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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Night and Day Celestial Luminary

After I started ceramics again last October, I got the idea to make luminaries. The design for this one is entirely my own.

DSCF7299qI started out with square pieces that measured 2.5 inches wide, but after the firings, it shrunk down to a little over two inches. At least there’s still plenty of space for a tealight candle, as I had intended it for.

DSCF7296qThe dark blue glaze is a brush-on “midnight blue” glaze. The light blue glaze is Catalina crackle (which is not food safe). It is a dipping glaze, but I brushed it on, because I had already painted the dark blue half. Since Catalina runs, I needed to leave the bottom quarter inch bare, and as you can see, it flowed down onto there. I actually needed to reglaze it, because the first time I didn’t put enough on, so it was too thin and didn’t flow all the way down. This was my first time making anything with cut outs, and I learned from now on I need to clean up the glaze in the points on the stars, because it’ll stay there and fill them up.

Here’s how it looks with a lit candle inside.

DSCF7308qDSCF7309qIt wasn’t until after this that I thought maybe luminaries would look better and brighter if they were white, because it reflects light better. After all, the colors aren’t that obvious when it’s dark. But I’m still happy with what I’ve made.

Mushroom House Candle Holder

When I first started ceramics in 2009, I had the idea to make a mushroom house candle holder, but I didn’t get around to it because I had to make the required projects for the class. When I got the opportunity to start making pottery again last fall, this was my first project.


The colors were various underglazes, covered with clear glaze. It was my first time using underglaze, but I loved it because it’s easier to apply and there are more bright colors available than with typical glazes. The white color is the color of the B-mix clay.

This is what it looked like after the bisque firing, prior to the glazing. (I only have this cell phone picture, which isn’t good.)


As you can see, the colors changed after the glaze firing. It is common for underglazes to become more vibrant after they are coated with a layer of clear glaze. Unfortunately, the green turned brown. 😦 (This is usually due to the presence of zinc in the clear glaze.) Well, we are in a serious drought, so I couldn’t water the bushes! 😛


This is how it looks with a lit tealight candle inside. After the flame is extinguished, smoke rises from the chimney!

Shortly after I made this, I looked for photos of mushroom house candle holders online. One thing that stood out was that they were all much taller than this one, even though they were for tealight candles. I discovered the reason for that after burning a tealight candle inside for a few minutes. The “roof” became very hot, so that it was uncomfortable to touch. You could actually burn yourself on it. So if I were to make another one, I’d put more distance between the top of the roof and the candle. This is why I’m only using LED candles with this one.


With an LED candle.

This one took me about five hours to make, not including the time spent (messing up the first attempt and redoing) glazing. If I were to make more mushroom candle holders in the future, I’ll also try to make the roof/lid with a rim inside for stability. This lid does stay on pretty well, but it can slip off if bumped. I didn’t fall off when I took this photo. I was showing how it looks with the lid off.