About 2 years ago now I embarked on my first slip-cast project. I had a wheel-thrown and altered bottle vase form that I wanted to make multiples of. The drying time on this form, being altered with a new bottom being put on to oval it off, was taking way too long and I really wanted a 'blank canvas' to put glaze designs on. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to look into making a mold out of it. So I got in touch with Russell Hackney, a master mold-maker who's worked on making prototypes of intricate clocks for the Queen, no less. It was a pricey venture to get it the master and molds made, but I didn't want to fuss with my own lack of skill in the mold-making category- I wanted to put my best foot forward and come out with a near exact replica of my original design.
In 2010 I decided, after much deliberation and months and months of sitting down with each little wedged 1 lb ball of clay, making hundreds of mugs with the same 2 basic forms, not ever quite keeping up with my orders because I didn't have time to make other things, to make my 2 mug designs into molds. This was the hardest decision for me yet. I really love looking inside a wheel-thrown mug and seeing throwing lines on the inside. My outsides are pretty void of throwing lines because I use a rib to smooth them out since my glazing method works a lot easier if I have a smooth surface, so the outsides would generally be the same. But the insides would be, different. Perhaps a little too manufactured. Regardless, I needed a break. I was beginning to dread making mugs all the time. My body was telling me it needed a break from throwing, and my head was saying it didn't make financial sense for me to wheel-throw each and every piece that I make. So I took the plunge and made my mug designs into a mold and have been slip-casting them since last spring. Just the tall mugs, not the little latte mugs, or my cups, or my bowls, or my platters, or my teapots, or my espresso cups, or my plates.
Now slip-casting itself was no small leap for me to make. I had to find a good slip recipe and mix slip by hand (measure out dry materials, sieve it, mix with a drill mixer for 2 hours, allow for air bubbles to settle for a few days before mixing for another hour). The trial and error of this process ruined a lot of work before I started to see results. The molds themselves are not a cheap investment to make. And I still pour them, pull them out of the mold, clean up the seams, put handles on them before they can be bisqued and glazed by hand. But the big advantage is the drying time. They don't need take nearly as long to dry out as wheel-thrown work does. And they are all the same size so if someone orders multiples or comes back for a second mug, it will be the same size. The handles always feel great and are big enough for different hands to hold it. The whole process has freed up some of my time to work on new designs and new glazing patterns. In the end I feel like it was the right decision to make, but sometimes with a twinge of guilt. I know there are some amazing ceramic artists out there who make their work exclusively with molds. I also know die-hard wheel-throwers/hand-builders that wouldn't touch a mold and put down the process as being too 'manufactured'. In general the work I see coming out of undergraduate schools these days is all slip-cast. Generally people don't seem to have the time to invest in throwing on the wheel to make a form they have in their head, so they become mold-makers and slip-cast. And in the world of design, it's a widely accepted practice. But I still sense a stigma attached to slip-casting as though it's a cop-out, or easier somehow than wheel-throwing.
|In the studio the other day, putting on handles...|