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Clay Buddies Gift Exchange - Da "Critter"

There is this great community of ceramic artists on Facebook who get together to exchange pottery pieces based on a style, theme, form, etc. For this exchange, our clay pieces were to be inspired by the idea of a "critter". Now, to me a critter tends to scamper across the floor, or hide in a hole somewhere out of sight. So, when I accepted this challenge, I wanted to make a critter who looked charming and likable so that my clay buddy would enjoy her gift. I started off with making one of my pinch-pot rabbits with a wide open mouth, and cartoon-like features. Once the piece was finished, I started having second thoughts about sending "da critter" to its recipient. What if she did not like the cartoon style? What if rabbits were not her thing? Not wanting to give a gift not wanted, I looked into what her interests were, and found out that she liked owls. Now, at this point, I only had small doses of realistic sculpting, none of which entailed the makings of an animal, let alone an owl. But, I really needed to make up my mind, so I accepted the challenge and started to create maquette size owls with hopes I would find success in at least one of them. Unfortunately, 2 things happened which set my gift giving back much later than planned. The first set back was the accidental breaking of the pinch-pot rabbit by one of my students, which put me out of a plan B if the mini owl sculptures did not pan out. The second set back was the owl sculptures themselves. As cute as they were in the reference photos, my current skill-set at making mini-me versions was not going so well. Alas, I needed to create a plan C and quickly! Since I had quite a few mugs waiting to be decorated in storage bins, I decided to make her an owl mug. Not sure if this new idea fell into the parameters of a "critter", I decided this was the best I could do for now and still be proud of what I was gifting. Now enters set back #3...the mugs were passing leather hard and almost bone dry. Which meant, I was going to have to give them several days to re-hydrate in order for the newly sculptured clay of the owl to adhere to the mug's surface. Again, I accepted the challenge and was quite surprised at how well the mug was looking like a real owl once I finished adding the clay. As the progression goes, the next step was to bisque fire the owl, so everything would stay together and the next phase of decorating could commence. Of course, the suspense of making this "critter" does not end there, and why should it? During the bisque firing, the electricity decided to go out, ending the firing program prematurely. So, the pottery must be fired again. Once the mug came out from the second bisque firing, and in one piece (thank you, thank you, thank you), I setup my table to begin painting the under-glaze details onto the owl portion of the mug. And what could make painting even more fun and entertaining? Surly you guessed that the electricity went out again (gotta love winter weather), and now I am left painting in the dark. Using the faint emergency light coming through the window pane of our classroom door, I let no detours keep me from finishing this project. Well, I tried anyway....a few minutes later, the fire alarm goes off and it's time to evacuate the building. Fire trucks arrive along with an ambulance and police cars. I ended up waiting outside, in the cold (yes, truly freezing temperatures outside) for quite sometime before the all clear was given. I got right back to painting in the dark. As I finished the under-glaze and was ready to add the final layers of glaze, the lights in the room come back on - hallelujah! This meant the kiln was able to start, too! I applied the glaze, loaded the kiln, and set the firing program. Now the waiting game...oh how hard it is to wait for the kiln to cool! Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait....Yes, I peeked several times as the kiln was cooling down (I know, shame on me). But, oh, how BEAUTIFUL the mug turned out (I was dancing all day). But of course, the adventures of our owl "critter" does not have a complete happy ending. You see, the layered glaze on the back, which was a new-to-me glaze, decided to run off the mug and secure some of itself onto the shelf (tears, at this point, I have lots of tears). The only way to remove the mug is to carefully chisel its base until the glaze breaks. This procedure always makes one hold their breathe, as the breaking can either work in your favor or against. This time, the breaking took a small chunk of the mug with it (insert more tears). Again, I faced two choices - allow this slight blemish to become apart of the mug and send it on to its future owner, or start all over from scratch. Time waits for no one, so I quickly head to the grinder to smooth out the foot of the mug, trying to make the foot as presentable as possible. Then came the final fine sanding and cleaning, packaging, and labeling. Off to the post office just as they opened the next morning (because of course I ran there the night before only to arrive a couple minutes after they locked the doors) to send out her package. As luck will have it, my clay buddy will receive her gift this Christmas Eve, just in time to open her present. :)

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