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Alpine, WY, 83128
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Journal

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

Filtering by Tag: porcelain paperclay

The Blank Canvas

Jenny Dowd

Often a blank canvas will give pause. 

I set up January as a month full of the dreaded blank canvas- with the challenge of new design ideas in both ceramics and drawing. 

Just over halfway into the month, this week came together as the most productive. I have nothing to show for it, yet. What I do have is a kiln full of test tiles and several damp boxes full of small plates and cups. I also have a clean (ish) drawing studio with (mostly) organized pens, pencils, bottles of ink and new brushes.

I like to have a few projects going at the same time, in this case a new drawing project overlaps a little into the clay studio.

A few years ago I made stacks and stacks of "paper" out of thin sheets of clay. I was teaching at the Interlochen Center for the Arts as the Ceramics Artist in Residence and I had used up the small roll of drawing paper I'd brought with me. At the time I was encouraging my students to use materials in unexpected ways- so I started making my own paper out of porcelain paperclay. 

While the papers have been collecting dust in my studio, I've been rolling around ideas for the past year. It's been a struggle to balance my time between these two studio practices- something I'm working on this year. 

I finally fired the papers and now I'm testing the surface; trying out different inks while thinking about what kind of relationship I want to develop between the canvases and the random objects I'll be filling them with.

These canvases (pots & papers) won't stay blank for long!

Repairs

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...