Christmas Fair @ Signal! 11-24 Dec

The Christmas Fair is up and running for the next two weeks at Signal Arts Centre! Follow the happy (and freshly repainted) Santa sign in to find wonderful hand crafted items for sale from local craft merchants and artists.

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It was a very busy day on Sunday taking in and cataloging all the craft items for sale in the fair, and now they are all out on display. Big items for that someone special and plenty of small items for all those stocking stuffers and Secret Santas!

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A quick walk around the fair revealed plenty of hand made Christmas Tree decorations and hand made chocolates! There is a lovely smell in the gallery from all the candles and hand made soaps.

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Of course I am personally delighted to see the wide range of beautiful ceramics for sale this year. Everything from hand painted tiles for kitchen and bathroom, to vases and bowls and platters.

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There are lots of hand knitted items, including decorations, tea cozies, hats and scaves.

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There are also hand made stuffed toys and felted characters, and even decorations woven from willow!

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I have produced for the fair a number of small plates in a wide range of colours with plants leaves imprinted in the middle. These plates can be used for holding a tea spoon and tea bag, for putting down your wooden spoon after stirring the pot on the stove, for presenting olives and capers, or a dipping sauce, or simply as a pretty bit of bling on the hall table.

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There is a great selection of hand made soaps, body scrubs and lip balms for that someone on your Christmas list who appreciates what we always called “smellies”.

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There are even hand detailed sets of drawers.

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With the huge selection of items on sale there is bound to be something just right for your Christmas list. With the fair running right up to and including the 24th, you can start now and getting your shopping done early, or pop in to pick up that last minute gem on Christmas Eve if that is how you roll!

James Hayes

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Preparing for Christmas

In the run up to Christmas the ceramics workshop participants are becoming even more prolific than usual! In the past few weeks the kiln has been busy, and it will continue for the next few weeks as the participants glaze work and people from  outside Signal hire the kiln to fire work for Xmas Craft fairs. Here is a load of work ready for bisque firing…

… including some seasonal reindeer figures!

Autumnal Raku Firing

Before the summer break I encouraged the ceramics workshop participants to create new pieces for a raku firing in the Autumn. The workshops recommenced in September, with the raku firing planned for October.

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This gave me the time needed to rebuild the kiln. First step, collect an empty oil drum for the outer shell of the kiln.

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I cut off the top of the oil drum to create a removable lid. I dismantled the old kiln, which was coming apart anyway and was as a result very inefficient, and reused the ceramic fibre in the new kiln.

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Ceramic buttons and nichrome wire to hold the insulating fibre in place.

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Once everything was in place, including handles to make it easier to move, I then cut the holes through the ceramic fibre in the lid and at the base where the gas blower goes in.

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As people had a tendency to pile any old garbage on top of the old kiln, I made sure to make a cover for the kiln. I hope this works.

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On the appointed day at the appointed hour I had the back yard set up for our firing, complete with a gazebo in case the weather turned bad on us. As the day progressed and the weather stayed glorious we eventually took down the gazebo and worked under a clear blue sky.

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Since it would take a few hours for the firing we also planned a pot luck lunch, which was varied and delicious and makes the event a very social one.

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Ready to start, with an assistant in place to lift the lid on the “smoker”, which is a metal can filled with shredded paper and sawdust.

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The ceramic pieces are loaded into the kiln and quickly (45 – 60 minutes) heated to a glowing red heat. At this point they are lifted out of the kiln while hot and subjected to various burning processes in order to create the unique raku effects.

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This involves burning objects such as feather and hair on the hot glaze to create black patterns…

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… you can also throw sugar at the hot glaze to create random burnt spots!

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The still hot pots are lifted into the smoker, where the action of the burning paper and sawdust further highlights in black any interesting surface textures and gets into any cracks in the glaze.

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Waiting for the smoker to cool, approx 10 – 15 minutes.

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The still hot pots are dipped in water to cool. This stage itself can change the glaze surface dramatically, sometimes creating a shining metallic effect. It is all totally unpredictable and I emphasize to the participants again and again that they must embrace this lack of control and give over to the process-driven results. It is very exciting and freeing.

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Some of the beautiful lines created by burning hair!

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I am very pleased with all the beautiful pieces created on the day, each one very different from the next both in initial design and in the final outcomes.

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It was a fantastic day and I know the participants are already looking forward to the next opportunity to try this unique and ancient process again, hopefully in the spring.

James Hayes

Preparing for Culture Night

Lots of community groups are involved in the upcoming Culture Night for Signal Arts, including Seomra Youth Centre, Little Bray Family Resource & Development Centre (After School Club), Carmona Services, Festina Lente, Bray Lakers, Girls Friday Art, Sunbeam House Services, Sunbeam Bray (Doom Thunder), Sunbeam Eolas, and Dun Laoghaire Rehab Care.  We have chosen a theme and started creating. Can you guess what the theme is?

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Culture Night takes place Friday 21th September, 3pm – 9pm. We will be hosting activities  and performances all day from 3pm to 9pm at the Centre.

James Hayes

Hanging the Signal Open

Today the staff at Signal are tackling hanging a gargantuan exhibition, the Signal Open. There are over (not final count) 120 submitted pieces to be hung, and the quality of the artwork is just outstanding, one WOW piece after another.

The 6th Annual Signal Open Exhibition takes place at the Signal Arts Centre from Tuesday 7th – Sunday 19th August 2018. The ‘Best in Show’ winner will be awarded €1,000 and will be announced at the Exhibition Opening on Friday 10th August from 7-9pm.

James Hayes

Playing with glazes

Summer is well and truly upon us, loving this sunshine am I right? The current sessions of the adult ceramics classes are all drawing to a close for a 2 month summer break and it is so good to see all the glazed pieces, artworks really, coming out of the kiln these past few weeks.

In the image below you can see not only some very pretty little pots made on the wheel but also some painted tiles, a fabulous use of the limited colour palette of the glazes.

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In the image below one of the students made a very large serving platter and then glazed it twice. The first glazing was very bright contrasting colours which looked very jarring together, and then the student pulled it all together in the second glazing by going over it all with a semi-transparent blue glaze. Lovely!

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This image below really shows off the diversity of tile work that is coming out of these classes – sgraffito (upper left, middle left), mishima (upper right), glaze painting (middle center, middle right, and lower left), and melted glass (lower right).

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Another student is experimenting (below) with textures and splashes on flat forms.

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One of our very popular discoveries, illustrated below, is that some glazes in combination create lovely flowing colours. They do run quite a bit however, so more testing of this recipe is required to get it so that we can ensure they don’t run right down to the kiln shelf! Beautiful colours.

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James Hayes

RAKU : COMFORT – EASE – PLEASURE

In May the Adult Ceramics Class students had the opportunity to create a unique ceramic piece using the relatively rare and inaccessible raku firing process, an ancient Japanese ceramics technique. The pots to be fired were made during the month leading up to the event, bisqued and glazed the week before in preparation. Facilitator and tutor James Hayes organised a Sunday afternoon event, bringing together students from 3 classes, which culminated in fire and smoke, chat, laughter, good food, and of course raku fired pots!

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The process involved in raku firing hands over a large portion of control to the random elements of fire and smoke. To truly appreciate raku pottery the potter (and indeed the collector or aficionado) is looking for the happy accident that produces a pattern or contrast not possible in the traditional highly controlled environment of an electric kiln. Raku pots are for the most part decorative in nature as the resulting pots and finishes are very fragile and not food safe. In Japan the process is used to create cups for the traditional tea ceremony, and the ultimate goal is the pursuit of beauty in imperfection and that the vessel is quite visibly hand made.

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The students were given a broad understanding of what to expect and aspire to, and images and videos were pursued as research. The students were encouraged to create simple hand built pots with broad blank surfaces upon which the raku process could work its magic.

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The pots were loaded into the purpose built, gas fired raku kiln and very quickly (2 hours) brought up to a glowing red temperature – approximately 1,000 degrees C. The pots are lifted out of the kiln glowing hot, and during a brief few minutes the students applied varies combustible materials to the surface of the glaze. This included feathers, hair and sugar, all of which ignite on contact with the hot ceramic vessel. The pots are then quickly lifted into a “smoker” container, a metal bin with more combustible materials such as paper and wood chips, covered and left to smoke for 10 to 20 minutes.

Overall we were delighted with the results! No 2 pots look alike, as the random nature of the process takes over to create truly distinctive glaze finishes.

James Hayes

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