Thursday, September 6, 2012

Deluxe Sunflower: Confetti

Owing to my ongoing obsessiveness, when I find a tool that really works for me, I tend to investigate all of its available variations. I had been working with the Kemper Klay Kutters for a long time, primarily with the various sizes of the "Basic Set", which consists of a circle, teardrop, five-petaled floret and heart. These had been useful for me with some ladybugs I made, as well as both Original (floret-spotted) and Deluxe (round-spotted) Toadstools, and some of the sunflowers. I didn't even think they might have other shapes available until one day, while teaching a class at the Anton Art Center in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, I came across a triangle cutter and realized I needed to dig a little deeper.

Boy, did I strike gold! Triangle sets, square sets, Lilac (four-petaled florets)sets and oval sets. And, in researching for this post, I just now discovered they have a set of star-shaped cutters - I may have to get those, too!

The mechanism is simple - a shaped tube which is closed at the end with a plunger assembly to push (in my case) the clay out. What I've learned with using these is that a bit of clay gradually builds up on the cutter, making it difficult to release the clay; cleaning out with a cutting tool or fettling knife usually does the trick; also, the wetter and more plastic the clay, the more likely it is to adhere to the cutter. Also, it's important to keep them clean and dry - part of the assembly is steel which will rust. A shot of WD-40 has been helpful for me when things start to "lock up". Another key issue is that the plunger will make a circular mark in one side of the cut-out. This looks pretty cool on a floret but doesn't always work for some of the other things I use these for; I resolve this by making sure the side with the circular impression is the side I attach to whatever it is I'm making.

With this design, I wanted to evoke something of the cascade of confetti at a parade or other celebration. I assembled the sunflower as usual, draping the clay over the hump mold and applying the three layers of petals. I then rolled out a thinner slab of clay and, using the three largest cutters (as I was making a ginormous sunflower - I scale the elements to fit the size of the flower I'm making), cut out a bunch of squares. I slipped the surface of the center of the sunflower (don't score - because you're not covering the entire surface, those scoring marks that are not covered by the squares will even after glazing) and then scored and slipped the back side of each square and applied in what I hoped would look like a random pattern. When finished, I let it dry to leather hard, flip it off the mold (this gets easier and easier - I've gone from only doing these big pieces on spec to fabricating them quite routinely), put in the holes for the hanging wire and apply a clay receptacle to take a copper fitting and let it dry.

Once bisque fired to Cone 06, I glazed the center with my go-to glaze, Amaco's Potters Choice Temmoku. For the petals, I used a glaze I was given by my first pottery instructor, Gene Pluhar, called Albrecht Sand, a subtle matte glaze with a genuinely sandy appearance. This is a design that might still require some tweaking. I'm going to live with for a while and see how I feel about; then we'll see!

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