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09.14.10 On the Grid — a studio tip

I may have told you about this before, but it’s just so darn handy that it bears repeating — grids are good.

In the bottom of each damp box is a section or two of plastic grids which raise the foam supporting a piece up off of the damp plaster block, but don’t block air circulation.

Out in the open air, lay them over wire shelving to form a nice drying rack that gives plenty of evenly spaced support to tiles or other flat-bottom ceramic ware.

So where do you find these great grids?  In the lighting department of a hardware store — they are actually those grids that sometimes cover fluorescent ceiling fixtures.  They’re inexpensive and easy to snip apart with wire cutters to a custom size.

No doubt there are other uses for these plastic grids — I invite you to share your ideas in the comments section.

08.25.10 Chik-chik Hooray, A New Ceramic!

Yes, there’s a tiny new muddy face around the place — Chickory!  The little guy has been a side project for while now.  Barry made a plaster mold of him early this year and I’ve been casting and cleaning a few at a time since March.

We tried a slightly unconventional approach with this mold, using his tail as a “natural” pour  hole rather than putting a new hole in his belly and then having to patch that every time.

That tactic, and the tight spaces between his legs (especially the front legs) presented challenges of their own, namely — demolding.   That middle section is really tight, and as often as not I’d tear a hoof or leg off in the process.  
So I simply started removing one of the front legs separately in the mold.  That helped, but this is a very fiddly mold to work with,  unlike the similarly sized Netsky who practically stepped right out of her mold by herself.

In cleaning these little darlings up I’ve become glued to the Ott-Lite with the magnifying glass.

Earlier this week I finished cleaning up the first ten ponies and bisque fired them.  There will be more information about sales of these ponies in this Friday’s newsletter. 

You do subscribe to the newsletter, right?  Announcements about sales come straight to your inbox as an email, very handy. Subscribe at our website,, it will take just a minute.


06.04.10 Ceramics Studio Tip — Damp Boxes

Look’s like we’re getting ready to go camping, don’t you think?  Well, it’s true enough that both of these containers are essential to our camp kitchen — but most of the time I put their air-tight seals to work in controlling the drying rates of ceramic castings I’m working on.

The top plastic box is a waterproof file box (it has a gasket in the lid and clamps down tight), the bottom is an old steel-clad cooler with an air-tight seal. 

The waterproof or air-tight qualities are essential.

What we have inside currently is a “Tueday” mule, a commissioned piece, resting comfortably on a piece of convoluted foam.  The convoluted foam cradles the fragile leather-hard greenware casting. 

The dark gray foam beneath the light colored convoluted foam acts as a riser.  Beneath that, a plastic gird elevates the greenware away from the damp, water-soaked plaster of paris.  The sponges add an extra bit of moisture to the sealed environment.

The casting is kept away from the moisture sources to help the casting maintain an even amount of moisture throughout the piece.  If the foam was in direct contact with the damp plaster the moisture would eventually wick up through the foam to be in direct contact with the clay, and thus we’d have a really wet spot.

As a ceramic casting dries, it shrinks.   Uneven moisture content equals uneven shrinkage, setting you up for potential cracking — and disaster.

At this stage I want to maintain a specific amount of pliability in the casting because there are still stages of cleaning and refinement to be done while the casting is leather-hard or partially dried out. Even after I’m finished adding in all sorts of detail to the leather-hard casting it will stay in the damp box to control the rate of drying.  The moisture content of the box will gradually be reduced by removing the wet sponges and opening the box for short amounts of time to let in an exchange of dryer air for the humid.

The larger the ceramic, I find, the greater the risk of cracking without a controlled drying rate (especially in my arid climate) — that’s one of the reasons why it takes so long for me to complete larger pieces, like this “Tuesday”, the drafters “Punjabi” and “Poudre” or the largest piece to date, “Enviado”.

Until next time ~ Lynn

06.02.10 Visualize Mold Parting Lines

We’ve talked off and on about mold making.  It’s a big part of what happens here at Laf’n Bear studio.

The most crucial aspect of making a mold is deciding where to put the parting lines between the different pieces of the mold, be it for a flexible silicone mold or a rigid plaster mold.

Above you see one innovation that we’ve devised to help visualize potential parting lines — it’s a bowl full of water tinted with food coloring.

Try it, let me know what you think!

~  Lynn

04.28.10 Scritchy Mule Update

The mule has been through her first firing to set the base body color.  Next, I’ve begun to add in the darker points.  “What points?!” You may ask, “She’s a high-white sabino spotty, right?”    Well, mostly.

The mule that is my primary reference has one dark leg.  Look at the photo below, see the little black sock on the right fore foot?

I just think that’s the coolest! ~ Lynn

04.16.10 I scritch, therefore I am


That’s the current count of Xacto blades dulled by scritching a roany sabino pattern onto a “Tuesday” mule ceramic that I’m working on this week.

I bet 40 blades  will find their way into the sharps container by the time all the scritching is done.

The brown areas you see are unfired underglaze, the white is bisque fired earthenware.  Each “hair” is a tiny stroke of a  #11 blade cutting through underglaze to reveal the white underneath.

Technically, you should call this technique “sgraffito”.  I can never pronounce that.  “Scritch” is the sound of the blade against bisque ware. Scritch, scritch scritch…

Why all this scritching and scratching?  For some time, I have been dying to paint one of my “Tuesday” sculptures a similar color to this wonderful mule.  She was photographed at the Western Idaho Fair Mule show several years ago.  So many layers of color and roaning — very fun!

Back to scritching  ~ Lynn

P.S. I’ve taken a bunch of photos of this process and will post them with a more in-depth description for you soon.  Check back later!

04.12.10 Attn China Collectors — New for You!

You’ll now find Enviado #4 at Auction Barn

For your viewing pleasure, there’s a slide show at


~ Lynn
P.S.  There are a couple of detail shots for you below —

Though he looks calm, cool and collected, this piece was a great challenge.  In an earlier post I described how his color was built up in very thin layers.  Enviado #4 was in and out of the kiln a dozen times, often for just the sheerest blush of color.  The result you see is richly nuanced in both the bay areas and in the white of his tobiano pattern.

04.10.10 Let There Be (Studio) Light

Fellow artists, this one’s for you.
Several days ago I mentioned a new lighting set-up for photography. Here it is, a two-light kit bought locally at Idaho Camera in Boise.  There are plenty of similar kits available online and perhaps your hometown photo center has a selection as well.
Two weeks ago Idaho Camera hosted a studio lighting workshop at the Vista Ave store.  The one-hour session was geared primarily towards portrait photographers, but the basic principals apply to product photography.  
It was a nice introduction, covering the pros and cons of four types of studio lights: 
  1. strobe, or flash 
  2. continuous lighting with “hot” incandescent bulbs and 
  3. continuous lighting with “cool” fluorescent bulbs
  4. continuous lighting with “medium warm” halogen bulbs
Let me get my notes out for you… they’re not all inclusive so by all means do more research yourself.   That being said, here we go —
Strobe Light
Pros: Clean bright light that is color balanced for daylight; energy efficient; stops action.
Cons: You can’t see in advance exactly the lighting effect that will be captured in pixels or on film; you  really must use a photography light meter to be able to judge what settings your camera needs.
Continuous Light, Incandescent Bulb
Pros: What you see is what you get; bulbs are available that approximate daylight (look for the blue tinted 5400º Kelvin photography bulbs, 250 to 500 watts).
Cons:  These darn things get really hot, like melt-things hot; the color of light given off by the bulb will change over time. (An additional con, many years ago I had a bulb of this type blow up awhile I was using it, scared me to death.) 
Continuous Light, Fluorescent Bulb
Pros: What you see is what you get, bulbs are available that emulate daylight (look for “Photo Fluorescent” lamps, “daylight balanced”, 30 to 85 watts); these bulbs do not get as hot as incandescent bulbs thus are a bit safer and more pleasant to be around; they are also much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs.
Cons: Fluorescent bulbs take a few minutes to warm up to their brightest light; these bulbs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs (but should last longer). 
Continuous Light, Halogen Bulb
Pros: What you see is what you get, bulbs are available that approximate daylight; these bulbs give off consistent color over time, some lamp bases come with variable power controls to fine tune how much light is given off.
Cons: More expensive than other systems; they can get a bit warm.
Long story short, I chose to go with a two-light kit outfitted with continuous light, fluorescent bulbs.
The Promaster two light studio reflector kit includes light stands, lamp bases and parabolic reflectors that accept a photographer’s umbrella to bounce and diffuse light.  Do you see how the umbrella is mounted near the center of the reflector, just below the bulb?  The stem of the umbrella is secured in a channel built into the lamp base.  Do you see the stem protruding to the rear of the lamp in the lower left corner of the photo?
Bouncing light into the umbrella provides a nice soft fill light. 
I also tried turning the umbrella around so that it was pointed towards the piece as if it was a soft box.  The light quality is pretty nice, but there are really ugly reflections of the umbrella itself in the shiny surface of the gloss glaze.  See below.
Playing with the angle of the lights, the horse and the camera in relation to each other yielded the better, though not perfect, result seen below.
Table top “cube” set-ups are used by many of my colleagues. They achieve stunning results.  But with such fragile ceramic artwork, I simply prefer to have more open space to maneuver in than the interior of a tent.  These highly reflective surfaces may force the issue however. Another benefit is that this more open set-up is flexible enough to photograph flat work and sculpture that is larger in size.  Shoot, I could start doing portrait photography with it too (but I doubt I will!).
Final notes, the backdrop is a graduated “Flotone” brand vinyl backdrop from B & H in NYC.  And any day now a diffuser sock, which fits over the reflector, will arrive.  That should help to soften the harsh highlights of the main light, seen in the photo above as the bright glare on the hip of the horse.
Alrighty, that brings you up to date with the latest experiments in studio lighting here.  I hope the information is useful to you.  If you have any tips to share, please do!  We’re all learning together.
~ Lynn
P.S. Blog Triage docs and fellow students — this is not my Lesson Two post. Though it uses some principles from that lesson, it’s a follow-up post I promised readers on April 7th.  The Lesson Two post will be done by Sunday night.  Promise.

04.07.10 A Sneak Peek at New Work!

Here he is, all bright and shiny!  “Enviado”, a Paso stallion, number four in this series.  You saw him in progress here and here.

He’ll be available via auction soon!  This auction will be scheduled to end on a weeknight evening — I know weekends are getting busier for people as the weather improves.

In a quick comment yesterday on Laf’n Bear’s facebook page I mentioned that I was trying out a new studio lighting set-up.  These photos are from that test session. Soon, these and several more will be added to our webpage.  My goals for the new lights are fewer and softer shadows, accurate color without corrections and better balance throughout the image. Already in the test shots I have better overall illumination.  I will keep tweeking the set-up until I can get good photos of the “white” areas of my pieces.  I put “white” in quotes, because in my work these areas are *never* straight bright white.

The little chestnut tobiano Netzky claybody custom recently arrived at her new home.  Owner Liz Shaw wrote, “I adore her color and face but you know I also really love the subtle tonal changes in her lower legs, mane and tail, really, really beautiful and a nice surprise – I love EVERYTHING about her!”

It was a surprise to Liz because my former lighting set up blasted so much direct light on the piece that the “whites” were completely washed out.  These photos are better.  I’m still not quite capturing the nuanced pinking in the lower legs and at the back of the heels, nor quite the dustiness of the lower tail, but it’s definitely better.  I will go into more detail about the lighting set-up in the next day or so.  For now, I hope you enjoy these photos of the newly completed “Enviado”.  ~ Lynn

03.29.10 Update on Bay Tobiano "Enviado"

Making some slow progress on this piece!  The last time you saw this piece his basic pinto pattern and color had been laid in with underglazes.  Since then he was glazed, then I began building more color with china paints.

I’ve been using china paints for a little more than a year.  That I am using them at all is thanks to Karen Gerhardt who so kindly demonstrated their use and sent me home with a starter kit when Barry and I visited her Colorado studio in October of 2008.

On Karen’s blog, “A Westerly View” she has shared many of her basic china painting techniques.  In her November 13, 2008 post about painting pintos she describes how she has become more bold in applying several layers of china paint at once.  I aspire to that!  Right now I’m still very timid, applying one thin layer at a time. 

Karen also described the process of wiping away china paint to reveal the glazed white areas underneath.  That’s the basic process I use as well. In this photo of Enviado you can see a thin layer of china paint color on the right hand side of the white pattern; you can also see the individual brushstrokes that have removed that thin layer.

Progress is very slow at this rate!  But with each layer I’m gaining a better understanding of how the china paint colors interact with each other and how they build upon the underglaze colors that I’ve used as a base.  It’s a bit like working with watercolors, the paints are so translucent.

They are also the devil to prepare — it seems like I’ve been spending more time prepping paint than actually painting!  Karen has a lovely overview of paint prep in her  January 16, 2008 post.

I think I’m getting close to where I want this fellow’s color saturation and shading to be. Just a few more layers and this pinto will be looking for a new home in early April!

~ Lynn