Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ceramic Art - It's a messy business!

Unless you have had first-hand experience in school or at a recreation program making your own ceramic pieces, then you may not know the process in making ceramic art. I thought you might like to see a glimpse of how we make our ceramics....

The type of ceramic art we produce is called "slipcasting" because we use natural liquid clay made in the United States and this type of clay is called "slip" and the method of pouring it into preformed molds is the "casting" part.

Here you can see the plaster mold that shapes the bunny

The two parts of the mold are held together by a large rubberband

The slip (liquid clay) is poured carefully into the mold

The mold is a very dry plaster and as the slip sits in the mold, the water from the slip is drawn into the plaster and a type of skin starts to develop, sticking to the inside of the mold.

The mold must sit with the slip inside for approximately 1/2 hour until the correct thickness of skin has formed - too long and the piece will be extremely heavy or even solid, which is no good, or if not enough time and the piece will be too thin and brittle.

The slip that remains liquid inside the mold is poured out and re-used for more "pourings" later

After the mold sits and drys for a few minutes, the spout skin must be removed, leaving the characteristic hole in the bottom of all slipcast ceramic pieces.

After about a 1/2 hour more, you un-band the mold and very carefully separate and lift half of the mold straight up - if not done correctly, the piece can be dented or even ruined.

This bunny is poured to a correct thickness and since the top of the mold has just been removed, the set clay is very wet and the piece must wait another 1/2 hour to dry more fully so that it can be lifted from the mold without mis-shapping or damaging it.

Now that the bunny is cast, it must sit to dry for at least 24 hours before the next step - cleaning.

Because there are two parts to the mold, a seam running around the piece must be trimmed off the fragile, dry piece and then a wet sponge is used to smooth the seam until it can no longer be seen - possibly the messiest part of the process since the dry clay forms a fine dust that gets everywhere when being scraped off, in spite of one's best efforts to keep the dust down!

After cleaning, the piece is finally ready to be painted, fired in our electric kiln to approximately 2,000 degrees F, which brings it from the "greenware" stage to "bisque" stage. Firing time lasts for about 5 hours, but cooling takes at least 8 more hours. There is no way to cool faster, and if you do then the pieces themselves will crack and can even completely break. After cooling, the bisque piece is glazed with finishing coats and then fired again to bring it to a glossy finish that will never fade or wear out.

The average piece of ceramic art takes a minimum one week to pour, clean, paint, fire, cool, paint again, fire again, cool again and then - voila! - you have a ceramic piece created by hand start to finish! It's a messy job working with the clay, dust and I'm not even going to mention that I tend to glaze myself as well as many of the pieces...hehe.... but I love it!

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