Monday, May 9, 2011

Pony Bisque and Beyond

HAZZAH! Success! Mr. Pony made it through the bisque fire intact and unscathed! Now I can start breathing again. I'm going to be honest - I didn't expect him to survive. He has a solid head and neck and I'm new at this and I sorta stumbled through truth be told, he beat the odds! Big odds.

I suspect a large part of this happy outcome was the clay. It's a low-fire, porous earthenware (Laguna EM-347 Whiteware with grog) and so it's far more forgiving than a mid-fire or high-fire clay, such as stoneware or porcelain. What I mean by that is that air and water have a better chance of escaping during the fire because the clay is more "spongy." In contrast, mid-fire and high-fire clays are less porous (and many turn vitreous when fired to maturity), so any air or moisture that wants to escape tends to do so explosively. And like the Michigan Model Madness show tiles, there wouldn't have been time to recreate a replacement if things went wrong with Mr. Pony.

I've also been holding my breath over Mr. Pony for another reason - I desperately wanted this project to succeed because I really wanted to create work with this approach. So because Mr. Pony didn't pop, I now know this mode of sculpting is something I can do. I don't think I've ever been this excited about new prospects in a long time! 

Nonetheless, I took cautious steps with the firing because I had very little idea of what I was actually doing with all this. The thing was, I wasn't only worried about an explosion, but also about cracks, knowing they would be inevitable since I was so inexperienced. So I put him through a "soft fire" first, hoping that would reveal where cracks would occur so I could fix them before the final fire, which would save time and hedge my bets even more.

A soft fire is a firing well below the clay's mature fire, so in this case, Mr. Pony's soft fire was at Cone 010 rather than the mature fire of Cone 04. When it comes to the "0" before the number, think of it as a negative symbol in mathematics, meaning that the higher the number behind the "0", the cooler the fire.

And the soft fire worked like a charm! I was quite surprised to find how few cracks occurred (that tells me I'm on the right track), and also how easy it was to fix them - simply wet the area, apply more slip and work it into the crack, then blend with a wet brush. Then I put him through the mature fire of Cone 04...and ta-da! A fully fired pony, ready for glazing...

Mr. Pony is bisquey goodness. Phew!

(Left) You can see how I blended the tail into the tube. I'd originally thought of attaching the tube on the other side of his hinder, but then I'd have to add more tail hair and have it wind around the tube in the opposite direction. In the end, I decided that wouldn't only make the tail excessively thick, but it would make the design awkward. By placing the tube on the side the tail was already laying solved that problem and created a more flowing design.

Here you can see the tube, which turned out surprisingly well. No cracks anywhere and it fired perfectly. I actually thought the tube would be a real problem only because it was so simple to make, and with ceramics "easy" can be frighteningly deceptive! I also expected a mess of cracks between it and the tail connection, but nope!

Here you can see a crack that occurred on the inside. Having appeared during the soft fire, I decided to leave it unfixed. It spoke of the new experience and the process, so I liked it. That's probably not the best attitude to have when it comes to ceramics, but well, I've never been one to follow convention. Aren't we the sum of our good and pesky points? Well, so is a piece of art work.

 Here you can see the grog creating a "grain" in the clay. Unlike my other work, which needs a smoother surface, I think clay lends itself to a looser finish. It's a reflection of the media and I like that to show.

Now I'm presented with a conundrum for glazing, due to the groggy texture of Mr. Pony. If I use a directional spray with a colored underglaze, it will pick up the grain along with the details and sculpting. Will that be too distracting? On the other hand, should I simply apply a colored glaze? While it would dampen the effect of the grain, it would obliterate most of the details. Given a choice between the two, I know I want to avoid obscuring all the details I worked so hard in infuse in the piece, so I'm leaning towards the directional spraying paired with some transparent colored glaze...and simply hoping for the best. I'm praying that may be the best of both worlds.

So either tonight or tomorrow, I'll start glazing this fellow. What I do know for sure is that my beloved crackle glaze is out. All those little cracks would allow water to penetrate into the clay and if the winner of this piece wants to use him as a vase, that would compromise his long-term durability. I also know that realistic colors are out, too. Not only wouldn't they work well with the grain, but that approach just doesn't fit the feel of this piece. Realistic glazes have their place, but this line of work really isn't one of them, at least in my view.

Nonetheless, I need to finish this guy before I dive into the BOYCC swag bag tiles. All that art glaze combined with my clumsiness threatens to contaminate Mr. Pony if the two are created side-by-side. I know me and art glaze, and we tend to be a tornado together! So wish me luck!

"I await joyous surprises while working, an awakening of the materials that I work with and that my spirit develops." ~Odilon Redon

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