010.

"Mix in a little foolishness with your serious plans: it's lovely to be silly at the right moment." ~ Horace


Stayin' Frosty

Blue Frost's auction is now live! Now to sit and wait...

"Once an artist gets it in his mind that it's a blooming adventure, then, and only then, everything falls into place and starts to work." ~ Joseph P. Blodgett


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Snowflakes Inside and Out

Blue Frost

-- done! Fresh out of the studio comes Blue Frost, that Laf'nBear Bram'll Blue Boy I've been painting, on and off, for the better part of a year as I figured out some painting methods. You can see more pix here, and he'll go up on Auction Barn tomorrow. I'm so happy I was able to "enlarge" the dapple grey ideas I painted on that fun mini Nahar -- I was worried that things wouldn't translate up scale. So, of course, I must try it on a larger scale next time!

Anyhoo, this guy got his name by a combination of the edition's fun title and the fact that it's been snowing big, fat flakes all day long. We must've gotten about two inches of snow today! So between that and his "snowflakey" dapples, "Blue Frost" was it. He was so fun to paint, even though my eyes were crossing at regular intervals! Here is the source reference that inspired his color and pattern.

I mean -- look at those soulful eyes. What's not to love?

And speaking of fun -- I got my custom-made rubber stamps yesterday to stamp out my ornaments! I can't wait! I also got drywall boards to dry them -- a handy trick is to sandwich the tiles between two slabs of drywall to help them dry evenly and to keep them from curling up at the corners like potato chips. Granted, this is assuming you don't have any "sticky out bits" on a bas-relief tile, but a flat surface with recessed areas. But I'll be rolling out and stampin' the first slabs tomorrow! Hi-KEEBAH!

"Joy is but the sign that creative emotion is fulfilling its purpose." ~ Charles du Bois


Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Squint Therefore I Am

I've been hard at work finishing up this plucky gentleman, and he feels just about done. I'm going to sleep on it, take (better) pix tomorrow (since that's a good way to see more objectively something you've been staring at for hours) and see if he still reads a-okay. If he does, then up he'll go onto Auction Barn probably on Sunday. He's only four inches from hoofie to ear tips, so my eyes are rolling around in their sockets like Cookie Monster after all that painting of teeny tiny strokes.

It's been fun infusing all I've learned so far into this wee buddy and I think he sports the best dapple grey coat I've done so far. I tried really hard to maintain the "visual texture" of dapple grey while also paying attention to scale. For reference, I used a great photo of a gorgeous Shire stallion in a striking "star dappley" version of the pattern. I was intrigued by the jigsaw-like, Dr. Seussian shapes of the dapples and the stark contrasts of light and dark.

As for painting these little guys, or patterns such as dapple grey, a really handy trick is to take your reference photo and shrink it down in photo editing software, so the horse is the same size as the sculpture you're working on. The smaller the sculpture, the handier this trick. Then you also can flip it over, and now you have a reference for either side of your piece. Now, granted you have to change things up a bit since either side isn't going to match exactly, but it gives you a good idea for guidance. At least you aren't flipping the critter over every two seconds!

Now -- to stare at something big to uncross my eyes...

"Moodling, a combination of musing and mental doodling, can lead to floating over any number of obstacles..." ~ Jane Champagne


Monday, December 7, 2009

A Well-Used Eraser

I just finished struggling with a "Lighthouse" installment for the Winter 2010 issue of The Boat, so now it's up to the proofers to hack away at it. This particular column is devoted to the contemplations we realistic artists might face in our work -- the difficulties, the triumphs, the confusions and our moments of "ah HA" in order to try and put it into a kind of useful context.

And this particular installment was about realism -- what it means, what it means to an artist and how we can keep perspective on the whole messy concept. I became inspired to tackle this subject at Brookgreen Gardens, because there, in one collection, were perfect examples of what I wanted to discuss.
I actually started it over Thanksgiving, tappin' away on my trusty Mac laptop in the hotel room, and cogitated it on the five hour trip back home, then wrapped it up this morning. But my struggle wasn't because I didn't know what to say, it was because I didn't quite know how to say it. Now for years I've heard the assertion that realism is difficult to pin down, and that's true, but only true to a point. A rather finite point, actually. After twenty years in this biz, I realize it's actually pretty easy to pick out those pieces that are more successful in that department...but only when you understand what "reality" means. That's the tricky part.

The problem comes when having to describe
in words what precisely makes a piece realistic. I discovered it's actually darn well near impossible because what is realistic is something we determine when seen, not when described. We can yap for days about the muscle groups attached to the femur in great detail, but until we see it and make our own comparisons can we actually begin to get it. This is why such attempts fail and why learning realism in this way is incomplete, and why I wasn't going to touch that task with a ten-foot pair of calipers. But this not only makes life challenging in the studio, it makes for a kicker of a conundrum when writing about it!

This brings me to my well-used eraser. The process of attaining more realism in my work has been littered with pieces I wish would be erased from existence. I think we all have those floating around in our past. But from my vantage point now, I realize that mistakes are part of the process, so with a bittersweet smile, I tolerate them. But I do admit that I'm desperately curious to know how I'll see my current work ten years in the future. I do hope I have that same bittersweet smile.

Anyway, I remember in a drawing class in junior high, the teacher -- I'll call her Mrs. T -- reiterated again and again, "Don't be afraid or ashamed to use your eraser! It's there for a fabulous reason and isn't it wonderful to erase your mistake and start over fresh? You get to change your mind as often as you want!" That has perhaps been the one thing that has stuck in my mind from junior high. Not math. Not English. Certainly not French. The eraser bit.

I do love my eraser -- it is my freedom and my power. I use it with abandon and I'm never ashamed when I do. I'm wary of the drawing that wasn't liberally erased in various areas. I distrust it. It's too confident, it's too bloated with its own certainty. When that happens, I know I've royally hosed something up somewhere!

And so it was with the Haffie mare. Lo - I thought she was near done, but something nagged at me. Something just didn't seem right -- you know the feeling. You know in your gut when something is finished. And, no -- no gut feeling yet. I think of my eraser. It's the mane. Yes. It went on too easily, with no eraser marks. It's too simple, too...what's the word...easy. So off areas must come with the eraser -- er -- dremel. We'll see where we go from there.

And so it also was with my Christmas ornament. I decided to make a rubber stamp to squish a design into a slab of clay because I simply ran out of time to sculpt something, make a mold of it and figure out tile pressing all in one go. But for two weeks I've hashed out designs and wrestled with ideas, creating intricate compositions and complex lay-outs to the point where I drew myself into a tight, uncomfortable corner. None of them seemed right. None of them screamed, "I'm the one and you know it four-eyes!" Argh! This doesn't have to be so difficult! Why is it so difficult?!

Ah. The eraser. Wipe the slate clean and start again.

So there I sat, with a clean slate and a fresh open mind. I thought -- this whole stamp and slab-rolling thing is a rather spontaneous idea. Kinda on the fly. Why not have the design be something equally impetuous? I decided to play a game with myself -- whatever I drew in one go would be it. It doesn't have to be realistic, it doesn't have to be what I've done before, it doesn't have to be inside my comfort zone and it doesn't even have to be pretty -- it can be something totally new, weird and wild.

Ten minutes -- done. And it's shouting, "Hey four-eyes! I'm the one!" YES.

"A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes." ~ Mark Twain


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Cone of Shame

epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails

Anyone who has seen the splendid movie "UP!" knows what I'm talkin' about. But hazzah! I just finished the 2009 RESS Finishwork Exhbition organizing and distributing of scorecards along with the results -- phew. We had an interesting snafu due to Word being a royal bother, but crisis averted. Anyhoo, the show web site should be viewable in a few days and I'll post the link when it is.

For your entertainment, here's one of my favorite products, "Demotivational Posters." Whenever I feel overwhelmed or despondent, off I go to giggle at these and voila!....mood improved!

Now, time to attend to a massive backlog of shipping to git outta here! Oi! Then after that, I can get back into the studio. I have a serious jam of stacked up projects that need to be completed before the New Year...and Christmas is around the corner. Me thinks it's about time for my Annual Seasonal Panic to kick in....

"If you're going to panic, panic constructively." ~ Unknown

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