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News from Dowd House Studios: places to find our pottery, exhibitions, classes & workshops, new forms and exciting projects.

Filtering by Tag: Ceramic light shades

Sketch to Life

Jenny Dowd

My sketching process is really messy, sketchbooks get torn up and little scraps of paper usually hold the best ideas. Often I can’t figure out how to define the idea on paper and the sketch becomes 3D - clay or wire, and then gets recycled.

The past few weeks I’ve been cleaning and organizing my studio space as well as attempting to wrangle art images into files and onto my websites. This is a good way to find odd things and reminders of past projects. Here are 2 of the most vague sketches I found and their resulting sculptures…

Believe it or not this was the final sketch for a ceramic and steel chandelier made for a project in 2016. It was just enough information on paper for me to move on to clay. I remember showing this drawing to a few people who seemed to understand it and were really excited… maybe my verbal description was more coherent, or maybe they were just being polite. Either way, this is what the sketch turned into:

Wyoming Sky Lantern was commissioned by Agnes Bourne for the foyer of the Designer Show House at the 2016 Western Design Conference. Read all about this project in this past Journal entry. The chandelier is now permanently living in a private home, the owner shared these images and I absolutely love them. I never would have guessed how the porcelain would change color with the lighting and environment. Maybe that is why my sketches are so vague?

This sketch was from a project last summer, I collaborated with Matt Daly to make 12 thaumatropes that were installed around Emily Steven’s Pond. This project was part of FoundSpace, a project designed by Jackson Hole Public Art and the Jackson Hole Land Trust. Once again, a very simple sketch became something quite complicated.

Read more about this project and see images of all the thaumatropes on my website.


Jenny Dowd

Things break.

Last fall I made a series of porcelain pendant light shades for the brand-new Jackson, WY restaurant, Picnic. It's not often I have the opportunity to make something for a public space, or that what I make is experienced by so many people. Picnic is a great spot, and has quickly become my favorite place to meet friends. And I have to admit, every time I see the cloud-inspired light formation I'm a little surprised. 

I will post an update soon with better photos of the installation.

I knew there was a possibility of a shade breaking, but I was still surprised when a tall person stood up with arms overhead and broke a low-hanging shade! I made a replacement, and this time, several extras.

Porcelain paperclay was perfect for this project. An addition of paperpulp to clay adds strength before firing- during which the paper burns out, making the form slightly lighter. The clay needed to be thin in order to be translucent; the forgiving nature of paperclay made these otherwise fragile forms possible. 

This is my super high-tech process for making clay, a small batch made in my driveway.

Once the clay is dry enough to work with, I roll out thin slabs and cut the sides to shape using a template. I enjoy projects that push me to figure out interesting design solutions, in this case I needed to dry the clay into the shape I wanted, making sure the lightbulb fit inside without touching the sides of the shade. In this case, I made heavy-duty tarpaper cones and clamped them to a work table.

Another benefit of using paperclay is that wet clay can be attached to dry clay, this is something that usually ends in heartbreak. Once the sides were stiff enough to stand on their own, I attached a little clay to the top in order to change the shape. 

Firing the fragile shades is tricky, I found that the two sides needed to be fired together so they would still fit together after possibly warping in the kiln. Not many fit on a shelf, and with their height the most I can get into my small kiln is 5.

While I had admired ceramic light shades I had never considered making them! I am glad for this challenge and the ideas that have been generated through trial and error. Now I'm looking at lights a little differently...