Making moulds with Plaster

Making moulds for ceramic work is easy and affordable. To make bowls you can either spray the bowls with a release agent, such as silicone or cover the bowl with a clay layer. This means you can etch or alter the shape to suit before pouring in plaster.

To make my heart mould I formed a solid heart shape and pressed it firmly to the base of a plastic container. After pouring the plaster I jiggle the container to release any bubbles.

Once set, the plaster mould can be easily removed and used. When creating wall hangings it’s important to consider how the piece will be hung. I attach clay using a vinegar and water mix to help with the blending of the clay. Using a small 2cm long piece of straw I cut a hole, so the wire can be used for hanging the ornament when finished.

After about a week of drying, weather dependant, the pieces can be put into the kiln for a bisque firing up to 1040oC. Then once the glaze has been applied, the pieces will receive a second firing, up to 1200oC. Complete.

Glass class

Whanganui is home to over 400 resident artists, and hosts over 15 galleries. Whanganui’s dynamic art scene includes photography, painting, pottery, sculptures, textiles and glass.

One of these outstanding contributors is glass artist David Traub.

I was quick to book in for a glass tutorial at his studio in King Street, called The Glass Factory.

I joined 6 other amateur artists for an instructed class where we used David’s off-cuts to create 2 bowls, magnets or broches and a glass tile.

Using frits we created our design on flat glass disks, which later David slumped over stainless steel bowls, coated in shelf wash.

The kiln is fired over night and your completed masterpieces are packaged and posted home, for you to admire and treasure.

The tile was an interesting activity utilising chunky glass fragments from previous works. We could cut the glass to our desired size and used a metal mallet to crush and sieve pieces to suit. We lined metal moulds with fibre paper and set to work.

My tile was inspired by the Hen Island view we had from our old family beach house. I was really pleased with the result, and look forward to working with glass in the future.

glass art glasswork whanganui wanganui lulu luluslists okoia open studio nz newzealand tile david traub

 

Potential investment of pottery supplies

Finding a good art supplier takes a lot of research. Prices can look quite reasonable online but once you’ve spent a good hour or so navigating a website, creating a cart of potential purchases, the freight charges can change the investment from a creative hobby to a financial risk pretty fast.

It felt like Christmas the day my first order of clay and glazes arrived from Decopots. A momentous day.

I had decided on 20 bags of clay. 10 wood brown stoneware and 10 cream stoneware. Both great for sculptural and wheel work. If you commit to 20 bags the price is reduced. I topped up the pallet with a couple of glazes and a brush, making the most of the freight charges.

Now that we have relocated to Whanganui, I am only an hour away from Palmerston North, the home of Decopots. While my mother (also a potter) was visiting, we thought it would be fun to have a little shop.

What I didn’t realise was that they aren’t open to the public, however they kindly showed us around their factory. This was such a treat. A behind the scenes experience.

We watched as clay was pressed through a rather large industrial pugmill.

We watched as ceramic blanks were reproduced in moulds and set to dry on shelves before heading to the kiln for firing.

Although we left empty handed, we would soon be putting our orders in.

Whanganui Art in the Garden

Pretty excited to be part of this year’s Art in the Garden.

Whanganui artists spent the Friday setting up their displays. Work included ceramic sculptures, glass ornaments, metal work and paintings. I decided on a bushy part of the walkway to display my lady sculptures, tikis and hearts, then disappeared.

The event is held over the weekend, with purchases sold as ‘cash and carry’. So hopefully there isn’t much for me to pick up on the Monday!

I took the family on the Saturday to spy on my work. Even though the weather was a bit dodgy it was good to see plenty of people wandering around the stunning garden venue, at QT Nursery on Papaiti Rd. The Whanganui Pottery Club were giving raku demonstrations throughout the day as displays started to show some gaps as fantastic pieces of art found their new homes.

 

Testing the kiln

Studio, clay and a kiln, it was time to get creating. I set to work making Christmas ornaments in star, fish and heart shapes. After a week of drying, I was ready for my first fire. Unfortunately the kiln’s automatic cone firing schedules did not work, and instead of stopping at 1040oC for a bisque fire, the kiln when all the way to it’s top temperature of 1280oC. This meant my ornaments could not have a second firing with glaze applied.

It took a couple of firings for me to realise that I was going to have to find schedules for bisque and glaze firing of stoneware clay and to enter the program manually.

With the firing under control I could now start testing my glazes. Having my own kiln gave me the freedom to experiment without fear of failure.

#littlekiln

Now that I have my very own space dedicated to my creativities I went on the search for a kiln, refreshing my Trade Me search daily. I eventually posted a wanted ad on the local Facebook page, where I was offered a small 60cm x 60cm F.E Kiln for $350. It was perfect for my experimental ceramic attempts.

luluslist lulu okoia whanganui open studiolittle kiln fe AOS art ceramic clay pottery

I enjoyed meeting people and sharing knowledge while being a member of Raglan’s Pottery Club however depending on the firing of a community kiln was a pain. I’d leave a piece clearly labelled for firing, and yet week after week I’d find it still sitting there patiently waiting to take its turn on one of the kiln shelves, while others seem to take priority.

I was still trying to discover how clay and glazes worked, and was excited at the possibility of being able to dabble without risking other peoples work.

I have had the shame of having a piece drip glaze onto an unfortunate piece below

I have put on the safety glasses and earmuffs to grind a piece off the valuable shelf that had suck fast by a thick runny glaze

I have had to vacuum the empty kiln after a piece had exploded due to trapped air

All my little kiln needed was a new pyrometer and a new controller… plus the electrician to install these pricey parts.

$1300 later I was ready to fire!

luluslist lulu okoia whanganui open studiolittle kiln fe AOS art ceramic clay pottery bartlett little kiln

 

 

A studio is born

So that our house functioned better for our rather large family, we decided to put a kitchen in our lounge (much to the disgust of an electrician who had come to quote the job)

The existing kitchen, complete with groovy Formica bench top and pale blue cupboards was located at the other end of the L shape building. This meant there was quite a hike from the dining table to the dishwasher.

We plumbed in the dishwasher and set up a trestle table as a make shift kitchen, while we went about searching for an affordable yet attractive kitset kitchen.

I stumbled upon Kitset Kitchen, a local kitchen manufacturer, who offer a huge range of cabinets, handles and bench tops. They can also install the kitset if required. The layout was easy to decide on, with plenty of options. The only down fall would be the sample size. When my bench arrived I was shocked to see white ‘quartz’ streaks through the grey laminate. These lines weren’t evident on the small card given to compare styles.

And a follow up call would have been nice.

The old kitchen was carpeted, painted and converted into our daughters bedroom and the old cabinets were moved out to the garage, creating a studio for all my creative efforts.

Lulus Studio
whanganui wanganui open studio okoia artist art AOS lulu

 

Need a little support

Years ago when I cast handmade moulds with concrete, I formed my first ‘couple’. I managed to reproduce 10 of these before the delicate mould was retired. Now, I find creating with clay and firing each original piece is much more satisfying. Each piece is completely different, some even take on a direction of their own. I enjoy this process and am always excited to see the end result, when they emerge from their final firing.

On my first attempt of my couple in clay I put a vinyl cone support under the man, thinking that the woman could be built around him, but as I created, she started to slump.

Instead of scrapping the work, I went with the clay and love the result.

You could view the piece as a man supporting a weak or sick woman, or of a woman buckling underneath the pressure of holding up and supporting the man.

With the second piece, I built a support using cut down containers held together with duct tape. I covered the containers with a bread bag for easy removal. This ensured the couple kept their form. The support pieces were removed on day 2.

Being an egg donor, I am sensitive to the struggle some couples go through to be blessed with a child. I created a baby to fit in the couples arm, making the piece complete. While the piece was drying my three-year old daughter kept putting the baby back into the couples arms, when I would have it sitting next to the piece. I loved that she always wanted the baby with its parents, and not on its own on the shelf.

The piece turned out to be an interactive one. It’s surprising how the physical act of putting the baby in its place makes you feel good.

I sponged a black slip onto both pieces.

Unfortunately the glossy glaze did not give me the desired look. Perhaps they will find a home with someone. Thankfully art appeals to an array of people. I would have preferred a matt finish and will be purchasing my own glazes for future use, and applying a thicker slip.

Live and learn.

Glazed and out of the kiln

The dreaded school holidays arrived, and to keep me sane I made sure that I had a sack of clay at my ready. I had a few ideas of what I wanted to try; some mermaids, fish and this awesome shark I’d seen online, as an award for design. I attempted my first dolphin, of which I hope to create more of, promoting an awareness of the endangered maui dolphin, which occasionally frequents the waters of New Zealand’s West Coast. These pieces would allow me to explore with some colour in the form of slips.

 

I also had some more meaningful pieces I want to get out; the first being a figure of a woman represented as a bowling pin. A woman who is continuously, repetitively knocked down, and yet gets back up again, all to be knocked down again. Symbolising abuse.

The second brings awareness to breast cancer. A beautiful curvaceous woman, proud of her battle wound, having had a breast removed.

Fighters. Survivors.

 

Well after messing up my first two pieces, getting carried away with slips and glazes I had a bit of slip fun with the mermaids and fish, and got a wee bit arty with my ladies.

 

 

I love the red stripes, making the bowling pin imagery more obvious.

I’m not fond of glossy glazes so left my survivor lady without a glaze. A double firing of white slip.

The results…

 

Unfortunately the bowling pin lady must have touched something black while in the kiln, which has left a smudge on her back. The breast cancer survivor had a fleck of black glaze on her boob, which I could easily sand off with my rotary tool. I’m yet to seal her, as she has no glaze to protect her.

 

What do you think?

My next two ladies

Continuing on with my motherly theme I created these two ladies, my pregnant woman having a moment with her bump and the blessed mother with her child.

 

This time to make sure they didn’t slump I used vinyl, taped into a cone, covered in a bread bag as a support. After the first day a drying I could remove the cone and pull free the plastic bag. If more shaping was needed, it could be done then, before the piece gets too dry. The following day I used a cut metal knitting needle to reach the end of the hollow cavity to ensure there is a gap in the clay, about the neck, creating an escape for trapped air during firing, prevent the ladies heads from blowing up, potentially taking out nearby pieces from other artists.

 

I had fun with the colouring of these pieces, blending brown to green on one piece and using a selection of blues on my watery woman. Unfortunately I was told about englobes, and coated the pieces in Kakapo Green and Peacock Blue. I thought this would give the girls some amazing texture and contrast. The watery lady looked ok, perhaps a bit too busy and the green lady kinda just went a solid bright green. Not really the earthy toned lady I had envisioned.

 

Oh well, I am told that this is what pottery is about. Experimenting. Especially when you have a group kiln, and you are not in control of the firing temperatures. I think I need to do some googling research of glazes, slips and englobes and perhaps invest in some products to my tastes, hopes and dreams.

I have not been deterred.