Monday, October 30, 2006

Sunday Firing

We fired the raku kiln Sunday.

I had spent most of Saturday in the studio, glazing rockets and pots. I didn't have a lot of pieces, but it takes a while to do each one. We tend to put layers of underglaze under our glazes, which intensifies the colors of the glazes, or moves them from being marginal to being vivid. I also had a lot of finicky, detail work, like glazing flower petals, stems, and leaves on two pieces.

We took a break Saturday evening, and went to an Octoberfest party for a few hours. When I got home, I returned to the studio until midnight.

We noted some strange things when glazing the tallest of the rockets. The windshield was no longer centered on the dorsal fin; it was as if the entire piece twisted in the bisque firing about twenty degrees. There was a set of portholes along each side of the rocket, and you can see where they are no longer lined up, and are progressively more off center the farther you get from the nose. I used a Korean throwing technique to get the height for the piece, and it put so much stress in the clay that the piece 'unwound' a bit while firing.

Julie had a porcelain test piece that she fired, trying some different techniques, and she also glazed a small lided jar that I had thrown some time back.

We did two firings. During the first, I placed a vase in a bad position in the kiln, and it was unfortunately dropped and chipped its foot when we were taking it out. I want to try to refire two of the rockets, since I don't like the way the Seth's turned out, and the engines weren't reduced enough and are a bright green instead of being copper.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Prepping for Sunday

We plan to fire the raku kiln tomorrow. We've had rain for the last couple of days, but the weather is supposed to clear up by Sunday.

Today, Julie and I need to glaze our pieces. Julie has one test piece, and I have my rockets for Philcon. I need to get one of the propane tanks refilled, to make sure that we have enough fuel for the firing.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

New Pictures Up

Julie and I have both posted new pictures on our Flickr accounts, accessable from the links on the right hand side of the blog.

Red Cherry Tomato Grapes

Tod, one of my associates, was washing out some grapes this morning. They were very large for grapes; he referred to them as 'nearly small plums'. We kicked around alternate names for them, and then settled on 'red cherry tomato grapes', which creates a sort of closure with the term grape tomatoes. One could make something like a Waldorf salad including grape tomatoes and red cherry tomato grapes.

I took a peek in the kiln this morning. It was too hot to throw open, but cool enough that I could lift the lid for a quick glance inside.

It looks like the rockets all survived the bisque firing. Some of them were rather tall, so we loaded them on one side of the kiln, which allowed Julie to get in another half shelf supporting the tail of a new yard dragon.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Countdown to Philcon

The Philcon Art Show starts on November 17th. That is about four weeks from now. We are loading a bisque kiln in preparation.

There are five of my rockets currently in the kiln. A sixth rocket is still a bit too damp. It is a mid-sized, three engined rocket, with tight tail fins, and a pair of canard fins. The only carving is the windshield. The canards are so far forward on the body of the rocket that I had to break two notches into the throwing chuck to accomodate them.

Julie has a number of her dragon pieces, both for raku and high fire in the kiln. She is waiting on a set of mugs that she threw that have dragons emerging from the side, reading books.

This Pot is Worth Eight Thousand Eel Skins

Long ago, back in the day, I would engrave things into the bottom of my larger bowls and covered jars. The foot on these pieces would be so big that my name and the date would look a little lonely. I used a green covered jar for my chili at the cookoff (Laguna clay company "Rod's Bod", celedon glaze with iron oxide decorations, reduction fired to cone ten), and that was what was carved on the foot. Fragments of my dreams would make it onto pots, and this was one of them.

Another piece had the statement "Eggs were the id of the sixties".

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chili Cookoff

Julie came in second in the most unusual category.

My chili had issues, which started when I couldn't find the same kind of peppers that we used when we made the test batch, and I added too much crushed tomato, and had to fight to doctor it back.

Next year, I'll go with a vegetarian chili, made with a vegetable broth base and portabella mushrooms.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Win Some, Lose Some

I'm still getting over my cold.

More of a persistant cough now, but I have to take something every four hours to keep it from getting too annoying.

I went into the studio, bright one morning this week, to check on all of the rockets. Julie had moved some of my finished pieces out of the damp box so they could start drying out (one of my larger rockets had issues with a fin starting to separate, since the fins and rocket body had been different degrees of dampness when joined, so Julie repaired it for me). I picked up one of the two smaller rockets, flipped it over, and tried to stand it on its tail. The fins were slightly out of alignment, so the nose of the rocket didn't point true. The problem was that the fins weren't flat on the bottom, but came to points. I fiddled with the tip of one fin with a fingernail, scraping it a bit, and tried again. Nope, still not right. After four or five tries, and a couple of different fins, I accidently snapped one of them off.

I spent some time looking at the piece, and decided that the little aerospike engine that I had trimmed into the rokcet body wasn't very even, since I may not have centered the piece on its chuck properly before trimming. With no ceremony, I scuttled the piece into the recycling bag. I didn't trust myself after that to do any trimming that early in the morning.

Today, after work, I was able to return to the studio. I had planned on it last night, but had ended up making "savory Cornish pasties with bits of sheep innit". From scratch. Very tasty, but it took a bit more time than I had wanted to spend, and by the time we had finished dinner I was too tired.

Anyways, returned to the studio to work on the pieces that I had thrown sometime last week. I pulled out the long skinny rocket, and set the rocket body upright on the wheel head. Centering it, I spent some time with my trimming tools and a steel rib reducing the diameter of the base of the rocket, and then feathering the change into the rest of the rocket. I start at the very base of the rocket with a wire trimming tool, and trim down against the wheel head. This ends up sealing the piece to the wheel, and I worked a small coil of clay around the base of the piece as well to strengthen the seal.

Some of my favorite trimming tools are actually sculpturing tools with wire loops at the ends. One end is usually a round loop, and the other is squared off. I use the round loops to trim anything that is flat, and the square end to trim anything that is rounded, since applying the right end of the tool to the right shape of a piece will cause the tool to touch in only one small area. The wire is thin, so it cuts the clay. The only trouble with these tools is that they wear out pretty quickly, the wire thinning out from the wear, until it breaks. Usually, I would just buy another one, but we haven't found a local vendor for these tools. I may have to fabricate new rounded ends in the garage with my torch, pliers and a paperclip for raw materials.

Rocket trimmed nicely upright. I found that my chuck was slightly too big, so the nose of the piece would have dented against the wheel head. I used an older chuck that has already been bisqued, and then used Julie's Giffin Grip with the long support arms to hold the rocket body upside-down so I could trim the base and foot where the engines would attach. I ended up only having enough room for a single engine bell at the base of the rocket.

When trimming the engine bell, I left a plug on the base of the engine. I carved a hole into the base of the rocket, and then scored and slipped the pieces to join them. There is a lot more surface area on the plug, so the engine bell is held much more tightlythan just scoring the base. I created a fin template, cut out and beveled fins, then carved V-shaped notches into the rocket to double the surface area joining fin to rocket, with corresponding beveling of the root of the fin. Julie had a little talk with me about my handbuilding techniques after I snapped that fin off, and is encouraging me to strengthen my pieces. She has also had the opportunity to see almost every rocket that I have made over the years break in one move or another, so has seen the insides of most of my work.

Once the fins were on Julie helped me lay out a little carving on rocket. The piece is so long that I can't work on both ends of it clearly with or without my glasses. I described how I wanted the cockpit window to look, a narrow slit, like what you would see on a commercial airliner, and she drew in the first line properly centered with one of the fins. Once I carved the cockpit in place, I added a row of four portholes along each side of the rocket, as if it was a passenger liner.

The piece is drying slowly in the damp box. We'll pull it out this weekend to join the others drying in the studio.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Under the Weather

Last Tuesday, fifteen of us went to see the Late Show with David Letterman. I was able to get a block of twenty tickets, but, due to some last minute scheduling changes at work, I could only get commitments from fifteen, one of them being Julie. We took the train up to NY Penn Station, and then the subway up to the theater. I had a bit of a cough that day.

My brother Rob was in town on Wednesday, and we all had dinner with him in Cherry Hill. We went to a restuarant called Bahama Breeze, which has some pretty good seafood. My cough was a little worse.

By Thursday, things were bad enough that I had to stay home from work. There were a couple of meetings that I had scheduled with my co-workers that I missed, and there are is a paper that I am co-authoring with another engineer (well, more like ten pages of guidelines than a paper) that I am overdue with my contributions for. I have serious sinus congestion, and a wicked cough. Most troubling, the glands along the left side of my neck are so swollen that they are painful, as if something sharp was jabbed into my neck. Along with the bubbling rasp of my voicebox, it sounds and feels just like things did earlier in the year, when I got so sick and the bronchial cleft cyst formed. This is on the left side this time, not the right.

I spent most of the day sleeping. I had to get Stephanie off to school, since it was the second day of Julie's jury duty.

I was out on Friday as well. After dropping Steph off at school, I went to work to pick up my laptop, in order to do some work at home. I ended up in a meeting for an hour, and then came home. It was a rainy, miserable day, which I also spent mostly in bed. I never got around to using my laptop. At the end of the school day, I picked Stephanie up. The only bright point in the day was that the trial that Julie was on ended, the filed their verdict, and her jury duties are over.

Julie started coming down with something on Saturday.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Two New Cons

We've added two more conventions to our list for next year:

Comic-Con at the end of July
Dragon*Con in early September

There is only a month between these two conventions, so we will see how it goes with the availability of artwork. They will be the largest two cons on the schedule. Dragon*Con is also a juried show, so Julie and I will need to submit pictures of our work sometime in the new year to see if we can get admission.

We will need to ship our work to San Diego for the Comin-Con, and there is a sculptor who I know will be at Arisia that I want to talk to about better (and cheaper) means of shipping than what we used to go to WorldCon in Anaheim. She had a honkin' big wooden crate that she packed her artwork in and shipped.

A little over two months after Dragon*Con is the next Philcon, and the convention cycle will start again. Hopefully we will spend the next year madly throwing and firing pieces for the shows.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Day in the Studio

I returned to the studio today.

Julie kept wetting my pieces down all week. She also ran across two partially completed rockets, a larger version of Stephanie's rocket with the flowerpot in the window, and a small rocket, and wetted them down seven or eight times, wrapped them in wet sheets of newspaper and plastic. There were no engine bells or throwing chucks for the older rockets.

I worked on the tall vase first. I trimmed it upright first, to get some clay off the base, and then flipped it over. Instead of trimming a step inward from the side of the vase to the foot, I created a rounded rim that projected from the side of the foot, to match the rounded rim on the top of the vase. I then dug out my pottery notebook, and found the sketch of a vase that Stephanie had decorated for me. There were three six petalled flowers, with a couple of leaves, wandering up the side of the little sketch. I used a black felt pen to hand sketch the design on each side of the vase, and then used a pick tool to carve out the lines. I plan to use white crackle on the piece, with pink flowers with yellow centers, and the leaves and stems green.

I next worked on the large rocket that I threw earlier in the week. I had forgotten to roll out a slab for the fins, so I went out to the garage, cleared off the slab roller, and rolled out a small slab. Returning to the studio, I placed the rocket in its throwing chuck on the wheel, and trimmed the base. I carved out the base of the rocket, similar to the foot of the vase, and left a rounded rim. I then sketched out and carved the windows for the cockpit. The center window is a rectangle, with a right triangle on either side. I placed the spots for the fins, then carved a set of vents on either side of the top fin behind the cockpit window. I carved whale belly lines onto the ventral surface. There were four engine bells, so I picked the three best matches, setting the last one aside for another rocket, trimmed the other three, then attached them to the body by slipping and scoring. I went and found a piece of light cardboard in our junk mail pile, and used it to make a fin template. The sketch that I had made for this rocket had the fins staying tight to the rocket body, the curve of the fin not going much beyond the widest part of the rocket, and were attached from just before the where the engines were mounted almost to the widest diameter of the body. The inner edge of the fins sink between the rise of the engine bells, with the bells and fins sixty degrees out of phase. I cut the fins, bevelled the leading edge of the fins, and attached them.

The rocket was placed in its chuck, wrapped in plastic, and placed into the damp box.

The two older rockets needed chucks to dry and be fired in. We have some bisqued chucks in the garage from older rockets, so I grabbed a pair and brought them into the studio.

I attached the fourth engine bell to Stephanie's flowerpot rocket. I then cut and placed the fins, then wrapped the finished piece and placed it into the damp box. I used a fired chuck from the garage to hold it

The two smaller rockets did not have engine bells. The idea of these pieces is that they were to be simpler, quicker to make, and less expensive to sell. When trimming the foot of the pieces, I trimmed some rings and circular slots into the base, sort of like an aerospike engine. I added three fins to each, then placed them in their chucks in the damp box.

I threw two more large rockets, with three engine bells, and rolled out a small slab. Everything is wrapped and in the damp box for later in the week.

The first rocket has a body shaped like a large tear drop. I don't know what I'm going to do with the fins, but I may just do an aerospike engine on the end of the teardrop, trim the other end to a point, invert the piece, and add fins.

The second rocket is taller and thinner than any of my other rockets, and may have one or more of the engine bells attached. I threw the piece more like a tall vase, doing lots of collaring, before closeing the piece. The volume of air trapped inside seemed perfect for creating a tall, slender piece. I have a lot of sketches in my pottery book of taller, skinnier rocket designs, so I am going to finally get to implement one of them.

Rocket Count: Four Green, Two Thrown