Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gerbera Daisies

After I "mastered" my Original Sunflowers and long before I even thought of making Fancy or Deluxe Sunflowers, I wanted to try my hand at making other types of flowers that could go on stakes. Daisies and daisy-like flowers immediately came to mind. Following the same routine I had developed with the sunflowers, I created templates for three sizes of daisy petals.

I had an interesting Shasta Daisy cultivar that seemed to be somewhat doubled, with two rows of petals. One of the challenges with all of these types of pieces is having it all hold together through the fabrication, drying and bisque-firing steps of the process. The pieces of clay used to make the petals are so small that they need all the help they can get to "hold it together." The most difficult step was transferring the bone dry pieces to the kiln shelf for bisque firing.

I started out by making the flange - the portion of the clay used to make the center of the flower that extends beyond the edge of the underlying mold - very wide to support the petals applied on top of it. I also used at least two rows of graduated petals to provide additional bracing. These two steps helped but I still experienced a lot of product loss attributable to the greenware loading phase.

Eventually, I figured out that, if I loaded the pieces onto the shelves right after I have finished fabricating them - pulled them off the molds when still only leather hard (or even sooner), put in the holes for a quarter-inch post and for a wire for hanging, made other final touches and signed the pieces, I load them directly onto the shelves right there an then. I have learned that I can actually load right side up and upside down, as long as I'm very careful. Because the pieces are not yet dry, they are less brittle and more able to accommodate. The only trick is to not try to load the full shelves right down to the bottom of the kiln: they are very heavy and the petals usually extend slightly beyond the edge of the shelf, so it's better to have loaded other work for the first two to three levels in the kiln. Through this technique, I have been able to reduce my loss in this phase of the process to less than five percent. (Losses later in the process have always been negligible.)
Baby Daisy

The pieces are very similar to the sunflowers in construction. Using White Stoneware for Daisies and Gerbera Daisies and Peach Stoneware for Black-eyed Susans, a textured slab of clay (I initially used the waffle-textured foil lid found on cans of peanuts and mixed nuts, but those didn't hold up very well over time and so switched to burlap to give the sense of the disk flowers in the center of each blossom) is slumped over a mold made from a small bowl. The slab is cut so a quarter- to a half-inch clay flange extends beyond  the edge of the mold, which is scored and slipped. Petals are applied (the bases of the petals are actually folded over to provide more support and adhering surface area) around the flower's center.

What is different about the these pieces is that, once I've applied each row of petals and patted each into place securely, using my nitrile-gloved thumb or a soft wooden tool, I score a mid-rib on each petal, a small detail that really adds some sorely-needed dimension to the pieces after they are stained or glazed. I the apply the additional row(s) of petals (there are a total of two rows for Baby Daisies and Regular Daisies; Deluxe Daisies have three rows of graduated petals), scoring each row of petals as I did the first. Then, I "roll" the tips of pairs of petals toward one another to create an undulating sense of movement for the entire piece.

Regular Gerbera Daisy
My final touch is to roll, twist or bend three random petals on each piece (one on the Baby Daisies). Previously, I had accidentally twisted a petal in a Deluxe Black-eyed Susan when fabricating it and a customer specifically chose that piece because of this "mistake", so I've now included that in the "recipe" for my Daisies, Black-eyed Susans and Gerbera Daisies. Once the pieces are leather hard, I finish them as described above, load them onto kiln shelves and let them dry completely. (Sometimes I'll load them into the kiln before they're bone dry but "soak" them to 225 degrees F before firing to Cone 06.)

Glazing for the Gerbera Daisies consists of brushing Titanium Mason Stain solution on the center and pulling off the excess, once dry with a damp sponge to bring up the texture. Sometimes I wax the center but not always - if you have a steady hand, you won't need to do so. I apply two coats of Amaco's Celebration Series glazes to the top side of the petals, being careful to work it into the areas between petals and around petals that have been twisted or rolled. One coat is applied to the underside. (I usually alternate, applying the first coat to the top, then flipping the piece over and glazing the bottom; by the time I'm done what that, the top is usually dry enough to reglaze). I pop the piece on a three-inch kiln post to dry completely before taking them out to the kiln to load. (Note: The Lilac and Burgundy in this glaze series seem to need three coats to get adequate coverage.) I load the pieces on stilts and fire to Cone 6.
Deluxe Gerbera Daisy

Once cooled, I make sure the holes for the quarter-inch post are the right size; if not, they are easily corrected with a Dremel and diamone bit. I add a piece of plastic-coated picture wire and they're ready for use, indoor or out, on a post or just to hang.

The Gerbera Daisies come in three sizes (Baby, Regular and Deluxe) and 21 colors - all 20 colors from the Amaco Celebration Series plus my own proprietary "Gerbera Daisy Pink" I developed some years ago using a mixture of two glazes from that series plus one from their Sahara High Fire Series. The pieces are weather proof and can stay outside here in Michigan all year long.

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