Spring wire tree

I actually finished making this in March of last year, but didn’t get around to taking pictures of it until almost summer. By then it didn’t make sense to post about spring, which is why I waited to post it now.

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The entire thing stands a little under 8 inches tall.

I followed the basic idea from this tutorial. (The page no longer exists, which is why I’m linking to the Wayback Machine archive.)

I used an entire 20 gram bag of 11/0 seed beads for this tree. Cheap seed beads work well for this kind of project, because it doesn’t matter if the sizes aren’t uniform. Since most of the beads were so narrow, I ended up using 6 beads instead of 5 beads for many of the blossoms, to make them look fuller.

After twisting the wires somewhat randomly, I decided to aim for a peach tree look, so that’s how I distributed the blossoms on the branches. The hardest part was deciding how to assemble the branches, for a natural-looking tree form. Simply twisting all the stems together would result in a funny looking bouquet. I held the branches next to each other to see which ones looked better together, before twisting them.

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I secured the tree and rocks in the pot (it’s actually a 2.5″ diameter ramekin) with hot glue, as was shown in this tutorial.

I didn’t time how long this took me to make, but I’m sure I spent over 20 hours on twisting the wires alone.

A few days after completing it, I discovered a ladybug on my tree!

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Ceramic cabochons with Mayco Crystallites™ glazes

After signing up for an online class on weaving wire bezels, I got the idea to make ceramic cabochons, instead of buying glass or gemstone ones. The instructor said the stone needs to be harder than a 3 on Mohs scale of hardness. I found sources online saying that stoneware is a 6 on the scale, so I went ahead and made the cabochons.

The week before, I learned about crystalline glazes. The studio had a few bottles of Mayco Crystallites™ and Jungle Gems™. I copied the names and looked at images of the fired glazes online. Unfortunately, the colors were not what I would have chosen, but they could look like gemstones.

The ceramics instructor told me that the little chunks in the glaze were the pieces that would melt, so be sure to get those on my pieces. I tried to scoop up as many as I could with my brush, and fill up the piece with them. It’s advised to place them on flat surfaces because they’ll melt and run. That’s why I didn’t put them on the edges.

I needed to wait a month before my cabochons were finally fired, as the most productive potter at our studio was taking a break and we didn’t fill the kiln as quickly without her. Finally, when they came out, I was amazed.

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The difficult part was identifying which glaze was which. I didn’t carve labels into the pieces before they had been fired, since I thought the glazes would be distinctive enough to identify them. (I can’t put glaze on the backside because the piece will get stuck to the kiln shelf. Marking the backside with a permanent marker probably would have just burned off.) The manufacturer’s images online don’t quite match my pieces. Then again, I piled on the chunks. There are a few independent images on dickblick.com, which look different from the manufacturer’s images and my own. The only Crystallites glaze that I was certain about is Herb Garden.

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Herb Garden

I didn’t think much about the two Jungle Gems, which is why I only painted one of each.

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Jungle Gems™ Firecracker (left) and Wildfire (right)

These two are my favorite ones. They don’t look like any of the others, so I wasn’t sure which glaze it is.
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Since I believed they were Cappuccino Mint, I made just one cabochon and glazed it with Cappuccino Mint. However, it looks like this.

I know for certain that this glaze is Cappucino Mint.

I know for certain that this glaze is Cappuccino Mint.

Then I made another one with Cappuccino Mint. Here is a side by side comparison of the two.

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These two are Cappuccino Mint

This made me wonder if the one that I had previously thought was Oriental Carmel was actually Cappuccino Mint.

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I now think the one on the right is also Cappuccino Mint

I was still confused about the two mystery cabochons, but after taking a closer look at them, I noticed there were tiny patches of yellow, which is the color of the base glaze in Cappuccino Mint. It now looks to me that I had placed so many chunks on these two that when they melted, they covered the pieces entirely, so all the colors came from the glass pieces.

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I then made four more cabochons and carved the backs with “O” and “S” for Oriental Carmel and Safari.

Mayco Crystallites Safari

I know for certain these are Safari

Mayco Crystallites Oriental Carmel

I know for certain these are Oriental Carmel

After identifying Cappuccino Mint as my favorite, I used it a few more times. However, by the last time, there weren’t that many chunks left, which is why the one at the bottom right looks sparse. It’s kind of hard to believe that the same glaze was used on all of these.

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These are all glazed with Cappuccino Mint

Crystalline glazes produce beautiful results and the surprise factor also makes them fun to use. I now have a lot of cabochons to wire wrap!

My first wire tree

I was not aware of wire trees until I saw this post by The Multicrafteral Lab. Later I discovered through Pinterest that they’re quite popular in Russia. More recently I came across such wire trees being called ming trees.

It was hard for me to find a tutorial on how to make a wire tree with beads, and when I did, most of them were very complicated and used two different gauges of wire. I found this tutorial by Ele on Cut Out + Keep to be helpful, and loosely followed this video tutorial by CamilleSharon because she used 22 gauge wire and it was one of the simpler ones. I had a spool of 22 gauge vintage bronze wire that I wasn’t sure what to do with, so I was hoping to use it for this.*

What I like about this project is that it doesn’t require precision. If I wasn’t paying attention and strayed from the original schema, it didn’t matter. It’s not necessary to make every branch uniform, because real trees aren’t like that. Besides, with all the branches and leaves, any “mistakes” aren’t readily noticeable. This made it quite a relaxing activity, except after some time, twisting the 22 gauge wire made my fingers sore.

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It can stand on its own, but the ends are sharp.

The terra cotta pot that I have measures about 1.5 inches tall, with a diameter of a little under 2 inches at the widest part, so I wanted to keep my tree small so that it’d be proportionate. I started with a 16 inch piece of wire, then tried 20 inch pieces, and finally settled on 18 inch pieces. One drawback of having the tree be so small is that I couldn’t make more detailed branches.

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This whole thing stands 5 7/8 inches (15 cm) tall.

I am currently working on a Christmas tree and a tree with spring blossoms, modeled after this tutorial, but I’m using 26 gauge wire, and I also have larger containers for them to go in.

* I bought it in an attempt to match the color of an antique brass chain, but the color in the photo didn’t match the color in reality, and it would cost more to send it back, so I kept it. Even antique brass wire didn’t match that chain. It’s incredibly difficult to match the colors of metals made by different manufacturers, because each one uses a different alloy.

Ceramic Pumpkin Box

When I started ceramics again last fall and was in a luminary phase, I got the idea to make a ceramic Jack-o’-lantern. It’d be much cleaner than an actual pumpkin and could be reused year after year. Since I was working on other projects, I didn’t get around to making my ceramic pumpkin until December, and because of a mess up (that I describe below), it wasn’t ready to take home until January.

I first made the bottom half as a pinch pot. Then I carved the ridges. Unfortunately, I made the lid a bit too small, and by the time I had made it, the bottom half was already too dry to make smaller. (I tried squeezing it in, but it was too late.) Still, it stays on because I had put a ring around the inside. (I’m not sure what that part is called.) After seeing how small my pumpkin was, I thought it would be difficult to carve a face on it, so I left it as a pumpkin and I like it better that way.

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The diameter and height are both approximately 8 cm.

I painted the outside orange with “tangerine” underglaze, and then it went in for the bisque firing. When it was time to glaze it with clear glaze, I was applying wax resist with a brush onto the foot, but wasn’t careful, and a drop of wax resist slid onto the pumpkin where I wanted it glazed. It had to be bisque fired again to burn away the wax; otherwise, that part wouldn’t have gotten any glaze. That delayed it from getting completed earlier, because I had to wait for the next bisque firing, and then the glaze firing after that. However, after that incident, I have been very careful when brushing on wax resist.

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The interior is the natural color of the clay (B-mix) with clear glaze.

I wanted the stem to be green, even though brown would be more accurate. I first dipped the rest of the lid into clear glaze while holding it by the stem, then used my finger to dab in the spots closest to the stem that I had missed. I used a brush to paint the stem with Antique Jade glaze, and I like how the color turned out. (The strange thing is that Antique Jade sometimes looks like a lovely aqua, but I’ve never gotten it to look like that. Later the instructor said it’s a bucket glaze so it shouldn’t be painted, only dipped, but my previous ceramics instructor was open to whatever worked. The truth is, it is harder to brush on a dipping glaze because it is thinner, and I’ve read that you can add gum arabic to thicken it.)

Peace plate, redone

Last year I posted photos of a plate that I had made for my ceramics class in 2009. I had designed an ambigram of the word “peace” and spent an afternoon carving the design onto a slab plate. Unfortunately, it cracked during the firings, so I hoped to make another one if I ever had the chance.

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When I started ceramics again in November last year, I was in a luminary phase. This April, when I was feeling uninspired, I decided to attempt to make another plate with the peace ambigram. This time I had a nice square shaped plate to use as a mold. It was actually a compostable plate so I wrapped it in a plastic bag so the clay wouldn’t get stuck to it. I chose to orient the word diagonally across the plate so that it would be easier to detect the ambigram.

DSCF9223qI didn’t spend as much time carving the letters this time because I knew that once they got painted with underglaze, the details would get filled in and lost. It still was time consuming. I also made sure to not carve too deeply, as I think that might have started the crack in the other plate.

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For those of you who want to know, the clay is B-mix with grog. I filled the letters in with AMACO Velvet Underglaze in Turquoise Blue (V-327) before the bisque firing, and then brushed on a clear glaze for the glaze firing. It was fired to cone 6. The clear glaze did form some bubbles, which are obvious over the letters, but it doesn’t bother me.

Desert sunset candle holder

Many years ago I saw some beautiful votive candle holders in a store. I didn’t have the money to buy one at the time, and I didn’t have a camera to take a picture of them, either. There were two varieties: a desert sunrise and a desert sunset. The sunrise had a fiery pink sky that transitioned to a gradient of warm colors behind the silhouettes of saguaro cacti. The sunset also had a gradient of warm colors along the horizon that served as a backdrop for saguaro, but the rest of the vast sky was a deep purple, scattered sparsely with stars and a crescent moon high above. I fell in love with both of them immediately, but was drawn to the sunset one more. Even after fifteen years I still haven’t forgotten them.

Although the candle holders were made out of glass, I figured I could try to create my own out of clay. Sure, they probably won’t glow the same way when there’s a flame inside, but this would be the closest that I can get to having a desert sunset candle holder. (My efforts to find one online were fruitless.)

I took the desert sunset idea but decided to make the scene my own. I found some photos of desert sunsets, and used them as a guide. I took liberties with the terrain and plants, and the spacing of the colors of the sky. Those were all painted on in underglaze.

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Somehow the purple underglaze ended up looking more blue after firing.

I made sure to carve a crescent moon in the sky for light to shine through. I thought of punching holes for stars, but was concerned the small holes would get plugged with glaze and light won’t go through (as I’ve learned the hard way), so I didn’t do that. Instead, I carved out cacti. At the time, I thought it would be weird to see a glowing cactus, but assumed it would look like any other silhouette when dark. Now I wish I hadn’t done that, as a glowing cactus does look strange.

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A fiery ghost?

Aside from making a bad call regarding glowing cacti, my major disappointment is that the clear glaze was too thick, giving the whole thing a clouded look.

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This is how it looks when I didn’t increase the saturation of the colors in this photo.

At the time, I thought the glaze in the bucket was too thick. My first attempt dipping the piece had to be washed off. I even had the instructor add water to the glaze. If I remember correctly, he even watered down a portion for me, but I thought it was too thin and poured it back in with the rest of the bucket, and glazed my piece using that. Had I used my brush-on clear glaze, this could have been avoided, and the colors would be bright. There isn’t anything I can do now to fix it. Making another one isn’t currently an option as I have decided to take an indefinite break from ceramics. Oh well, stuff like this happens, and I’ve learned from it.

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Dotted luminary

Back in December of last year when I was in my luminary phase, I did a Google image search for “ceramic luminaries.” I came across several that had designs made from carving dots, and decided to make my own.

I’m not as creative as many of the artists out there (look at this one—it’s beautiful), so I stuck with simple shapes. I used a needle tool to make the holes.

DSCF9252qDSCF9253qEach edge is about 2¾ inches long. I had made each face 3 in2 but the clay shrinks and it’s not easy to cut the slabs without having it warp in the process. That’s why the edges along the top are not even—it’s handmade. (That said, there are methods to keep the slabs even, one of which is waiting for the clay to dry a little so it holds its shape better.)

DSCF9254qDSCF9255qAfter the glaze firing, I was disappointed with the result, so I wasn’t even planning to post this project. The reason I decided to write about it was to show where I made a mistake, and what I have learned to do differently afterward.

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The only holes that let light through.

In all of the photos in this post, there was an LED candle inside. As you can see, many of the holes are blocked with glaze, so not much light can shine through. I hadn’t taken into account how much the clay would shrink. (I used B-mix with grog, which has a 12% shrinkage, if I remember correctly.) After the bisque firing, I noticed how much smaller the small holes had become. When glazing it, I don’t remember if I tried to clear the glaze from all the holes, but I wasn’t able to poke it out of the smallest holes. When the glaze melted during firing, it flowed into and clogged up the holes.

Although I did not make another luminary in this style, I have been careful to make larger holes and clear out the glaze from small openings in my other luminaries. After July, I decided to take an indefinite break from ceramics, but I will continue to share pictures of my projects from the past six months in posts to come.