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Fredrin

Stenciling designs and carving tips

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Hello all,

I recently made a double-walled form which I would like to carve a design into. This is a new technique for me so I was wondering if any pros here could offer some advice.

My first question is how to map this design effectively onto a curved surface? I have thought to use tracing paper, but I'm guessing it will fold in places so areas of the pattern will be lost. Any hints on how to overcome this?

I'm also wondering what is the best tool to actually carve out the design with once it is outlined on the surface of the piece. I have attempted an X-acto knife in the past but found it wasn't very good at maneuvering curves, left quite a few jagged tool marks and the blade was not quite long enough. Would a loop tool of some sort be better? I'm aiming for lines as crisp as possible.

I'm sure the answer is quite straight forward but it has me stumped!

 

 

IMAG1970.jpg

Turing 1.png

IMAG1972.jpg

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In order to wrap around, you will have to have wedges cut out, from the top and bottom, to allow for those sections to come together without bunching.  Think of the "exploded" version of the Globe:

pg007.gif

 

In regards to carving, I was going to recommend an X-ACTO, as I've had success with them.  But if that doesn't working, what about a small paring knife?

They make specially designed clay cutting/ carving tools for such detailed work, but no sense in buying something if you don't plan on using it regularly.

 

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Disposable scalpels are wonderful for cutting clay. My go to is a #11 blade. If you need a lot of them I've bought from AliExpress, handle plus 10 blades for under $2-  (the name is a misnomer, it took about 2 months to get delivered though). Lots on Amazon and ebay also.

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Hi Fredrin, I would like to make a few observations about your stencil for cut out:

  • for something that is linear like this, the two ends should match up so that they will smoothly flow around the piece. 
  • I would be very careful with this design, as it looks like some of your areas will drop out leaving large holes. I realize that this is a double walled form(great accomplishment) but if the shapes cut out are connected, then the area they encompass have no support. 

If you have no experience with this sort of cutting and organic shape, Maybe try first with a series of wavy diagonal lines leading in waves diagonally up the form, leaving sufficient space to support the shapes.

 

best,

Pres

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I fondly call that design "Amebas Gone Wild."  Woodturners love using it over and over again because of its simplicity.

Here's what I tell them to do, although slightly modified for clay instead of wood.

On paper practice drawing that design, then practice drawing and cutting on some scrap clay. Next draw the design freehand on your pot.

Doing this you'll find these few things:

  1. Its a real easy design to draw.
  2. You don't need to be accurate.
  3. you will be able to make the design flow and fit better to your pot
  4. The design is now yours and not copied from the internet.

On clay I've used, scalpels, dental tools and exacto blades. To make evenly flowing lines you need cut in an even flowing motion, any time you stop you will leave a jagged tool mark. Decide on a starting point and an ending point before you start cutting.

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Wow, thanks everyone for the excellent tips!

@Benzine, that's a good way of looking at; in terms of a map covering a globe. I may try in future to do something in Adobe Illustrator which can then be printed off in that format.

@Min - those number 11 blades look perfect. And only 5 quid here in the UK, so got some on their way :)

@Pres - thank you, yes! It dawned on my as I began to take knife to clay the problems with this design, short of certain bits of clay levitating magically in position without support! My solution was to downscale it sufficiently and improvise a bit to avoid large voids.

@Ron Sa - You must have transmitted this telepathically somehow as this is what I ended up doing in the end, basically (as Pres pointed out), the two ends of the design wouldn't match up and there were too many unsupported areas. I sketched the pattern freehand as a single line and then carved with an X-acto knife on either side to get the cut-outs. Still got a few jaggy curves where the knife can't turn easily in the clay, but pretty happy with the result overall. 

The design is called a "Turing Pattern" from a visionary paper Alan Turing wrote on mathematical biology back in 1952... but I think I'll stick with "Amoebas Gone Wild" in the future :D

Here are some pics:

 

 

IMAG1983.jpg

IMAG1984.jpg

IMAG1985.jpg

IMAG1987.jpg

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17 minutes ago, Judith B said:

wow that's pretty cool! may I ask how you did that double wall? Did you make the inner and outer pieces separately?

Exactly. I threw the central column as a kind of straight sided vases with a 1cm ridge of clay at the bottom so I could sit the outer wall on it. They were both just leather hard when I combined them and it was pretty nerve-wracking!

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Be careful with the sharp internal corners.  They can be the source of cracking during drying and firing.  Next time, if you have a hole cutter (small tube/drinking straw.......) you can cut through at the corners, making a rounded corner, then you can square it up a bit  as it dries.

 

 

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Nice job! Just beware of unsupported sections like the one in the center of your final picture. Can't tell if this has been fired yet, but that upright piece, although fairly thick, might bend in or out when stressed by firing. 

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15 hours ago, Rae Reich said:

Nice job! Just beware of unsupported sections like the one in the center of your final picture. Can't tell if this has been fired yet, but that upright piece, although fairly thick, might bend in or out when stressed by firing. 

Thanks! And yes, I'm already getting a few problems with this in the drying. I've sandwiched a bit of tissue paper between the offending upright piece and the inner wall to stop it from warping inwards, but I guess there's not much I can do while it's firing.

 

Is this just something I have to live with if I have large unsupported sections of the design or are there ways around it? I guess the thickness of the walls isn't helping much.

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When I'm carving floral/leafy themes, a little bending in the kiln can add a sense of spontaneity and movement, but generally, it will weaken your piece. You've seen how to modify your original design to suit the form, now you'll need to modify the design to suit the process. Yes, unsupported elements will bend unless you don't fire any higher than bisque or maybe work with a low fire clay. I think I remember that red earthenware is more likely to distort at maturity than white earthenware (because of the iron fluxing?)

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For translating a 2D image onto a 3D surface like this I use a projector. Super simple ones can be had for about $50, you can also make one yourself using a bright lamp/flashlight with tracing paper over it. Read reviews on brands before you do, some are worthless.  By turning the clay piece, or projector, as you work, you can get a pretty good design laid bit by bit over the surface. 

 The reviews worth reading, they also explain how to use the things and which ones not to consider: 

https://www.dickblick.com/opaque/projectors/

 

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fredrin, your pot is an ambitious one and its successful finishing will teach you a lot about your clay, tools and determination.  good for you.  what do you envision that pot doing, being a sculpture or something useful and if so,  what?  is this just a one time project or do you intend to spend lots of time making double walled pots in the future?

my observations follow, not opinions, observations.  the clay wall you are cutting into appears very thick for the technique.  using even a sharp blade will involve a great deal of hand pressure and will result in 90 degree edges for each cut.  softening that 90 degree angle will involve a lot of handling.

you live outside the US and maybe our commonly available tools are not common where you live.  do you have something like the Dremel tool that we commonly use with lots of different ends that might make the cutting easier?   if you can do this with mechanical help, you may save a great deal of time and energy.  yes, it will take practice but the result may be worth it.

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@yappystudent - Great idea re the projector. I think I knew about this ages ago but completely forgot, but that will save a lot of time fiddling around with mapping designs out on software to print them off later. I will make sure to avoid cheapo ones!

 

@oldlady - Thanks for the tips. Yes, I made life difficult for myself this time by having such thick walls. Part of the construction required lowering the outer wall section over the inner "column" as my throwing skills aren't good enough to get a hollow form that tall yet. I since had a thought that I could have trimmed this down a fair bit after joining the sections, by sitting it back on the wheel and taking a loop tool to the sides.

Yes, Dremel drills and their various attachments are a thing over here in the UK.  Another good idea - this forum is full of them! Would you suggest grinding through the clay when it's bone dry/leather hard? What kind of tool end would you suggest for this? That sounds like it would leave a much better finish than my current approach, which as you guessed requires a lot of time-consuming softening with a damp sponge!

I would like to make double-walled forms with cut-outs a central theme of my sculptural work, so this is very helpful info. Here are a few others I made recently:

 

 

Capture.JPG

a.jpg

b.jpg

Edited by Fredrin
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use something sharp and as to when would be best, that will take an experiment on your part.  not bone dry, somewhere softer than when the color changes as your clay drys, stiff enough to stand up but soft enough to erase mistakes with a damp tool/sponge.

Edited by oldlady
add word for clarity
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My Fair booth was once located beside someone who demonstrated his carving technique. He used dental drills on fired, fairly thin porcelain (don't remember if it was thrown or cast). It was pure torture for anyone who has been drilled! Not only the piercing sounds but the distinctive fragrance of burning porcelain. People didn't linger much.  

I think the technique, by him or a precursor, was once featured in Ceramics Monthly long long ago. They were very precise and lacy. 

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On practicalities, if you can keep your walls under 1/4", there's a slim x-acto style knife that works better and better as you wear it down carving coarse clay. I'm still nursing along one very fragile one while breaking in a newer one (should have started sooner).

On porcelain or any very fine grained clay, there's a slim x-acto that has both edges sharpened and the point is curved down. It makes a cleaner cut, especially on curves, leaving less of a raggedy edge on the inside.  Not so satisfactory on straight lines for me, it seems to want to curve. Nice for clean-up on all clays, because of the curve, best while still damp-ish.

I got them both at Aardvark, I think in the mold trimming side, not the throwing side. The thinner the blade, the less resistance you'll encounter, enabling greater freedom of motion.

I carve on leather hard clay and try have the walls of a consistent thickness to avoid more stress on the carving through the whole process. 

 

I like your ideas. Hope you continue!

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Also, don't carve in a draft! Put your feet in a cooler of ice water, but don't turn on the fan. Protect carved pieces from drying one-sided, or inconsistently from top to bottom, until they're bone dry.

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Thanks @Rae Reich - I will try and hunt down that slim knife you mentioned as it does sound much better at negotiating curves than what I use at present. I found this one on the Aardvark site; is it the same? Good to know that thinner blades in general will work better for the curves.

I appreciate now that carving is quite a delicate operation, which shouldn't come as a surprise I suppose, but even cut-outs of quite large blocks seem to present quite a few challenges. Thanks for the tips :)

Aa.JPG

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Took a double wall throwing class from a Korean potter EunSookKim. We threw an inner wall and saved enough clay to pull up an outer wall.  A term she used that I never heard of was beveling the cuts.  So after you cut out you soften the edges by trimming off the 90degree cut inside and outside..image.jpeg.eacd241a3122c848c6d007423adc5467.jpegimage.jpeg.98de1d9973b29bbfce8339149dbf44e5.jpeg

  The beauty of this type of pot is you can carve out just about anything since the inner wall supports the piece.image.jpeg.6332f026fe4c0e006787a889201385fd.jpeg

My mountains, lizard and clouds. Ain't clay fun!!!!

IMG_0435 (480x640).jpg

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Yes, I really like those cloud designs. And like you say, there is freedom (from gravity!) in have the inner wall for support.

When it came to the bevelling, were you just using a fettling knife at a 45 degree angle to the cut to take the corners off? I think I can imagine doing that on the outside, but the inside would be pretty fiddly. 

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She used a fettling knife and was very efficient.  Since we were struggling with it she suggested to use a eye shadow brush, the little hard ones. If the design wasn't to detailed even a finger could soften the edges.

The real trick was how to glaze.  How did you get the inside black and the outside white?  I used one overall glaze and then turned the outer layer in glaze from the side.

 

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9 hours ago, Fredrin said:

Thanks @Rae Reich - I will try and hunt down that slim knife you mentioned as it does sound much better at negotiating curves than what I use at present. I found this one on the Aardvark site; is it the same? Good to know that thinner blades in general will work better for the curves.

I appreciate now that carving is quite a delicate operation, which shouldn't come as a surprise I suppose, but even cut-outs of quite large blocks seem to present quite a few challenges. Thanks for the tips :)

Aa.JPG

That looks a little thicker in the curved blade, but it's hard to tell, looks nice and slender. Wouldn't recommend the triangle blade end for carving, maybe trimming. Mine just has a single blade on an aluminum shaft. ,

Re: beveling - an especially good technique for making thick walls look thinner when you bevel the edges inside the pot

Edited by Rae Reich
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On 13/11/2017 at 12:43 AM, 123pop said:

The real trick was how to glaze.  How did you get the inside black and the outside white?  I used one overall glaze and then turned the outer layer in glaze from the side.

It was quite elaborate to be honest. For the inside, I taped up all the cut-out holes except one, poured in some glaze and gave the whole thing a rotation to try and ensure an even coating. After removing the tape and sponging off the glaze on the exterior, I then stuffed tissue roll inside the piece and sprayed it - the idea being to prevent any glaze from getting inside.

For the black and white one, I just banded on black slip to both inner walls before closing the form.

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