First of Ceramic/Fibers Hybrid Series – Neb

Sort of a tester. Just a little guy. First attempt to combine one of the pieces from the pit firing with some wool and silk that I had dyed. The wool was more of burgandy originally, but when carded (will try to post more on this process after July 4th) with pink to purple silk, it created a much better tone, and the silk adds nice sheen to the matte shetland wool.

image of neb front
neb 1 (front) : slip cast, pit fired earthenware; needle-felted silk & shetland wool : 3x3x2"
image of neb back
neb 1 (back) : slip cast, pit fired earthenware; needle felted silk & shetland wool : 3x3x2"

The name “Neb” refers to a spiral nebula, since they kept popping into my head as I felted this. Due to its small size, it’s simply shortened to “Neb.”

Pit Firing Process

On May 29th I tried pit firing ceramics for the first time down at the family farm. It was during an annual family celebration, so we made a thing of it. A few of the cleaned-up, waxed pieces can be seen in the next blog below.

Casting "shells" for pit firing. After sitting for a while, the plaster absorbs water from the slip. The longer it sits, the thicker the piece. The excess slip is then poured into a bucket. After some handwork to clean and smooth the pieces, they are left to dry and then fired in an electric kiln. This will prevent breaking during the eventual pit firing.
Slip casting shells – slip is just a liquid clay body formulated for casting. After sitting for a while, the plaster absorbs water from the slip. The longer it sits, the thicker the piece. The excess slip is then poured into a bucket. After some handwork to clean and smooth the pieces, they are left to dry and then fired in an electric kiln. This will prevent breaking during the eventual pit firing.
After all the hard work of digging the pit (I had massive help there; no way I could have gotten through all that ridiculous bedrock), it’s time to load the pit with various materials while a nephew supervises.
The bed of the pit has been lined with sawdust, newspaper and straw. Some of the straw had been previously soaked in salt brine and then dried. You can see that a few of the pieces have been wrapped in burlap (also soaked in salt and dried) and copper wire. Different chemicals and techniques have different results in term of color, so I’m just experimenting with different things.
Before filling up the pit with the rest of the filler materials, I spread a few chemicals around. Here I’m sprinkling red iron oxide – for reds obviously, copper carbonate for green, cobalt oxide for blue, and manganese dioxide for purple. Rock salt was sprinkeld throughout as well as my nephew tracks my progress.
Finally time to get the party started.
Everyone loves fire.
You let the fire burn out, and hope things go well as you have to wait overnight or longer until the work is cool enough to pull out. I was initially disappointed as we had a ventilation problem, but some pieces still came out really well after being cleaned up and polished. The next round of pit firing was immediately scheduled for July 4th so we could try a change in the design.

See this post for the initial results polished up:

Of One Form: the making of

So, I have been woefully negligent concerning the blog for quite a while. Mistake it not for laziness! I’ve produced some new sculpture for a show at The Central Exchange in downtown Kansas City and am trying to put together a few things for our Open Studio Holiday Sale this Saturday at the Bonfills. So I have a ton of images to post. So I’ll start with The Central Exchange.

“The Central Exchange is Kansas City’s premier organization providing leadership development opportunities for women. Founded in 1980, The Central Exchange provides high caliber programming on an ongoing basis, designed to develop leadership skills, foster professional and personal development and encourage community involvement. We serve as a venue to make valuable personal, community and business connections.”

I’m currently showing drawing and sculpture there. The sculpture is a series of wall-hanging vases / vessels I made specifically with The Central Exchange in mind. I took one of the pieces from the Dreamscapes installation, modified the mold and made about 25 castings. Each was then handfinished and decorated using a variety of techniques. I call it Of One Form, the idea being they are all from the same mold, but each unique. I’ll show some process images here and each of the finished pieces in the next post.

I made a new mold that had the slant of the vase built in. With my earlier version, I had to hand slice the top off, which was time-consuming and each one I did was different. This new mold makes them all relatively the same. So, I clamp this puppy together, lean it on something and pour slip (that I’ve previously poured through a strainer) right it.


I let the slip set for about 15 minutes. Then I pour the exces slip back in the bucket. Easy, peasy, Japaneasy.


There is always some handfinishing involved. Defects from the mold, such as air bubbles, need to be removed as well as the mold seams. The rim also has to be cleaned up and leveled. Still, the cleanup is significantly easier than my previous version.


After hand finishing, some pieces get bisque fired and others not. It depends on what type of technique I use for surface decoration. For most pieces, I used underglazes, which are more like colored slip than glazes. They come in pencil, watercolor, and paintlike forms. For example, if I want to draw on the clay, it must be fired first, else the pencil just scratches the unfired clay. I can paint or spray underglazes on the clay whether it has been fired or not. A clear glaze then must be applied over all underglazes.


More in progress works. The little jars are underglazes. The clear glaze is the big pink bottle. It’s pink so you can tell where you’ve covered the piece and then it fires to a clear gloss.


I sprayed the clear glaze on in a little spray booth. There were also a few other glazes that I used and some of those I could spray on as well.


And here are the wall vases all lined up, ready for their last firing.


In the next post, I’ll show all the finished pieces.

Sketches & Making Messes

Okay, here are some pics of two drawings I’m working on off & on. The berries are 9×12; the boat 16×12.

Also, I’ve begun the long, long process of creating a sculpture installation for the fall. So here are first pics of my first attempt at pouring plaster. Good lord, that was a mess. There were a few moments of chaos, but it worked out.

The picture below is of retaining walls of aluminum flashing I made to create long cylinders of plaster in various sizes. I’ll put these on my lathe down at the farm and turn them into specific shapes (I’m just praying that they’re not too heavy, which is a complete possibility). They will then be prototypes that I use to make plaster molds. I’ll then slip cast the ceramic pieces using the molds. So, yes, a long, long process and mind you, I haven’t done this before. And this is all for _one_ set of elements in the installation. So, very quickly, this is going to get confusing. So for clarification, I call the pieces I’m working on now “Corals.”

Anyways, I plan on painting all day Friday, so I should have an update on the painting I’m thinking of naming “Every Woman a Widow.” Be good, give all moms hugs this weekend and I’ll explain the meaning next week. 🙂