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Chopstick Bowls!

11 Oct


I learned a lot at the Farmers’ Market this year. Mostly from my customers. I got requests for all sorts of interesting things, and rice bowls were on the wish list. I had never heard of such a thing, but now I’m in love with rice/chopstick/noodle bowls. Here are a few samples of what I came up with. I even ordered a whole boatload of chopsticks to go with them! You can find my rice bowls at my Etsy shop (the link at the right; over there . . . —>    No, no . . . down a bit . . . yeah, you found it. 😉

Or if you’re in Rapid City, drop me an e-mail and I can save you some money on shipping and packing. I will be at the Creative Hands Autumn Bazaar on Oct. 19 from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Oct. 20th from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. That’s next (coming) weekend, Friday and Saturday — in the Fine Arts Building at the Central States Fairgrounds.

In addition, I’ll be displaying at the Pinedale Elementary PTA Bazaar on Saturday Nov. 5th from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The Pinedale PTA has been putting on the biggest art show in town for 30 years now, so I’m excited to have been accepted. Bring your Christmas list and your appetite. They’re cooking up some great treats, I hear, and more than 45 high-quality vendors will showcase their artworks and fine crafts, just in time to help you get the perfect gifts for all your loved ones. Especially if they’re rice eaters!

I didn’t know what a rice bowl looked like, so of course I searched it on-line. I never print off pictures or try to memorize the images I see when I do this. My goal is to get an idea of, well in this case, “rice bowlness” so to speak. After a half-hour or so or looking, I went to bed and when I woke up, this was what I had in my mind. Unless someone asks me to, I don’t think I’ll try to make them in any other way.

I’ve looked at rice bowls since and not seen any quite like these, and I have an affinity for the shape and the way the chopsticks lie in these bowls. They’re not tiny little things meant only for rice, either. They’ll hold a nice-sized serving of anything you’d like to eat with chopsticks. I’m pleased with them. 😀

Marauding Mammoth

26 May

Isn’t he cute?

My wee marauding mammoth started life as a bottle. Yes, the little guy is a piece of wheel-thrown pottery. Who’d of guessed it? 😉 The bottle’s neck is right in the middle of his little noggin. Of course, this piece is technically thrown and altered. I made his hair with an extruder, which is a kind of grown-up Play-doh machine (with a grown up price tag to match). As for the rest of him? These fingers and a sharpened pencil. 😆

He may be little, but watch out for the tusks!

I know what you’re thinking; why is he standing up on those goofy balls? There is a reason — really. I made him to display on a beaver pelt, and if he doesn’t have a bit of a lift, the beaver fur tickles his little tummy. He got tired of sitting around at my house, though, and he’d like to go adventuring. I won’t be at the Farmers’ Market on Main Street Square this Saturday because the weather is supposed to be miserable. But I’ve promised him he can come with next Saturday. If you want an introduction, come and visit the Jenny Gulch Pottery booth. You can’t miss it — it’ll be the only pottery booth with a mammoth in attendance. See you there!

The Making of a Mushroom

1 Jul

One of the favorite projects of the kids in my pottery classes is making mushroom houses. We do some pretty elaborate ones with window boxes, hobbit doors, chimneys, etc. The kids come up with some great ideas for mushroom house beautification. I’m going to post a simpler version in this tutorial. Once you have the basic idea, you can go pretty much anywhere with it. So . . . here we go.

Start with a smooth round ball of clay. I’m going for a fairly small mushroom house and using a ball the size of a tangerine. To smooth out cracks in your ball of clay, run your thumb or finger across and back, perpendicular to the crack. If the clay is too dry, it will crack enough to make forming your mushroom house almost impossible. In this case, dip the clay in a little water and squeeze and squish it until it’s soft enough to work with.

To begin the pinch pot, stick your thumb right into the center. You should be holding the clay in the palm of your non-dominant hand. When you stick your thumb in, press until you can feel the pressure on the palm of your other hand. For a more thorough exposition of making pinch pots, please see my basic pinch pot post.

With your thumbs on the inside, press against the rest of your fingers on the outside. Turn the clay as you do this. Unlike with the procedure for making the usual pinch pot, you will be spreading the rim outward. This piece will become the cap of the mushroom. Notice there are cracks along the rim. This particular clay is moist enough, but is “short,” because it has been sitting outside freezing and thawing and all the microorganisms that normally live in clay and add to its plasticity have died. A few cracks along the rim of a mushroom cap aren’t a problem. Real mushrooms have them, too.

There’s still a ways to go, but this is the basic mushroom cap. Of course, mushrooms have all sorts of variety in cap size and shape, but this is going to be your generic mushroom type. From here, I’ll just be shaping it. It’s big enough.

As you can see, I’ve introduced a little moisture to help me smooth the cap. Unless you’re working with short clay, or overly dry clay, you won’t need to do this. Should you decide to, use a very light touch with the water. It can quickly cause your clay to lose structural integrity and either become floppy or begin to disintegrate. I’ve squeezed the edges to cause them to flare outward. Again, go easy with this. You don’t want the cap to become so thin it can’t support itself.

I used the dowel laying in the background to create a semi-flat surface inside the mushroom cap. The cap will rest on the top of the stalk here at this flat area. I don’t affix the cap until the glaze firing. The glaze will “glue” it to the stalk. I would be concerned about the dip you see in the center becoming an air pocket otherwise, and I would fill it. If you intend to stick your mushroom together pre-firing, be sure not to have any air pockets or they’ll blow apart in the bisque kiln.

Now I’m going to form the stalk of the mushroom. I’ll start with a carrot-shaped piece of clay, about the same amount as I used for the cap.

You could enter the stalk with a finger like we did for the cap, but it’s easier if you have a stick. The sharpened dowel works well, as does the end of a large paintbrush, a pencil — whatever you have on hand.

I learned recently that the above is called the “broomstick method” and is used to make quite large pots. It also works well for mushroom stalks. Essentially, the dowel is acting as a rolling pin, only it is rolling the inside surface of the cylinder. You don’t want to thin this cylinder out too much. It needs to be strong enough to hold up the cap.

Once there’s a large enough hole, stick your thumb in there and do some more pinch potting. The broomstick method creates a very regular and straight cylinder, so you need to give it a little character with your fingers. Again remember — not too thin!

Adjust the size and flatness of the top of the stalk to fit the cap, and then try on the cap to see how you like it. This one’s okay, but in my opinion it lacks a certain “something.”

There! That’s better. I’m sorely tempted at this point to give him a cute face and a guitar, but I’ll resist. He’ll lose his resemblance to a dashing caballero in a few moments.

I’m using a punch that came with a screwdriver set, but you can use an awl, a large needle tool, a round toothpick, a bamboo skewer . . . anything like that. Note the position of the tip. I want to avoid tearing the clay, so I have it laid down pretty low. It should crease, not cut the clay. You can make the door any shape you like. I decided on this one for now, but I also like hobbitish round doors. If you’re going to “open” the door (as I will below), be sure not to make it so large that its removal will make your mushroom stalk too weak to hold up the cap.

I want this door to stand slightly ajar, so I’m going to cut it out. A needle tool is ideal for this job.

After you’ve cut the door out, thin the walls adjacent to it, then smooth them out. You’ll also want to pare down the thickness of the door. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to touch up the boards, etc. that you’ve impressed into its surface. Be sure to smooth all the edges nicely.

Once you’ve got everything thinned down and smoothed off, reattach the door in an attractive position of welcome.

It seemed a little plain with just the door, so I gave it a window as well. This mushroom house is too small for much more embellishment. I’m smoothing some of the cracks here. This mushroom house is finished. Here are a few others:

Usually I swing my hobbit doors on hinges at the edge, but I decided to pivot this one.

Cheri and I made a whole village of mushrooms. Some houses; some more realistic. Mushrooms are so cool!

I think this one maybe belongs to the village shaman . . .

I’m particularly fond of the one on the right (with the collar), though after I made it, I found one on the back trail and discovered it didn’t have a collar. The collar forms when the cap detaches from the stalk and some of the attachment is left behind. Some mushroom varieties have them and others don’t.

I made the fins under this mushroom cap by cutting over and over with a thin flexible metal pottery rib.

My daughter, Cheri, made these. I think they’re adorable. 🙂

The one on the right is a King Bolete. Boletes have pores rather than fins. They’re really cool! So that’s the end of the story for today. Hope you enjoyed it and will get out the clay and make yourself some mushrooms. They’re great on the windowsill, in a potted plant, in the garden . . . wherever you need a little whimsy.

Photography credit: Cheri Odum (Thanks, Sweetheart — you did a great job!)

Pottery Mini-Gallery

17 Apr

It’s been a while since I posted any pottery stuff here. I’ve been doing pottery–I’ve just been kinda lazy about photographing it. Here are some pieces I currently have up on Etsy, with a few notes about how I made them.
Stanley Bison started out life as a wheel-thrown bottle. His curly hump is made with extruded clay. A clay extruder is kind of like a cookie press, or the Play Dough machine you may be familiar with–you put in the dough, press down the handle, and out come star-shaped noodles (or whatever shape). So he’s wheel thrown and hand altered.

This wee dragon was a lot of fun to make. He’s entirely hand sculpted and clothed in an iron oxide wash. I like dragons.

This is Gramps the Magic Dragon. I made his body by wrapping a slab of textured clay around some wadded up newspaper. From there, I added on all the hand-built features. He was a lot of work, and I was really pleased with how he turned out.

On a more practical vein . . . this flowerpot was thrown in one piece on the wheel. I then poked in a drainage hole with a wooden tool (and my finger) and added on the pinecones from a mold I made–with a pinecone. Innovative, huh?

This bowl is wheel thrown and hand carved. The brown part is unglazed, washed with iron oxide. The iron oxide becomes permanent when the piece is fired and I love the nice warm color it gives the clay.

Well, that’s all for now. Any questions you have about how to make these things are welcome.

Blessings, Cindy

Fairy Houses

24 Oct

Well, it’s been AGES since I posted here. Busy summer, lots of good stuff, a little–um–less than good stuff–life. Here are some pictures of my daughter and a friend making fairy houses. We also made this project with our class of little girls, but kids’ classes being what they are, we were too busy to take pictures of that. When the kids’ fairy houses come out of the kiln, I might post some pictures of them, too.

Because it’s so difficult for little kids (and others) to make a decent coiled pot, I’ve thrown on the wheel and bisque fired a number of forms for them to use. Coiled or puzzled pots are easy to make either on the inside of these bisqued forms, or on the outside.

coiling on a formIf you decide to throw some forms, either for your own use or for teaching others, be sure you make the walls slope outward slightly, and make them ABSOLUTELY straight. Use a rib or a slat of wood to make sure.  If the walls curve inward at any point, it can make removing your coiled pot very difficult.

In the photo, you see my daughter in the process of adding a coil. I have the kids start these pots by making a pancake-shaped slab with their hands, beating and throwing it on the canvas table cloth. It should be a bit larger than the base of the form they’ll be using, and maybe 1/4 to 3/8″ thick. Coiled pots tend to get S cracks in the base, and this helps to prevent that from happening. Snug the slab over the base of the bisque form. If there’s too much time between this step and the next (adding the first coil), you’ll want the kids to score the edges of the slab and paint on a little bit of water. I DO NOT use slip for this, as the slip tends to stick the pot to the form.

making coil

The coil in the photo is about right for a nice, thin pot, but if the kids make theirs twice this diameter and all lumpy, that will work almost as well. Watch them closely, as they’ll tend to smooth the outside edge of the coil down to the bisque form, creating a knife edge. You want the edge nice and fat–at least 1/4″. You don’t need to keep scoring as you go along. It’s enough to score the edge of the pancake. This pot needs to be finished in one sitting, because the bisque form will dry the clay out even if you wrap it in multiple layers of plastic. I just add the coils in a spiral as I move down the mold/form, and when I run out, I make another coil and add it in where I finished the last one.  If it takes a long time to start adding the next coil, you could score just the bottom (leading) edge of the pot and paint on water before starting to add the next coil.

Don’t let the pot go too long, though, especially if you’re working on the outside surface. The clay you’re adding can shrink and then you’ll have to cut your pot to get it off the form–Bummer! One thing, though–if this does happen, try just cutting the door for your fairy house. That may be enough to release the  pot, and it could save you having to stick the whole thing back together.

When you get to the bottom of the form, cut off any excess with a needle tool held perpendicular to the wall of the pot. Just drag the needle tool right around, using the lip of the form as your guide–no need to saw. It will slice right through and make a smoother cut if you do this in a smooth motion. You should now round the edges (both the outside one and the inside one–(next to the form)). Gently pinch the edge just a little bit between your fingers to give it a rounded contour. Don’t stretch it out!

TextureBefore you take your pot off the bisque form, add any textures you would like. The pot in the picture was textured with a tree bark mold someone made of rubber mold-making compound. You can also use texture stamps–either purchased or homemade and bisque fired, natural items such as rough rocks or sea shells or bark, etc. You can use fondant rollers (look in the cake decorating section of your craft store), lace or other textured fabrics . . . the list of possibilities is endless. Access your imagination and have a look round the house or classroom or back yard.

Once you’ve added the texture, you can remove the pot from the bisque form. Hold the end of the pot with one hand and have your other hand inside the form. Give a little shake or twist or rap, and if the pot hasn’t shrunk too much, the form will slip right out. If you need some help, don’t be shy about asking. Sometimes two sets of hands are better for this job–especially if your form (and hence your pot) is large and difficult to hold. Gently set the pot down on its open end. Since you’re making a fairy house, this will be right side up. If you’re making something else–a flower pot, for example, you can set it on its bottom.

At this point, I have the little kids “glue” their fairy houses to a textured slab to form the fairy’s yard. This makes it harder to eventually light up the fairy house, but it does stabilize the base of the pot and makes it easier for the kids to work with the project. I have them cut their “yard” into a free-form shape a little bigger than the fairy’s house. They like to add mushrooms and things to it. I use a 3/8″ thick slab for this, and I let the kids choose a texture and feed it through the slab roller. If you haven’t got a slab roller, that’s okay, but I’d have some slabs rolled ahead for the kids to texture if you want them to finish their house in one session.

ChimneyThe fairy house needs a chimney. You can make one from a slab rolled into a tube, or you can make a marshmallow-shaped piece of clay and then poke a hole in it from end to end with the handle of a paintbrush or whatever’s available. With your paintbrush handle, enlarge the hole while thinning out the walls a bit and voila! You have a fairy chimney. Cut a little hole in the roof–wherever you want to let smoke from your votive candle escape–and attach the chimney on the edges of the hole. Or if you prefer, you can attach the chimney and then poke the hole. Don’t forget to scratch and moisten both edges where they’ll be attached. (The brown strip you see on the table in the above photo is the tree bark mold Cheri used to texture her fairy house and chimney.)

Locating ChimneyHere you have a photo of Cheri’s friend, Emily, deciding where the chimney of her fairy house will sit. Once you’ve decided where you want it, mark it by tracing lightly around it with a pointed object like a needle tool or a sharp pencil. That way you know where to score and poke the hole. 🙂 In the upper left, the purple thing you see is a fondant roller with which Emily textured her fairy house.

WindowsYou can now decorate and add windows, doors, etc. Remember to score and moisten and firmly attach all additions. Cheri eventually put her door on top, since she figured the fairy would want to fly in and out, and it would make for a more secure perimeter. Of course, those are pretty big windows . . . .  If you want to insert a votive candle, make sure the kids make at least one opening that will be big enough (and don’t forget that your clay will shrink–ask the supplier for specific percentages). Otherwise, you can cut a hole through the slab inside the house so that you could just set it down over the candle–in the same manner as these open-based houses will be used.

When the houses are finished, I’ll post some more photos as an update. Meantime, here’s a fairy house made from a pinch pot that I formed into a pumpkin shape.

Pumpkin House

Pottery Pigs

28 Oct

I just finished teaching three separate 6-week pottery classes. One of our favorite projects was these Piggy Banks:

The kids did a spectacular job . . . don’t you think? And some of them were very young. The boring one with the “normal” eyes is mine. I was going to teach the kids to do eyes like that, but they got way out ahead of me, and I’m so glad they did! They required a lot of help inputting the bodies together, but they figured out on their own how to do the embellishments such as eyes and noses and tails. The pigs’ legs are coil-built and were added to the bodies along with the eyes and such.

To make these pigs, I had the kids pound thick clay slabs over some bisqued bowls I had made earlier. (I had trimmed the bottoms of the bisqued bowls round so that they could be used either as slump or hump molds.)

They each made two bowls.  We hardened the clay in our little cheapie microwave oven for one minute at a time, a total of two minutes per piece, with a waiting period between hardening sessions. The first time in the microwave, you can leave the clay on the bisqued bowl, but you should take it off the bisqued bowl the second time, or it might shrink too much and crack.

Once both bowls are hardened, you can scratch and slip and join the two pieces to make one hollow form. This is where the kids needed the most help. It’s a tricky operation, especially for little hands. Adding the features is the fun part. Mostly, we did that at a second session (our classes are an hour and a half). When the pigs’ bodies have set for a week, even wrapped in plastic, they will be stiffened up a little and a lot easier to work with.

Be sure that any hollow enclosed spaces (such as the pig’s nose) have a hole in them. Nostrils are a good place for this. Also, if your kids use any thick pieces of clay, poke some air channels in them with a needle tool to allow moisture to easily exit the piece. I try to do this in a spot that won’t be visible, but really, these tiny holes seldom show through the glaze.

The piggy banks have a slot in the top for coins and a hole in the bottom to let kids get their money out. You won’t want to break these pigs! You can get stoppers at most ceramic suppliers. For cone six stoneware, the total shrinkage of the clay will be usually around 12-13%, but ask your clay supplier. You need to know for sure. Measure the circumference of your stoppers (make sure they’re large enough to let quarters fall out) and add 12-13% or whatever your clay shrinkage percentage is, then make a hole that size. Don’t make it too big–if it’s a wee bit small, that’s okay because the stoppers have some give to them. I gave the kids a patern to cut around.

When you make the slot in the top of the pigs, be sure to allow for shrinkage there, too, and make it wide enough as well as long enough.

Oh, and when figuring out how big to make the coin holes, you need to keep in mind one more thing. Cone 6 clay has accomplished half of its shrinkage when it has reached firm leather hard stage. Therefore, if you have allowed your banks to reach leather-hard stage before cutting the holes, you need to add half the shrinkage percentage instead of the total shrinkage. So if your supplier tells you that your clay will shrink 12.5%, and your clay has reached firm leather hard stage, it has already shrunk 6.25% (or thereabouts).

If you find that some of your kids have cut their holes a little large, you can get a larger stopper or a tapered stopper like a natural cork. If you’d rather not do that, you can add a bead of silicone around your stopper’s rim, and smooth it to a taper and let it dry. This will most likely be sufficient to fix any loose stoppers.

This isn’t my usual detailed tutorial, and if you have questions that I haven’t addressed here or covered in an earlier post, feel free to ask. I had really intended to only publish the photographs, but this is such a fun project, I thought you might want a few more details.

God bless,


Pottery Photos II

5 Oct
I’ve been doing a lot of talking lately about technical stuff. My next post will be on conducting the final glaze firing using an electric kiln, but I thought you might like to see a few photos of finished pottery for a change–get an idea of what you can expect from that glaze kiln (if it turns out well). If you click on the photos, they’ll either take you to my Etsy site (if the piece is for sale) or to my Flickr site (if it’s not).

This jar was wheel thrown and is intended to hold jewelry or
homemade lotion or such. I painted wax resist on the gallery and the
lid ring and fired the lid in place on the pot. If you fire the lid
separately, it will sometimes warp and not fit the pot after glaze
firing, but if you fire the two together, you have to make absolutely
sure there are no traces of glaze anywhere the two pieces will touch.

I first threw this bowl on the wheel, but I didn’t like it. So I
fiddled with it until it looked like this. I really love it now.
This is not to say you should never give up on a pot, but don’t give
up too easily. You never know what you might make of it.

After the first glaze firing, I didn’t like this fellow’s
shiny skin. Sometimes, if you refire a pot to bisque
temperature (just put it in with a bisque load), it will
give the glaze a chance to “devitrify” or form micro-
crystals, matting the glaze. In this case, I was really
happy with the results.

This vase makes me think of something Snow White
or Briar Rose might use for a bouquet of beautiful
wildflowers–hence the name: Forbidden Forest Vase.

And here are the wildflowers themselves. 🙂 I carved them
into this cup. The dark brown unglazed bottom is colored with
an iron oxide wash–that is, an unspecified quantity of
red iron oxide mixed into a bucket of water. If your pieces
come out too dark, mix in some more water. If they’re not brown
enough, add more red iron oxide (RIO). You want maybe a cup or less
to a gallon of water, and you’ll notice that you need to stir it a lot.
My daughter made this little guy, while she was teaching a bunch
of kids to make them, too. I was teaching wheel, so I was glad to have
her taking care of the kids who couldn’t get on the wheel (we have only
four wheels and in this class there were 8 kids). They all made cute
puppies and kittens, but of course, non as cute as my little girl made.

I made this mask during a class teaching, guess what? Masks! I sort of
thought he looked like Pan, so that’s what I called him.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll try to get back to you with instructions and tips for the glaze firing sometime next week. Then you’ll be all set to go! 😉

Until then, make lots of pottery!