Friday, July 31, 2009

Frog Days of Summer SALE!

Ok, so it's hot outside and summer continues here in super-sunny Southern Arizona.... so started our Frog Days of Summer sale! Why not have some fun and add a frog to your patio, garden, planter, or hand one on a wall? These guys are cute, some really funky, and best of all - they are ALL on sale for only $20-25 each plus I will ship for free in the U.S.

I have to admit - we went a little crazy being cooped-up in the air conditioning all day and created some unique amphibians :o)

Have a great summer y'all! RIBBIT !

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!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Wild, Wild West

We are located in Casa Grande, Arizona, about half-way between Phoenix and Tucson, which is one of the hottest and windiest places in the U.S.! It amazing that anything can survive (and thrive) in this climate. Right now, it's 110 degrees F outside and I am staying inwith the air conditioning! :)

Our shop is located next to a beautiful mountain and we are fortunate to have incredible sunsets almost daily...

There is such diversity here.... rabbits, jackrabbits, ground squirrels, quail, snakes, lizards, road runners, prairie dogs, coyotes, and of course desert flowers, mesquite trees, saguaro cactus and even purple colored cactus are all seen here throughout the year.

Rabbit in Mesquite

White Lined Sphinx Hummingbird Moth at our Honeysuckle Bush

Crystal Castles saguaro cactus taken locally by Cory Schreider

Lone Star saguaro cactus taken locally by Cory Schreider

Being in this rural location is such a treat and indeed some of our work is inspired by the nature and scenes of the Southwest. We thought it would be wonderful for people to be able to bring a little of the Southwest into their homes, patios, gardens, even some red-hot chilies to spice-up your kitchen...

Red Hot Chili Peppers - bring on the heat!

Classic Symbol of the Southwest - Steer Skull & Rattlesnake

and one of our very favorite pieces -- hanging on my living room wall as we speak....

Horse Whisperer Shadow Caster discovered at chriscrooks

I love this "Horse Whisperer Shadow Caster" made by Chris who we actually met at a local arts and crafts show in Tucson this year! He does great work and I was thrilled to see his work on Etsy.

Hope you will follow-along as I embark on my next blog project... posting the process of making ceramics start to finish. It's a messy business, but we love it!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Grace & Beauty

Gray Adult and Baby Dolphin in Foamy Surf
(email me at
to get this piece custom-made for you or a friend)

Graceful White Dolphin Playing in the Surf
discover at

What can be more graceful than dolphins playing in the surf?

One of the very first that we got and made was a dolphin playing in the surf. This mold is unique because it has two parts - the primary large piece and the baby dolphin piece which rides along side the parent dolphins in the waves.

A bit about the process of creating our ceramic pieces: We hand select all of the plaster molds that we use to create our ceramics. This method of creating ceramics is often called "slipcasting" since the liquid ceramic clay we use is called "slip".

The nature of this mold enables us to offer either a single dolphin figurine, or dolphin and baby.

Pictured above is a adult and child dolphin in gray riding on foamy waves. I hand paint all of the detail on this piece and use a special glaze on the waves that creates a "foam" effect that is raised from the rest of the piece. Pictured next is a single dolphin in pure white glossy glaze.

We love this dolphin piece because of its beauty and elegance. It's great to see a collector's joy when they find this special treasure at one of the local shows we do in the Tucson and Casa Grande area - we know that they will cherish it forever!

We handcraft all the ceramics start to finish, using our own electric kiln to "fire" (bake) each piece at over 2000 degrees F and then finishing with quality glazes and firing again. This creates a sturdy piece that will never fade or change in appearance. We have pieces in our own collections that are over 30 years old and they all look like new! Who knew we were creating heirlooms?

Stained Glass Dolphins Yin Yang Round Subcatcher or Wall Hanging
discovered at

A little of this, a little of that...About Dark Horse Ceramic Arts and Unique Gifts

My mom and I started making and teaching ceramics over 25 years ago. Mom had her own ceramic shop in a little town in the Midwest called Fox River Grove. The little town in upstate Illinois was only 1250 population at the time, but our little ceramic shop was always busy. My mom is a true artist and patient teacher and she taught classes so that others could enjoy the art of making something for themselves. Being 12 years old, I was thrilled with learning all about ceramics, pouring our own molds, mixing clay, using glazes, and helping my mom create all kinds wonderful ceramic keepsakes and little treasures.

For various reasons, mom closed her shop after only a couple of years despite good business and great students and customers.

Having recently battled breast cancer and winning (yeah!) mom told me she would love to get back into ceramics again. I have to admit, I was looking forward to it as well :) With a little coaxing, my husband Glenn even got interested in creating with us and there began our little family business.

We started Dark Horse Arts and Gifts. Named so because a dark horse is one who is not expected to win and often comes from behind in the race to do just that!

I created a website at where we showcase a few of our items and you can always find a full range of items at our Etsy Store here.

I hope you enjoy the chronicles of our journey in ceramic art here. I also will post other artist and hand crafter's work here for your enjoyment.