Saturday, May 17, 2014

The $65 Flop

Back in June of 2012 I went back to Illinois to visit and while there went to a paint-your-own-pottery place with my Mom, Sister, and Niece. For those not familiar, paint-your-own-pottery places (PYOPP) work like this: You walk in - no reservations necessary - pick out a piece of over-priced greenware, pay the studio day fee, and paint your piece using the paint, brushes, and misc. supplies provided by the studio. The PYOPP dip-glazes and fires the piece and a week later, you go back and pick up your finished masterpiece.

So the four of us went and it was a lovely day, three generations together, puttering with paint. I however apparently did more puttering then painting as at the end of our studio session my bowl was not finished. Niece was also not finished (she was doing a rather detailed design though) so we all went back again the next day for a few hours so that the two of us could finish our designs. And though Niece completed her piece, I did not. I had decided on doing a stained-glass look, a ridiculous choice of design given the time factor. So while the other three pieces stayed at the PYOPP to be glazed and fired, my bowl left with me, to be finished later back in Pennsylvania.

The day before I boarded the plane back to PA, we returned to the PYOPP to pick up the three finished pieces. They looked fantastic! The difference in colors between the raw ceramic paint and the fired paint is amazing! I was bummed I didn't finish my bowl in time but knew there was a ceramics store in my hometown that would have the paint and kiln needed to finish it. Not wanting to risk my bowl breaking on the plane, Mom went to the trouble of having it securely packed & mailed back to me. (Thanks, Mom!).

My bowl and I back home in Pennsylvania, I made my way into the ceramics store downtown. This is a "real" ceramics store. They sell greenware and painting supplies and offer the occasional class. They are not a PYOPP. The two ladies working there when I went in were a bit condescending and quite a bit anti-PYOPP. They did not carry the brand of paint I needed to match what I already had on the bowl, and every time I picked a close-enough color from their sample board they told me "Sorry, we are out of stock on that color". I finally picked out four in-stock colors that were a pretty good match, plus a black, and left, silently vowing never to go back to that store.

This was the same summer we moved from an apartment in town to a house on the river. Grateful, blessed, lucky - yes! But also - BUSY! Moving ain't easy. ;)
As time and circumstance allowed, I finally finished painting the bowl. All that was left to do was to get it glazed and fired ...
As I did not want to go back to the ceramics store downtown I was keeping my eyes open for a PYOPP. Somwhere that would adopt my bowl and dip & fire it with the rest of their batch. When I finally happened on such a place, on the way home from a job, they were in the process of changing locations. The owner was very nice, told me sure, we'll do it for you, but wait 'til next week until we are in our new location ... The next week we of course were not working in that area so by the time I was able to get to the new location, with the bowl, months had passed. And the store was closed early for the day. Sigh.

Many more months later, we have another job in that area so I bring the bowl with me. I am going to drop this damn thing off today no matter what!
The lady working that day was very nice, said she had a batch going in the kiln that night so she would dip my bowl right away and get it in that batch.
Two days later she called and said it was ready for pick-up. But due to job rescheduling, it was two weeks before I was able to return to the store to pick it up.

When I returned to pick it up, my bowl was a beacon, calling to me from its shelf, a stand-out amid all the other less vibrantly colored pieces. I was ecstatic. Look at how the colors came out! So not only did I happily pay their small studio fee for glazing & firing the bowl, I also picked out a matching raw mug. I figured I could paint it with the paint I had left over from the bowl and have them fire it. But I hadn't really LOOKED at the bowl yet. It wasn't until I was back in the work van on the way home that I unwrapped it and really inspected it. Oh dear!!! What a mess!!

Here is what my bowl looked like before I dropped it off to be glazed and fired:


And here is what it looked like when I picked it up after glazing and firing:


OMG!! It looks likes a kindergartner did it! Horrible! Not only did the black lines bleed out, the glaze was bubbled and blistered all over.


After I got home I did some research and found numerous reasons for glaze bubbling/blistering. Contaminates in the glaze, glaze not mixed thoroughly, glaze is applied too heavily, glaze itself is too thick, dirty kiln, improper heating/cooling ...
All of which point to the store's procedures and not me. I was not a happy camper at this point. A lot of time and expense went into this piece and now it is ruined. Aside from the black bleeding out and making it look like crap, it also feels bad to the touch.

Two days later I took it back to the PYOPP wanting some answers. I had with me "before" pictures - what it looked like before the tidy black lines I slaved over ran amok. The woman who happened to be working that day was very nice but was also rather nonchalant and unsympathetic. She said it appeared that 1) there were contaminates in the glaze making it bubble/blister and 2) their glaze must have reacted negatively to the paint I used causing the black to bleed.
She did say she could try to sand down the blisters and reglaze / refire the bowl which was a nice offer but since the bowl was still a disaster because of the black bleeding it wasn't worth the effort so I told her no thank you. I then returned the matching mug I had bought (was not going to waste time painting it if I couldn't trust them to finish it without ruining it) and got the $6 back they charged for dipping and firing it.

I thought, to be able to paint a piece at home and then bring it to them and have them glaze and fire it for only $6 (their studio fee for day) - what a good deal! But not if they are going to ruin it in the process. So I think my ceramic painting days are over.

All that said ... I think PYOPP are a great idea and loads of fun - as long as you paint there with their supplies. If you do it on your own and bring it to them just for the finishing the outcome is risky and they won't stand behind it.

And oh .. if you tally up the cost of the greenware bowl, the two days of studio fees in Illinois, the packing and shipping to PA, the cost of paint for me to finish it on my own, and the fee at the PYOPP place here in PA, this bowl has $65 in to it. Minus the $6 they refunded me. So that makes it "only" a $59 bowl. Lesson learned. ;)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Decoupaged Camo Dresser

When we switched a few years back from a Dodge cargo van to a Chevy cargo van, we needed something up front that would serve as a table/desk top and also provide extra storage. After scouring the thrift stores we found a little 4-drawer night-stand that was the perfect size for our needs. It fits snugly between the seats and is just the right height to serve as a desk top and dining table. (Yes, we eat many meals "on the go".)
When Spring hit this year (finally!!) I decided the butcher-block like top needed a sprucing up. I was just going to sand it and apply a new coat of wood stain and sealer but alas! When I took the orbital sander to it I discovered it wasn't actually solid wood. Having wrecked it with the sander and not being able to just stain & seal it as planned, I needed another finish that would be durable and easy to wipe clean, which ruled out simply painting it.

I knew from experience that Mod-Podge Hard Coat topped off with Folk Art Extra Thick Glaze makes for a pretty durable finish so like any sensible person would, I decided on decoupage. ;)
I knew my usual bright "Col Colors" would be out of place in the work van and thus wouldn't sit well with the Other-Half so I went with camoflauge as I already had camo patterned napkins on hand. And because I didn't think that would be hard enough I decided to place a rustic fishing scene in the center using another napkin pattern I had. (I tend to collect decorative paper napkins same way I do ribbons and beads; you just never know when that design will come in handy. ;) )

Decoupage with napkins is tricky because they tear so easily, especially after becoming damp with the glue. And I am here to tell you, if you want a perfectly smooth wrinkle-free surface this is not for you. You WILL have wrinkles if you are using paper napkins or tissue paper. (The fine wrinkling, however, mimics a crackle effect when all is said & done so if you are after a weathered/antique look, then by all means, use napkins!)
Napkins usually are two-ply: a top patterned layer and a bottom white layer. To decoupage with them you MUST separate the plies so you have just the patterned layer to work with. Separating these layers is a bit tedious but not all that hard. You just have to get a corner started and gently pull apart.
Having separated my camo plies I completed the camo border without much mishap. The trouble came when I applied the center napkin scene. It was bubbling up terribly and just not sticking. On closer inspection I realized, shoot! there is a third, very thin white ply in there I hadn't noticed. A rare three-ply napkin! :( So I had to scrape it all back off, ruining my camo border in the process, and start again after tediously separating that extra middle ply from the patterned one.
Applying a 13" x 13" napkin in one uncut piece without tearing it was more than I should have asked of myself but I went slowly and just as I thought, "Ha! Victory is mine!", yep, I tore a hole in it. :( And right smack-dab in the center of the scene. $%#@&! Using another napkin, I patched the dime-sized hole. I knew that where the patch overlapped the original layer it would be darker but I thought it would blend in. Boy was I wrong! The patched area stood out like a sore thumb. :(
At this point the Other-Half got involved. He was very much liking the new look of our van table so was as distraught as I was over the ugly dark spot now in the center of it. I was done though. I was not going to scrape it all off and start over from scratch nor was I going to attempt to excise the blighted area and re-patch. So as I nervously watched, he used a straight edge razor and a chisel to cut out a rectangular area, quite a bit larger then the blemish, from the table top, miraculously not marring any of the rest of it! He then cut a matching rectangle from another napkin and I glued it in. Ta-Dah!!! You can see the rectangular outline of the patch if looking from an angle, but overall it is WAY better than the dam dark spot from the first patch job was.
We then went on to add camo to the handles, orange paint to the drawer interiors (why not?) and black edging, followed by a fresh coat of white paint on the back, sides, and drawer fronts.
It ate up more time than I had planned on and will be seen by few as it's only going in the work van, but, I think it was worth it. Turned out to be a pretty cool little dresser. :)

*** Note about the Folk Art Extra Thick Glaze.
The product link above says it produces a "subtle" glossy sheen. ROTFL!! This stuff makes an insanely glossy glass-like shine when applied in multiple layers. I love it! (Drawback though is trying to photograph something it has been applied to.)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Maloccio Bracelet


I got the idea for this linked stretchy bracelet from one I bought from Sears (uh, yes, Sears!)a while back. I thought the design would be easy to copy. 80 beads and 144 links later I ended up with something that looks nothing like the "inspiration piece". But that's how it should be right? Not to copy a piece but to use the idea and make something unique out if it.


I made 16 nine-link segments, then used stretchy cord to thread on my glass beads, alternating evil-eye and spiral patterns. After stringing the five rows of beads, I tied off the ten loose ends, dabbed the knots with hypo cement, and done. Which is really over-simplifying. I had one issue after another making this, ending with gluing the B and SpaceBar keys together on my keyboard with the hypo cement. (TIP: Don't manhandle tubes of glue near your computer.)


It makes for a rather heavy (80 glass beads tend to weigh a lot) and wide bracelet, but I like that. With the chain links running one way and the stretchy cord running the other, you can wear it scrunched up, or, stretch it out some on your wrist to make it even wider. I like that, too. But you could easily change the size and number of links and beads in this design to make the finished bracelet larger/smaller.