There was a time when a ceramic studio was found in every
sizable town.  They had a wide variety of greenware pottery
and figurines sitting on metal shelves that the customer
could purchase to finish.  The studio usually offered classes
to teach ceramics and the different methods for finishing the
piece you selected.  Generally these studios had in their
possession the plaster molds from which they made their
inventory. These molds were made by and purchased from
mold manufacturers.  The molds came in 2 halves. The studio
owner would strapped the 2 halves together and then pour
liquid clay, known as slip, into the mold pour hole.  The
plaster mold would immediately begin to absorb moisture
from the slip.  When the hardening clay nearest to the mold
walls reached a thickness of approximately 3/16 inch the
remaining slip would be poured out.  After 15 to 30 minutes
of drying the mold was carefully removed and the piece
allowed to dry.  At this stage the piece is known as
Greenware is a very fragile substance.  Once purchased, the
craftsman is responsible for cleaning and preparing the
piece for firing.  This means that all seam marks and any
flaws left by the mold during the pouring process must be
smoothed out by scraping and sponging the piece until its
surface is perfect.  This could be done in the shop or taken
home and prepared there.  
Once you had your piece in finish condition you would  
return it to whoever had a kiln and would be doing your
firing.  In most cases this was the shop/studio where you
bought your figure.  They charged a firing fee which was
usually half the cost of the figure you had purchased.  Once
fired it became ceramic bisque.  This bisque firing improves
the durability of the piece immensely.  At this stage the
hobbyist was now free to paint his piece or to glaze it.  
Glazing required another firing and the shop owner would
charge another firing fee.  
Acrylic on clay bisque circa 1980
Height 11.5"  Length 10.5"
Whether such shops fell on hard times with the economy or
ceramics lost popularity as a hobby I don't know but there
doesn't seem to be the studios around that once were.  Since
they are so few and far between, those who wish to become
involved with ceramic painting have to order their figures
and have them shipped.  Only bisqueware can stand up to
shipping.  It is more expensive than greenware because
someone had to do the prep-work to get it ready for firing.  
This squirrel was bought for me as greenware by my crafting
buddy Carolyn who has had quit a bit of experience in
ceramic painting and introduced me to the craft.  She was
kind enough to have done all the prep-work and gave it to
me in the ready-to-paint bisque state.  Now I had a new kind
of three dimensional painting surface. Since it was not my
original sculpture, the painting of it was the only way I had to
make if my own.  You may find the work of the original artist
somewhat limiting.  Truthfully, I was not all that pleased with
the original sculptor's interpretation.  Throughout his work
he has long hair indentations giving the squirrel a shaggy
appearance.  It was as though the artist who created this
statue had never seen a real squirrel.  While such hair
details might have been appropriate to the tail of a squirrel,  
the only place on a squirrel that has actual hair, the rest of a
squirrel's coat is thick, dense fur.
I began this project by collecting all the photographs I could
of fox squirrels.  This was before the convenience of the
Internet so I was confined to print photos. Fortunately, I had
an extensive collection of old Virginia Wildlife magazines.   Of
course I have actual squirrel visitors everyday at my
apartment window so that helped.  I was aiming in this case
for photographic realism as though a taxidermist had
preserved a once live creature to set on my shelf.  
Ready to paint bisque chipmunk.
I painted the entire squirrel with a base coat of the
orange-gold color that is so familiar with the fox squirrels in
my neighborhood.  I, and apparently many others as I found
in my research of this species, often referred to this animal
as a red fox squirrel.  I have been informed by a local nature
expert in my area that there is no such breed.  There is a red
squirrel and a fox squirrel but not a red fox squirrel.  Well I
can tell you that I didn't use any shade of red when painting
this sculpture.  The squirrels that visit me are really brassy
blonds with hints of black and gray.  

If it looks as though I painted every individual hair on this
squirrel it's because I almost did.  I used some stippling but
as you can see in this detail I spent a lot of time making what
seemed like a million individual brush strokes.  
When I came to what I felt  was a finishing point, I sprayed
the figure with what was ostensibly a clear matte finish.  I
have yet to find a clear spray that is actually matte and
doesn't leave some kind of shine.
 This was infuriating
after all my work.  No squirrel I have ever seen has a shine
to its coat but are the very definition of matte...dull, dull,
dull.  I comfort myself by thinking how shiny it would have
been if it were glazed rather than painted.  To compensate
for the shine I never dust or wash the figure.  After a year
or so it was just about right, shine wise.
What do I do with my figurines once they're finished?  Of
course I could set them on a shelf or table as stand alone
statuary.  I prefer a bigger nature arrangement though and
have had great fun displaying this figurine.  It is always
found with some of my most prized found wood pieces and
surrounded with some unusual pine cones, a few seed pods
and acorns in an arrangement that brings a bit of the
outdoors into my living room.  
Here I had a bit of fun taking pictures of my squirrel in its
shelf arrangement and then transposing all onto a
background of tall, strange grass to make a wallpaper for my
monitor.  Generally in the fall I include sprigs of bittersweet
and Chinese lanterns in his habitat.    
At Christmas time I deck my squirrel with pine sprigs, crab
apples and holly branches to go with the pine cones and
nuts.  My wood carving of a quail couple keep him and his
wren buddy company during the holidays too.  
While I may be a wildlife and nature fanatic, there are so
many pieces available to work with that anyone can find a
subject of interest.  I look forward to finishing my chipmunk
to add to my nature arrangement but then I may start
painting ceramic houses for a Christmas town.  Perhaps you
might enjoy painting your own nativity.  Their are figures
appropriate for crafters of all ages so children can try their
hand too. The truth is painting ceramic bisque is simply an
enjoyable and relaxing activity.
This is an example of ready to paint bisqueware.
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