Adventures in Using a Die Cutter in the Pottery Studio

i am the happy owner of a Silhouette Portrait 3 die cutting machine. What does a Silhouette Portrait do? It cuts materials like vinyl and sticker paper into any shape you can think of. I am not interested in making stickers or greeting cards. I want to design and cut shapes to use for ceramic surface decoration with slips and glazes. and to make templates for polymer clay shapes.

Here’s my first foray into decorating pottery.

I started with some greenware terracotta mugs I threw on a pottery wheel.

That’s my Silhouette Portrait 3. It’s the smallest of the Silhouette die cutting machines and the least expensive. I work small and didn’t want a big machine. I bought it on Poshmark, of all places. You can find more than clothes on Poshmark and I have been very happy with my purchases there so far. My Portrait 3 was new in the box and my savings were considerable. Another great resource is videos by Design Bundles on YouTube. From there, I learned about sources for less expensive supplies and accessories to use with the Silhouette. Plus a lot of tips and tricks for using my die cutting machine.

I am interested in making my own designs rather than buying them. So I have been fooling around with Vectornator, which is a vector-based graphic design software. Vectornator is free and I use it on a iPad. (Procreate, which is a raster-based program, is another option.)

I’m totally new to the software but I’ve been having fun with it, drawing simple shapes which I save as png files and send to my computer which is connected to the Portrait 3. One of the problems I have found with learning to use Vectornator and the Portrait 3 is that most of the written explanations start in the middle, and assume a lot of knowledge. But if you are patient and watch a lot of videos, you will get the hang of it. And watch Design Bundles’ videos.

Above is a flower motif I drew on my iPad and loaded into the Silhouette software. I am using the basic software that comes with the machine because it accepts png files without the need to upgrade.

To use the Silhouette, you line a cutting mat with whatever material you will be cutting ( I used copier paper above), and the machine cuts out your design. The beauty is that you don’t have to be good with scissors and that you can cut as many flowers, circles, shapes, stencils, or what have you as you need. You can save your designs in computer files and access them whenever you need.

Here’s my first few projects. I painted and screen printed greenware with underglaze. (I made my silkscreens previously with a photo bulb and emulsion, but you can make screens for printing with the Silhouette. )

I wet the shapes with water, adhered them to the mug after the underglaze had dried, painted over them with a contrasting color of underglaze and carefully peeled them off.

Here’s the same thing on a different mug. Note that I am using scrap paper to make the cutouts. it works fine. Newsprint is too thin and a nightmare to peel off the cutting mat.

After bisque firing, I coated the mugs with glossy clear for the glaze fire. Some interesting results. I will definitely be trying more surface designs with this technique.

Bob’s Garden Spring 2022

My neighbor Bob is at it again. He’s been planting and tending a big container garden up and down our South Philadelphia street for many years, and he’s gearing up for Spring and Summer, 2022. He gets his plants from all over and doesn’t know what a lot of them are until they come up. Others, like the lily pads, he brings back year after year. I made an attempt to identify the plants this year and had a little success. But this is just the beginning. He’ll be planting more as the months go on, creating a wonderful urban oasis in the midst of asphalt and the steamy sidewalks of a South Philly summer.

Lilly pads

Purple pansy

I think this is a Clementine tree

Princess flower

Garden pansies

Gardenia

Areca palm

Corpse flower. This one is pollinated by flies and it STINKS when it’s in full bloom

Allium flower

I couldn’t identify the three remaining plants, although Google tried to tell me that the one below was grapes. I don’t know much, but I know these are definitely not grapes!

I thought this might be a chlamydia until a friend informed me that that was the name of a sexually transmitted disease and not a flower.

I am dying to see what this one looks like when it blooms. Maybe it is some kind of tulip.

If you’d like to see pictures of the garden in years gone by, press here.

Art That Infuriates People

I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art recently with my friend Christa. I like to look at art with Christa because she knows so much and has such an interesting perspective (the same reason I like to watch movies, which can be anything from Mad Max to Macbeth, with my husband.)

I’d heard of Cy Twombly, but didn’t know much about him. I still don’t know a whole lot, but I learned that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is home to one of Twombly’s major works. Fifty Days at Illiam. We saw the series of ten paintings after seeing the fifty-year retrospective of Sean Scully. Scully’s work was technically and artistically brilliant, but I found it lacking in emotion. Perhaps this is just me because apparently, Scully “sees art devoid of emotion as dishonest.” But what is art supposed to mean anyway?

When we entered the room that houses Fifty Days at Illiam, I saw nothing but emotion. We all know the story of the Trojan war and the story of Achilles who was so incensed when Trojan Prince Hector killed his besty Patroclus that he lost all control. Fifty Days at Illiam captures frenzy that led to a chain reaction of violence that ended with eternal night.

Shield of Achilles
Achilles wants vengeance

How’s that for emotion? Red and black and images that could pass for male genitalia or cannons depending on your point of view. Probably the former since this was the Trojan War and not the War of 1812.

Compare this battle scene with this one. Achilles kills Hector, Paris kills Achilles and havoc is unleashed.

Like a Fire that Consumes All Before It.

You can see all the paintings here, and learn more about Cy Twombly here.

Now I have heard that a lot of people don’t get Cy Twombly. Maybe because some of his materials included crayons, glue, and house paint, and he scribbled across his canvas. People probably say, “I could do that.” Maybe. But they didn’t. Or if they tried, their work didn’t have the color, the emotion, the audacity. John Waters said, “Cy Twombly is my hero because in the beginning his work so infuriated people.” Twombly’s work doesn’t infuriate me. It moves me.

ArtSci Designs

I made my way to the home of ArtSci Designs this weekend for an open house and to see the beautiful polymer jewelry that my friend Terri makes in her Conshohocken studio.

Terri is a scientist who spends most of her days looking at the microverse through a scanning electron microscope. She translates the microverse into art you can wear. Here are just a few of her creations: bracelets in a color for everyone. She makes other kinds of jewelry, too-earrings, pendants, and necklaces mixing in sterling chains and findings, semi precious gems and handmade glass beads.

Terri has a lot of shows scheduled in the Northeast in the coming months. Follow ArtSci Designs on Instagram here, or Facebook here, to see where she’ll land next.