I was recently contacted by David Gamble (of Skutt Kilns) to see if I would be interested in creating awards for their top selling distributors. I agreed because I have been a Skutt Kiln enthusiast for many years, and partnering with Skutt would be a great way to get my name out there nationally and perhaps even internationally.
After accepting the challenge, the reality of the size of the task of making a large number of pieces started to sink in. Making many pieces may not sound like a big deal, but the crystalline glazes I use have been known to be quite fickle at times. If the glaze cooperates and there are no major changes with any of the many variables that contribute to making and firing these glazes, I would be okay.
Designing the Piece
I wanted to design a simple piece, with wide open spaces to celebrate the crystalline glazes and indicate what the person is receiving the award for. I wanted to design something that would hang on the wall so it could be out of the way but clearly seen. I decided on a large, shallow platter with a wide rim that would serve as a framing device. I made a disk-shaped medallion with the words of recognition and the company logo on it for the center of the platter. I wanted the medallion to appear to be floating in the center, so I created a center core system that would hold the medallion up off the surface of the platter.
Creating the Medallion
I created each center medallion by rolling out a small slab and impressing the image using a rubber stamp (1) my brother made for me. Then I placed the small slab on a plaster dome attached to the wheel head. I pressed lightly on the slab to make it convex and trimmed it so the logo and text were centered (2). I have learned through the years that no matter how careful you are with slabs, they’re going to warp, especially in the glaze firing, so I always trim some framing rings on the outside edge of a slab disk to give the eye something to focus on—if the framing rings (see 3) weren’t there, you would notice the warping so much more. Using a 3-inch sponge roller, I applied Amaco’s Real Orange Velvet underglaze to the surface of the medallion (3). Using a sponge roller assures an even coating of the underglaze and also keeps you from accidentally filling in any of the texture or recessed areas such as the logo and letters. Instead of attaching these medallions during the leather-hard stage, I bisque fired them, stained the recessed areas with Amaco’s LUG-1 Black underglaze, and then wiped it off so I had a very clean representation of what was pressed into the clay (4). The medallion and the platter remained separate until the glazing step.
Glazing and Finishing
I needed to pick a glaze that would complement the orange and not fight with it, so I glazed a few test pieces with the colors I thought might work and shared the results with David to see if the Skutt staff had a color preference—they picked some very dark colors because it created a wonderful contrast against the orange disk in the middle. Now that we had the color selected, I glazed the remainder and crossed my fingers. Even though I have fired this glaze hundreds of times, the results can vary depending on a wide range of factors. After I brushed the glaze on, I placed the orange medallion in the center, on top of the stem I threw to hold the logo disk (5)—these pieces fused together during the glaze firing. When fusing two pieces together with glaze during the glaze firing, as long as the kiln is level, the shelves are level, and the pieces are perfectly centered, there shouldn’t be any shifting or sliding—the two pieces should stay exactly as they were placed.
Once fired (6), I used a variety of diamond disks I purchased from SlickFoot.com to smooth and polish the foot. During the trimming process, I had trimmed the foot with a recessed area so I could put a wire hanger around the base. I like using this method because the wire rotates so you can easily adjust the plate without removing the hanging device. In this case, we needed the logo to be level, and if I placed holes in the foot ring instead, I could easily put the logo on off-center and it wouldn’t look right when hanging.
So here’s my suggestion: when you find yourself in a creative slump or you are in an off-season time, consider contacting friends, family, or professional colleagues to see if they know anyone who gives out sales awards, or awards to honor or recognize someone’s hard work or achievement. If they do, ask for the privilege to design something and submit a proposal for their consideration. They may never have considered having a ceramic artist create something to fulfill their needs. It’s honestly the best way to honor people for their outstanding achievements—by giving them a one-of-a-kind, handmade award.
I’m grateful for the opportunity and challenge to make these awards and believe it has opened a new door for me. It was just what I needed to dig myself out of a slump and gave me permission to move forward.
Rubber stamp made by Mike Woods (Woodie’s Print and Design). Eaglewoods@frontier.com or call 574-596-5293 and ask for Mike.
Glenn Woods (and husband, Keith Herbrand) make their home and studio in Palm Harbor, Florida, and Blue Island, Illinois. They participate in art fairs in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Colorado, as well as the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, DC. Woods teaches at the Dunedin Fine Art Center in Dunedin, Florida. Learn more at www.potteryboys.com.