Monday, January 10, 2011

The Last Voyage

 The last cover of The Boat, showcasing the lovely sculpture, Hazel, by Morgen Kilbourn.

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with RESS and The Boat -- Voyage 42 is the last issue. Despite all its promise and benefits, life simply got in the way and grounded this effort. Yet the seeds it has sown are plentiful and wonderful, and members will be reaping the benefits for many years to come. I know that my crash course in publishing will be very handy for my own future endeavors!

I've enjoyed my time as editor immensely and was continually astounded at the generosity, enthusiasm and dedication each author, columnist and staff member poured into their contributions. Thank you! You've helped to create a unique and meaningful  collection of resources in the world of equine art!

To think back on how Lynn Fraley and I sat down over coffee all those years ago to flesh out the organization, and then to have so many amazing people join in because they believed in it, too. What an incredible experience! It was a true honor.

I'll remember my time with RESS fondly and keep close to heart all the valuable lessons I've learned. Perhaps if I'm lucky I'll be given a chance to share that knowledge with other artists to keep the spirit of RESS alive.

So what to do now with all this new-found "free time?" Welp -- I plan to throw myself into my work to make some tangible headway toward many goals I've put off for too long. Bronzes are at the top of the list as is a jewelry line in PMC (precious metal clay). It's time to pilot my own boat in earnest, and I cannot wait to see what new adventures await me! 

"Now...bring me that horizon." ~ Captain Jack Sparrow


Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Annual Purge

The remaining unfinished Melly Tiles, reject Joy ornaments and the Joy press molds in a smashed splatter on the ceramic studio floor.

For the last three days, I've labored to shovel 2010 out of my studios. My creative impulses are so strong that they often override the smarter strategy of cleaning up as I go along, and so disorder gradually expands over the course of the year. The Holiday Season then adds the topping glory to create a house crammed with utter devastation, so by the time the New Year rolls around, my studio spaces resemble a festering, jumbled riot of inanimate object anarchy. You cannot see the floor and any flat surface has become encrusted with a dense artistic strata. My ever-patient husband attempts to ignore it all. "Attempts" being the operative word.

 The ceramic studio before The Great Expunging. The sculpting/painting studio and the office were just as bad, with debris creeping up the walls and piles teetering in Seussian curves.

So it's become a tradition here that the first two weeks of January become dedicated to wiping the slate clean. Dusting, washing, organizing and dispensing with worn out items also is part of the drill and, predictably, I find items I've been looking for and discover those I'd forgotten about! It's also helpful from a mental standpoint -- to walk into an orderly studio is (cough cough) so novel here, it helps me to rethink my art and my goals because I've taken a proverbial breath of fresh air. It's such a shock, that my sensibilities are shocked, too -- and that's good.

The freshly cleaned ceramic studio in the garage. I even washed all the items that had piled up in my utility sink all year.

So now I'm in the right frame of mind to dive back into studio work, with a fresh outlook and perhaps new expectations. A clean studio offers such beguiling promises! As such, I've started to retool those stamp designs in earnest and plan to get back to sculpting this week. I've pulled out some prepped pieces to get back to painting again, too! I'm eager to create a new mess to clean in 2012!

"Each one of us has a fire in our heart for something. It's our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit." ~ Mary Lou Retton


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thank You!

The last two years have been challenging for our household, but now I'm back in a position where I can  show my gratitude for the support of my customers in a tangible way with some fun holiday gifts. I'll pick six names randomly from each of my six lists and winners will be sent their special complimentary holiday "thank you" gift package. 

The gifts entail pieces created during my recent excursion into glazing Shangri-La, as related in my previous post. They were created with love and a thirst for experimentation, and also represent some of my favorite pieces resulting from those experiments....

  Three of my new Prancing Ponies magnets, with two experimental combinations.

 Three of my new Prancing Ponies magnets, with one experimental combination.
 Three of my new Prancing Ponies magnets, with one experimental combination.

 Three of my new Prancing Ponies magnets, with one unique shape.

One of my new Pacem in Terris ornaments, the lone survivor of the thick application experiment of Lavender Lupin. All the others were too obscured and have been thrown away. It will come with a hanging ribbon already tied on it.

 One of my new Unicorn plaques, this one being the large 3 x 6" version. It also will come with a hanging ribbon tied onto it. 

If it weren't for each and every one of you, I wouldn't be blessed to do what I do for a living! I truly hope one day we'll meet and share a great laugh! Happy New Year and thank you so very much! 

"Gratitude is the heart's memory." ~ French proverb


Monday, January 3, 2011

Glazed Over and Giddy

A test on my new Pacem in Terris ornament.

I have an intermindable obsession with art glaze. It stems from my passion for art glass because art glaze literally is glass you apply to bisque. So as you might expect, the glassier and more luminous the art glaze, the more intense my fixation. 

Even better, art glaze offers infinite effects being so mercurial and situation specific. For instance, different methods of application or even different conditions within the kiln can result in totally unexpected results, many unique and gorgeous. This keeps me from getting bored since I never really know what Big Al will cough up until he opens his maw. Whether a fabulous new piece or confounding disappointment, glaze does its own thing regardless of my best intentions, and that's what keeps it interesting! Altogether, I can honestly say that my favorite part of working with mud really is the chance to play with this magical substance and to experiment with new types or combinations that keep boredom at bay.

So here are some excursions with some of my new glazes; all of them are mid-fire glazes, Cone 5  or Cone 6:

 Laguna WC-132 Analin Green on one of my new Prancing Ponies 2 x 2" magnets. This is a very temperamental glaze that can be wildly different depending on how it's applied. In order to get its full affect, like seen here, it has to be applied alarmingly thick. But that also means that the design needs very sharp, defined edges otherwise it'll get overwhelmed and lost. Those little white flecks aren't dust, they're sparkles in the deep crackled recess of the horse!
 Georgies GLW19-Moss Thicket applied to another of my Prancing Ponies magnets. Absolutely gorgeous! Again, sharp, defined edges are essential. I applied this glaze as instructed in the directions, but I'm curious to see how it behaves with new applications. I've learned never to make assumptions about what to expect with art glaze -- you just never know until you tweak it!

Mayco SW-100 Blue Surf applied to another one of my Prancing Ponies magnets. Again, another beautiful glaze! Like the previous two, you can see that the design needs to be crisp and literal, something I'm learning that brings out the best in many art glazes. I also want to try different applications of this glaze because who knows what treasures it'll produce if applied differently.
Now these two (and the Pacem test at the top of this post) are the result of a typical practice here -- attempting to tweak glaze with a high fire crackle glaze. Despite glaze's unpredictability, I've found that one (almost) constant is that crackle glaze can add dimension to any glaze, or fix just about any unwanted result. Curious to see how it would react, I applied Laguna WC-137 Skye Crackle onto already-fired Mayco SW-103 Sisal on that top piece. I love the result! But what you can't see in the image are all the sparkly effects that deeply pooled crackle glaze creates inside the horse. Like stars on a clear night! Now the bottom piece is that same crackle glaze applied onto already-fired Mayco SW-108 Green Tea. I thought the Green Tea would work awesome with my designs, but did anything but! However, I love the intense color produced by its combination with the crackle, and though you cannot see it in the photo, it has a deep 3D dimension to it. It's hypnotic. As for the Pacem test at the top of this post, that was the same crackle applied over already-fired Coyote MBG-106 Sunshine Yellow as an experiment -- and I love it! Glorious and glassy!

Again, Laguna WC-137 Skye Crackle comes to the rescue on two more Prancing Ponies magnets! The top piece is the crackle on Mayco SW-108 Green Tea again, but look how different it is! The bottom piece is the crackle on that diva-esque Laguna WC-132 Analin Green, and those "rustic" edges are really appealing.

Now here are illustrations of the benefits of using Readystamps, with both the stamp and the stamp's matrix available to provide the "positive" and "negative" versions of the same design...

My new Runicorn design (the first in the series), a 4" circle, with the stamp version (yellow) and the matrix version (purple). In this case, both versions work equally well, though I do favor the original stamp version more. However, it'll be fun to see how each one reacts with different glazes. The yellow glaze is Georgies GLW33 Crystal Topaz and the purple glaze is Georgies PG640 Lavender Lupin - I love them both!

Here we have a new Rune Horse design with the original stamp version on the left and the reversed matrix version on the right. Both of them work really well, which is an unexpected bonus! The glaze is Georgies GLW33 Crystal Topaz, and it's gorgeous. I refer to this piece as a "Solar Stallion" and it's a 2 x 4" ornament or tile.

 And here's the complementary piece, the "Moon Mare," with the original version on the left and the matrix version on the right. Again, both versions work equally well. However, here's where a "sweet spot" showed up: The stars need to be bigger, and that star on the top should be lowered to avoid the hole. Consequently, this design has been retooled and will be resubmitted to Readystamps, with this version being discontinued. The glaze is Laguna WC-138 Twilight Blue, one of my very favorite glazes, especially when it's watered down and the tile is dipped face down, creating all those lovely marbled color variations. I actually liked how these two turned out so much that I decided to pull them out of the Rune Horse line and create their own, Elementals, so I could explore this theme further. However, these here (and those that will be offered in my Etsy shop soon) are stamped on the back as Rune Horses, something that ends with this batch! Regardless, the matte glaze of the stallion doesn't match the glossy glaze of the mare, so I need to find a glossy yellow for the stallion and a matte purply blue for the mare. I figure why not run both a glossy and matte version of the same designs? The more the merrier!

Again, here's Laguna WC-137 Skye Crackle fixing Mayco SW-108 Green Tea, but this time on one of my new 3 x 3" Dancing Horse tiles. Again, you can't see the 3D effects this combination produces, and I think I may put it into production -- I like it so much! So here's a great lesson: If you don't like a glaze, experiment to discover how it combines with others because, chances are, it may be something really awesome when paired with a "buddy"!

If you remember my comment from my previous post about a great idea: "Mix up the 'innies and outies' within a series," here's what I meant by that. Originally all the Dancing Horse tiles were designed like the one on the bottom, with the horse being an "outie" (the primary reason being the effect discussed next). However, thanks to the Readystamps matrix, I was able to create a reverse version in which the horse became an "innie," like the one on the top. I realized my new option: To mix up the versions in the series! Why stick with one interpretation when the design and glaze work well either way? Speaking of which, the glaze is Laguna MS-56 Hyacinth, a glaze I've been meaning to try for sometime -- and it turned out absolutely gorgeous! Better than I could have hoped! It's a wonderful smokey purple with a lot of depth and warmth that breaks and pools beautifully! It also creates a 3D effect (especially on the top tile), which always gets a big thumbs up from me! A design is only as good as its glaze and the glaze is only as good as its design: The two are symbiotic.

Now the interesting thing is this: I originally did a reverse version of the original design (above) through my old stamp maker, using the "Invert" option in Photoshop, which makes all black areas white and all white areas black thereby changing which sticks out (white) and which protrudes in (black). But instead of reversed innies and outies, the result was a "draft horse" version (below).

 I have to figure out why this happened because this definitely wasn't the result when I used the reversed matrix version from Readystamp! I suspect it may be because different methods were used by the two different companies to make the stamps. This suggests that Readystamps provides options within the original design whereas ABC Stamp provides options based on "draft horse" versions of those designs. Good to know!

Speaking of different versions, I retooled my first Runedeer design for production. The original version (left) is about 2.5 x 6" which is a lovely shape, but not standardized to my clay cutters. It also is slip cast, which takes too long for production. So I retooled the concept to fit into a 2 x 4" space (right). But while the stamp works great, Laguna WC-132 Analin Green refused to behave! Out of the 64 Runedeer I stamped, only seven made it through with glaze as anything near sellable! And only one came out the way I wanted it to, the one pictured above. I need to find a more agreeable glaze for this kind of complex design, which will be one of my big treasure hunts this year because I want to expand the Runedeer line for Christmas and create more similarly complicated designs.

Likewise, I discovered that detailed, more realistic designs don't work so well with stamping. In fact, they work so poorly (in comparison to the drawing), I may not repeat this idea and leave such things for decals. However, I'm going to retool this design to see if that helps because I so love glaze and the touchy-feely aspect of stamped clay! This is the first in my Unicorn series, with the original stamp design on the left and the reversed matrix version on the right. In my opinion, the reversed version definitely doesn't work (good to know), so that one will be the only one to exist. As for the glaze on both, it's Georgies PG640 Lavender Lupin again.

So now back to my Pacem in Terris design (which means "Peace on Earth" in Latin). This piece presented a series of unexpected challenges because it blends a more realistically rendered horse within a "graphic" idea, like one of those old magazine illustrations. I thought it would be a simple translation into clay, but I realized quickly that such a concept has a series of distinct "sweet spots" as does any glaze applied to it! I made an imprint of its matrix version (not pictured), which came out much clearer and crisper -- but since the matrix is made of a stiff material and a rubber stamp is softer, I have to run a test stamp through Readystamps again to see if a rubber version of that reversal will work as well (and I couldn't use the matrix version because it reversed the words). But I see now where I need to tweak the design, which I'll be doing this week for next year's Holiday season (which means this first version will be retired immediately and the copies I created in December will be the only existing pieces). Then I ran into glaze issues with it. I initially ran half in Georgies PG640 Lavender Lupin and half in Coyote MBG-106 Sunshine Yellow. The Lavender came out nice (even though it was a light coat), but the Sunshine Yellow -- while pretty -- was too flat, and failed to pick up the details of the design. So I coated them (after they'd been glazed) with a color I thought would add punch, Coyote MBG-099 Sedona Sunset (a gorgeous red). Some I gave one coat (middle) and some I gave a heavy coat (bottom). The results were lovely, though I'd like to find a "one fire" process for next year. I actually tried mixing the two glazes together while wet, but all I ended up with was an unpleasant fleshy, salmon color.

I often run wild experiments, taking flawed pieces that seem hopeless and seeing if I can salvage them (or learn a new glaze combo) with an unexpected combination with another glaze. Every so often, these experiments produce pieces so lovely I cannot bear to throw them out, no matter how warped or hosed up they are...and these pieces are the latest "butterfly births." What you can't see in these images (again) is the hypnotic 3D depth many of them have, or the sparkly "twinkle" effects caused by the crackle glaze, or all the stunning varied colors crammed into all the little nooks and crannies. I have no idea what I'll do with them, but they're keepers! And yes -- I did learn some enticing combinations I hope to duplicate in the next batch of tiles! All of these are variations on Laguna WC-132 Analin Green (the rejects from the Runedeer run), illustrating just how much variation a glaze can produce with little changes.

Variety doesn't just come with glazes, however. It can come with clay! And above are the only existing copies of the Solar Stallion and the Moon Mare in porcelain, being stamped from the leftover porcelain slabs from the Joy project. Compared to the stoneware clay, the difference in feel and look the porcelain produces with the glaze is like night and day (har har). The yellow glaze is Coyote MBG-106 Sunshine Yellow and has far more depth on porcelain than on stoneware, and the purple is Georgies PG640 Lavender Lupin again. The porcelain has a "cooler," bluer tone which really changes the "temperature" of glaze colors.

Along those lines, I took four Joy ornaments that didn't quite get up to Cone 5 during the fire and decided to play with glaze on them. Initially, I gave them a very light glaze with Georgies PG640 Lavender Lupin because I thought that touch of purple would look nice on the white bisque..and it did, resulting in the piece on the left. One of those ended up a bit messed up, so I decided to add another layer to see what happened. So I applied Laguna WC-137 Skye Crackle to it and refired to Cone 5 resulting in the piece on the right. Will I glaze future editions within the series? No -- I still like the bisque version best, and I found that the thicker the glaze application, the more the tiny details get lost.

So there ya go -- another adventure in glaze-mania! I have other new glazes I haven't been able to try yet  (and more ordered and on the way), so I'll be back in the ceramic studio soon to dive into the melee again. It's a great love to discover new effects and new glazes that work well with my designs. It's like a collaboration with Nature itself! And many of these pieces will be available for sale soon in my Etsy shop, so stay tuned for the heads up!  

Now in the next blog post I'll showcase the gift packets I've put together for my different lists of wonderful customers in a "12 Days of Christmas" Minkiewicz Studios "Thank You" Gift Giveaway. Ideally I would have been able to do this before Christmas, but well...they're the products of this mad experimentation. So there are six gift packs featuring many of the pieces shown here because part of the fun of finding new glaze treasures is sharing them!

"We shall not cease from exploration / And in the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time." ~ T.S.Eliot


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sheets of Possibilities

As promised in my last post, I'll show you how to create high quality stamps for a fraction of the price of other custom stamp suppliers. While this may seem like a trivial issue, it isn't. The initial cost of a set of stamps is spendy -- about $40 per 3 x 3" stamp. And when you have lots of designs waiting in the wings for production, the start-up cost becomes a pivotal concern. In short, the cheaper it is to make a stamp, the more designs I can get into production faster. And when it comes to giftware, diversity is key. I want people to feel like they've walked into their favorite candy store when they visit my Etsy shop, with lots of choices they love! I know I like lots a of options when I shop so I can make choices based on gut instinct rather than necessity.

What I love about stamping clay is that the design can be drawn by hand and then manipulated on a computer. This reduces the completion time of a new design to mere hours rather than days, unlike a press-mold piece that needs to be sculpted out of clay. This not only helps me to keep costs down, but I get to go nuts with every idea that pops in my head because time isn't such a limitation.

What's also welcome with cheaper production costs is the experiment factor: If stamps are a fraction of the cost, then testing the effectiveness of a design isn't such a money pit. So if a stamp doesn't work so well -- no problem -- it's no major loss and another one can be made with the necessary tweaks at a relatively low cost. I've found this to be critical as I learn those sweet spots stamp designs have because what looks good on paper rarely translates to what you think it will in clay. There are compensations that need to be made in the design to anticipate how the stamp will imprint in the clay, and I'm currently learning those little eccentricities.

So...what got this started was a lead from my good friend, Lesli, who referred me to Readystamps, a custom stamp-making company based in San Diego, California. Unlike other stamp-making companies, Readystamps has two irresistible benefits:
  • You buy sheets of stamps rather than one stamp at a time. This means that whatever you can cram on a 9 x 7" piece of paper is what you buy for about $40, reducing the cost of one 3 x 3" stamp by up to 75%! 
  • You get all the "stuff" that went into making your stamp (below).
For example from left to right, here's the matrix (brown), plate (clear) and transparency (black) used to make a sheet of stamps from my designs. The matrix is invaluable for providing the reverse "innies and outies" of my original stamp design, offering a new "reversed" version of the design and allowing me to test which one works better. The transparency can be used later for metal etching, which is another creative option I'd like to explore later in my PMC adventures.

 From all that stuff, the sheets of cast rubber are made. They easily cut apart with scissors (as you can see in the introductory photo at the very top of this post).

So the question then became one of mounting. Luckily all my stamp designs are based on the standard sizes and shapes of my clay cutters, which happen to coincide with many dimensions found in lumber. So at least that was working for me. But I don't have a table saw or jigsaw (or even room for one), so the idea of cutting these boards down to size became a rather big concern. Given the sheer volume of designs submitted in this first order (let alone all those coming down the pike), the last thing I wanted to do was to hand-cut untold numbers of wood blocks!

My buddy, Lynn, suggested clear acrylic pressing blocks that many scrapbookers use in order to get around what I began to think of as "The Confounding Woodcutting Conundrum." They sounded like a fantastic idea, so off I went to our local Archiver's to stock up. To my dismay, however, I found that the sizes were too small! ARGH. Blast!

So I resigned myself to the idea of cutting all those blocks (or at least the hope of bribing asking Hubby to do it  for me). I figured I could rent some sort of disturbing wood-cutting device from Tates Rents just down the street from us if the job really got out of hand. Grumbling under my breath, off I went to Home Depot® expecting to buy 2x4s or some such annoyingly cumbersome block of exasperation.

And so I'm in the lumber department sizing up planks and becoming increasingly irritated by my options, or rather, my lack thereof. Was my grand money-saving scheme to be thwarted by wood. Wood? As my agitation increased, my need for chocolate became imperative so I decided to head to the counter to snatch something chocolatey and decadent to ease my compounding irritability. On the way there, I come across the molding aisle.

Hmmm. Those planks look much more manageable since they already come in the widths I need. I look around this department with a closer eye, becoming ever more hopeful. I stop in my tracks. Wait...WHAT'S THIS? Could my eyes be deceiving me? Blocks of wood in the exact sizes I need...ready to go? And cheap?! 

Ta-da! My answer was in the molding aisle! There were bins full of various square and rectangle shapes perfect for my needs! I think I squealed out loud -- I forget exactly what happened, but before I knew it, my cart was full of these little gems and my need for chocolate was no longer a concern for national security.

I got home and soaked the price stickers off, scraping them clean with this handy brass scraper I got at my local Potter's Center. This is one of my most useful tools for tile/ornament making, allowing me to clean talc, clay or glaze off my work tables with ease, cut smaller size shapes from a clay slab, cut straight edges to clean up tiles, or shove tiles/ornaments around in the kiln for precision spacing. I may have to buy more in order to create "saturation accessibility" so I won't spend so much time hunting the darned thing down!

Contact cement works best. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area when using it'll make you loopy with its fumes! But the stamps were a cinch to glue to the blocks, and letting them dry overnight, they were ready to use the next day! 

With this approach, a 3 x 3" stamp's price was reduced from $40 to about $15. But since I got the brown matrix, too, I'm able to stamp out the reverse impression of that same design. So essentially, I got two stamps for $15, or about $7.50 each. Even better, having both the stamp and matrix version of the same design revealed a great that I probably wouldn't have gotten so soon without this experience: Mix up the "innies and outies" within a series!

In the next post, I'll show you what I mean by that plus the products of some of these stamps! I also got some new glazes for them just can't wait to show you! 

"In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration." ~ Ansel Adams

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