Friday, 29 January 2010

Wall flowers...

The journey to making my poppy bowls in porcelain has been a long one. I mean really long!! It just doesn't like the way I work!!! Or at least it didn't until I got my hands on a new type last year that seems more suited to my methods. So I have been experimenting for a while, and considering where I was going with this. I did make a couple of poppy bowls, largely to prove to myself that it were possible, and then I developed the idea into something slightly different. Wall flowers. Here is the first one out of the kiln...



I made a batch of these, and the rest of them came out this evening... They look great as a group - as soon as there is good light I will take some shots of them.
They are pinch pots, and I have always been a little obsessive about making my pinch pots as thin as possible. I was told a long time ago that thin pinch pots wouldn't work... that was like a red rag to a bull - I have made hundreds that worked fine since I was told that! Making pinch pots this thin from porcelain has been a challenge I have to say, but I got there in the end... I won't tell you how many casualties there were along the way. The effect of making them so thin out of porcelain, and firing it pretty hot is that it vitrifies, and becomes translucent. The next image shows what happens when you hold it up to the light.

This was daylight from inside through a north facing window on a bright-ish day. I think it is amazing, the way you can see through the thinner parts more. It reminds me of real petals! You can even see in the centre the indent in the back where I created a recess for a pin in the wall to hold it up.
The only drawback has been how to present them. I experimented with a few different backdrops, and have had to deviate from my rule. Up until now everything I put on my shop had to be photographed with a white background. The trouble with these was that it was like looking for a polar bear in a snowstorm - you just couldn't make out clearly where the flower ended and the backdrop began. I tried pink...

And whilst I liked it in a way, I didn't think it really emphasized their subtlety. But then maybe it shows their versatility. I just can't help but think of these as whisperers not shouters! So I have chosen grey - I think it works a lot better. The only downside is that I can feel the OCD part of me twitching in panic about the fact that now not every single piece in my shop has a white background...
Opinions on the colour, and anything else of course, are as always appreciated!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Interview two is now live...

Check it out here at Sassy Glass Designs' lovely blog.
You can also check out her jewellery at her etsy shop - lovely stuff!
A big big thank you for featuring me Sass!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

My bird obsession continues...


I thought it was about time I made some thing other than ceramics, so last week I finally made new scatter cushion covers for my lounge. Do I have time to do this? Not really but I was obsessed with this fabric so I had no choice... Besides it only took a few hours to make four so it was worth it! It is apparently an urban outfitters fabric, and I ordered it online. When it arrived it was a lighter weight linen than I had expected, so it had to have another similar colour fabric behind it which made them slightly more laborious. I backed them in a plain black for contrast, and recessed black zips into the bottom edge so that they can be easily removed for cleaning but are tidy in shape. My sofa is a charcoal grey L-shape, and it REALLY needed cheering up! The entire room was just too well coordinated and a little masculine; it needed a few bits of colour clash in there to cheer it up. These are just the job :) I love the fifties feel of the print, and all the happy looking birds.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Two interviews in a week?! What's going on?!!

Over the last week I have been approached by two different bloggers and sent interview questions regarding my work. I am hugely flattered and thankful of course for the publicity! The first one to go live is here on Kara Annis's blog. She's a talented jewellery maker as well as a great blogger, and you can see her etsy shop here.

After quickly overcoming my initial nervousness about it, I realised that to be interviewed is a nice thing, to be able to show the person behind the work, sort of like I do here, but with some outside input in the questions. Of course there is the benefit of reaching a different audience, but there were unexpected benefits that arose; for example, describing my creative process made me stop and actually think about and analyse my creative process, rather than just doing it. So a big thank you to Kara for the opportunity, for making me think, for the thoughtful questions she asked, and for being so lovely to deal with!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

1245 degrees C!!!

Saved from a career in baked bean retail by my kiln maintenance... Yes, kiln element change number 2 worked, and new products are out of the kiln at last! See them here in my etsy shop :)
In fact, here's a preview of one of them...

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Is this the curse of 2010? Kiln maintenance for complete ameteur technophobes part 2... and 3

I replaced the naughty element yesterday when the replacement part finally arrived. It was tricky, but I felt a huge sense of satisfaction when I tested it with a repeat of last week's paper test and all four elements were getting hot again. So I merrily filled my kiln, switched it on and waited. It seemed to be going well, the temperature was rising as expected, and after a number of hours, it had got up to 850 degrees C. All was going as expected. At the end of the expected firing time, I again went to check on the temperature... Error 1. Boooooooooooooo!!!!
The temperature had fallen to 590 degrees, and the cycle had not finished. I went to bed, and left it to cool down. I was not a happy bunny.
This morning, I emptied the kiln out, and repeated the paper test. I am happy to report that the element I replaced was still working fine. Hooray! At least I had done that part correctly. Which was just as well, as the culprit, clearly visible was one of the lower elements on the other circuits. Unbelievably, that had blown on the very next firing. Thankfully I had ordered a spare element the other day, so could change that one today.
For anyone who's interested in how it is done, (or in case I have to do it again in a few months and have forgotten) here in a nutshell is how to replace a kiln element...

BEFORE YOU START MAKE SURE YOU HAVE UNPLUGGED THE KILN!!!
1. Visually identify faulty part. Basically, which one has a break in it? That is the one. Try the paper test in my last post if you ned help narrowing it down.
2. Remove it. This is done by snipping the wire of the element close to the brickwork inside the kiln, and straightening it out. Then open up the kiln controller. This is done by removing the metal controller housing by unscrewing it and resting it on something. I used a box underneath, and a spare piece of wire to hold it in the position I wanted by attaching it to a handle on the side of the kiln. You have to do this, because the other wires coming off the kiln to the controller are not very long, and you can't rest it on the floor as they won't reach.
Then you can see where the element wires join the metal bolts and connect with the current carrying wires.
OK, here's a pic of the element wires (twisted silver colour) joining the bolt part. It makes a connection where it twists around the bolt, and is clamped in place with the blue and brown current-carrying wires by the nuts which are tightened. It then goes through the white ceramic plate that you can see here, through the metal body of the kiln, through a little hole in the brickwork, and then it turns into the coiled springy looking element that you see in my last post inside the kiln.
At this point I had already removed a little silver disk and a nut. I would definitely recommend taking a photo to make sure that you don't do that thing small boys do with bikes sometimes... I figured I needed a photograph as insurance should I get confused about what went where. I removed each part and laid them out in a row in order, so I was sure which order to put them back in. I left a large gap in my row where a wire like the blue one went in the order. I then wriggled the element wire off the bolt, and fed it through the hole in the brickwork, pulling it out from the outside.
3. Fit the new element. Firstly I put it into position in the groove inside the kiln, and fed the long twisted wire tail through to the bolt area pictured above. It was then a simple matter of twisting it around the bolt, snipping off the excess wire, and screwing it all back together.
4. Last but not least, inside the kiln, make sure that the springy bit is well pushed into the grooves and is in the right place BEFORE the first time you fire it. When you fire it for the first time, the elements will be set into that position forever.

So for the second time this week, I have replaced an element and done the paper test... They all work. It is loaded and ready to be fired in the morning... Again. Thanks again to Jonathan for the technical advice, and also to good old Dad who also had some tips. Wish me luck; if it doesn't work I'm going to apply for a job at asda.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The first challenge of the new year... kiln trouble shooting

My kiln is playing up. Consequently I am in the middle of a crash course in amateur kiln maintenance, with telephone help from the very helpful Jonathon at Potclays in Stoke where I bought the kiln.
Firstly, I removed the metal housing at the back and examined the obvious wiring. All this looks fine. Pristine in fact. Then I tested the wall socket which I changed recently and felt was probably not the problem. I tested this by boiling a kettle using this socket. It was fine, and at least I now have a cup of tea!
Jonathon's next suggestion because of the symptoms I described (kiln got to half temperature in the time it usually takes to do a full firing and then stopped rising) was that half of the elements had stopped working. My kiln, (L & L Model - Fuego) has four rows of elements, and two of these go into separate element blocks. So his suggestion was as follows - get some small pieces of tissue paper, put a little one so that it touches each of the element rows, and turn on the kiln for a couple of minutes.
If they are singed then current is getting through and the elements are working, if not, then they are not.
He was absolutely right in my case as these images show.
The top two were still unblemished, whereas the bottom ones had fallen out and were scorched. Therefore it is the top two that are faulty.
His next suggestion was to check visually each faulty element with a magnifying glass and see if there are any breaks.
Having done this, I cannot see anything obvious. Although they are blackened more in some places than they are in others, there are no breaks that I can see.
Time to ring Jonathon again and see what he suggests next...
I was concerned that I couldn't see the undersides of the elements, and was worried about damaging them by moving them, but he said it was OK to move them a little just to see....
Et voila! The culprit! A broken wire in the element coil!
He'll have one in the post for me tomorrow, so on Friday hopefully it will arrive, and I can continue with part 2 - changing a faulty element... Wish me luck!
A big big thank you to the ultra-helpful Jonathon, who has kindly said he'll be on the other end of the phone should I need help with the next step.
There I was, thinking that being a ceramicist was all about playing with mud... It is vital that I learn to maintain my equipment, both from a financial and time point of view. Waiting for a specialist to come out and do a job like this could take a week or so, and would undoubtably cost a lot more than learning how to do these things myself. I have learned a lot today, have faced another of my fears of all things electrical, and saved myself a small fortune to boot. Whoop! Bring on part 2!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Happy new year!

It seems I am one of the few back to work around here as where I am we have had heavy snow. There has been pretty much no gritting going on from what I can tell, and the snow just keeps on falling... Luckily I can do some work from home, but a couple of orders will be sent out later than usual.
Having had a wonderful Christmas and new year, I finally packed away the Christmas decorations today, and thought I would share a couple of images of these lovely seasonal flowers that Santa brought this year...
A photo could never do them justice, but what can I say... Amarylis, red roses and hot pink gerberas... I must have been a very good girl last year.
So having cleared the decks it is time to make a plan and get my head back into some serious work. I've been busy glazing the remaining bisque that was done before the Christmas rush took over my life completely, and am looking forward to starting building with a clear head once that lot is out of the kiln. My etsy shop is looking somewhat depleated, so I can't wait to get the new pots out and get them on there. One or two are already spoken for, and it's not a huge batch, so I had better get some new pieces made pronto! I'm also running a January sale now to clear a few items out and start the year afresh. If you'd like to see the discounted items, you can view my sale section here. There are no seconds I promise, every item is absolutely perfect, I just want to start the new year with a clear mind and some new ranges.
So 2010.... what will you have in store? I can't wait to get my teeth into this year and find out!