Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lace Bowls 1: Red vs. White Stoneware

Lace Bowls, Peach Stoneware
One of the more popular designs I've developed in the last year or so has been my lace bowls. Using the same Sasaki Colorstone stoneware dishes as molds that I use for many of my leaf pieces, I've come up with two "designs" in four sizes that have been very popular this holiday season. The idea evolved from the lace I had used for the centers on some of my sunflowers. I had found a heart-shaped piece of lace at either Joann's or Michael's; it was a bit challenging to work with, as the concave section at the top of the heart made for a "blank" in the design of the sunflower's center that I would have to "fix" by rolling the bottom of the heart in to that section; cumbersome but effective. This lace texture sunflower has been very popular, although it may partly be due to the color I stain the petals - bright orange.

I have always been a very tactile person (hence the interests in gardening, pottery, needlecrafts, etc.) I had been working with some bowls for an Empty-Bowls Fundraiser sponsored by Firebrick Gallery in Rochester, Michigan, and decided to use the lace texture and see what happened with that, using the same Sasaki Colorstone stoneware bowls as my molds for these pieces as I had been using for my leaf pieces and other, earlier designs. I had found various sizes of lace at Joann's and Michael's that would accommodate the various sizes I wanted to make.

The technique here is to roll out the clay in the slab roller, place the piece of lace on the slab and roll it into the clay with a heavy maple pottery rolling pin.  If I'm doing a straight edge on the piece, I cut out enough around the lace to work with and place it in the mold.  I usually try to center it but have learned that the pieces can be pretty interesting if they're a bit off-center. (There's a story there I'll share some time.) I use the flattish side of my smooth river stone to work the clay into the mold consistently, peel off the lace and cut the edge of the piece to the edge of the bowl using a sharp tool. If I'm doing a scalloped edge, reflecting the scalloped edge of some of the lace pieces I've found, I use a sharp tool to cut out the form of the lace and place that in the mold as above, although in this case it's more important that it be centered.

Lace Bowls, Lite Stoneware
I let the pieces dry enough to come out of the molds, sign them, then let them dry completely.  Once dry, I use synthetic steel wool to remove the burrs from the cutting tool at the edge of the piece, correct any irregularities on the back of the piece, and to smooth the edges of the pattern made by the lace inside the bowl. This last step is very important, as I have discovered that a glaze applied over a sharp, unrefined edge can make for a piece that is very uncomfortable to handle; for some reason, the glaze enhances that sharp edge, to the extent that I have even cut myself on it. Just a couple sweeps across the surface with the synthetic steel wool is sufficient to correct this issue. These pieces can easily be nested for bisque firing, so you can fire a pretty dense load, getting maximum space and energy utilization.

Glazing is pretty straightforward but glaze selection is important.  The raised lace pattern is particularly effective when a glaze that "breaks" is used - a glaze that changes color as it thins over the edges of s surface. (This is part of the reason I used lace-imprinted clay for my studio's glaze test tiles, to see which glazes would behave in this manner.) These glazes will really enhance the already-extant texture in the bowl. Many of Amaco's Potter's Choice glazes fit the bill, especially Indigo Float, Lustrous Jade, Textured Turquoise, Vert Lustre, Blue Rutile, Chun Plum, Albany Slip Brown, Ironstone and Ancient Jasper. I have noted a preference for the brighter colors in the blue to green range in my client base.

Glazing consists of dipping the piece, using dipping tongs, into the well-mixed glaze two to three times, depending on the glaze's consistency. I do not wax the bases of the pieces because it looks odd, considering there is no real "bottom", just a curved underside. I fire them on stilts and use my Dremel with a grinder accessory to remove any stilt marks.

I did experiment with different clay bodies as well, both my usual Peach Stoneware from Rovin and their Lite Stoneware, a very white body suitable for handbuilding and throwing. I found in most instances that the redder clay was more effective in bringing up the contrasts in the breaking glazes, a phenomenon reflected in the choices I make for my sunflowers, bird bowls and wall pockets.

I am now experimenting with other lace forms.  My good friend Deb Hall has been very generous, gifting me with some of her Maltese grandmother's handmade lace for use in my studio.  Her grandmother actually won first prize at the World's Fair during the 1930s for her lace bedspread, so you can imagine how grateful I am that Deb chose to bequeath some of her work to Black Cat Pottery Studios.

I like nothing more than when a prospective customer really "experiences" one of my pieces - handles and caresses it. These lace bowls really lend themselves to that dynamic.  

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