Ceramic vessels and jewelry—process, tedium and “fussiness”

I don’t know why it is, but I’ve always been drawn to creative media that have complex processes, with many steps to follow. When in college, I majored in printmaking and ceramics. I remember my first printmaking course—taken over a six week summer term—wherein we learned a new printmaking medium/process each week. And sometimes they were as different as night and day; lithography and screenprinting, for instance. Talk about an intense six weeks!!  I guess I just love the “fussiness” of having lots of steps to achieve before the finished product can be realized.

Last fall, just before the Orange County Artists Guild Open Studio weekends, I posted to my Anita Mills Design Facebook page about the efforts I was making to create ceramic components for jewelry making. Here, I thought I’d revisit that process in more detail.

I have a rather endless supply of stamps, objects and texture plates with which I can make interesting impressions in clay. One of my favorite things to do is to roll out a slab of clay and just begin to make marks and impressions in it. Then, I take shape cutters and extract areas that I find interesting enough to make pendants and small tiles. Those that I know will be pendants, will also get a hole punched for cord, bail, or chain.  Some have no hole because I intend them to be set in a bezel of some kind.


I try to impress and cut these in such a way that the “clean up” in the dry greenware state will be minimal.  A little sanding and a little carving will be required to smooth their surfaces before firing. Once completely dry and cleaned to my satisfaction, I fire these elements in a “bisque” firing.  When they come out of the bisque, they are sturdy enough to handle, though never with unwashed hands (too much in the way of finger oils will keep the glaze from adhering properly). They are also still porous enough that the selected glazes will cling to the surfaces very well.

Next comes the glazing:


I divide the pieces into small groups, deciding in the process what colors of glaze they will receive. In the box, above and to the right, the bisqued components awaiting glaze.

For jewelry components, I prefer to paint the glaze on with a full Japanese brush. With it I can get glaze into all the intricate lines and textures. Some pieces are glazed front and back, while those that will be bezel set are left porous on the backs.

Then, I place each piece on a small pike (consisting of chopsticks, barbecue skewers, and toothpicks), and stick it into a block of styrofoam for them to dry. Sufficient drying takes 24 hours.



The next step involves placing the dried elements onto a prepared kiln shelf. Those with no glaze on the back may be placed directly onto the shelf. Those that have glaze on all surfaces must be placed on small “stilts,” so that they sit on a tripod of high temperature wires. The kiln shelf is then lifted, gently and oh-so-carefully into the kiln. One slight tilt, or one knock on the inside of the kiln will send the pieces careening off their stilts. Yes, I’ve done THAT before!


Finally, the glaze firing which takes 8-12 hours to run, then another 24-36 hours to cool. The hardest part is waiting for the kiln to cool to room temperature. If I take the pieces out of the kiln before that time, there is the possibility that the glaze will crack, or that components will be weakened by thermal shock. But, finally, when I am able to unload the kiln…


Voila! Enough components to last at least a year of jewelry making!  The vessels pictured above will also get the “creative treatment” with added lids, handles, necklaces, etc.

Here are a few of the necklaces I’ve made recently with these ceramic components, ceramic beads, glass, metal, wood, and acrylic beads, and findings of sterling silver, copper, brass, and bronze.


Teal and Pink Assymetrical Necklace, with copper, glass, bone, acrylic and silver beads on leather cord.


Light Turquoise “Chip” Necklace, with Sterling silver wire, tubing, beads, and wooden beads.

PurpleIrisSilverChokerPurple Bead Necklace with ceramic focal bead, glass and sterling silver beads.


Turquoise Ceramic Pendant with sterling silver tubing, beads and findings on woven linen cord.

And, one of my very favorites…


Red Ceramic Shard Necklace with sterling silver wire and tubing, red jasper beads and sterling silver clasp.

And here are some of the vessels that came from that glaze kiln, too. To them, I have added ncecklaces of stone beads, freshwater pearls, shell, porcelain, and bone. These were actually completed last October, but life’s events of the time delayed their debut here on my blog.










That’s all for now. It’s almost time to begin throwing at the wheel again—I need to make more vessels in advance of this year’s Open Studio Tour—and each year, I tell myself NOT to put it off until the last minute.

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