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The Birth Of A Teapot

Over the sixteen years I have been making teapots and such, I have been asked two questions the most; How do you make a teapot? and Why does it take so long once I order?

I thought I'd take a minute and try to explain both. This is how a teapot, and other pieces, are born.

1) Once an order comes in I order up the pieces I  will need to create the teapot. Many of the teapots I create are from vintage molds I own. I have the mold “poured” for me. Molds are made of plaster and are heavy and cumbersome. I have someone else my pour my molds, it's an art unto itself. I can and have poured my molds, but others with more experience can do it more efficiently, it's messy business! Liquid clay, slip, is poured into the mold and depending on the current climate the time the slip is left in the mold will vary. If it's a dry summer day, just a few minutes, cold rainy day...longer. The slip is then poured out and the shell left behind is the teapot. The handle has to sit so that the handle will be solid and the spout must not sit too long or the spout will be solid. When the plaster has absorbed the moisture from the slip the piece is “leathery” and it is removed from the mold and carefully left to dry. The mold has to dry completely before it's poured again...the whether rules here again. In the summer the molds tend to dry fast and can perhaps be poured once a day. In the winter...several days may pass before the mold can be poured again.

 

 

2) Once the teapot has had a couple of days to dry I have to carefully clean the piece of the mold seams and any imperfections. As molds get older there are nicks and chips in the mold that translates into lumps and bumps, while detail is slowly softened and disappear in time with use...so I have to clean off the imperfections and some time add details back by hand with clay tools. At this point the piece is very fragile, kind of like a hollow chocolate Easter bunny, and can shatter with the least amount of pressure. Basically they are just dried mud called greenware.

 

3) Once cleaned the teapot goes into the kiln where it fires to around 2000 degrees for about 7 hours. Then about a day to cool. Now it is at a stage called bisque.

 

4) I can start working on the piece by drawing in the design with pencil. The graphite incinerates upon firing.

 

5) Then I get to paint! Glaze is not like paint, it is not the color it will fire out to be, so with the colors and combinations I am blind. Most are a very light chalky shade of the fired color, but there are some that are a strangely different color. I have sample tiles in all the colors I have, hundreds, that I work from and try to trust my instincts. Every color has four coats to create as opaque a color as I can. That is the max amount of coats of color glaze I can use. Any more coats and I risk the glaze failing in the kiln.

 

6) Once all the color coats are applied I can start adding the details. I start with dimensional glaze. This glaze is applied not unlike cake frosting. It holds it shape in the firing and that's what makes great lace!

 

7) Next I add the smaller details within the lacework. Little flowers and leaves, etc. In between coats of glaze drying I will have painted up as many roses, leaves and accent flowers I'll need for the teapot. All of these roses, leaves and all the different accent flowers are handmade by me. Every so often as I need them I take a day or two and make them. On a good solid 9 hour day I can make about 100 roses...which I can use up in a week or two.

Here is two days work making leavers, accent flowers and roses.

Once totally dried, you can see some of the roses are dark and not yet dry, they will be fired as well. When they are bisque I can paint them.

 

9) I attach the roses and leaves, etc. Carefully. I have to wait until the roses are solidly attached, then come the leaves, and any and all accent flowers.

10) At this point painting the piece is basically done. I let everything dry overnight. 

 

11) Once all is dry I then go back and touch up any imperfections, especially where I have attached the flowers. As you can see below, there are places that need to be touched up.

 

12) Now comes the over-glaze. The over-glaze is what seals back the color and makes the teapot shiny...and makes it food and water safe. Two coats of over-glaze are applied. Over-glaze is colored so you can make sure you cover every inch of the piece. The over-glaze I use is light blue. Some are bright green or pink. The second coat insures that everything is coated well. But it must not go on heavily or pool around the lace details. If this happens the glaze will “crawl”, which means the glaze will pull all the glaze back to the bisque body and leave a dry white patch. If this occurs the piece is ruined and has to be remade. So this must be done carefully, I always brush on my over-glaze, I never dip. The over-glaze must dry completely between coats.

 

13) Once the teapot is fully glazed it goes back into the fire for another 7 hours, with a day to cool. If its pulled out of the kiln too early the glaze can fracture or crack and even peel off. That's why the turnaround time I quote is as long as it is. It allows me to remake a piece if the kiln gremlins play with my pieces, and I have to remake a failed piece, and still make the deadline. That's part of the challenge of what I do...I never know if everything is successful until it's done. Opening the kiln can be like Christmas morning! Or a bad trip to the dentist....

 

14) Now out of the fire and cooled, I grind off the stilt marks, those dimples in the glaze at the bottom of the piece . Then I photograph the piece along with its “recipe” card listing all the glaze colors I used, and it's archived.

15) Lastly I wrap it, pack it and ship it!

This procedure is followed for every piece I make. 

I hope your piece gives you years of lasting pleasure!


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