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.

15 Responses

  1. Sunila says:

    Beautiful pieces Anita, thank you for sharing step by step process. Can your please share what type clay and glazing you used to give metallic look on your pots?

  2. Anita, have you ever thought about working with a fashion designer? The jewellery would look wonderful ‘en masse’ when teamed with a ‘collection’. It’s completely diverse, and yet entirely of a piece, and would look gorgeous scattered through either a catwalk show, or a collection catalogue. I know these things don’t just happen, and much thought would have to go into targeting the right designer/manufacurer/stylist etc. Have you ever promoted yourself in this way, or thought about it?

    • Anita Mills says:

      Another fine idea, Clive! I have known other jeweler friends who have collaborated with fashion designers for exhibitions and catwalk shows. One of whom is the artist I studied with at Arrowmont last fall. The upshot for her was wonderful print and media exposure, which can’t hurt the effort to market one’s work. I have one friend who makes elegant hand-woven garments, and I’ve always imagined my necklaces worn in tandem with her jackets, etc. I have not approached her about a collaborative showing, but now I think I will. It would have to be a special “trunk show” of some kind. She shows her work mainly in high-end art/craft festivals, and in order to show with her there, my work would have to be juried in. Unfortunately, these shows are a glut with jewelers who work entirely in precious metals and stones, and it would be impossible to “get in.” However, nothing would prevent us from putting on our own show!!

  3. What a satisfying ‘process’ post. All the stages are picturesque in terms of photo opportunities: the raw, stamped clay, the bisque, the elements drying on toothpicks and then balanced on stilts for the second firing etc. But of course the best is saved for last, with all those finished components satisfyingly complete and ready to be stored for later use, like wonderful candies in some spectacular confectionary shop.

    I keep thinking about how wonderful the glazed elements would look if applied en masse to a garment. It would be unbearably heavy, I suppose… like chain-mail… but would look spectacular. A Klimt painting come to life!

    I bet it must be enormously satisfying to box and store all the finished elements according to colour. (That’s my obsessive tendency showing its head above the parapet!)

    • Anita Mills says:

      Clive, opening a glaze kiln IS sort of like a visit to the candy store—that is, if everything turns out right. Yes, a ceramic encrusted garment would be as heavy to wear as, say, Lady Gaga’s “meat dress.” However, you’ve generously given me an idea!! What if I found a felt hat maker (and I know of one or two who are local) and made hatbands or medallions for hats? Likewise, these components could adorn belts, bags, or other accessories. Hmmmm, much about which to think!

  4. Merle Sykora says:

    The jewelry pieces are beautiful and likely good “bread and butter” items, but the vessels are dynamite. The color combinations of necklace and pot are stunning. While all are beautiful, that black and brown faceted pot is stellar. Its sheer simplicity and elegance is phenomenal.

    • Anita Mills says:

      Thanks for your comments, Merle. Yes, the small, faceted pot is special to me, too. Once in awhile, all the elements of a piece just fall together as in that one!

  5. Duvie says:

    Thanks for the step-by-step. Even to one with no clay experience you make the process clear – and make me wish I did have the creative fun that you apparently do.

    • Anita Mills says:

      Hi, Roylee! Thanks for visiting my blog. You, as a photographer, know ALL about “process intensive” mediums! I guess we are gearheads-of-a-feather, eh?
      xo AM

  6. Donna Giles says:

    I always most especially like the vessels with necklaces. You get such interesting juxtapositions.

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