Sunday, November 20, 2011

How I reproduce Victorian Tiles - Part #4

Thanks for your patience in waiting for this post - life has a funny way of side tracking things. So - I have the image, I have the blank wax, now to get them together for their blind date!

I lay the image onto the blank wax and secure it with tape on either sides. This keeps the image from slipping as I trace the details.

I use a square to trace around the edges, keeping them as true as possible.

Then I trace the details, using a ballpoint pen and firm pressure. I want the marks to be visible on the wax, as I use them as a starting point to carve the details.

Using a pen also lets me see if I've missed any details in the drawing.

And, just in case there are missing details, I untape only one side of the image and check the wax. If there are any parts of the image that I've missed, I can still lay the paper back down and have it line up, as the other side is taped in place.

Here's the finished tracing image on the wax. This is my starting point for carving.

Next I'll show you how I carve the recessed edge for the mould and you'll get a peek at my favorite carving tools.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Part 3 of Reproducing a Victorian Tile.

Ok - I've got the original tile, or at least a photo of what needs to be carved. I've formatted the image to a larger size to compensate for the shrinkage of the clay body. Now I need the materials for creating a reproduction of the tile. There are many different materials that can be used to create the master tile that moulds will be made from. Some include clay, plasticine, plaster, beeswax, jeweler's wax.....I prefer "holy wax".

My Mom helps clean her church - St. Augustine's in Lansingburgh, NY - and has been saving the candle discards for me for 30 years now.

I have many, many, many boxes of candles of all shapes and sizes - but a LOT of these  partially used vigil tapers.

I use this great old electric pot to melt my wax in, and set it at about 200* F to melt the wax. There's always some "starter" wax in the bottom left over from the last pour.

I add more candles to fill the pot up about 1/2 way full. It's about a quart of wax altogether.

I use a wooden kabob stick to stir the wax - everything melts together in about 10 minutes.

At this point I usually add a red candle to color the diluted wax. It took me about a year to decide what color I liked to carve the best. A light "emberglow" seems to be the easiest and most soothing on my eyes. I used to carve a light tone of lavender, but the wax moved itself towards more honeysuckle tones all by itself, and I let it go where it wanted to. I did discover early on that blue and green didn't work for me at all. And - never, ever, ever, add scented candles to the mix - big mistake.

When the wax is just about all melted I add stearic acid - about 1/2 cup to 1 quart of wax - but try it out for yourself to find the mix you like. It makes for a harder, more durable wax (but it won't save the wax from melting in the mid-day if your head is made of it, watch out.....inside joke for my dear husband). Also - if you leave your wax carving on the dashboard of your car - it WILL melt.

Pulling out the wicks from the melted candles.

I pour my wax, and have been for 30 odd years - into this enameled pan. It has a very smooth surface and is easy to level when I pour the wax into it. I heat it up over the hot wax for 3-4 minutes, so that when I pour the wax into the pan it melts smoothly onto the surface rather than cooling immediately and leaving pouring marks. Learned that one the hard way.

I lay the pan onto paper or cardboard, which helps to insulate it from cooling too quickly.

I unplug the electric pot and slowly pour the wax into the pan.

The wax is transparent until it begins to cool. At this point I level the pan out with folded pieces of paper. The black line around the pan has always served as a great leveling line.

I usually let the wax sit overnight to cool. It becomes opaque as it cools, and pulls away from the pan slightly. If I want to carve the same day, I'll put the pan with the somewhat solidified wax into the refrigerator or freezer. Cooling the wax quickly creates a very interesting textured look and feel to the back surface, but I prefer a nice smooth back. I always carve from the front - or the surface that has been against the enameled pan.

The wax just pops right out of the pan.

Almost as good as a large slab of dark chocolate...this baby is ready to be carved upon!

So - there you have it. Now that you know how to prepare a slab of wax for carving..what are you waiting for? Send me photos of your wax slab and what you're working on, I'd love to see!

Next up - I might have to add a bit of somewhat related art history here...or maybe I'll just jump right into the thick of it with the tools I use and how I start the art.

Stay tuned!

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Reproducing a fireplace tile - part 2 - formatting the image

As I walk you through the process of reproducing a Victorian tile, I'll try not to leave any of the steps out - which I'm finding is actually hard for me since I zip through the first steps without much thought!

Scanning the tiles.
After cleaning the tile to see the details, I scan the tile to Photoshop, where I need to  increase the size of the image by the amount that the clay will shrink after glaze firing. Our clay body shrinks 10%, so that's what I increase the image by. Then I print the image out to use as a starting guide for my wax carving.
Scanned image increased in size by 10%.
I've also cut and pasted the image at the bottom as a guide for making corners. Since the clients didn't have any corners in their original fireplace set, and I can't find an image of the original tiles anywhere, I'll be designing them myself. It always adds a nice detail to have the design wrap the edges.

At the carving table with image and original tiles.

At this point I get to head over to my carving area - my most creative and challenging spot in the whole building. As I look at the photo and the original tile, my brain begins to tell my hand how to carve, not that way, this out, not too deep, make it a smoother line....

Wow, I'm glad that internal dialogue doesn't really exist!

The 10% shrinkage that I'm compensating for.

So now that the formatting is all done.....I need a nice clean piece of wax to carve the design into. Join me tomorrow when we visit with Madame Tussaud and get the secrets of making great wax!

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Anatomy of Recreating a Victorian Tile

We've been recreating Victorian and Craftsman style fireplaces for 32 years now, and it is one of my favorite things to do. I thought it would be fun to walk you through the process from start to finish on this here's the start of it!
Original tiles from fireplace hearth

It all starts with either an e-mail or phone call from a potential customer, inquiring about the process and costs involved. We need to see the tile in question, to get an idea of complexity of carving and glaze matching. An e-mailed photo is OK, but we really need to have an actual tile in hand to make a good reproduction.

Close-up of original tile detail
The original tiles are usually covered in dirt and grime, and have the highest raised details worn off through the glaze and clay surfaces. I start with a good scrub with a plastic scrubby using just soap and water. If the tiles have been painted or varnished over, I use a wooden rib to scrap those off the surface.

After cleaning and re-firing the original tile
After cleaning the tile I re-fire it in the kiln to a very low temperature to burn off the debris that has absorbed into the unglazed clay body of the tile.
Above - an original tile / Below - an original tile cleaned and re-fried
Next up - Scanning the tile and reformatting for carving.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November Treasury

 Thanks, tookies, for including me in your lovely treasury!!

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