I’m going to drum fire two ceramic figures today – it will be a first!
I am going to sagger each figure in foil to protect them and to see how the organic materials I am adding might colour the figures.
I wrapped two lengths of ceramic insulating fabric around the steel drum just above the second air vent, securing the fabric in place with galvanised wire. I plan to pull the fabric down to cover the air vents, and place the lid on the drum, once the fire is really going. Firing time is about 4 hours and will then leave it all to cool completely before removing the figures.
1. The ceramic figures
Wrapped fresh and dry banana peels around each figure securing with a bronze wire.
Base layer of foil and a layer of sawdust – this will create a black colour where the sawdust touches the ceramic.
Added pieces of rusted steel, table salt and copper sulphate.
Sealed the foil wrapping to make a parcel
2. Into the drum!
The steel drum is large – added sawdust to the level of the second air vent.
Put the two foil-wrapped figures into the sawdust.
Trailed three spirit-soaked lengths of fabric into the drum.
Placed layer of wood pieces in and around the bin about 30cm below the surface.
Lit the fire by lighting the fabric lengths.
As the fire grew I added more wood.
Once the fire was really going I pulled the ceramic insulating fabric down over the air vents and place the lid over the top. Ideally I would have a chimney lid but I don’t!
I have left it over night (about 18 hours) and will see how things work out tomorrow!…..
To create these figures I started with a twisted wire skeleton and covered it with ribbon cut from a medium weight wool/acrylic sweater. I then coated the wool fabric liberally with paper clay slip. Once this layer had dried I applied ribbons of wool fabrics soaked in the clay slip – wound onto the legs and arms, shaping as I went.
Paper Clay Slip – Add 5–15% paper pulp to the stoneware clay slip mixing it thoroughly with a drill mixer. I soaked shredded loo paper in water, with a capful of bleach, over night and then pour the lot through a colander, pressing out the excess water before adding to the clay slip.
Next, I used stoneware paper clay to form the torso – making a smooth surface to contrast with the wool texture on the legs and arms. Once I had the shape I wanted I left the figures to dry slowly to prevent the clay from cracking.
I have a large steel drum and also several metres of ceramic fabric to insulate from the outside. A local joinery has lots of sawdust and there is plenty of wood in the shed.
Plan to cover with figures in organic material such as banana skin and may wrap in aluminium foil before placing in the drum kiln.
You can place colourants in the bedding, around each piece, on top of each piece, or even throw it at the pieces during the firing. Each can result in different effects in the coloration. When you bury the colourants, it will add color late in the firing. If you place in around or on the piece it will colour in the middle of the firing. When you throw it in you can get instant colouring much like a star burst pattern.
The Prism 2019 theme is ‘Fragility’ and knowing just how robust the process of making the felted figures is I really can’t imagine them as fragile. However by combining clay with the fibres on wire would create a fragile form – the fibres being burnt out in the kiln….
I am not a ceramicist! – I did experiment with this technique during my degree but is was rather unsuccessful.
Finding a kiln – could ask the lovely people at Brighton University where they have huge kilns that I used to experiment and the Phoenix centre rent kin space – not as big….. or I could pit fire the pieces myself…..
I make my own soap and have done for over 10 years and I always use it to make felt.
There is nothing quite so good as handmade soap and it can be made in bar or liquid form. There are many great websites and YouTube videos now that recount the history of soap and how to make the stuff – not the melt and pour variety but the cold process method – it’s Chemistry in the Kitchen’!
If you would like to view the my soap course please click on this image:
For the ingredients I can’t find in the supermarket I go to The Soap Kitchen (UK) and there are also plenty of good suppliers on Ebay.
It has taken me about 6 months to develop a full size felt figure and there have been plenty of problems to overcome along the way when upsizing from a 40cm tall figure to one that is 4 times bigger!
From these small figures…
…to this one – 164cm high
The problems I encountered were due to the scale of the figure and they began with the wire.
I tried heavy fencing wire however this just wasn’t strong enough to hold the figure up right one leg so I had a length of steel tubing bent to follow the line of the spine down to the toe of the standing leg and built the rest of the body around this structure.
The musculature was added beginning with a layer of knitted woollen strips to cover the wire to form a base for the wool fibres. I used Blue Faced Leicester wool, wet felted in layers, to build the shape of the body and a steamer and sander to aid with the felting and fulling.
The final layer or ‘skin’ was felted separately and then stitched onto the the figure.
As you can see from the variety of figures in this post I have made several more! I am now going to experiment with adding the colour and texture straight onto the figures to cut out the rather lengthy processes of making the felt skin, stitching it in place and fulling with steam and sander. So watch this space!