Panopoly: Ceramic art and craft, by Lynae Zebest

Some New In-Progress Photos for You

I don’t think I ever even wrote about this here, but for this past Christmas, my dad gifted me with a much larger kiln than the one in my apartment, so that I could finally start making larger ware with more regularity. It’s big and beautiful…and unfortunately can’t actually live with me here in San Francisco. Theoretically I could rent studio space for it, but practically that’d be way outside my price range (which is about, uh, $0). However, my dad also recently bought a house in my old hometown, Sacramento, which is less than 2 hours away from me. The house has a large empty garage, so we decided to install the kiln there.

Kiln in the Corner

Because of the its size, and the travel involved, I decided to only use the big kiln when I have a lot of stuff to fire. This means slower turnaround times, but gives me an incentive to make stuff on a larger scale.

Full House

Earlier this week, I finally decided I had made enough greenware to make it worth the trip. Two days ago, Orin and I carefully loaded the backseat with well-padded boxes of goodies, and off we went. Everything survived the drive intact, which pleased me very much!

My Bowls Runneth Over

My dad’s house is in a very picturesque setting, right over the levee from the Sacramento River. While I unloaded the boxes and snapped some photos, Orin climbed the tree in the front yard.

Boy in the Tree

Then he helped me load the kiln, which I think took at least a half an hour to do.

Totally Stacked

It takes my kiln about 8½ hours to heat up to Cone 07 (roughly 1800 degrees Fahrenheit), and then probably another eight or so hours to cool down again. We took the time to relax and have a little “vacation” of sorts.

Then, yesterday afternoon, everything was ready to come out again.

Zee Kiln

I remember, when I was in ceramics classes, my instructor often said that our ware would be hard to recognize after it came out of bisque fire, because everything shrinks, and items sometimes warp, crack, etc. And sometimes things sat around for so long before firing that you’d even forget you made them! Indeed, I remember occasionally not knowing my own work, and only realizing it was mine when I saw my signature on the bottom. It’s hard to say whether or not that has changed simply because, you know, everything in the kiln is made by me now. I would rather think it’s because my work is more defined now, because at the end of the day my work simply looks like mine. Which is a good thought to have.

Bowls of Goodies

And now I’m back home again, with my bisqueware in three big boxes, waiting to be glazed and fired again. I really like making lists, so here’s a nice numerical rundown of what I brought back today:

  • 6 burnished white stoneware plates, for me to try some maiolica-style illustrations
  • 1 special white stoneware plate with a complete poem stamped into it
  • 12 (4 sets) descending canvas vases, in a couple different size variations
  • 10 ice cream bowls in both red and white stoneware
  • 6 wee succulent pots, significantly larger than that first prototype
  • 18 wee bowls in red stoneware clay. I’m going to be streamlining my wee bowl line so that they come in two standard sizes; these ones will be the smaller size
  • 102 flat porcelain buttons, in various shapes, sizes and textures.
  • 31 rings; hopefully, counted among this number are the myriad custom sizes I’ve been trying to get for the last couple months
  • 3 new button molds
  • 29 poem drop pendants
  • 5 big beads. My beads have suddenly decided to get popular, possibly due to some advertising I’m doing on Ravelry, so I’m planning on making a lot more of ’em in the near future
  • 22 big shank buttons. I’m really excited about these. I redesigned my shank buttons so they’re bigger, and made entirely of clay, rather than metal in the back. I’m making them from molds of vintage earrings.

Also: I’m now making all my little ware (beads, buttons, rings, pendants) out of porcelain, for extra strength and durability.

Plates, Bowls, Vases

Ready to Fire

Experimenting

I still haven’t done my first ceramic firing. Some things weren’t dry enough today, and without them I don’t feel I have a full enough load. I don’t really like the three pinch pots I made yesterday, now that they’re dry, but they’ll still be good to put beads in or something later on. I also made some larger cylindrical beads, which look quite nice. I had tried to make some bead molds but discovered I made them wrong–apparently I have to coat the beads with vegetable oil to keep them from sticking to the clay as it dries around them. Oh well.

Today I made some tiles to use for testing. I used a method I really wouldn’t recommend–I was just trying it out. I took a wooden picture frame and pressed clay into it until it was tile-shaped, using the flat bottom of a glass to smush it in and a piece of plastic to scrap it flat.

Actually, the method itself wasn’t the problem–that worked quite well. The problem was that the frame had a bevel on the inside, the outside edge of the clay had to be trimmed. I also trimmed that rectangle into three smaller rectangles, since the frame was rather big–apparently, according to the internet, I should have waited until the clay was leather-hard to do this. They seem to have turned out okay thusfar, but it remains to be seen how badly they may warp or crack.

I also spent about 8 hours yesterday filling orders of decanted perfume, a side-hobby of mine, and getting Etsy orders ready to mail. I think I have something like 35 envelopes to mail in the next two days. Yikes.

96 Bottles of Glaze on the Wall…

Actually, not on the wall, but in the mail, headed my way. A glaze company’s sending me 4oz. sample bottles of their entire line. I’m so excited!

Tomorrow I get to discover whether or not the girl I got my clay from actually knew what she was talking about–that is, that my clay is actually high-fire. Fortunately that doesn’t involve risking melting my whole kiln full of ware, since I bisque at the same temperature whether or not the clay’s low-fire. I’ll just have to do a test or two afterward, to find out how mature the clay is at that point.

I don’t think I’ll be picking up any more free, unmarked clay any more. Too complicated. I hope the other varieties I got from her aren’t as groggy as this one, too…

I’ll also be doing my “About” page here in a few minutes, and I’ve added another link to my “Blogroll” (which fortunately won’t be called that once the new layout is done): West Coast Crafty. Yay!

Unique Challenges

I’ve discovered that virtually all of the information available on the internet on the subject of ceramics and kilns is written by/for either someone working on a group studio, or someone working from a house.

I work from neither a house nor a group studio. I work from a two-bedroom apartment that I share with two other people. I have a yard, but I share it with approximately 15 other tenants. I wish there were more info out there for someone with the limited space and use requirements that I have, but there really doesn’t seem to be.

What the Internet Did and Didn’t Tell Me About Working With Ceramics:

1. Rehydrating Clay.
I found lots of different methods of how to do this. Most of them involved smashing the dried clay with a hammer prior to hydrating, and/or drying it in thin layers on big plastic racks after it had been hydrated. The first seemed too messy and I didn’t have the equipment/supplies for the second. I ended up just putting a whole block of clay in a bucket full of water, covering it, leaving it in the sun, and mushing it up with my hands after a few days. This worked pretty well, but would have worked better if I’d used less water and left it alone longer.

Of course that also would have been a lot easier if my back yard included something everyone else takes for granted: a hose, or a spigot, or some kind of running water. But, no, all the water I needed had to be lugged down three flights of rickety old stairs.

Following another internet suggestion, I next tried drying the muddy stuff by putting it in a pillowcase and hanging it to drip-dry. After three days in the sun, this only resulted in one ruined pillowcase. I then moved the clay back into the bucket and left it in the sun for a few more days. This once again worked well, and would have worked better if I’d had the time to leave it there a few days more.

But by then I just really wanted my clay. I brought it upstairs and spread it in thin layers on some upholstery fabric samples I had laying around. I left some of these out for about a day and it turned out perfect, but I really wanted some of that clay that night.

So following more internet directions, I took the least-wet clay I had and formed it into a bunch of small, clumsy little coils. I made the coils into small arches on a baking pan, and baked them for 5-10 minutes at 250 degrees in my oven.

With most of them, this made very workable clay, but it was a lot of effort for a very small amount of clay. I really do not recommend getting that impatient. With the rest, the clay got too dry–which was okay, I just stuck it in a bowl with water and it was rehydrated the next day.

2. Kilns

My dad offered to buy me a kiln. I wanted a medium-sized one, but had to settle for the smallest high-fire one I could find, due to space issues. My boyfriend had to haul it up the stairs for me.

I got it installed okay, but my one roommate has had all these questions: about the noise level, about fumes, about smells, about heat. Many of them are valid but I don’t necessarily know how to answer her. Before my old roommate moved out, I worried about him getting drunk and stumbling into the kiln on his way out to have a smoke, getting second-degree burns along the way.

I have the kiln in a very well-ventilated room, that’s sealed off from the rest of the house, and the kiln isn’t very big…but I haven’t yet been able to get a clear verdict on whether or not I also have to use the vent system it came with. I have the vent set up, and I can use it, but…it’s loud. And the kiln room is right next to the kitchen. And I don’t want to drive anyone, including myself, crazy. And the ventilation ducting, by necessity, must rest on potentially flammable materials, and I can’t figure out if it gets too hot for that to be safe.

The internet appears to have failed me on this one.

Starting Up

Yesterday the boyfriend and I rearranged our whole bedroom for the first time since we moved in 5 months ago, and it turned out quite nice, but now comes the smaller rearrangements. Of course I ended up disorganizing all my crafty stuff in the process.

Not that it was very organized to begin with. There’s two big Rubber maid boxes stuffed with supplies, and two smaller blue boxes, and piles of papers and bags of packing supplies and way more beads than I can fit in my three supply boxes. And now of course I have a kiln, which hasn’t even been installed yet, but already I’ve got bags of glaze, and downstairs in the (communal) yard I’ve got a ventilation system that I don’t even know if I need, and stacked on top of that I’ve got a half-dozen bags of dried-up clay I got for free, that I need to rehydrate, but don’t have any buckets to do it in.

So today I’m working on my plan to make a big modular shelving system in one of our room’s alcoves, out of free wood found on the street. It won’t solve all my organizational problems, but one would at least hope it would be harder to lose stuff. Plus, it’d look a hell of a lot better. I think.