First Cuts

Working with a die-cutter is fascinating for me, but there is a learning curve to climb about the usual ceramic materials and design issues, and then the cutter you use, the material you choose to cut, and the design you want to cut out in relation to how the die-cutter works, the programs to create vector images and/or scan art, and how you plan to use the resulting image.

Chinese paper cut

Chinese paper cut

My initial thought was to cut paper for slip stencils on leather-hard clay. I’ve used newspaper for this often when cutting out shapes with scissors or an Exacto knife. If you want to be REALLY inspired about what you can do with simple tools in stencil-making, check out Chinese paper cuts.

The die-cutters use a plastic mat with an adhesive surface on the top to hold  your media (paper, vinyl, cardstock, etc.) stable while the cutting happens. Copy paper sticks well to this. It cut with a few tears at the corners, although the blade was new. Might need to cut slower. There are a lot of solutions on the Make-the-Cut forum, which looks like a good place for die-cutter problem-solving. The mat moves through the machine and out the back in a straight path.

Portrait die-cutter at work

Portrait die-cutter at work

The next issue: you have to peel the paper off the adhesive mat. This causes thin paper to curl up. You can flatten out in a file folder and put a book on top to see if it will flatten out. Cardstock is a bit thicker and won’t conform to a curved surface as well as thin paper, but it’s much easier to cut and much, much easier to peel off. There are a lot of other media to try: plastics, Tyvek, vinyl, etc. I have a roll of Tyvek on order from Material Concepts. Their excess inventory offerings are a better price than the regular stuck. Tyvek is a re-usable, tear-resistant material you’ve probably seen as white mailing envelopes, and is fairly flexible. I hear with a die-cutter, Tyvek is best cut with a fabric blade. I’ve also read that the fabric blade isn’t different than the regular blade, just stays sharper if used ONLY for fabric, which helps it cut better. Cutting paper dulls the blade over time.Peeling cut cardstock off the adhesive mat

Peeling cut cardstock off the adhesive mat

The cutter does things that may be hard to do by hand, and will cheerfully duplicate whatever file you have to cut. The place where is ceases to be wonderfully time-saving is when you have to “weed” your cut – i.e. peel off the ground and then the images cut from the adhesive mat. Depending on how intricate your cuts are, this can be rather fiddly and time-consuming. I just bought some transparent plastic file folders to store my cuts in so they’ll be flat and I can find them.

Although I plan to do stencils for slip on leatherhard clay, I didn’t have any of that going on in my studio right now. Trying to finish up some majolica work. So, I cut my stencils from cardstock into individual words, and held it down letter-by-letter to use as a stencil for a specific font and majolica decorating color applied with a brush. Not really precise, but this is all research. Pictures of this work next time.

The Silhouette Starter Kit for Vinyl is not worth buying. You do get black, white, green, and pink vinyl (9″ x 24″) and transfer paper, a hook tool to help weeding cuts. All useful. The idea/instruction book is very small, very limited, and ditto the “instructional” DVD. In my opinion, both worthless. One quick video of cutting, weeding, and using transfer paper to move a design. No talk. No other ideas or discussion of any problems or methods. The Silhouette “scraper” could be easily replaced by a retired Starbucks or credit card. You do get a pink patterned cardboard box in which to store your supplies. Skip the starter kit and just buy the Silhouette vinyl online – I’ve seen it on sale – if you want it. As a teacher, my perspective is that the Silhouette people do a poor job of education on their product.

Image below of the ground paper peeled off the mat, and the resulting shapes left on the mat. Both with be useful with slip – the outline as a stencil to paint in, and the shapes as friskette to reserve the ground color.

Die-cut cardstock

Die-cut cardstock with the ground peeled off and the shapes left on the adhesive mat.

Die-cutter for ceramic surface

I’m back from a month at the Archie Bray Foundation, where I did a month’s residency in studio, and presented a 3-day workshop. Great people in the workshop and at the Bray. Thanks for the good time and inspiration.

One of the things that came from this was exposure to Andrew Gilliatt. I’ve seen his

Andrew Gilliatt pattern

work in print, but it was more revealing to see him in studio. He’s using a Silhouette SD die-cutter to cut out adhesive paper resist shapes, and to cut out shapes from printed laser decal sheets to match his glazed or resisted areas. While I’ve known that the scrapbooking world had such devices, the light bulb didn’t really go on until I looked up the die cutters. Early models required cartridges from the manufacturers and only cut those shapes. Things got more sophisticated, and Silhouette America made a cutter that connects to your computer and will cut from .svg files: you can make your own or buy from Silhouette. The graphics are vector-based, like those created in Adobe Illustrator.

A post on Facebook about my interest in this technology yielded a kind note from Brenda Moore, former workshop participant, who mentioned that she’d taken a workshop at Sawtooth from Doris Petersham who included this technology. A note to Doris to ask if she had any pointers for info led to her suggestion of Make the Cut software as the most flexible tool to use with a die-cutter. The have a hardware connection with the Zing die-cutter.

I’m sure there are a lot of uses for die-cutting in ceramics. Before the scrapbooking movement in DIY, the plotter-cutters available were expensive tools more suited to business use, e.g. cutting the adhesive vinyl that galleries and museums use for shows, signs, etc. The low end of these seems to about $900.00 and up from there. One of the U.F. faculty in painting who does works with icons and symbols has a wide-bed plotter-cutter. Since, there has been development of smaller, less expensive home units which are more within the reach of individuals. I plan to cut shapes from paper for use as stencils on leather-hard clay. I’ve always loved doing slip work on leatherhard clay, but it requires more timing pressure than majolica on bisque ware. This year on sabbatical, I plan to take some time to investigate the die-cutter and slip work, and will write this up when I’ve learned more. Another curiosity is cutting shapes from solid sheets of laser or China-paint decals. Chinese Clay Art now offers sheets of solid decal color. This is GREAT if you want to make something like graphic stripes, etc., and the die-cutter will expand what can be easily cut from such sheets (once I learn more …. )

I bought the cheapest Silhouette – the Silhouette Portrait. It has optical registration, is similar to their CAMEO but smaller – 8″ cutting width. It just arrived yesterday, and I’m working on setting it up. This really all was instigated by ceramic artist and educator Martina Lantin asking me to do the next Crimson Laurel Gallery themed cup show, Natural Disaster. I wanted to use symbols and icons to represent natural disaster suggestions, either in slip or decal color shapes.

Once I discovered Make the Cut and the Zing, thanks to Doris’s kind help, I wanted one of those. One is on the way. The Zing will do 14″ wide cuts, online reviews say it’s better for thick or tough materials (e.g. Tyvek for re-usable stencils), and has laser registration, which should be more accurate. Make the Cut works with many die-cutters and offers a lot of tutorials and free Webinars on Tuesday nights. The Zing people are kindly facilitating my research, and I hope to see my new Zing soon. I’ll post more info here on the blog as I learn, and will eventually work on an article and a handout for my web site.

Zing die-cutter from Klick-N-Kut

Zing die-cutter from Klick-N-Kut