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.

Mayco Crystallites Herb Garden

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!

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.

My First Wire Bezel

This is the first wire bezel that I’ve ever made. It was done entirely for the sake of practice, which is why a lot of it isn’t right, but I don’t mind. Recently, I signed up for an online wire weaving class on making bezels. (I did a lot of the things my way and showed disregard for instructions when making this one, so I won’t say which class it was because I don’t want to misrepresent it. After I make some more in the proper manner, I’ll include a link to the class in the post.)

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It measures 3.9 cm or 1.5 inches from top to bottom, and the width is 2.9 cm, or a little under 1 and 1/8 inches.

Since I didn’t want to just do a practice weave for the sake of practicing, I decided to use my practice wires to make an actual bezel. I had a ceramic heart that I made for the sake of testing an underglaze color. (See? Even my test tiles are not just in the shape of tiles and were made to have other possible purposes.) At first it was destined to become a magnet, but after seeing some other people wire wrap (not weave) a bezel for a heart-shaped stone, I realized that it was possible to weave a bezel for a heart-shaped cabochon.

This project was different to begin with because in the class we were taught to use 30-40 mm cabochons. (I have subsequently made various cabochons that size but they’re currently being fired and I will have to glaze them.) My ceramic heart is about 26 mm at its widest. That was why I only left two inches of wire on each side for my bail, instead of three. I decided to make my bail smaller, so it would be proportionate to the rest of the pendant.

P1090896cqAlthough I measured my “stone” all the way around, and wove that length, I discovered that I didn’t want the weaving to go all the way into the “dip” in the heart, so I had to cut off the extra weaving. Since this is practice and I didn’t want to waste wire (even though it’s just silver plated copper), I straightened the pieces to reuse them. (That’s usually not advised because the wire would have already hardened some from being manipulated and would be harder to work with and more likely to snap.) I used one of the 26 gauge pieces for weaving the bail, even though we were told to use 28 gauge wire for that. Unfortunately, it was too short, so I ran out and needed to add more wire, from the spool. The other piece was used on the backside, which explains why it looks kind of crinkled and might not feel smooth to wear comfortably. But that’s fine since this piece was intended for practice only anyway.

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There’s no color on the backside of the cabochon because I can’t put glaze on the bottom of pieces or else they’ll stick to the kiln shelf. In order to make ceramic beads, I’ll need to buy a wire tree to hold them, but I’m too cheap and lazy to at this point in time.

I know that I need more practice because I had a hard time keeping the warp wires the same width apart, and it’s noticeable from the sides.

P1090900qSo even though I cut a lot of corners and used entirely different materials from those suggested in the course, and made something less than perfect, I got some practice and I am still happy with the result.

Valentine’s Day Heart Art

Out of all the holidays, I think Valentine’s Day has the prettiest decorations. Even when I was single, I still enjoyed seeing the warm reds and pinks, and cute heart shapes. A few years ago I started reposting Valentine’s Day themed photos on my blog. In 2012 I decided to post my own work, and have been doing so since.

This is my Valentine’s Day Kusudama.

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No, I didn’t make three. These are three photos from different angles.

I made these ceramic heart shaped boxes, not necessarily for Valentine’s Day, but because I wanted to make a heart-shaped box. When I first signed up for the ceramics class in 2009, I envisioned a porcelain box, but that never happened, since I had to work with regular old stoneware clay. Anyway, I’m still making stoneware nowadays. I made these using B-mix with grog (because that’s what I have, but I probably don’t need the grog since I’m making fine, small objects.)

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The pink one was traced off of a small plastic heart shaped box, whereas the red one was drawn freehand.

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Tops and bottoms.

Unfortunately, the pink parts blistered during the glaze firing, and the tiny bumps look gross. (You can see some popped bubbles in this image.) My guess is that the bubbling had something to do with the pink underglaze, because only the pink parts blistered. (All of it was covered with a clear glaze, and the clear parts were fine.) From what I’ve read online, it’s possible that I had applied the underglaze too thickly, or it could have had something to do with this piece being fired at the bottommost shelf of the kiln, or maybe it was because the label of the underglaze said to fire to cone 4 and the studio fires to cone 6. I might try to sand off the bubbles and reglaze it, but using a different glaze. I was sad that that happened, because I had spend a lot of time shaping the lid. It was hard to get it to curve and fit properly at the points of the heart.

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Heart shaped feet on the bottoms. My idea!

I wish I could say this was my idea, but it isn’t. Two years ago I saw a friend post a photo on Facebook of tealight candles arranged into a heart. Her boyfriend did that for Valentine’s Day, and I’ve been wanting to give it a try.

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These were cheap IKEA candles, which explains the variation in the candle color (they’re all red) and size of the flames.