Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to make a ceramic pottery owl out of clay...

I have a really fun clay project for you. I've been working on these little owls for a while now, and I think I've come up with a design anyone can make! These little owls are adorable (which I know is an oxymoron when you consider owls are one of the most fierce and deadly predators in the sky), but it's true. These little statues are downright cute, and you won't be happy with just one. With Halloween around the corner, only a slew will do...

Miniature ceramic pottery owls
A "slew" of owls is really called a parliament. Make your own by following the simple steps below... 

Step-by-step instructions on how to make a miniature owl figurine out of clay
Step 1. Roll out a small ball of clay, and put a dent on top to form the ear tufts.
The owls I've been making are tiny, which is what makes them so darn cute. They range from 1/2 inch to two inches tall, but you can make them any size. Start by rolling out a small ball of clay, then use your finger to press a dent into the top to form the ear tufts...
First step in a series on making owls out of clay.
A marble-sized ball of clay makes about a 3/4 inch tall owl, and a small superball-sized ball of clay makes about a 1 3/4 inch tall owl. Experiment with different sizes. 
Step 2. Press both pinky fingers into the clay near the top dent to make the facial discs.
Try to make the discs even, but don't go crazy if they are slightly off. You can always even out the clay later, or let them go as is--uneven eyes often give the owl more character...
This is a superball-sized ball of clay. If you want to make a tinier owl using a marble-sized ball of clay, use the eraser on the tip of a pencil to make the facial discs.
You can already start to see the shape of an owl emerging!
Step 3. Further define the facial discs. 
Press the flat end of a craft knife or other clay tool into the facial discs you created with your pinkies...
Simple instructions for making an owl out of clay.
Owls have forward facing eyes like humans do, so make sure you keep the facial discs facing forward. You can vary how deeply you press into the clay. On some owls, I go shallow, but on other, I press harder to make a deeper disc. Experiment to find the look you like.
Step 4. Create the feathers in the facial discs. 
Representations of owls often have radiating lines surrounding the eyes. We have learned to look for this clue when identifying iconic owl shapes, so go ahead and create those lines. It's easy to do with a loop tool. Start in one place and work your way around. After you've gone around once, go back again to scruff it up a bit...
As soon as you add textured lines to the facial disc, the shape is even more recognizable as an owl!
Step 5. Form the eyes. 
First roll out a tiny ball. It should be smaller than a pea. Next, using a craft knife, cut the ball in half. Each half will be an eye on the owl. Roll each half into a ball and wet the halves down a bit...
To create two equally sized eyes, split one ball in half. 
Step 6. Place the eye in the facial disc. 
Wet each tiny eye with water from a spray bottle so it will adhere to the center of the facial disc. Place the eye with your fingertip. Once the eye is in place, tamp it down with the end of a craft knife or other clay tool...
Gently place the eye in the center of the facial disc. Make sure the tiny ball of clay is wet so it adheres well. Tamp it down with the flat end of a clay tool when you're happy with its placement.
Step 7. Create the chest feathers. 
Small indentations help create the look of chest feathers and further define the front of the owl. These can be as variable as you wish. I use the curved and tapered end of a small loop tool and press gently into the clay while supporting the back of the owl. It's easy to press too hard and throw the shape of the owl out of whack. You can create a precise pattern or a random arrangement. I usually prefer random, but I like to follow the contour of the facial disc because that helps to separate the face from the body. It also helps intensify the illusion of a beak...
Creating chest feathers on a clay owl with the wooden end of a clay loop tool.
It's easy to create the illusion of feathers using the curved end of a clay loop tool. Creating this border helps make the owl's face more believable. Our minds can fill in lots of blanks. All you really need to do is supply a few hints.
Step 8. Form the wings (optional step). 
If you want your owl to have wings, make them using your thumb print! Simply press your thumb into a small ball of clay to flatten it out. Then trace out your thumbprint and give it a little flare at the top and finish with a straight line. Cut the wing out with a crafting knife...
Use your thumb to make a tiny wing.
For these miniature owls, your thumbprint is the perfect size for a wing! 
After you flatten the ball of clay to the proper thickness, trace out your thumbprint. Flare it out at the end a bit and square off the top.
Two little owl wings waiting for an owl body! (I never make these wings exactly the same. When making an owl, the body is usually not perfectly symmetrical and variances in the wing shape add to the owl's charm.) 
Step 9. Adhere the wings to the body. 
Again...wings on these miniature owls are optional. I only put wings on about 1/3 of my owls. The design does not require them, but it's fun to add the extra detail. To adhere a wing, first "score" the surface. Scoring helps one piece of clay stick to another. If you don't score the surface, the addition might fall off during firing. To score clay, use either a clay needle, a craft knife, or a pencil to rough up the surface. Then wet down the scored areas, and stick the wing on the owl...
Scoring the wing
Scoring the surface of the clay will help one piece of clay stick to another. Be sure to use a little water to help "cement" the pieces together. 
wings for a clay owl
Place the wet, scored wing on the owl and position it properly. The water helps you move the clay around a little until you find the perfect place.
Take a few swipes along the flat end piece to blend it into the body. Do not blend in the part of the wing that is in front.
Step 10. Wait... 
It can take up to two weeks for a solid clay figurine to dry completely (just because it's dry on the outside does not mean it's dry on the inside). Once it dries, it can be bisque fired. Bisque firing changes the clay into ceramic material. When it comes out of the kiln, it will be hard and white...and ready for glazing.
Cute miniature owl made out of clay
Whooooo are you?
Our little owl needs to sit and dry. It can take up to two weeks.
How to make an owl
Owls come in all shapes and sizes...tall and thin, short and square. It's fun to play around with the different shapes. Also pay attention to their ear tufts. Not all owls have the pointy feathers. Look at the guy in the background. He barely has any ear tufts. I've also left wings off him to emphasize his tall, thin body.
Clay owls waiting to dry and then be fired.
A parliament of owls waiting to dry. 
Check out all the different shapes, sizes, and ear tuft styles. You can also see some have wings and some don't. Pretty much...anything goes when it comes to making owls!  
Step 11. Glaze the owl. 
Go crazy with the glazes and mix them up. I used a combination of all the browns, golds, and beiges to create depth. Some of the designs are based on real owls, while others are pure imagination and use only iconic shapes and clues to let you know it's an owl.

Step 12. Fire it again. 
Once you've glazed the piece, fire it again. This final firing will melt the glaze (powdered glass suspended in water) and fuse it to the bisqueware. After the glaze firing, your little owl is finished!

Other ideas:
By putting a small hole in the top, you can hot glue in a ribbon or a leather strip to make a Christmas tree ornament or a necklace! For Halloween you can hang several owl ornaments on a dead branch in a vase or on a little Halloween tree for a bird lover's cute seasonal decoration.

Natural looking owl Christmas ornament.
These cute little owls make great Christmas tree ornaments. The tiniest owls look really cute on a necklace as well.

For other easy step-by-step clay projects with a birdy theme, click here.
For this project, I used low-fire clay and Colors for Earth translucent glazes.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Differences between Hawaiian and Black-necked Stilts

Several people have emailed me asking about the differences between the Hawaiian Stilt and the Black-necked Stilt (from part one of this series). The differences are subtle, but they are noticeable. Hawaiian Stilts have more black on their necks. From a distance, it's not obvious, but when you look closely through binocs, it's clear. They also seem to have smaller white patches above their eyes. A few of the birds I saw had almost no white patch. Most consider the Hawaiian Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus knudseni) a subspecies of the North American Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), while others argue it should be its own species. It breeds only in Hawaii...

Differences between the Hawaiian and Black-necked Stilt

Sketchbook entry of a few of the Hawaiian Stilts I saw on the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk

If you walk the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk, bring your sketchbook. A gazebo about halfway through the boardwalk is the perfect place for sketching. 

Hawaiian Stilt Preening from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

A few more photos of a beautiful Hawaiian Stilt. It's easy to see how much black is on the Hawaiian Stilt's neck...

Hawaiian Stilt feeding in the shallows.

Hawaiian Stilt along the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk on Maui

Hawaiian Stilt
The Hawaiian Stilt is endangered. Introduced species such as cats, rats, and mongooses have taken a toll on its population, and of course, much of the bird's habitat has been lost too. The stilts are breeding successfully at Kealia pond.  For more Hawaiian Stilt photos click here (the first part of this series). For a little more information on the bird, click here.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hawaiian Stilts at the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk on Maui

We've been back from Hawaii for two months, and I still haven't posted any of the birds we saw there. I think it's about time I got busy. Here's the first in a Hawaiian Birds series:

On June 28, Rick and Matty, and our friends, Cindy, Tom, Emily and Joe all went out to Molokini (a submerged volcanic crater that forms a small island off Maui) to snorkel. They took a Trilogy sailing trip out to Molokini and had an amazing time. Unfortunately, I couldn't go because I get seasick...horribly seasick, but I wasn't too disappointed because I had plans to go to the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk at Kealia Pond...

Kealia Coastal Boardwalk sign
...even the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk sign is beautiful. I loved the vibrant painting of the Hawaiian Stilt and the Hawaiian Coot.
I really didn't know what to expect when I got there. From all I had read, summer was the "off season" for Kealia Pond, but it wasn't the off season for me. As soon as I started walking the boardwalk, I started hearing the insistent kek-kek-kek call of the beautiful and graceful Hawaiian Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus knudseni), which led me directly to an area where a few of the gorgeous birds were foraging. On the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service web site, the phrase "Chihuahua of the wetland" is used to describe their constant chatter. It fits, and you can hear the bird's call in the following video...

Hawaiian Stilt Feeding in the Shallows at the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk on Maui from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

This bird is spectacularly slim and delicate looking. Stilts have long, "bubble gum" pink, pencil-thin legs that cut through water effortlessly, and because they are the longest legged of all the shorebirds, they have extra depth when foraging for food. I enjoyed watching him tip his body over to capture invertebrates and other water creatures with his long, thin and pointy bill. Dennis Paulson in his book "Shorebirds of North America" (one of my favorite shorebird ID books) decides stilts should be called "Slenderellas" (Paulson, pg. 91). What a perfect description!

Female Hawaiian Stilt
A Hawaiian Stilt wades through the mudflats along the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk. Female stilts have a bit of brown on their backs, so this bird is probably a female. Males have only black feathers on their backs.
Their long, thin pink legs when combined with the sleek black feathers on their head, neck and back, and the snowy white feathers on their belly and throat, create one good-looking bird! There is no getting around it, "Slenderella" is pretty.

Hawaiian Stilt foraging
Hawaiian Stilts are visual feeders. This bird definitely has its eye on something here!

Female Hawaiian Stilt in the water

Hawaiian Stilt in deeper water.
Hawaiian Stilts look like our Black-necked Stilts, except they have more black on their neck.

Interpretive signs on the boardwalk are helpful. At the beginning, maps and other helpful information are on the signs, but as you progress along the boardwalk, the birds take center stage...
The Hawaiian word for the Hawaiian Stilt is Ae'o. All the interpretive signs are beautiful and colorful paintings like this one.

trees bent by the tradewinds
If you're visiting Maui, definitely make the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk a destination for a birding trip. Even though I was there during the "off season," I saw spectacular birds. Fall and winter are reported as the best viewing times because large numbers of shorebirds overwinter at the ponds and along the boardwalk. 
...more to come on the Kealia Coastal Boardwalk and the Hawaiian Stilt.