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How to Create a Ceramic Fish Wall Hanging

Randi Lile sculpts this whimsical ceramic fish wall hanging.

Randi Lile of Salt Lake City, Utah, has a teaching degree in art with an emphasis in ceramics. To look at her ceramic fish sculptures one would think she is obsessed with sea life. Quite the contrary, she has always had somewhat of a fear of what lurks beneath the waters and has researched all varieties of sea life. She made it the predominant theme of her work as a fun way to approach her apprehensions.

Materials and Tools:

cone 5 red clay (8 lbs.)
cone 5 porcelain (1 lb.)
mid-fire underglazes
cone 5 glazes
fast drying epoxy
braided hanging wire
ware board (or a 15" x 15" piece of wood)
newsprint
permanent marker
plastic garbage bag
spray bottle filled with water
rolling pin
needle tool
wooden rib or knife
wooden paddle
flexible metal rib
paintbrushes
small metal carving tools
sponge

Steps:

1. Choose a workspace — table covered in canvas — that can easily be cleaned and a place to store the fish. Place a few sheets of newsprint on a ware board or a piece of 15" x 15" wood. Draw the fish design on the newsprint with a permanent marker

2. Roll out four or five coils of red clay about 3/4-inch thick and a foot long. Place the coils on the newspaper-covered board in an outline of the outer shape of the fish, excluding the tail and fins. Place two coils vertically inside the shape of the body to hold the shape and to insert wire to hang the fish.

Fish Tail

3. Roll a handful of the red clay into a slab about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the tail fin shape with a needle tool. Flatten the points of the fin with a rolling pin, keeping the end closest to the body thicker. Press a wooden rib or knife into the clay to outline the fin lines.

4. Attach the tail to the outline of the fish's body. Pinch the coils and the thick end of the tail together. Flatten a small handful of clay into a patty. Overlap the thick end of the tail and the coil with the patty. Pinch these pieces together, working from the inside out to prevent air bubbles. Smooth the clay with your fingers.

Pinching Technique

5. Create the entire form of the fish's body with the pinching technique.

  • Build up the interior clay supports making sure all pieces are joined together well. (It is difficult to close the form completely, because the clay is still wet).
  • Pierce two holes in the clay supports for stringing wire through once the fish is fired for hanging the fish sculpture.
  • Pierce two or three holes in the fish's body to allow for air circulation — it will be sealed later.
  • Lay a plastic garbage bag on top of the fish form and let it sit overnight to dry slowly.

6. The following day, remove the plastic from the clay fish to access the drying process. Continue working on the fish when the clay is almost to the leather-hard stage. At this stage the clay is somewhat moist and will hold its shape if you press on the clay. If it needs to dry longer, leave it uncovered for a couple of hours, or cover it loosely again with plastic. If it has dried too much, mist it with water a few times to soften the clay.

7. Add the fish features and cover the holes in the body. When two pieces of clay are joined at this stage, both pieces of clay need to be scored with a needle tool.

  • Score around the edges of the holes left in the body and mist with water.
  • Cover the hole with a small scored patty of clay.
  • Connect the pieces with a wooden paddle.
  • Smooth any bumps in the body with the paddle and flexible metal rib.
  • Create fins using the same technique to make the tail.
  • Score the pieces and mist with water to join them to the body.
  • For a simple eye, roll a 1-inch ball and flatten on one side to attach to the body.
  • Create an eyelid by rolling a coil, flattening it, then placing it over the ball.
  • Lips can be created using the same technique.
  • Once all of the details are added cover tightly to allow little airflow. The moisture will even out in the clay to prevent cracking. Leave the fish covered overnight.

8. Paint three coats of underglaze to selected parts of the fish with a paintbrush. Allow drying time in between each coat. Cover the fish loosely with plastic and allow to dry overnight.

Teeth

9. On a clean surface, flatten the porcelain to a 1/2-inch thick slab with a rolling pin. Cut small triangles from the slab with a needle tool to form the fish's teeth. Smooth the edges to round the teeth and make sure the entire surface is free of canvas texture.

10. At this point the fish will be at the leather-hard to bone-dry stage. Create designs or patterns with sgraffito metal carving tools at various points. Sgraffito is simply to carve through the underglaze to expose the color of the clay underneath. Cover the fish loosely with plastic and let it dry until it is ready to bisque-fire.

11. Bisque-fire the ceramic fish and teeth to cone 06.

12. Remove all pieces from the kiln. Apply three coats of glaze to selected parts of the fish with a paintbrush. Fire the ceramic fish and teeth to cone 5.

13. Unload the fish and teeth once the kiln has cooled. Lay the fish upside down and string braided wire through the holes in the supports for hanging. Turn the ceramic fish over and attach the porcelain teeth to the fish's mouth with quick drying epoxy. Allow appropriate drying time for the epoxy.

14. Display your ceramic fish wall hanging.

Web site: www.randilile.com

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