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Processes - how the pieces are made

Handmade, Custom Glazed, Earthenware

Like the heading says, these pieces are 100% handmade by me, here in my Brisbane back yard.  They start out as a bucket of "slip", which is liquid clay, about the consistency of cream.  The slip gets poured into plaster moulds, then once it's begun to set, the excess slip is drained off.  Once the slip has hardened enough (soft to hard leather stage), the piece is fettled (excess trimmed off around the pour holes) and the mould is opened.  At this point the cast object is in several pieces, so it has to be very carefully assembled (usually ears, tails and legs have to be added to the body) using more slip. The piece is gently cleaned at this stage (the worst of the seams etc) and a hole is placed into the belly (air vent - stops it exploding when it is fired).  Sometimes, at this point, a tiny piece of clay drops inside the cast object, which when fired, rattles around inside.  This is not a fault, just something that happens.  We call these pieces "chimers", due to the small rattling noise that is made.

Once the piece is completely dry (greenware stage), the seams are fully cleaned, as are any other rough areas and the piece is then fired at Orton Cone 04 (1063 degrees Celsius) to bisque (about 8-9 hours to fire and 24 hours to cool down).  

Bisque pieces are inspected and any missed rough spots are cleaned up and sanded.  Ears and hooves are hollowed out if needed.  Each piece is then decorated using airbrushed and hand painted underglazes, which are special paints that are fired into the bisque in the kiln.  Now that I am generally offering much simpler colours and firings on these pieces, this usually takes another 1 - 2 firings.  Once I'm happy with the colour of the fired piece, I then apply 3 coats of gloss glaze, and fire that in. All horses are "dry footed" - that is, the glaze is wiped off the base of their feet, otherwise they would be welded onto the kiln shelf during firing;-). Glaze firings are either fast (4.5 hours) or slow (7.5 hours) and usually go to Orton Cone 06 (998 degrees Celsius).

**NOTE: if it's gloss glazed, you can guarantee that it will almost certainly craze (develop fine lines in the glaze) at some point - ceramics are an all natural product (they're literally made from dirt and covered in glass) and are subject to temperature variations.  This is Mother Nature at work;-)

If I'm totally happy with the piece I then apply the logo (which is a ceramic decal), and any overglaze that's required (eg. pure platinum overglaze on shoes or bit rings, pure gold on harnesses etc); the glazed piece then goes through a final low fire of around 700 - 750 degrees Celsius to fire these permanently into the sculpture.  Plaques, bases etc, have adhesive backed baize cut to fit and applied; each piece is given it's decorative hang tag and they are then ready to be photographed and released for sale.  All photographs are taken on my iPhone, using a portable Lightbox and neutral backdrop, put through Adobe Creative Suite (cropped, straightened etc) and then made into a photo collage for marketing.  Yes, all of this takes one person, a whole lot of TIME!!!:-)

I am gradually also making my own plaster moulds for casting ceramics from.  Again this takes a lot of time, knowledge and skill.  So far I've only been able to do some moulds for plaques, due to being so busy with making and decorating glazed pieces for sale.  I do have horse moulds to make, and I'll get there later rather than sooner!

Overglazed Earthenware and Porcelain

The overglaze technique is exactly as it sounds: you apply the decorating medium onto an already glazed piece, and fire it in.  Overglazing can be done with a variety of mediums: lustres, engobes, glazes and china paints for instance.  I use gloss engobes, which are basically coloured low-fire glazes. I don't use china paints (trust me, I have enough product here to start my own ceramic shop, I don't need more), nor do I strip the original factory glaze from the piece. We do have an air eraser here, and we have both learned how to use it (my husband and I), but neither of us have the time to sit there for hours stripping glaze off commercially produced pieces.  Therefore, all collectible sculptures that I have purchased to custom glaze, are done using the overglaze method.  This applies to Beswick & Royal Doulton (these are earthenware) as well as to Franklin Mint, Kaiser, Goebel etc (these are porcelain). The majority of these pieces have to be imported to Australia which is EXPENSIVE.  That's why you might find that some of my custom glazed Beswick (for instance) are a lot dearer than let's say an artist in the UK.  In most cases they've been able to pick up the piece for a much lesser initial investment, due to being able to buy locally.  Overglazed pieces are fired multiple times to set the different colours and markings in, particularly if the original factory finish was darker than the colour I'm trying to achieve, as I have to lighten the sculpture's base colour up first.  You cannot just apply a light colour onto a dark background and fire it once and have it stay that way.  The lighter colour will disappear into the darker original.  Lightening pieces for overglazing takes knowledge, time and skill, both in application and firing techniques.  

A word on pricing my handmade earthenware pieces

The moulds that I cast from are, for the most part, commercially made by professional mould-making companies for the ceramic hobby or craft industry: this is why people who have come to collecting china horses via the model horse hobby call these "hobby moulds".  Many of these were made in the 80's and early 90's; some were made in the 50's and 60's  - obviously these vintage moulds are long discontinued and are used sparingly as they cannot be replaced.  The older ones tend to be less realistic (though not always), but they have a charm all their own, representative of their era.  With regards to the model horse hobby (which was where I started, decades ago), I liken my custom glazed "hobby moulds" to customised Breyer (or Stone/Hartland, whatever) model horses. Before the popular model horse manufacturers started making the super realistic models we see today, ultimately a lot of the mass produced offerings were disappointing to say the least.  Therefore, people like me "customised" them: repositioned them, resculpted them, got rid of their horrible seams, fixed conformation faults, you name it.  We then painted them in realistic finishes and often gave them "hair" manes and tails, or sculpted new ones.  So, just like the "customised model horse", there are good and bad finishes on "hobby moulds" out there.  It's not what you start off with that counts: it's how well you finish it;-). With all that said, if it takes me just as much time, skill and effort to hand-make from scratch, a custom glazed, one-of-a-kind earthenware "hobby mould" sculpture, as it does to seam, prime and realistically paint a mass-produced, made in china plastic toy horse, you can be assured that they will be priced similarly;-). And yes, they will be priced similarly to a custom over glazed earthenware like a Beswick, because they cost the same to produce. I'm now doing this full time and I can no longer afford to "give away" my work for peanuts;-).


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