Monday, April 28, 2008

Answering Readers Questions - Leaving clay unwrapped

I received this enquiry from Mary Lou asking about leaving clay unwrapped on a work surface. I think she asks a very important question:

Hi Linda,

I have a question. I have left clay on my desk for a couples of days. What is your advice on doing such a thing. The clay is expose to air for a lenght of time and I have went back to working with it. From a professional what advice can you give. I have only started working with polymer just recently.

Thank you in advance.Mary Lou

My response:

Hello Mary Lou,

Thank you for your question. Generally clay is not harmed by leaving it exposed to air. What does harm clay and make it unfit to work with is leaving it near a heat source, such as near a heating element (radiator or heat duct or in a hot car on a summer day) or exposed to direct sunlight. It is heat that begins the curing process and if exposed to heat to long, it does dry out the clay, makes it brittle and ruins it. If you want to leave it on your work surface, I would simply wrap my clay in some plastic wrap or place it inside a zip-lock bag to protect it from dust particles and other things that are attracted to the clay.

Also, please be aware that clay can damage a worksurface such as wood. As a gentle word of caution, and yes I do speak from experience, do not let raw clay be exposed to wood, styrofoam or certain plastics as they will corrode them.

Again, thanks to Mary for asking the questions! I hope it's useful information to everyone. I think the next blog, I'll talk about worksurfaces. What do you use?

Feel free to send me your questions or comments to post.

Also....if you are planning to enter April's Spring Challenge, get your entries to me - there is still time!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ideas for Storing Polymer Clay - Tips & Techniques

Im back at home now, just trying to get settled back in. It's funny but it's like you have to come home from a vacation to rest! We really packed ALOT in those 4 days with Gill.

So here's the plan.......After some much much needed yardwork to do today (before it storms) Im jumping back into polymer clay. First I want to cane some projects featuring inspiration from Moorcroft pottery....did you have a look? Then next, Im designing projects for the POM club, which I'll be re-intoducing. Im considering making the POM club a monthly video to download so that it will be much more like a class....but honestly...first things first.

If you are new to polymer clay.....or if you've been an addict for quite sometime, you may just wonder how I store my Im sharing a tip that I've found helpful over the years.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is - What's the best way to store polymer clay?

I guess that depends on how much clay you have. You can store individual colors in zip lock baggies tucked away in a shoe box in a dark closet away from the heat duct.

Baggies are a great way to store many colors of clay. I knew of a lady that used a shoe caddy that was hung over the door to tuck her clay away by color rows - one row for greens, another for yellows and so on.

I prefer to have an organizer box filled with colors that I've opened and those that I use quite frequently. This generally stays on my work table - or just behind it. I also store large quantities of clay in glad disposable storage containers, stacked according to color and put away in a cabinet. This works well for me because I mix alot of "faux stone" colors at once and then have it available when I need to make a quick project or I just feel like making beads..... (the organizer box is a great way to store pieces of canes that you frequently use also)

When looking for containers to store clay, look underneath at the recycle triangle. If the number "5" is in the center of the triangle you can be confident that this type of plastic is compatible with clay. (Thank you Nuchi for this tip!)

Do not store your clay in hard plastic containers - these are generally clear, or in styrofoam cups or containers. Your clay will eat right thru and create a big ole mess - trust me on this one! Learn from my experience. Also make sure your clay is stores in a cool dry place. Heat will affect your clay - generally age won't.

I hope this little tidbit helps. If you have a tid bit to share, click on the comment link or email me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Don't forget Aprils Clay Challenge

There's still time to enter the clay challenge for April.

The theme is Spring and it must in some way, some how have polymer clay on it.

The winner receives a free copy of POLYPENS!

So what are you waiting for??????

Monday, April 21, 2008

Last play day in England - We visit the City of Chester

Hollister, Missouri is a small town that I grew up in famous for it's Downing street and buildings that must have been inspired by the city of Chester. Chester is a rather upscale area, rich with restaurants, up-scale shopping and lots of beauty.

Below is a home situated on the picturesque river Dee...

And here's the neighbors house, quite "lovely" don't you agree??? I could definately live here...

Here is the view out your windows overlooking the river Dee.... (notice the white foot bridge you'll see that a little later...)
As with anywhere in England...bring money....lots and lots of money especially if you are American and when the dollar is week....

This is a snapshot of the menu from the Cafe we ate at. The food was divine ( I had butternut squash and goat cheese lasagne...mouthwatering) But just check out the price of a burger will ya??? That's 9 and a half pounds which translates into $19.00 for an 8oz burger folks......yikesey pikesey! But I can at least put this on my list of fancy restaurants I've gotten to eat at.

Apparently someone was not to happy with this city ordinance..........or maybe the sign liked watching the taxi cabs and cars zoom thru the streets???

This is the clock in the center of the city. When you see the Eiffel tower, you obviously think of France or when you see Big Bend you think of London...wellll....same thing here...if you see this clock (built in 1897) you think of Chester...okay maybe you didn't before this picture, but now you will..

Oh yes, and we mussnt forget dressing up for afternoon tea, with our afternoon tea hats....
And here is afternoon tea at the Blue Moon Cafe. By now, after being in the UK for over a week, the "hot" tea is starting to grow on me...but the "cold" milk...sorry Gill, just can' t do it.

In case you are a creative person needing a job in a bead shop....there's one for you. The only thing disappointing about this bead shop is that they need much more live samples for inspiration. Other than that, it's quite lovely.

Okay, so this takes the cake for Mega churches. We have several Mega Churches in Missouri and one in particular not too far from my house.

Because these buildings are so old, many of them contain stained glass or architecture of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton YHWH which many know now as the Divine Name 'Jehovah'. I am quite interested in biblical archaeology and Gill and I decided to go inside to see if the church had any reminiscence of the divine name which has been taken out of modern day languages and Bibles.

After you enter the door a gentleman directs you down a long hall way and interestingly the first thing that you come to at the end of it is what resembles a "box office" situated inside the gift shop and the cafe. Admission to the church for viewing was $10 US. Seeing this, I felt as Jesus did at John 2:16. This is the situation where Jesus was near Jerusalem around the time of the passover. When he went to the temple he found those selling sheep, cattle and other items of merchandise. This outraged Jesus and he shouted "stop making the house of my Father a house of merchandise". Seeing this with my own eyes, made that verse come to life and I could only imagine the indignation that he must have felt.

And with that thought, we did not view the church, instead we left, but unlike Jesus, we did not turn over any tables...

Tonight, it's dinner at the "chip shop", known for it's fantastic Fish and Chips. I've gotten quite a tour and quite a language lesson too as so many of the british english words have different meanings.

Tomorrow its back on the train for my journey home. It's been a fantastic time with Gill and her husband John! Loved every minute of it, but now I am ready to go home.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Stoke on Trent, England – Rich in Pottery History

Stoke-on-Trent is considered to be the home of the pottery industry in the United Kingdom and is commonly known as The Potteries.

Driving around Stoke-on-Trent and Handley you notice the bottle kilns pipes; remains from a City that was the mecca of the pottery industry. (see the picture below) Until I visited I never really thought much about English pottery. I have collected several pieces of it, but didn’t really realize the amount of workmanship involved or how it affected the livelihoods of the families who relied on this industry to make a living. I can only say that I have a new sense of appreciation of this art and the families whose lives it touched.

These pipes are now historically protected and can not be removed. At one time hundreds of bottle kilns could be seen over the countryside, now only a handfull remain.

Inside an old bottle kiln

Many of the factories are no longer in production, in fact just a handful remain. One of the most renown pottery factories is located in Handley, known as Moorcroft pottery. It is some of the most exquisite and expensive pottery that I have ever had the pleasure of feasting my eyes upon. You must visit this factory if you ever get to Stoke. You will be treated to EyeCandy Heaven.

Unfortuantely, because of the workmanship involved and the art of creating the piece, we were not allowed to take photographs thru our hour long tour of the factory. But do check out the Moorcroft website because there are short videos of each process that I describe. All in all there are 14 different processes that the pottery has to take before it is finished.

Originally the pottery was hand thrown on a wheel, but because of it’s popularity, it is now slip cast.

Moorcroft employs three designers which are responsible for the design not only of the pottery itself but for the decoration. Each design is carefully laid out to fit the piece which it will decorate perfectly. A water color painting is also made of the design for reference to the painters.

If a designer has a new idea for a piece, a sketch of the design is drawn and given to the mold maker. The mold maker will then make a profile of the design and cast it into a hard plaster type material. Eventually thru 6 different processes a mold is made. From that original mold, the casting mold is made which will make up to 30 pieces.

Next he mold is given to the “turner”. The Turner pours the slip into the mold, where the slip begins to dry from the outside in. When the desired thickness has been obtained, the extra slip is poured out, the pottery is removed from the mold and allowed to dry further. Then it is put on a lathe and the fine detailed shape of the pot is turned out using very simple metal tools, made by the turner himself. This process was fascinating to me – he made it look so easy! Obviously it is quite a skill because it requires a 7 year apprentice to work in this area.

When the piece has been refined, it is then sponged down to remove any marks left in turning. This person is also responsible for the stamping of the piece with the Stoke –On-Trent stamp as well as the year of production. The piece is then allowed to dry and then given to the “slip liners”.

As you examine each piece of Moorcroft pottery, it appears to be enameled with raised designs. This raised design is created in the slip lining process.

A design is traced onto a piece of plastic sheeting with old time ink and pen. Markings are put onto the design to ensure proper placement. Once the design has been traced onto the plastic, it is then aligned on the pottery and rubbed on, similar to what you would do when using a scrapbooking rub on. It is very important that the artists who are working with the pottery at this stage are very careful since they are still working on raw clay that has not been fired to bisque. The intricate designs in this pottery will literally make your eyes cross!

Using a small bag with a very fine point tip, the slip liners draw the design. It can take as little as a few hours or several days to complete one piece! Each designer signs his/her work. It takes around 18 months to learn this job.

After this process, it is handed over to the painters who use metallic based paints to paint the colors into the design. They mix the paint with a lot of water and as you can imagine, they drop the water inside the raised designs. Since the pottery is very porous, it soaks up the water quite quickly. As many as ten layers of color may be applied to any design. This process is also quite tedious. When finished the painters also paint their mark on the bottom. An 18 month apprentice is required here as well.

It is now ready to be fired, which is done overnight in electric kilns. After the piece has been cooled, it is then dipped into the glaze, allowed to dry and then is checked for any pinholes which are filled before the final firing. This is the firing that applies the enamel like glass finish.

When you see just how labor intensive each piece is, how many artisans have worked long hours to bring just one piece to life, you realize why this pottery is so incredibly expensive. It’s also quite a big deal to own a piece of this artwork. (I do not – yet) A small vase (that’s…vaaaaahz) around 2” tall – very ornately decorated will cost around 180 pounds – which translates to around $360 dollars. I saw lamps and other vases that were over 6,000 pounds (double that for dollars)
I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like it – ever. I found this pottery incredibly inspiring for my polymer clay work. It really makes me want to go home and cane. Great inspiration for focal beads don’t you agree?
Also located nearby is Denby Pottery, while not as detailed in design, this pottery serves a more functional purpose. You can purchase this pottery directly from the factory and you can save a little "poundage" too if you don't mind purchasing slightly imperfect seconds.
Below is a picture of some more pottery that I found inspiring. I love the black and white design of this pottery. I can imagine simulating this effect by carving polymer clay beads that have a white core and a black case.

I particulary love the folk art designs of this pottery.
That concludes our virtual tour for the day, hope you enjoyed. You can always take your own virtual tour by "googling" key words such as Stoke On Trent, The Potteries, MooreCroft and Denby. Isn't the internet great? Travel the world from your "Settie" or as American's say " Couch". Hope you have a lovely journey.

Next on the tour, a day in the City of Chester. Don't miss this, there's some beautiful scenery!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Derbyshire Country - A tour thru Bolsover Castle

Castles of Kings and Queens and Lords are spread all over England. Today we toured the Castle in Bolsover located in Darbyshire County, known as the Bolsover Castle from the mid 16th century. Below you can see the entire grounds. On the left is the ruins of the big castle and on the right (the tall building) is the Little Castle that the Lord would stay on the weekend.
Gill and I in front of the Little Castle
This is the doorway leading to the riding stables. Gill demonstrated for us how a horse might be ridden inside.....she's funny!
The kitchen below would serve up to 300 guests at a in this kitchen might be a challenge...
The view was spectacular. Obviously the Castle sits on top of a mountain overlooking the kingdom. I should mention, this castle had no moat.
Gill and I on the steps to the entrance of the Little Castle. The view above is looking out from the front of the castle to the left. This picture is looking to the right.
Entrance to the Little Castle. I have no idea how many rooms there were inside, but they seemed endless. There is no furniture in this castle. These are mostly just the ruins. As you'll see later, the walls inside are quite ornate
This is a picture of one of the bed chambers. Note the designs on the ceiling and walls. There were no windows in the castle so obviously most rooms had ornate fireplaces to keep warm. This fireplace is carved marble.
The arches above contained paintings such as this....
This is a view of the ceiling from the closet that is located just off the bed chamber. Closets were different back then. In this case they were quiet places where the Lady of this house would write her poetry.
Looking outside the castle to the kingdom

One of the most amazing experiences so far in this trip. I have so many more pictures of this castle but obviously do not have space for all of them.
Tomorrow is a tour of Moorcraft Pottery in Stoke-On-Trent known for it's pottery industry.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

London Day Seven - Leaving London by Train to Stoke-On-Trent

I was just so nervous about this whole train thing. I don't know why, but I had this whole fear of missing the train. turned out much simpler than I though. You don't need to arrive early, you have no x-ray security.....which is a little scarey really.....all you have to do is just show up before your train leaves.

So here's the inside of London Euston Station. Notice all the boards with all the locations of each train.

The 8:10 to Manchester is what I was taking...... You have to listen carefully because they call out a track and you better be ready to board because the train will leave without you......So no showing up 7 minutes late or you'll be left standing on the dock!

This was the train opposite mine, but looks the same. I was on Virgin Trains, quite nice and very quiet, well except for the group of college guys at the back of the train.
Two and a half hours later and you are in Stoke On Trent. Stoke is very famous for it's pottery making. If you own any Johnson Brothers stoneware, it's most likely come from Stoke and Gills Mum has most likely been the one who checked it for quality. She worked at the factory for years. The country side here is far different from London. Very beautiful rolling hills and picturesque. It's quite lovely really.

Gill and John (her husband) were there waiting for me just as I got off the train. Then Gill wisked me away to take me to breakfast. So here we have driven up to a window to buy some Oat cakes for breakfast. It literally is a hole in the wall with the people selling oatcakes out their window. They say that the recipe is a very guarded secret recipe that has been handed down for generation......

I do recommend you visit the website and order. They do sell internationally. I dont know just how to describe the oat cakes except that they are like a pan cake but made from different types of oats. Mine had bacon and cheese inside and it was quite delicious.
A dozen oat cakes will set you back around 1.50 pounds. So around $3 from the states plus shipping. People come here and buy them by the dozens. I doubt that many of them make it home since they are so tasty you tend to eat them in the car.

Since leaving London, I have not seen a cab - just so you know.

We then went back to Gills house to set my things down.

About thirty miles away in a village of Walgherton is a place called Dagfields which is known for its quaint little antique shops full of English china and craft shops. I bought quite a lot of china tea cups.....(ssshhhhh don't tell Dana)

After that it was back home for a party of all of Gill and John's family. It was a very nice time and it's always great to meet new people. Tomorrow it's a tour of a Castle in Bolsover.

Friday, April 11, 2008

London Day Six - It's a wrap!

By now you're probably thinking with the title I chose for the blog I'm going to talk about Well... not too much anyways. No...It's a Wrap because WE ARE ALL DONE FOLKS!!!!! (claps and cheering now....)
I didn't get out like yesterday so I didn't get to do quite the Taxi Hunting that I did yesterday, though I managed to get a couple of new ones. I'm hoping tomorrow on the way to the train station, I'll find some more, so I'm saving that for another time. I also have a very interesting food blog I'll be doing so keep checking back for that too.
The day couldn't begin without a trip to Waitrose to buy some Marmite for breakfast. (Sorry, but you'll just have to find out about his "love it or hate it " type of stuff in another blog. But no sooner that I got back with the marmite, Marie and David are diggin in.........( I think David is practicing his food modeling skills for one of his upcoming photography shoots - as you can see he rarely has a serious look on his face...)

Since today was the last day of the photo shoot Liz one of our editors dropped by to make sure everything was just the way they wanted it. Here is one of David's rare serious moments discussing the photograph we set up to shoot the containers for the flower arrangements. (really it wasn't as intense as it looks, but it is one of those....if you don't get it now photo''ll never get it kind of things...)

I think David may have hopped a "fashion cab" because his "thing" is funny "trainers" aka tennis shoes and "wild socks"......I believe he's sporting some his girlfriend got for him. I just have to laugh when I see this photo...makes me think he knicked these socks off a bumble bee.....
I was "forced" to wear this toga all week long over my clothes because Geoff said it reflected the light better. I like to wear dark colors, which apparently doesn't work well when you are trying to bounce light. You can only be confined in a dark studio with a toga so long before you start to go bonkers. So Geoff and I took the look to new heights as he dressed up as an arab with a Wal-Mart sack and a moustache made of sheet moss from the shoot. Pretty creative huh?? Sometimes you just have to let they don't have WalMarts in the UK....

Marie decided to join in the fun.....she wanted to make a tiara of berries and be the berry princess for our wrap up after work party....

Here's three of the girls who help make my books look so wonderful. Harri, Cindy and Liz. They are part of the editorial team at Cico. Of course they all hate their picture, but I think they are delightful, beautiful and lovely girls to work with. Thanks for all your hard work Girls!!!
Carmel has just joined Cico about 2 month ago. She's so sweet and I think she's going to be a great asset to the Cico bunch. This is the second time Marie (on the right) and I have worked closely together on a book. She's a fantastic editor and a wonderful tour guide. It's really been a pleasure getting to know her.

In the morning I hop the train North to Stoke-On-Trent to visit Gill for a few days. I just have to say THANKS to everyone on the team. Again, it was such a memorable and pleasant experience. Thanks for all your friendship and professional talent and all the laughs! You're the best!!!!!!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

London Day Five - How to Select a Taxi

As I travel, I take notice of the things that are alike.....and the things that are different. I think we all know what a taxi cab looks like and when you are traveling to a major city, especially by yourself and out of the country, it can be a little stressful trying to get anywhere.

So I decided to put together a little London Taxi Cab Directory to help you in making travel arrangments. Hopefully this will make journey a little more of a breeze.....

You'll need to know how to get a hold of a taxi..... so here's your options:

You can Dial a Cab (Sorry don't have a picture)

You can Radio a cab........

or lastly...if you really need to get there FAST.... You can" Dial a Flight".....these go so fast you will feel like you are flying.......

Now that you know how to get a taxi.....where do you go to get one?
This is "the first place to look" for a taxi..............

If you are here on business, you might hop a ride in this cab....they are "business drivers" for business people.....

If you are needing up to the minute stock quotes while you are here, this is a taxi especially for "investors who know the score".......

For those of you with children, there are kid friendly taxi's...........

Be good BE GOOD....or "Super Nanny" will come after ya....

Apparently all you have to do to get faster broadband internet in the UK is to "raise your hands up " like you are Praising the Lord......and take a ride in this taxi..

Rush hour in London is quite scarey really and the space between the cars is quite tight, so if you are in a hurry to get somewhere - hop this cab. You can "Out Manoever" anything or anyone. ....

Wanting to go on a holiday?

Take this cab if you want to go on a hunting expedition...........

The beach sounds more like your syle you say?? ... Here's one just for you....

If you are a bit indecisive and just don't know where you want to go.....

Do you want to change the world?

Perhaps you find yourself a little fashion challenged......well fear no more.....

I didn't see any fashion police...however, this taxi will take you "straight to fashion heaven."

Here's one for all you polymer clay artists.....the skinner blend taxi.....

Here's one that got away.....

And last.....but not least..... need I say more?

Believe it or not, there's still few more that I wasn't able to catch while I was on my Taxi hunting expedition at lunch....hopefully I'll get those tomorrow and add to the directory.....

I've got everyone in the studio looking out for unusual taxi's and helping me snap photo's of hysterical. It's typical though, when you live in amongst these things you don't really take note. Sad really...that we dont just sit back and look at the "funny side of life" for a while.

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