Monday, January 31, 2011

Tile Update

I have done more work on the tile design for Whaleback Light and added new artwork for Portland Head Light. Here are the line drawings.

The ocean in each of these tiles will be roughed out when the original is cut. I like an active, choppy sea that provides some motion. I'm hoping to get the appearance of sea spray by stippling as well. But it has to be doable in a short period of time.

Making these in four-inch sizes will probably necessitate some simplification of the mosaic design so that the hand decoration doesn't take too long. I am also thinking of making a larger trivet size, which would allow for more detail. Time and experimentation will tell, but just looking at the close tolerances of the light keeper's house on Portland Head give me the shivers. It's instantly recognized - the light being as iconic as it is - so getting it right is important.

But it's nice to have artwork to look at and work from.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pressing Matters

The tile making process took another big step ahead this weekend with the building of my tile press. I'm no engineer, but I have to say I'm rather pleased with this effort. As with any other project like this, I sort of designed it as I bought the parts. It's not the most efficient way of doing things, but when it comes to any sort of machine work, I tend to do better learning the ropes while I do things.

I knew I needed an arm with a spring for return. I also knew I needed an upright for the arm to pivot in. Then there is the press foot. Those were the essential three pieces for the press. Once I had them in place, I discovered that a guide arm would be necessary to keep the press foot from swinging as it raised and lowered. I would also need to figure out where I wanted the action to start and finish.

It was actually a lot of fun to observe this simple machine in action and determine what enhancements would be needed. It was worth the four trips to the hardware store it necessitated.
Potters may notice that the arm and press foot are made of parts from an old Bailey hand extruder. I modified them by drilling a few holes and moving parts around a bit.

Drilling through tool steel with a hand drill is such fun. But if you're looking for a handy shop tip, here is a great discovery I made: olive oil makes a great cutting oil.

This press will work best for smaller tiles. There are better methods for making larger ones and I will be making molds for those in the near future. What I have to set about doing now is making originals to cast molds from. In my last post, I included a picture of the first die I made. It's rather big for a press like this unless working with pretty soft clay. Still, I gave it a try to see how the process works. Here is the result (before edge cleaning).
Not at all bad for a very first attempt.

Regarding originals from which to cast dies, I have started artwork on a series of tiles featuring lighthouses in Maine. They will be mosaic in design like the dove tile above. While there is still quite a bit to do on it, here is a preliminary layout for a tile featuring Whaleback Light. I sill want to add rocks to the foreground and clouds to the sky. The clouds will obscure the moon a bit for effect.
Mind you, the typeface will change. It's just there as a place holder, but I do plan on putting the name of each light on the tile.

But things are once again off and running!

Monday, January 24, 2011

To Die For...

I knew that making tiles would require a fair amount of study on my part. I wasn't wrong.

It wasn't the clay work that proved tricky. I have plenty of experience with clay and know how it behaves. Mind you, that doesn't stop a person having to learn the best way to keep a small slab from warping. That's something that clay likes to do under most conditions and figuring out how to keep it from happening has been the work and source of frustration of potters since someone said, "Hey look! If you line a basket with this sticky mud it will hold water!" There are techniques to stop warping and I know a few of them.

But where I had a lot to learn (and still do) is in plaster work. Mixing and pouring a wedging table is not that difficult once you get the math out of the way. But working in smaller quantities is a little trickier. See, the problem is that all plasters come with what is called a "use consistency." It is expressed as a number, and the use consistency of the plaster I have been working with is 70. What that means is that for the strongest possible end product, I have to mix 70 parts water for every 100 parts plaster.

By weight. Go figure. And figure I did. Long and short, I came to the answer by two routes. The first was to take someone's word for it that I needed 2.85 pounds of plaster for each quart of water. The second was to weigh a quart of water and calculate it myself. A quart of water weighs 2 pounds. Dividing 2 by 0.7 gave me...2.85. I'm a believer now. My algebra teachers would be so proud.

All of this is because making tiles first requires me to make a mold. The mold - or in this case the die - is used to stamp a consistent pattern on each tile. if you want to make tiles in any sort of production model, you need to do it this way. Hand carving each tile would take far too long to be practical.

The mold I wanted to make was a die mold. This type of mold is pressed into the clay to create a shape or, in this case, an impression. That meant hand making an original to make the mold from. Remember that tile I thought I'd make for the holiday season? It's a few entries down. I did make the original but ran out of time before I could put tiles into production. So I decided to put that project to next year.

Just as well. The process of learning to make the mold, while moving along nicely, is still a work in progress. But there has been progress! Here is a picture of the original and the die mold that I made from it just this evening:

The original was warped, so this die can't be used for production, but the mold form I made is ready as soon as I have a good, flat original. At least I have the process under control now. It will be full steam ahead very soon.

I have a number of ideas for tile series and will be working on the artwork for them starting next week. For now, I have other issues to concentrate on and concentration is proving difficult as I try to stay warm in the icebox that Maine has become. It happens almost every year at this time, but still it always seems to catch me up a little short.

More soon!