In Christmas of 2016 I saw a friend attach an outline of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to one of her christmas mugs and my brain exploded with possibilities. I immediately started researching how I could use this process in the future of my pottery. I love branding, I love graphic design, I love clean crisp lines, and I love vector art. It's been my career for what feels like forever and I absolutely love the idea of customizing my hand made goods by combining that history and love. This 'Rudolph' moment drove me for the next 2 years to develop my technique for adding custom badges to my hand thrown pieces. Early on, I envisioned this as a way to make my pottery feasible for the long term financially.
As I progressed with being able to throw somewhat decent looking pieces I tried to think about how I could stamp or carve custom badges onto the front of my pieces. I tried carving in wood block, but that felt like it was a lot of time and the opportunity for the woodblock to wear and no longer be usable was of high probability. Also, I wanted to easily recreate the wood blocks as needed and adjust or customize them. So, I started researching 3D Printing. Joel Telling (3D Printing Nerd) had a great video on how to simply create 3D extruded cookie cutters from illustrator files, using Adobe Photoshop. These applications were right in my wheelhouse - so I immediately ordered a 3D printer. I ordered the CR-10 from gearbest and it was super easy to set up. I made a video of how easy it was to set up even with a toddler in the room.
Next I found vector artwork of my favorite memorable nerdy icons. From Comic book characters to Video Game characters - I wanted to test my process with things I wouldn't mind keeping for myself. So started the nerd mugs. My goal wasn't to sell these, my goal was to use these as a jumping off point to make custom logo mugs and more intricate pieces. When I did my first successful batch of these, I handed them out to some of my favorite makers. One such maker was Izzy Swan. I had been really enjoying his business ethos and his approach to the community. He was very easy to shoot messages too and really seemed to love that he got one of my early pieces. He's a pretty big guy, and I underestimated how big. When I met him I was surprised and a little embarrassed that his captain america mug looked like a mini mug in his hand. None the less, he was grateful and used my creation. Not long after he issued me a little challenge. That little mug wasn't cutting it and he was looking for a larger version. Thus began the quest to throw larger, make bigger badges, hone my technique and get better at making handles.
Step 1 for me wasn't the badge part since my 3D printer software could scale things up as needed, it was my throwing that needed work. I was pretty decent at throwing 1lb lumps of clay, but for a vessel that needed to be at least 22 oz or larger, I needed to throw larger lumps and taller forms. This took a good bit of practice. So, every batch of mugs I made I threw increasingly larger izzy size mugs. The first one made it to 14 oz, then 16 oz, then 19 oz. I was getting close.
Step 2 was perfecting the glaze on the badges. If I dipped the entire vessel, I found that the glaze, if too thick would hide all of the detail in the badge. I tried brushing the glaze on but it was uneven in application and I didn't like the look on the actual mug. Next I tried applying just an underglaze and dipping, but depending on the dipped glaze it wouldn't show the underglaze well. Finally, I started experimenting with wax resist. This seemed to be the ticket for me. Glaze what I wanted to be certain colors, then apply the resist and dip in the final glaze.
Step 3 was to put it all together. As I was learning my process I was doing different works by request and each batch was coming out better and better. I knew by the start of this year, I was ready to make the final Izzy mug. I had enough different techniques under my belt that I thought I could make an epic looking mug. So, Feb 17th I threw the largest mug I've ever thrown and applied a giant handle to it and a giant izzy cartoon. I was so proud and happy. Next would be waiting for it to dry for Bisque and then glazing.
The hardest part about pottery for me is the patience, I'm not able to sit around much and waiting is really difficult. I like to have pieces available to work on at all different stages of the process so I never get too bored or anxious for a next step. It keeps me motivated and keeps me trying new things. So while the final Izzy mug sat and waited, I was already developing my next project. If you are following my instagram you'll see what I've been keeping my mind busy with.
When the Izzy Mug was finally able to be glazed I took my time and planned out what glazes I wanted to use and how. I filmed as I went so I would have a record (in case something went wrong) and then I placed it in the kiln one last time. 28 hours later I was unloading one of the best pieces I'd ever made. Maybe it was all of the anticipation, but I was just so giddy by the result. Today, I received word via an unboxing by Izzy on his instagram that my mug arrived to his address safely - and joyfully. I'm so excited that my year-long project is over and that it was so fruitful in all of the learnings.
This project pushed me to get better at so many techniques and helped me to develop my approach in ways I wasn't expecting. It has made me a much more confident potter, especially in areas I had previously been struggling with. I'm so happy that the challenge lead to this result. I'm so happy Izzy has a mug that fits his hand now.
Small Business owner and Artist, committed to growing as a maker as well as sharing her and her husband's experience with owning a small maker studio.
SEE ALL CLICK