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Porcelain Carving


Janel

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The following is Q&A from an email message I received this week:

 

 

Thanks for writing. I do not have all the answers but I will see if I will be able to help with your questions.

 

"Ms. Jacobson:

Hi. I have been working with porcelain about 6 months now and I love it. I was working with the polymer clays before. I reread the article about you in Ornament Magazine and would really appreciate some information. Are there any porcelain or clay carving books you would recommend?"

 

I do not know the answer to this. I began carving clay by knife drawing on clay and painting slip into the outlines. This led to knife drawing with a little clay removed, to eventually years later to a very complex foreground, middle ground and background relief carving.

 

My carvings began (and still do) with drawing from nature. When composing a concept for the porcelain pieces, I would draw on tracing paper, one side outline composition, the other side was the shading. That way the outlines and the shading could be played with while not disturbing one another. The outline was then transferred to the damp clay surface (which means the outlines are done in reverse of the image to be carved), and then the clay removal began. With damp clay subtraction carving is the main action, but some clay could be added if the carved surface is still damp.

 

I used standard small wire loop tools for the gross outlining/clay removal, but most of the other tools were made from bamboo. I sought a piece of bamboo with a wide diameter, split slivers of various widths, shaved off the softer inner material and formed ends for scraping, using fine wet/dry sand paper to form and hone the carving ends. The goal was to have an extremely smooth and sharp edge, but not too sharp of an angle for the blade to tool thickness nor one that was too wide. Experience will help you figure it out. One tool was more knife like with a straight edge that went from tip to partway down (~2" blade length) the length of the ~1/2 " wide tool. Other tools were as tiny as possible from half an inch wide straight and skewed, down to 1/32". Length of tool depends on the source of bamboo, and the length shortens over time with sharpening.

 

These tools are delightfully light weight and quiet to use. The smallest widths I wrapped with waxed linen to give me something to hold on to.

"I have two beginning carving books, but they are both on wood. I am learning to reverse my vision,"

 

Interesting concept put into words...

"but would like help if possible. With the polymer I've done a lot of sculpture and bas relief but that's all add on not subtraction. Anything you can tell me would be a help. I do work small, but for beads and brooches not netsuke. I'm not that ambitious. I'm sure you've heard it before, but your work is wonderful, both the wood carving and the few porcelain pieces I have been able to find on the web." Thank you, xxxx

 

Warmest regards,

 

Janel

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Ms. Jacobson:

 

I'm sorry to be asking a question again this way, but I could not figure out how to reply on the Carving web site. I have been reading it regularly and you all are very gifted and fascinating. The tutorials and materials are really wonderful. I particularly like the metal working items. I used to do renaissance work and learned the European 4-in -one chainmail and the Japanese 6-in-one and 4-in-one. The Japanese is much prettier, particularly in jewelry.

Anyway, you said you were basically carving thrown pieces, right? I was wondering if when you did nonthrown pieces how you started. I am starting with a kind of shaped piece like a curved leaf for example and then carving in the curved edges, veins, etc. Is that the right way or is there a right way?. I carve dry not in the leather as I like fine lines and smooth pieces. I find the leather carving leaves so many jagged edges no matter what I do. I hope I'm explaining this clearly. Anyway I will look for my answer on the Web site and try again to figure out how to reply. I'm still pretty much a novice on the computer.

 

Thank you,

 

Thanks for asking, and sorry you have not figured it out. To be able to reply, you must become a member of The Carving Path Forum. (At the moment, I am logged in and do not see the button for you to use to start the joining process, but it must be there on your Carving Path Forum home page.) Follow the steps, adding the minimum required information at least, and more about yourself if you wish. Once you are a member, you will be able to read and to contribute to the topics of the forum.

 

Yes, most of my carved porcelain was with thrown pieces used as the canvas for the carving. The small sculptural pieces were started as approximately sized lumps of porcelain for the subject. I liked to work leather hard clay to almost dry, used metal and very sharp bamboo to work through the stages of carving to completion. Towards the later stages, the clay was hard but damp, and scraping lightly acheived what I wanted. The 3D pieces did need careful handling and my method of almost dry was probably one of the reasons for switching to wood, or at least was a relief to me when I did switch to wood for that reason.

 

The work of Lynn Richardson... http://www.sculpture-intense.com/gallery_lr.htm ... is probably the best example of carving dry porcelain you will ever see in the USA, (I have not met others who use this technique yet). She carves netsuke, ojime and inro. Her husband Armin Mueller was the first person to welcome me into the world of carving netsuke. We met at the time I was beginning to explore porcelain netsuke. He has passed from this world and is greatly missed. His remarkable porcelain carving combined with the sensitive and lovely carvings of Lynn's have been a wonderful contribution to the world of porcelain carving.

 

Because of their successes with coloration, I choose to not follow and continued to use my celadon and blue glazes, and failed to figure out how to be satisfied with the outcome of the firing process. I moved on to wood after 5-6 years of banging my head against the wall. Probably not an encouragement to you, but the good work of Lynn's should be an inspiration to you.

 

Different clays will react differently to carving I would imagine. There is no right way or wrong way, there is only the way you find works for you and your ideas. We try things and make choices based upon our experiences. If we follow on someone's footsteps too closely, the unique path an individual should take will take longer to reach a point of departure. We are here to help, but we each have found our own path as we succeed and fail with the pieces we are learning from.

 

Your description and questions were clear and it sounds like you are already making decisions about how you want to be carving porcelain. Compelling, isn't it?!

 

I hope that you figure out the membership joining thing, and if not, write to me again and I'll see if I can be more helpful.

 

Warmest Regards,

 

Janel

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  • 2 years later...

"but would like help if possible. With the polymer I've done a lot of sculpture and bas relief but that's all add on not subtraction". quote from your email post.

 

Is the writer asking about a product called Super Sculpy"? It's a playdough like product that you shape and bake in the oven. It hardens when cool. It's kind of neat. Similar, but not as sturdy as resin. It does work like clay. I assume to carve it, you must shape it and bake it, then use whatever tools desired to remove the stock, much like carving wood.

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Is anyone out there carving clay these days?

 

Used to, but I'm not carving clay any more. Just didn't pan out like I hoped it would, being able to use molds as a starting point and maybe achieve something like a multiple use of a single carving. Even beginning with a mold, the cleanup was almost as much work as a wood carving, with what seemed like less acceptance by the clients. Then there were the glaze problems, multiple firings, the clay ending up out of round after firing... Just wasn't as much fun as straight up carving in wood, antler, ivory, etc.

 

How about some pics of your porcelain carvings, Janel? The few I've seen were marvelous...

 

Here's are a few samples of mine:

post-11-1186248054.jpg

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Back when I was resisting making multiple images from carvings, I was resisting those problems you described Tom. The process was not an easy timesaver, and offered less quality. I have always preferred to do one-of-a-kind pieces, except when I was throwing useful pots in sets. Uhhh, 22+ years ago. Geez, it has been a while!

 

I have not tried carving Plaster of Paris. Do you carve it while it is moist and curing, or wait until it is dry?

 

Thanks Mike for taking the time to read those earlier posts. I have not used the bakeable sort of clay-like materials, but have seen some remarkable work done with it. Kathleen Dustin Her fabulous pieces are made of colored polymer, but I am so ignorant, I don't know if this is the bakeable sort of material. Kathleen's use of the colored materials results in luscious colors and painterly imagery.

 

Tom, are the crab themed pieces from the same mold? Quite a broad variety of presentations. In spite of the negative aspects, it looks like you had some fun with it.

 

Janel

 

Ps. I have a private set of pages which are available for anyone who asks about the carved porcelain I may have in my archives, available for purchase. Please be welcome to browse these pages. It is easier than trying to find random images. Carved porcelain: Janel Jacobson This is just a sample, there are more pieces in storage.

 

Actually, I would love to have a grant of money to allow me to scan and catalog my slides of the multitude of slides I have from that period of work. I have work in the archives as well, and would like to catalog that too. Any of that work is just not feasible now, with future college years ahead for our teenager.

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Tom, are the crab themed pieces from the same mold? Quite a broad variety of presentations. In spite of the negative aspects, it looks like you had some fun with it.

 

The two celadon and the crackle glazed crabs are from the same tiny mold (each about an inch across), the smoke-fired (black) one is a little larger. The molds, even though made in plaster, ended up just being sort of a three dimensional sketch (something like the commercial rough-outs available in basswood), or carbon papered pattern. I still had to do so much cleanup that I basically ended up carving each one, maybe a 20 percent time savings from carving from scratch in wood. Add in the occasional loss from bad glazing or firing, and no savings at all.

 

All in all, I did enjoy it (I suspect it has something to do with rolling in mud), I learned a lot, and that's some of the reason I'm now working in metal... ;)

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Hi Janel,

Carving in Plaster of Paris is very easy way to produce a design. The plaster is carved when it is wet after it has set. At that point it carves very smooth and even. You can carve with almost any tool. The plaster should be kept in a plastic bag it keep it moist untill the design is finished. At that point there are several ways to go. Wax can be brushed on to the plaster if a casting is desired or the plaster is allowed to dry and then clay can be pressed onto the mold. The plaster can be placed in water to moisten it if you would like to again use wax. Do not soak the plaster for more than five or ten minuites or the plaster will start to break down. Here is a picture of plaster molds be ing used to make waxes. Clay could be used in the same manner.

Dick

post-15-1186320946.jpg

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