In November, I was asked to create a ceramics opossum figurine that quickly became one of my favorite pieces ever. I documented the process for this one. I thought it would be a good opportunity to show the sculpting clay animals process and all the different steps. Let’s go through the making of Granny Possum and the Christmas Tree !
1 – Brief and sketch of the Ceramics Opossum Grandma
Here’s my brief : “A little Christmas tree, with a grandma possum sitting at the base and 4 little possums in the branches. With gold decorations and possibly a tiny star at the top? And maybe a little sprig of holly on the grandma possum?“
Which prompted the following sketch:
The sketch was enthusiastically agreed upon. At that point I had no idea how to to the tree, I had never sculpted a Christmas tree before.
2 – Clay sculpting and finding out how to sculpt a tree
For the tree, I worked from the inside out. I made a hollow cone, to which I attached the branches. Then I added layer upon layer of decoration and I then placed the opossum grandkids in there. I wanted some variation of their poses so I made some hanging by the tails and others perched on the branches. They are mostly on one side of the tree so that they’re all visible at some point when the piece is on a shelf.
If you’d like to know more about the tools I use, I listed them here : Pottery tools for sculpting
The opossum granny posed no particular challenge as I had already done a few of them. I thought the wire glasses would make a nice addition to the whole piece though. I used high fire wire, although I changed my mind about them along the way.
3 – Painting and first firing
I painted the whole piece in traditional Christmas colors, dark green tree, red decorations that I wanted to highlight with bright gold, and grey and pink opossums. The painting process lasted at least 2 hours, it’s probably the longest I spent painting a piece. I paint my pieces while dry and raw, which is their most fragile state. It’s a super tricky job, like painting on a snowman without removing any of the snow.
I also always paint from light to dark, so the possums first and then the decorations and finally the dark grin tree. *Don’t forget the pink cheeks*
Once painted it’s ready for the first firing, up to 900/1000°C and down. The process takes about 8 hours to fire up and 12-16 hours to cool down.
4 – Glazing, Firing and adding gold to the ceramics opossum
Once the first firing is done I add touch ups to the painting if needed, and then I’ll glaze my pieces. I’ll most often dip then in a clear glaze mix, and refine it with a moist brush or sponge if there are any extra glaze pools or lumps.
At that point I decided to not keep the glasses fused to the piece for several reasons, one is that high fire wire will leave a small dark streak on the white porcelain and I wanted to keep the opossum’s face bright white. The other is that it’s going from silver to dark grey while fired at cone 6, and I wanted to keep a metallic shine to them. And last, I wanted my customer to be able to decide whether they wanted them on or not. In the end I glued then on, and they are removable.
Then it’s time for the second firing which is much hotter than the first, at around 1200° C for another 10 hours. Cooling down still takes 14-16 hours so it’s not until the next day that I’m able to open the kiln.
I then proceeded to add the gold luster and go through the last firing which is way quicker with a 2-3 hours firing time and cooldown. This is mostly because I fire luster in a smaller kiln with much less thermal inertia than the big one.
5 – Shipping !
Once the last firing was done, I rushed home to take pretty pictures and send the ceramics opossum granny to my customer in the US. As the holidays were coming fast, I was in kind of a rush to ship all of this batch to their owners so I completely forgot to take pictures of the box ! Sorry !
The ceramics commissions are now closed for 2021 but they will reopen in January 2022. Feel free to join in on the mailing list to receive a notification when they do. I also have a few ceramic animals left in the shop, maybe there’s one for you !