Sunday, February 15, 2009

Carving Clay Stamps Tutorial

We frequently use stamps in our work. There are many commercial stamps available to buy that are okay to use in your work. There are also quite a few that are not, so be sure to carefully check each maker's angel policies and copyright information. We personally feel that the only way to preserve our personal style is to create stamps ourselves or trade one-offs with other artists.

To make stamps, you'll need some scrap clay, not too wet. All sorts of tools can be used to carve and mark the clay. A set of small loop tools will come in handy. Our favorites include a dull pencil, a scrap of steel, needle tools, a double ball stylus, and a knife of some sort. The final tool is some canned air. This is not a must, but it is a lot better than blowing away bits of clay until you are dizzy!

We start with a ball of scrap clay. We shape the ball into a cylinder, cube, or mushroom shape. We create quite a few stamp cubes with designs on 6 sides. This helps to keep our collection compact.

After the base shape is created, we clean up the sides with a fettling knife. Cubes tend to have an indention in the center of each side, so it helps to shave off the high edges. Now leave your base alone until it is leather hard.

So now that your base is leather hard, it is time to create a pattern for your stamp. Of course, you can carve directly into the block without a sketch. If you are nervous, you can draw onto a small piece of paper with a washable marker. Then place your sketch face down on the clay and rub gently with your finger. When you pull the paper away, your design will be transferred to the clay!

You may also use your computer and ink jet printer to create your designs. We find the computer to be exceptionally helpful for complex designs or lettering. Use the same method to transfer your image to the block. Just remember, with both methods, your image will be reversed on your block, but then stamp true to your original.

Now it is time to begin carving. There are no rules here. Use whatever works the best for your design. Just make sure your clay is leather hard. If it is too soft, the base will warp as you try to carve and your design will not stamp well. You will also find the bits of clay you are carving away will stick themselves back to the stamp.

The canned air comes in handy now to blow away the bits of clay that have been carved away. The deeper the carving, the better the stamps will work. Just be sure not to undercut your design or it will hang up in your clay when you are using it.

If you are working on a cube, go ahead and carve the remaining 5 sides. Carve around a cylinder to create a roulette (a rolling stamp), or carve each end to make circular stamps. Carve the top of a mushroom shaped base to create an ergonomic stamp that will work particularly well in bowls. Once you have finished carving, gently test your stamps in soft clay. Do this only once or twice or the stamp may alter.

In a short time, you can carve quite a few stamps. Often, simple and even ugly stamps create patterns that are very appealing. Don't rule out a design until you have tested it. Once you have completed all of your stamps, allow them to dry completely. This may take weeks for cubes. We test for dryness by touching items to our lips. If they are still cool to the touch, they are not completely dry. When they are completely dry, bisque fire them. Now they are ready to help you create amazing works of art!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Speak Out Against CPSIA

As of yesterday, millions of perfectly safe toys, books, and articles of clothing were removed from store shelves and sent to the landfill. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is a piece of landmark legislation that was crafted after last year's influx of tainted toys from China.

So, whose interests does this law REALLY protect? I would expect to see that consumer advocate groups were on the forefront of lobbying for this bill. Well, they are not. It turns out that this bill was written in part by big toymakers. Mattel, whose tainted toys kicked off this issue, helped to write this bill and increased their lobbying budget by 442% in order to push this bill through. Hasbro, who had never even hired a lobbyist before, spent over $500,000 lobbying on behalf of this bill.

So why would these big toymakers take an interest in requiring costly testing of their own products? Simply, because they can afford to test their products while smaller companies and artisan toymakers cannot.

So, who is this law hurting? Your kids. My kids. Libraries. The environment. And the list goes on.

In spite of the fact that no child has ever been injured by licking the pages of a book, this law is declaring that all books printed before 1985 are considered unsafe. If you cannot afford to put vintage books through testing, it is legally safer to throw them away then test them. Even libraries are not exempt. Libraries could be forced to destroy a huge part of their collections as of February 10, 2009. Yes, as of yesterday.

Thrift and consignment shops have also been put in a compromising position. Initially, they were believed to be exempt, but this law is so broad, that they have now been swept into the fray. Any articles of clothing that have zippers, snaps, or plastic buttons are suspect. Also suspect are board games that contain ANY metal or plastic components. Add jigsaw puzzles printed before 1985 to the list. Of course, this law prohibits the reselling of bikes, trikes, backpacks, strollers, car seats, and anything else containing any metal or plastic that have not been individually tested.

The penalties for selling untested items are as high as $100,000 fine and jail time even if an item has not been deemed unsafe! The same toys that were perfectly safe and legal last week and now contraband.

While the CPSA has declared it will not require testing for one year, other government agencies could step in and enforce this law. Please, call your representatives and let them know that this law hurts children more than it protects them. Soon we will have no choice in who to buy our children's clothing and toys from. The only ones who will be able to stay in business will be the biggest corporations. No wonder they lobbying so hard for this law. They were only interested in protecting themselves.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Waiting is so Hard

The hardest part about making pots is waiting for the kiln to cool. The last 500˚ seem to take forever and the two year old inside just screams, "I want to see NOW!!"

We agonizingly check over and over and watch the number drop slowly - usually about one degree per minute. Finally, we get below 150˚ and open it up to find things like this and it is all worth it.