Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Still up for trivia? I promised you information on celery dishes. They are about eight to ten inches long with sides that curved up from a flat bottom about three inches across. Celery dishes were popular in the late 1800's and the early part of the 20th Century. Celery was a novelty then, a fresh crunchy texture in the fall or winter. Hello, Califoria. Refrigerated cars made celery a possibility for upper middle class hostesses; so you had to have a special dish. Those celery sticks at Thanksgiving have a history going back at least a hundred years. Who new? Your mom was being upscale.

The class is still busy working on painting in their decals on their tea cups. It will take us two or three more weeks to finish this project. One of the two kilns at Irving is filled with cups and saucers so it has proved to be a successful project. We are lucky at Irving, we have two large kilns. One has an electronic touchpad and the other has an old-fashioned cone-sitter.

Cone-sitters have two prongs or stilts that a pyrotechnic (heat sensitive) cone rests on and then a bar that rests on top of the cone. The bar is levered or caught by a lead weight. The cone will start to slump or bend at set temperature, which lowers the bar and causes the lead weight to fall, which trips a stitch to turn off the kiln. It's really an elegant little device.

The temperature range for china painting is from around 1350F to around 1550F: or cone 018 to around cone 013. For ceramics, these are low temperatures. Typically, our kilns take three to three and half hours to reach the temperature range for china painting and about six to seven hours to cool enough to remove the china.

More about firing later...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Last week, we welcomed a new student to the class, her name is Dee Broz. Welcome, Dee! We are always looking for new recruits. As I have mentioned before, the number of china painters has been on a steady decline since the 1970's. In January of 2010, Vicki Vickers joined us and has turned into a nice painter and a friendly presence in the classroom. Over the last nineteen years, I probably have started or taught over 200 painters at Irving Rec. But it never gets old, I am always excited to introduce new students to china painting and make new friends. Also, last week Barb Ellison, a student that has been with the class for seventeen years, brought us all pumpkin bars. Yum!

Well, gluing glass beads to our tea cups has proved to be a problem. About one third to one half of them fall off when they are applied to a vertical surface. On a flat or horizontal surface the glass beads have near one hundred percent success rate. This week I did some experimenting with alternate glues. Hot glue, glues that use acetone as a solvent, and white glue all have about the same failure rate. Any ideas out there?

Here is more trivia, have you ever noticed that porcelain tea, coffee, and chocolate pots resemble silver tea, coffee, and chocolate pots? Well, they were copies of silver sets. One of the reasons porcelain became the dining room standard of the 1700's, was its inability to be melted down. Silver was often confiscated by the state and melted down for ready coin. Going to war? Grab the silver. Talk about taxation.

Porcelain was also valued in the 1700's and 1800's because it didn't tarnish or change color. It was seen as pure and healthier alternative to wood trenchers, earthenware, and pewter. Given the levels of lead in pewter and earthenware glazes plus the levels of bacteria on porous surfaces, they were right. If you could afford it, you ate off porcelain!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I have been working on designs for the July session at Irving. It is always exciting to plan and create new projects for my students.

First up is a new Santa plate for 2010. My students and I have worked on a new Santa plate every year. We have about thirteen different Santa designs now. In the early years, I used different sizes and shapes of plates. After 2001 or so, we have stayed with an eight inch coupe plate. The uniform plates make them easier to display. This year's plate is a nocturne, a night view. Santa will have a black background and strong shadows across his face with some golden highlights to reflect firelight.

Santa is a good image to work with when beginning portraiture. Our eye is so accurate when we are looking at the faces of the people we love. A portrait of relatives is very hard. We can see the slightest inaccuracy. Be just a sixteenth of an inch off and the likeness is ruined. Often it is not the placement of the features that ruinds a portrait, but the tonality. What makes a cheek curve softly into the ear is gradual change of color. It takes good brush control and a good eye for tones to create that change of color. So Santa is perfect, since no one knows exactly what he looks like. Also, wrinkles are easier than a smooth cheek.

I am also working on a twelve inch plate with an image of a young woman. She has the look of a Russian princess with heaps of curly blonde hair, and I am working on a long narrow tray as well with a female figure holding a rose. With a bit of luck, all three projects will be ready for the session starting on July 7. Also, we have a Portrait Workshop on Saturday, July 17.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

So what is the difference between a tea cup, a coffee cup, and a chocolate cup? Mostly it is the shape.

Tea cups have a wide open rim that tapers down to a small base and the handles are designed to hook a single finger. Porcelain is a great conductor of heat. So it is the perfect material for boiling water and tea leaves. Tea cups were designed to coll quickly and not burn the fingers of the tea drinkers. They average 4-6 ounces.

High tea, by the way, is a supper or meal served in the late afternoon or early evening. It was served at a high table or regular dinner table. Low tea is the fancy tea served from about two to four o'clock in the afternoon in the parlor. It was served on low tables or tea tables and was considered a snack to tide you over until a late dinner around eight or nine o'clock.

Coffee cups have a more vertical side and a bigger handle for two or three fingers. Coffee is usually not brewed at such a high temp., it is brewed around 180 F. Burning your fingers and your tongue is not such a risk. Also, the vertical shape helps settle the sediment or grounds. Coffee cups with a saucer average 4-6 ounces.

Modern coffee cups with saucers often have a tea cup shape, but this is a relatively new design, dating from the mid-twentieth century. I think of them as dinner cups or cups used on trains or in diners. Dinner cups were a commercial shape for restaurants, and were not used in homes until the 1940's or 1950's.

Mugs are a whole new story.

Chocolate cups have a narrow vertical shape. They are smaller and around 4 ounces. Chocolate in the 1800's was served as syrup made of sugar, water, and cocoa. Milk or cream was then carefully poured on top. So the shape of the chocolate cups kept the milk or cream from cooking or curdling. The drinker sipped the chocolate syrup through the cream to enjoy their drink. We do the same sort of thing with our hot chocolate and whipped cream.

More than you wanted to know? Get me started on casseroles versus tureens. Or do you know what a celery dish looks like? Ok, ok. Another day.