Monday, July 27, 2015

Some Technology Resources for Potters

On Sunday, July 26, 2015, we had the first Social and Learning Gathering for Potters from the Western Pennsylvania area.  With over forty in attendance, I talked about some of the technology resources that I currently use in my work.  The rest of the time was devoted to an opportunity for potters to share food and drink, conversation, and a tour of TechShop Pittsburgh, which is located in the Bakery Square area of Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood.

TechShop is a 20,000 square foot membership facility that contains many technology resources and machines.

           1.     A TechShop membership provides access to many machines that can be useful to creative types.   Costs are on the website for daily, monthly, or yearly memberships.   

            2.  One tool that I have in my studio (not at TechShop) is a color ceramic laser printer.   Almost anything that is in a cmyk color format in Photoshop can be printed on a sheet of decal paper, then laminated with a thin, clear glaze, applied and fired to 1600 degrees F to fuse to an already fired ceramic surface.  

Enduring Images is the official reseller of Michael Zimmer’s patented color ceramic decal process that I use.  Excellent people to do business with.  There are other people selling a similar system who are using this patented process without permission or compensation.  I have chosen not to buy from them.

3.  To learn the software necessary to use the TechShop tools, I use an online resource called  This is an online educational system that contains thousands of lessons on a wide variety of subjects.  

I mainly use it to learn how to use the software I utilize in my work:  Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Astute Graphics plugins, Adobe Premier Pro video editing software, Corel Draw, Corel Painter, AutoDesk programs such as AutoCad, Inventor, and Fusion 360, and other software programs.  Cost is $25/month for unlimited usage and goes month to month.


The color ceramic laser decal process enables you to prepare photos and other images in Adobe Photoshop, which then go from Photoshop to the Ricoh printer.  The images are printed onto special decal paper up to 8 ½” x 11” in size.  The decal sheet is then laminated to a cover sheet, which has a thin layer of clear glaze. 

The decals are then applied to a fired ceramic surface and fired to 1600 degrees F.  The images are fired onto the ceramic piece and are as resistant to scratching or cleaning as the underlying ceramic glaze.  The can be used outdoors and are frost-proof if the underlying clay and glaze is frost-proof.

Ricoh color laser printer model 430 DN - 37 pages per minute and 1200 x 1200 dot per inch.

I also have several HP model 1020 printers that can be used to print sepia tone images on decal paper.  This process relies on the red iron oxide that is in the printer cartridge for the color and relies on application to a ceramic surface that begins a slight melt when re-fired.  The image is then permanent. 

It takes some experimentation to match the decal, glaze and firing temperature.  Other black and white laser printers will also work if the toner contains a high percentage of red iron oxide.  Decal paper is available through a variety of sources.

Computer - iMac 27 – 27” screen with 16 gigabytes of RAM.  Switched from PC to Mac some time ago and don’t regret it.

Wacom Cintiq – The Cintiq is a graphics tablet that enables you to put the image from your computer screen to the pressure sensitive tablet that allows you to use a stylus to draw or paint directly on the screen image.  I use a Cintiq model of this tablet.

A TechShop membership provides access to many machines that can be useful to creative types.  Specifically some of the ones that I use are:

1.     Flow WaterJet cutter – water is forced through a small nozzle at 60,000 psi supplemented with garnet granules for abrasion.  This machine is capable of following a vector image to precisely cut through 6” of steel or through ceramic tile without breaking the tile.  I use this machine to cut complex shapes out of porcelain tile and to cut wood or metal for extruder dies.

2.     Laser cutter – using a beam of light, this machine is capable of cutting paper, wood, or plastic and for etching designs into glass or glaze.  I use it in many ways but primarily to cut glazed decal sheets into precise images.  It can also be used to etch photographs into wood or plastic or for making stamps to impress designs into wet clay.

3.     Vacuuming forming machine – softened 1/8” ABS plastic is formed around a 2 ½” wooden form designed and cut to be an interlocking, tessellating shape.  After vacuum forming, the wooden shape is removed and the top1/4” of the plastic is cut evenly.  The edges are then sharpened with a Dremel grinding tool.  The result is a cookie cutter die for making tiles from slabs of wet clay.

4.     ShopBot – CNC wood cutter.  TechShop Pittsburgh has the Standard and the Buddy.  Standard table is 48” x 96” whereas the Buddy is 24” x 32”.  The Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) router carves and machines two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects from wood, plastic, or light metals.  

I use the ShopBot to cut extruder dies and also some three-dimensional shapes for molding.  I have also used it for making tessellating tile shapes but have found that the WaterJet cutter works better for me.

ShopBot Alpha 4 x 8 ft. bed.

ShopBot Buddy 24" x 32" work area.

5.     There are many other tools at TechShop that are not computer controlled that I have found useful with my work.  The Edwards Iron Worker is highly versatile and powerful tool that shears steel plate (up to 5/8" thick), punches holes (up to 1-1/6" diameter in 5/8" thick steel), notches, and shears angle iron (up to 1/4" x 4" x 4") and round stock.  One specific use is to cut and notch angle iron to use as bridges to hold the internal die in place for those extruder dies that are hollow.  After forming I use the sand blaster to prepare the surface and then powder-coat the metal to prevent rusting.  A list of tools at TechShop Pittsburgh is found at:

Edwards Iron Worker

Powder Coating Large Oven - approximately a 5 foot cube setting area.  There is also a smaller oven in the powder coating room.


Adobe Photoshop   For me, it all started two years ago with Photoshop, which was a necessary tool to know to use with my color ceramic decal printer.  Photoshop is an immensely complex piece of software with a large learning curve to learn to use well.  To learn to use it, I started with a subscription to, which enabled me to watch the instructional videos over and over until they finally sunk into my brain. 

Photoshop Plug-ins  - Plug-ins are pieces of software that build upon the core program (Photoshop in this case) to provide features either not available in Photoshop or that work better than the ones in Photoshop.

I use three products from Alien Skin:  Exposure, Snap Art, and BlowUp.  As plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop, they extend what is possible for manipulating photographic images.  I use BlowUp to enlarge images without losing detail, Exposure to bring warmth to a photo, and SnapArt to manipulate photographs into a more painterly-type image.  After modification, I print these images on the color laser decal printer.

AlienSkin BlowUp

AlienSkin Exposure - after (left) and before (right).

AlienSkin Snap Art - SnapArt filter applied to photo.

Adobe Illustrator  An image created in Photoshop, when enlarged, will show the individual dots or bits that make up a line.  This is used more as a visualization system, but an image created in Illustrator uses mathematical points that can be enlarged infinitely and will still remain intact.  These lines are called vectors, which can be individual dots, lines, curves, and shapes. 

Using a vector based drawing program like Illustrator is used to define an image so a machine can use it.  Like Photoshop, Illustrator has many features that require an active effort to learn to control.  Again, the lessons in are very useful to aid learning.

Illustrator Plug-ins.

1.  Artlandia provides plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator.  I use Symmetry Works, which is a pattern generator.  There are exactly 17 types of symmetry that can be employed to create surface patterns and Symmetry  Works has an algorithm for each one.

SymmetryWorks - pattern generator.

2.  Astute Graphics provides a number of Illustrator  plug-ins that are very useful.  I utilize all of these plug-ins for image creation.  The description of all of these tools is too lengthy for this article, but I will summarize those that are useful as an examples.

MirrorMe from Astute Graphics allows me to select one or many axes (up to 72) that will reflect what you are drawing on one side of the axis to the other side.  For example, if I were drawing an object that was symmetrical, I would only have to draw one side and the software would automatically draw the other at the same time.  By adding axes, you can generate complex patterns quickly.


Other plug-ins from Astute Graphics that I use:

1.     ColliderScribe provides a simple toolset enabling you to position shapes accurately, placing any object precisely next to another when it touches. Easily and quickly arrange shapes in formations and patterns in just a click.  Fill single or multiple shapes with selected objects, packing the items for a great result. The live features include uniformity, size rotation, multiplication and release/expand.


Image by Carlos Garro

2.     DynamicSketch.  Specifically designed to improve your vector design workflow, this dynamic sketch tool means you can draw more naturally, intuitively and quickly in vector.

3.     InkQuest.  Provides a streamlined workflow where the operator can remain within Illustrator to instantly identify and correct print issues. Easy to understand information and feedback on critical aspects of print readiness for your artwork files means you can control printing costs.

4.     InkScribe allows for a much easier and smoother way to draw precisely that Illustrator tools. You can save time and concentrate on the creative process rather than learning all those key presses of Illustrator.

InkScribe is a powerful drawing tool.

5.     Phantasm.  Color controls in Illustrator that allow one to have Photoshop effects but in Illustrator.


6.     Rasterino gives you previously unobtainable control directly in your document saving you hours in your common tasks.  You can crop. trim, or edit with precision controls.

Rasterino controls.

Image by Carlos Garro

7.     Stylism.  Stylism offers a very user-friendly interface for using Illustrator's native features;  Drop Shadow, Feather, Inner Glow, Outer Glow,Transform, Free Distort, Offset Path and Gaussian Blur live effects. The advantage is that you can see the effects live.


8.     VectorScribe.  Drawing plug-ins for Illustrator:  Smart Remove Brush Tool, Extend path tool, Dynamic Shapes, Dynamic Corners, PathScribe Tool, Dynamic Measure Tool, and Protractor Tool.

9.     WidthScribe Tool. This allows you to enhance your vector work by varying multiple stroke widths with complete control and ease. Apply the Width Stamp to underlying artwork and create unique, distinctive results in a click.

WidthScribe varying stroke tool.

10. SubScribe Plug-in.  Subscribe allows you to straighten your artwork quickly and perfectly in seconds. Take the guess-work out of drawing circles and arcs exactly as you want them.

Corel Painter 2015 

Painter is a software painting program of great power with as many features as Photoshop or Illustrator.  With Painter and a drawing tablet you can create paintings that come very close to the actual process but with great flexibility. 

You can choose from an expansive collection of brushes and tools that push the envelope on digital art. You can customize brushes exactly how you want them, control pressure-sensitivity, and mix and experiment with media and methods in ways that simply aren’t possible anywhere else. 

Painter allows you to easily transfer files to the Photoshop format and then use within Photoshop.  Since my ceramic color laser decal printer receives files from Photoshop, I can print paintings made in Painter as decals and then fire onto a ceramic surface.

Painter 2015

Painter 2015

Painted by Skip Allen in Painter 2015

VCarve - VCarve Pro and VCarve Desktop provide a powerful but intuitive software solution for cutting parts on a CNC Router. There are tools for 2D design and calculation of 2D and 2.5D toolpaths and along with the ability to import and toolpath a single 3D model (STL, OBJ etc.).  This software is used to design work to be created on the ShopBot machines for carving and routing.  I do not own this software but access it through TechShop’s computers.

FlowMaster WaterJet Cutting Software - This software is necessary for use with the Flow WaterJet Cutter and consists of two software modules:  FlowPath and FlowCut.  FlowPath is used to instruct the machine to cut material that you have designed, usually using a different, vector-based drawing program.  With FlowPath you select the cutting path of the WaterJet cutting head and also the rate of speed and other controls.  This modules are on TechShop’s computers.

Examples of Work

WaterJet Cut Porcelain Soldier for Veterans Project

Face tessellation created in Adobe Illustrator and cut on WaterJet cutter

Face tessellations assembled.

Created in Painter 2015

Tile designs created in Illustrator with SymmetryWorks 
plug-in.  Files then saved as .eps files and opened in Photoshop for printing on decal printer.  They are sized to fit on standard tile sizes of 4" x 4", 4.25 x 4.25", 6" x 6", or 8" x 8".  Custom sizes can also be done.

Andy Anderson's Horses.  Scanned ink drawing into Photoshop.  Image imported into Illustrator and manipulated with Symmetry Works.  Imported back into Photoshop for decal printing.

 Stream reflection photo image.  Printed as ceramic decal.

Egyptian Woman.

Photograph of butterfly on red flower on tile.

MT watercolor on tile.

More to come.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Workshops at Touchstone coming up.

Touchstone Center for Crafts
1049 Wharton Furnace Road
Farmington, PA 15437
T: 724.329.1370
T: 800.721.0177 
F: 724.329.1371

July 27–31
Double Walled Bowls, Puzzle Jugs, and Teapots without Lids: A Study of Uncommon Wheel Thrown Forms Registration for this workshop is closed.
Bill Schran
Intermediate–Advanced | $525
Class Time: Monday–Friday

Concentrate on wheel throwing techniques to create uncommon vessels, emphasizing design and process. For example, double-walled vessels allow for carving in the outer wall while maintaining a functional inner wall. Puzzle jugs, developed in Europe, were popular in the seventeenth century-discovering how to drink from this vessel with pierced neck was part of drinking games and parties. Lidless teapots, which were probably named for Lord Cadogan, were produced in England in the 1700s and based on Chinese wine pots. Cadogan teapots are a type of double-walled pot.

The assistant dean of Fine Arts at Northern Virginia Community College, Bill Schran has taught ceramics for 37 years. Internationally known for his development of cone 6 crystalline glazes, Bill has presented his process at the crystalline conference, Cristalls 2013 (LaBisbal, Spain) and at several workshops throughout the United States. Bill has published several articles in national magazines and has been the subject in books on ceramic techniques.

August 3–7 | Family Week*
Everything We Touch, It Touches Us
Yoko Sekino-Bové
All Levels | $525
Class Time: Monday–Friday

The artist’s voice is often constructed with the materials, structures, colors, surfaces, and techniques he or she chooses to use. This workshop is about discovering and developing your voice and telling your stories through clay. Materials, functions, tools, and firing methods are discussed and demonstrations to improve your technical skills are shown. Since ceramic work often presents stories of its own, your creative challenge in this workshop is to establish a conversation with it and discover where that dialogue leads. A mid-range electric kilns is used to complete some projects.

Yoko Sekino-Bové is a potter who lives in Washington, Pennsylvania. She received an MFA in ceramics from the University of Oklahoma before becoming a full-time studio artist. Her porcelain work is exhibited nationally and internationally, including NCECA Invitational Exhibition and GICB International Ceramic Exhibition in South Korea. The Ceramic Arts Daily Council selected her as one of the “Emerging Artists” in 2011, and she completed her residency at John Michael Kohler Art Center in Wisconsin in 2014. Yoko works from her home studio and teaches workshops at craft schools and universities.

August 10–14
Schlumpy Funk Ceramicizing
Kevin Snipes and Laura Jean McLaughlin
All Levels | $600
Class Time: Monday–Friday

Join us for a fun-filled, week-long Schlumpy Funk inspired workshop. The Schlumpy Funk movement has its roots in the Surrealist and Dada movements, and encourages play and spontaneity. Through daily Surrealist games and exercises you will create small cone 6 porcelain sculptures and forms with various hand-building techniques, such as slab, coil, pinch, and glomming. Embellishment techniques such as sgraffito, mishima, painting, and staining will bring narrative life to the three-dimensional forms.

Kevin Snipes was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and mostly grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a full-time wanderer and maker of exquisite objects. His smarts come from the streets, but he also managed to learn a thing or two at a couple of fine educational institutions. He holds a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art (1994) and did graduate work at the University of Florida-Gainesville (2003). From there he participated in several short-term artist residency programs, including the Clay Studio in Philadelphia and the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in New Castle, Maine. He was a visiting artist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and did a two-year residency at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts (2008–2010) in Helena, Montana. His most recent residencies (2013) took him to Vallauris, France and to C.R.E.T.A. in Rome, Italy. Kevin currently maintains a studio in Cleveland, Ohio and exhibits both nationally and internationally, including Jingdezhen, China.

Laura Jean McLaughlin received an MFA in ceramics from West Virginia University (WVU). Her work has been exhibited in over one hundred galleries and museums, including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Mobile Museum of Art, the Montgomery Museum of Art, the Ohio Craft Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Delf Norona Museum, the San Angelo Museum of Fine Art, the Baltimore Institute of Art, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. She is a recipient of the Maggie Milono Memorial award from the Carnegie Museum of Art and three prestigious residencies from the Kohler Company in Wisconsin. Laura Jean’s ceramic work has been featured in various periodicals, including: Germany’s New Ceramics, Korean Ceramic Art Monthly, Ceramics Monthly, Clay Times, American Style, and American Craft Magazine. Her work is featured in the following books:Confrontational Ceramics, 500 Figures, 500 Teapots, 500 Bowls, 500 Cups, and Poetic Expressions of Mortality. She received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to conduct a workshop at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, a Mid-Atlantic grant for a large mosaic installation in Baltimore, as well as a Mid-Atlantic Fellowship at WVU. Her work is in the collection of the City of Pittsburgh, the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Carlow College, Whole Foods Market, the Porter~Price Collection, Kohler Art Center, Kohler Company, and HBO in New York.

August 24–28
New Directions in China Painting
Paul Lewing 
All Levels | $525
Class Time: Monday–Friday

Explore methods of applying and firing china paint on ceramic tile, pottery, and sculpture, whether handmade or commercially manufactured. Although china paint is traditionally mixed with an oil medium, we will use water-soluble mediums exclusively. You will use all kinds of brushes; and stamp, print, spray, and stencil china paints. We will investigate resist and wipeout techniques, traditional shading and ground-laying methods, and a variety of fascinating materials and processes unfamiliar to most ceramic artists. Not only will you produce tiles and other ware of your own design, you will also participate in the decoration of several collaborative murals. Tiles will be fired each night for four nights, and you will leave with finished work.

Author of China Paint and Overglaze as well as the DVD, New Directions in China Painting, Paul Lewing has been president of Washington Potters' Association and Northwest Designer-Craftsmen, and the NCECA Glaze Doctor. With almost 50 years in ceramics, he has completed over 1,000 tile commissions and taught numerous workshops across the United States.

September 4–6
Designing and Making Simple Slip Molds
Seth Payne
Intermediate–Advanced | $345
Class Time: Friday–Monday

Discover ideas and processes around designing and making functional slip cast table and housewares in a studio setting. On the first day, we will use clay to create models for our projects employing techniques you are comfortable with, from wheel throwing to slab and solid forming. And, we will explore other new possibilities for designing and model making*. We will approach designing in conjunction with mold making and start to explore the possibilities of the casting process. On the second day, we will run a plaster intensive while making slip molds for our models. During this process, we will discuss all things plaster, troubleshoot, and learn best practices. On the third day, we will learn about wax casting while making a hot wax cast in our new slip molds. Students will keep this wax cast to be further refined as a new model or used to make future replicas of their slip molds.

*Students are invited to bring greenware models from home to consider for model-just make sure they remain leather-hard!

A ceramic artist for over 15 years, Seth Payne has a MFA from Alfred University. He has worked as an artist-in-residence at Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts and Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, as well as assisting workshops at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. He has also taught as an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University. His work has won awards and been exhibited throughout the United States, and published in Ceramic Monthly and the Lark Books. He currently lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

September 11–13
Mixed Medium Workshop
Sandy Miller
Beginner | $240
Class Time: Friday–Sunday

Break the rules of traditional craft! Learn to incorporate two or more materials into one seamless form with this introduction to handmade ceramic vessels woven with wire, waxed linen, found objects, seed beads, and so forth. Learn the basic weaving technique of twining and explore the balance between objects that includes handles, rims, and necks. You will spend the weekend creating a take-away work of art.

Primarily self-taught, Sandy Miller has worked in the studio for 28 years, starting life as fiber artist and quickly merging into ceramic art. Years of throwing in the studio, traveling, gardening, and life are present in the work that she current produces. Sandy’s work is exhibited nationally, collected privately, featured on the cover in Clay Times (April 2006) and in several galleries. Learn more about Sandy at

September 18–21
Wood, Clay, Fire
Ian F. Thomas and Von Venhuizen
All Levels | $345
Class Time: Friday–Monday

During this hands-on workshop, we will focus on the firing of Touchstone's two-chamber Naborigama style kiln. We will glaze, load, and fire the kiln in three days. Students will break up in teams and will work with the instructors throughout the entire process of firing the kiln. Additionally, we will be making works in the studio during the firing. Students should bring 15 to 30 mid-sized pieces made from cone 10 clay only.

Trained as a ceramicist and known for his many collaborative endeavors, Ian Thomas works at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. The founder of the Culture Laboratory Collective, he has taught numerous workshops from Seattle, Washington to Queens, New York, and is published in Ceramics Art and Perception, Ceramics Now, and seven Lark publications. 

Von Venhuizen, who received his MFA from Indiana University-Bloomington in 1996, is currently an associate professor of art and head of the Ceramics Department at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Previously, he was the production manager and education coordinator for Dahlquist Clayworks in Des Moines, Iowa; visiting assistant professor of art at Michigan State University; and spent a summer at Herron School of Art. Von has pieces in permanent university collections, museums, and private collections. He is published in numerous books (e.g., 500 Ceramic Sculptures), and has been in numerous juried exhibitions, as well as solo and two-person shows.

September 25–28
It’s Not All Black and White
Karen Newgard
All Levels | $345
Class Time: Friday–Monday

In this hands-on workshop, we will work on throwing taller, well-balanced pots, focusing on pitchers and vases, plus making the spouts and handles for those forms. Karen will demonstrate techniques for throwing and working with porcelain, share her take on the sgraffito technique, and show other methods of carving decoration. Karen will also discuss how decoration relates to form and how she has built an image vocabulary.

After earning her BFA from Louisiana State University in 1992, Karen Newgard began the Core Student Fellowship program at Penland School of Crafts, and then set up a small studio in Saluda, North Carolina. In 2004 she moved to Asheville where she currently has a studio gallery in the vibrant River Arts District. Karen has taught workshops at Penland School of Crafts and throughout the southeast. Her work has been featured in publications and instructional books and is included in many private and public collections. Learn more about Karen’s work at