Make these lovely baubles to fill a dish for your coffee table or as decorations to hang on the Christmas tree
YOU WILL NEED:
Porcelain casting slip
Small ball-shaped mould
Foam block for support while drying
Pin or sgraffito tool
Liquid underglaze colours
Brushes to apply the underglaze
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
This project uses a half-ball mould to make the baubles. The form could be cast as a whole if you wanted to make a two-part mould, and instruction on how to do this can be found here where, although that one is on a larger scale, the principles for making are the same. However, this method is perfectly adequate and only a little more time-consuming.
Stir the casting slip thoroughly with a wooden spoon until it runs like single cream.
Test it by running it from the spoon, as shown.
Strain the slip through a sieve into the jug to remove any possible lumps.
Pour the slip into the mould until it’s completely full.
Time the slip, allowing 5-7 minutes depending on how thick you want the walls of the baubles to be. Obviously, if it’s only left in for a short time, the walls will be very thin and the bauble very light, but it will be fragile and difficult to handle because the clay will easily distort. Note: it is possible to cast very thinly, but it takes some practice to get used to handling such delicate items.
A kitchen timer is great for casting work – keep one in the studio.
After the allocated casting time, pour the slip out of the mould, back into the jug.
Suspend the mould upside down on two sticks, to allow the remainder of the slip to drain away. This will only take a few minutes.
Turn the mould the right way up when the slip has stopped dripping and leave the clay to firm up.
When the slip is dry to the touch and has started to shrink away from the edges of the mould, remove the surplus slip at the rim of the mould where it was poured out, using a metal kidney. TAKE CARE not to cut into the plaster as you do this – it will contaminate the clay.
Turn the first half of the bauble out of the mould and sit it rim down on a sheet of plastic.
Cast the second half in the same way.
Thin down a small amount of casting slip with water in a separate container.
Be warned Your ball halves won’t join together if you try to do it without thinning the slip.
Score the rims of each ball half with a serrated kidney.
Apply the watered-down slip to the scored rims.
Fit the two sections together and hold them in place for a few seconds for the surfaces to seal together.
Leave the ball to firm to leather hard resting on a foam block with holes cut out to support the shape.
Make larger balls in the same way, timing them a little longer if required, to accommodate the greater size. You can see the thickness of the clay wall developing as the water from the slip is absorbed into the plaster so you can, to some extent, judge by eye when the wall is thick enough.
Carefully follow the procedure for joining the two halves as you did with the smaller mould, finally resting the ball on another foam block to firm up until it’s leather hard.
When the balls have firmed sufficiently to handle without distorting the shape or marking the clay, scrape away the excess slip around the join with a metal kidney.
Wipe over the joins with a damp sponge to smooth the surface and remove possible marks left by the kidney.
This is the point at which you need to decide how to finish the balls – to make hanging baubles or table decorations.
To make the balls into hanging decorations, cut an opening with a hole cutter in one side. It must be large enough to accommodate a hanging fitting once fired. Bear in mind your clay’s shrinkage in drying and firing when making the hole.
Neaten around the hole with a damp sponge.
You can finish the larger ball in the same way or simply make a pinhole in an appropriate place for the release of air in firing, if it’s going to be a table decoration.
While the ball is still at the leather hard stage, it’s the perfect time to decorate the surface with a sgraffito design.
To make your design in the style shown, first divide the ball into quarters by equally spacing the starting lines out from around the hole.
TIP If you are nervous about sgraffitoing the lines directly, draw them in lightly first in pencil – that way if you make a mistake it can easily be wiped away, and you can start again
Score the lines into the surface, working around the ball and back to the line opposite.
Divide each quarter one more time with another sgraffito line until you have eight spaces.
Again, work in pencil first if it makes the job easier.
Divide each quarter section line in three, using a flexible tape measure for accuracy.
Mark the two central points with a pencil, as shown.
Beginning at the hole at the top of the ball, lightly draw in three leaf shapes along the first of the quarter lines, with a pencil.
Sgraffito along the pencil lines to score the design into the clay.
Keep a soft mop brush at hand to brush away the debris as the clay is carved out.
Fill in each leaf shape with more sgraffito lines to finish off the first section.
Repeat this whole process along each of the dividing section lines until all have been finished in the same way.
It should be stressed that the process will take some time to complete and requires patience – so this is not a decorating technique for those who like instant effects.
Now all that remains to do is sgraffito some detail into the blank spaces between the leaves, like the tiny circles shown here. You could make stars or crosses, curlicues or simple dots; the possibilities are endless.
Larger balls can be decorated in the same way. They do take longer to complete but look wonderful when finished.
Allow the baubles to dry out thoroughly, supported on the foam bed, before bisque firing.
Divide the bauble up by painting your first choice of underglaze colour in alternate rows of leaf shapes.
Work with just one colour at a time and paint in all four rows of the design.
Allow the underglaze to dry.
Using a barely damp cloth, carefully wipe the colour back until it remains only in the sgraffito lines.
Move on to another colour and repeat the process, painting over the leaf shapes in the alternate rows then wiping the colour back to remain in the lines only.
Paint the tiny details between the leaves in yet another colour of underglaze, and again, work in alternate sections.
Wipe back the colour as before.
Finish up with a final colour in the remaining spaces.
Fire the baubles to your clay’s optimum temperature. They should sit safely on the kiln shelf without sticking, providing the underglaze has been wiped back sufficiently.
You can prop small baubles if careful. Those shown here were elevated on bar props arranged in a star shape, and they fired perfectly round without slumping but propping items to fire to high temperatures is tricky as the shape can easily slump over the prop. A bit of trial and error is required, but firing the larger ones in this way would not be recommended.
NOTE You can source bauble hanging fittings online (search ‘bauble hangers with hats’), but the easiest solution is to buy a pack of really cheap baubles from a cut-price shop and repurpose the fittings.
The fittings shown here came from a pack of 24 decorations for £1 and worked perfectly – it would be hard to find them for less online!
Squeeze the metal springs of the hanging fittings together and push them through the hole in your baubles. When you release the metal, the spring will open inside to secure the device in place.
Make baubles in different designs and colours for the best effect.
This project first appeared in issue 34