Updated: Feb 9, 2021
It's been a very busy lead up to Christmas in the studio, as I challenged myself to begin selling work and also grappled with making my first Christmas decorations. I know, I thought, I'll make some clay slabs, impress into them, cut them out into Christmas shapes, then fire. Nothing simpler, right? So I set off with the enthusiasm of a committed but somewhat naive elf.
Thanks to 3D stamps, designed by me then printed by my resident teenager, the impressing part was, well... impressive. Each decoration had its own Chalkstone 2020 logo. Less can be said for the cutting out - cheap cookie cutters were not really up to the job and led to a lot of 'fettling' to get a neat finish. Drying flat also became a real issue. Each time you roll, turn or lift clay, its particles move and align a certain way. They have a memory of that orientation, so that whatever you do, the clay tends to want to go back to that state. Clay doesn't just have a memory of being manipulated, the particles within shift around as it dries, and again as it is fired. So I had to be careful making the slabs, then dry slowly between boards to keep the clay as flat as possible.
Firing hanging decorations isn't easy with kiln temperatures reaching beyond 1200 degrees celsius. Luckily, I could engage the help of my clay buddies network for lots of advice! I settled on suspending test decorations from 6mm diameter nichrome rods, themselves supported by firebricks. This way, I could glaze both sides - unfortunately only fire about ten at a time. With orders mounting up, I decided to abandon glazing both sides, meaning I could allow one side to rest on the kiln shelves and so fire many more per shelf, but still end up with a nice product.
I had a lot of fun trying out different glazes, including some beautiful celadons that broke beautifully over the textures and some slip trailing to create freer patterns in contrasting colours. I made over one hundred decorations altogether and had some great feedback from customers. I was only left with a few seconds for my own tree.....
My 2021 stamp is ready to go, and my aim is to begin my Santa's workshop a bit earlier than December next year!