Exotic animals coming soon!

Here you can see how an original sculpture starts out. This will be a leopard when its finished. I sometimes use a small rod or armature to hold up the figure and then cut it apart when its time to make the mold.

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Here you can see a lion waiting to be bisque fired. This is what the pieces look like in clay after the mold has been made. These regal figurines will be added to the Etsy shop soon!20130701_162219

 

Owls incoming! The very last in the woodland animal series, this great horned owl will be available for purchase soon.20130701_162204 20130701_162113

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New to Porcelain Menagerie: Salt and Pepper Shakers

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A functional twist on an adorable favorite! These are the same as the mouse figurine, only I have altered them to work as salt and pepper shakers. This little pair is a perfect addition to any country kitchen!

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These shakers can also be custom ordered with any decals or luster  for a small charge. To find out more about custom orders, or purchase these shakers visit my shop on Etsy!

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Porcelain Menagerie at the Dallas Zoo

Hello All!

I am currently working to increase inventory for an upcoming art fair! The Paw Prints Art Fair at the Dallas Zoo will be May 11th and 12th from 9am-5pm. If you are in the area stop by and see these pieces up close. I will also be demonstrating how the original sculptures are made for these animals!

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New to Porcelain Menagerie: Otters

When I design a new animal for Porcelain Menagerie, I always start with an original sculpture in oil based clay. Oil based clay, unlike water based clay, does not dry out because it has oils and wax mixed in it. If the clay doesn’t dry out it is easier to make a mold of because it won’t become brittle and the mold process can take a long time. I can also keep these originals in case the mold wears out and I need to make a new one of the same sculpture. 

Once the original sculpture is finished, I can start to section it into pieces where the plaster will be able to pull away without tearing the clay. This can show the difference between a simple two piece mold and a more complicated 5 piece mold. As each section of plaster is cast it takes a negative impression of that part of the sculpture. The otter needed two separate molds for the parts of the sculpture that would have made the mold for the body more complicated. I made separate molds for the tail and the hind feet.

As each piece of the mold is cast, they have to be given keys like the buttons here that make the mold lock together. The sides with keys are then soaped with mold release to keep the plaster from sticking together.

I use a surform rasp to shape and smooth the plaster for each piece so they fit together neatly. Plaster pieces that don’t fit together well can have large seams between the pieces of the mold and cause leaks when the liquid clay slip is poured in.

Once the pieces are soaped and keyed I can cast another piece of the mold. I usually section off part of the sculpture by making a clay wall. This will stop the plaster from flowing to the other sections of the otter. Here you can see that this section will pull away neatly from the plaster without any tearing. Tearing the clay can happen when a section of the mold runs over an “undercut” this is a place on the sculpture that curves to far under something making the plaster go under or around it. Plaster is not a flexible mold material and does not pull away as easily as a rubber mold might. However, it is the best material for making molds for things made in clay, because it absorbs moisture from the clay.

The boards around the mold are called coddle boards. These hold the clay wall in place, and create an even square or rectangle shape for the mold. Using c-clamps and cleats on the end of the board they are easy to fit together and adjustable to any size. Coddle boards are usually made of melamine, or laminated wood that will release from the plaster easily.

Plaster is mixed using a 1/3 plaster to water ratio. I usually use motor oil rubbed on the insides of my buckets for plaster. This keeps the plaster from sticking to the sides of the bucket and ruining it over time. I estimate the amount of plaster needed to fill the volume of the space for the piece I want to cast. Once the bucket has the right amount of cold water, I slowly sift in plaster until it mounds up above the water line. This is the easiest way to tell the ratio is right by eyesight, but you can also use 1 pound of plaster for ever pint of water. The plaster sits like this for about 1 min., this is called slaking and allows the plaster to settle with the water. Then I stir the plaster by hand until it starts to set up. At this point the plaster is thicker to the touch but still fluid.

The liquid plaster is poured into the space in the coddle boards. Plaster goes through an exothermic reaction, meaning heat is released to change the plaster from liquid to solid. Once the plaster is cooled, after about an hour, the coddle boards can be removed.

The finished mold then has liquid casting slip poured into it and the pieces are assembled. The river otter proved to have a wonderful linear form that has a very unique elegance.

After all that, the otter is finished with a glaze and ready for my shop! Each piece in the shop is made starting with a mold. Each new addition like this otter is made by hand and by me every step of the way.

Purchase this piece, or contact me about custom orders for the otter at

Porcelain Menagerie

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China Painted Bears

These hand china painted bears are brand new to my shop! China painting is a traditional process in many of the porcelain factories around the world that allows for detailed, delicate color to be added to ceramic pieces.

China paints are ceramic pigments that fuse with glaze and have to be layered like oil paintings, but are fired in the kiln. For these pieces I use china paint to show the bear’s beautiful habitat on the surface of the figurine.

China paint comes in a variety of colors in a dry powdered form. Using a palette knife, I first mix the powdered pigments with a medium. I use glycerin a sugar syrup. Other mediums can also be used including evaporated turpentine, various oils, and even sprite! I choose glycerin for its lack of toxins or smells and its work ability. China paints are usually mixed on glass panes or ceramic dishes to allow them to be covered and used again.

First, I clean the piece of any dust, which would mix with the china paint and cause parts of it to burn out in the kiln. I use rubbing alcohol and a paper towel, but you can also use acetone to clean ceramic pieces of dust. After cleaning, I can being outlining the painting on the surface and filling in with color. This part is very similar to any other kind of painting, especially oil painting because of the need to build up layers to get depth and shading in the colors.

I like to use paintings that inspire me as a source to work from. This mountain landscape was  inspired by Caspar David Friedrich’s The Watzman. I have always been inspired by artists in the romantic period because of their love for nature. In romanticism, nature is believed to be the most powerful source for all emotion and inspiration.

Here is the bear after one layer of china paint. This is then fired to fuse the first layer of color so that more layers can be painted on and fired again. I use various brush techniques for the landscape and a cotton cloth to blot the sky so that it appears to have a different, lighter appearance.

Here is the finished landscape bear after the second layer of painting and the second firing. While this process is similar to other glazing techniques it has a more subtle and elegant result. The variations in color and depth of perspective can be controlled more easily in china paint than other processes.

To purchase this bear, order one like it, or view other items in my shop, please visit Porcelain Menagerie

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Welcome to the Porcelain Menagerie Studio Blog!

Here you can follow the process of Porcelain Menagerie, new pieces, and new ideas!

I create handmade animal figurines for my Etsy shop, Porcelain Menagerie. First, I make original sculptures in oil based clay. Then I use plaster to make molds of the original. Afterwards, the pieces are cast using a liquid clay slip that is poured into the plaster molds.

Here I will show the assemble methods for the rabbits in my shop.

These are molds for the bodies and feet of some of the rabbit sculptures. The feet and ears have to be cast separate from the body of the rabbit sculptures because the form is so complex to mold with them. This way all the pieces are poured with slip at the same time, and then assembled into the final form.

Here, the rabbit body is being taken out of the plaster mold. This mold has 4 pieces that lock into each other using keys.

The seam lines from the mold are then carved away and cleaned up using water to smooth the clay. Now the rabbit is ready for legs and ears.

The legs for the rabbits are often cast together in a single mold called a “gang mold”.

I put the front legs on first for this piece. I lay the rabbit body on its back so that gravity holds the legs up while I smooth the attachments. The hind legs go on next and the piece is turned upright.

I pool a little slip on a plaster disc and set the piece on it to close the hole on the bottom where the pouring gate was. This rabbit doesn’t balance until the hind legs are dry so I prop him up on the foam until then.

The ears are usually put on last because they are the most delicate attachments. Here are the ear molds. Once the ears have been cleaned up they can be attached to the rabbit.

This is the finished rabbit once the ears have been attached! From here, the piece will be bisque fired, and then glaze fired. Additional firings are needed for luster and decals.

Another rabbit being demolded. This rabbit is simpler form so the ears were able to be cast with the body, and only the feet were cast separately. For this piece I use a “tail cap” (a one piece mold that I cast a tail in) to cover the hole where the pouring gate is.

To assemble this rabbit I have to use a block to hold up the body while I attach the legs. The ears are put on last for this rabbit as well.

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