Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Muddy Mischief

You did...wha...WHAT?!

When making sundry clay items there’s always leftover clay. Not quite enough to make another tile or magnet, but too much to just hang onto indefinitely. So a couple of weeks ago, as I was fiddling with a leftover blob, this little guy took shape (above).

My husband, whom I call "Ham," has a very expressive face with an equally expressive voice to go with it. The combined effect drives me dizzy with delight, to the point that even when he’s - shall we say - excessively perturbed, I’m giddy with internal glee. Not that I don’t take him seriously, of course, but those expressions of his are just too priceless to toss aside. And one of the hazards of being married to an artist is that it’s just as easy to become the hapless victim subject as it is to be the innocent bystander spousal support.

So as this little clay guy materialized in my fingers, an idea popped into my head, as ideas invariably do, "Why not capture a Hammy-moment?" 

What I mean by "Hammy-moment" is a snapshot of one of hubby's mercurial expressions in response to my seemingly-endless shenanigans. It seems I have a knack for eliciting a barrage of expressions from him because - apparently - I do things that invite all sorts of incredulous reactions. Indeed, the man is a pillar of patience because, I do admit, I'm a bit of a whirlwind of catastrophic unpredictability. And thus a win-win situation was born: I'd use up the extra clay and have fun to boot. And I shall call them Hammies.

The first Hammie is pictured above, wearing hubby’s expression when he’d discovered I’d opened up the house to the beautiful spring day, but left the central heating on. All day.

And here are Hammies #2 and #3 - I gleaned two Hammies from one incident! I couldn't get Netflix to work on the tube all day and asked hubby to "make it go" when he got home (him being an IT guy). He fiddled with the machine, and then the settings and then finally called our Internet-provider tech support, spending about 45 minutes hashing things out with them to no avail... 

This is his expression when he'd discovered - after all that trouble - that the problem was that the wall switch had been turned off. By me. After he'd told me about a million times never to turn off the wall switch. There's some highly technical reason why the wall switch controls the TV hook-ups, but I promptly forgot and, of course, flipped it off. I couldn't even remember the reason why...I just remembered the wall switch was important so I flipped it off. Note to self: don't work in a nuclear power plant.

And here's his expression immediately after the initial shock of the unfortunate discovery. A grumble went with it as well as a reminder, for the one-millionth-and-one time, not to turn off the wall light switch.

Look for gaggles of Hammies popping up for sale in my Etsy store from time to time, an ode to an endlessly suffering and infinitely lovable man.

“We have an infinite number of reasons to be happy, and a serious responsibility not to be serious.” ~ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi


Thursday, May 19, 2011

2011 Breakables Booty

A terracotta Runehorse, who's been languishing in the studio now finally has a destiny!

One of the great things about having a ceramic studio is the ability to sponsor awards with pieces I make. I get to play in mud, experiment with new methods, clays and glazes, and help support shows that showcase ceramic works. A win-win!

In that spirit, I'm again sponsoring Breakables this year, held in conjunction with Breyerfest. Like last year, I'm sponsoring a Minkiewicz Challenge, but since I had so many left-over tiles and magnets from BOYCC production, I glazed them up and sent them along, too. Spread the fun!
 Here's a peek at some of the various tiles for Breakables!

 And here's a look at some of the magnets.

For a change, I decided to create a couple of tiles without holes and mount them into trivets to hang on a wall in a frame. I really like how they turned out, and I plan to explore this idea further. One idea in particular intrigues me: incorporating mosaic elements to fill the space between the tile and the edge of the frame. I could make my own mosaic components in clay, or use glass stuff from mosaic suppliers. Now these are earthenware tiles, so I wouldn't use them as actual trivets, but if I use stoneware or porcelain, they could be functional in the kitchen, too!

It feels good getting these puppies out early, after having to scramble to get the awards shipped for MMMSS and BOYCC. Now I can breathe easy with my obligations fulfilled, and get back to work in the studio on new pieces!  I also have a pile of stoneware tiles drying for my Etsy store, and hope to get them glazed and stocked in the next couple of weeks.

"The reward of art is not fame or success but intoxication: that is why so many bad artists are unable to give it up." ~ Cyril Connolly


Monday, May 16, 2011

A Bounty of BOYCC Booty

 Our lilacs are in full bloom, and the aroma is heavenly!

This past week it's been a madhouse here, getting everything finished and shipped to California for BOYCC for this weekend. And to my delight, Mr. Pony came through the glaze fire fantastically! If you want to see more photos, check out his photo album

  Mr. Pony with his candy coating - finished just in time!

I was worried I made his directional shading too even, but it seems I did it just fine. His features have just enough accent without being overdone. The pigment also pooled in the features just as I wanted and the tube's glaze seeped onto the tail, giving this piece the more arty look I wanted. Though I do admit that I really liked him bisque, too, and I'd love to try finishing another piece just with an oxide.

Living up to his nickname, "Big Blue" brought out the blues of the glazes and underglazes applied to Mr. Pony. You can see hints of the purples and greens on various parts of his body, and depending on the light, these colors either dampen or "pop," which I think is especially fun. And praise be! Copper Adventurine finally made a coppery effect! It's not a whole lot, but I'll take it! 

Woot! Check out those lovely smears of copper! That's my studio logo stamp impressed on the back of the tube, in the lower two-thirds right hand side of the photo.
But it wasn't all fun and games - Big Al threw in some monkey wrenches just to make sure I was paying attention....

 This is why kiln wash is indispensable! The glaze on this little guy unexpectedly ran off him and flowed onto my kiln shelf. Happily, I was able to pull him off thanks to the kiln wash because it creates a powdered layer that acts as a "release" for just this situation. Then I sanded off the glassy edge at his base with a grinding stone and my Dremel® tool.

And some of the glazes had a complete spaz. Yow! Brace your orbs for the horror....

I'm sending these eye sores down to BOYCC for kicks. I figure Joanie and Addie can find some unfortunate use for them.
But all the hard work paid off, and both Big Al and Maury delivered in spades...

When Laurie was here a couple of weeks ago, we spent a day playing in clay. She made a gaggle of wonderful little creatures, and I made these guys. I'm sending them down to BOYCC as fun little prizes.

And here are some of the awards I'm providing for my Challenge Classes. I'm sponsoring a bas-relief class, a Minkiewicz Challenge (large size) and a Minkiewicz Challenge (small size).


And here's a peek at some of the swag bag tiles - each one is different, and there are fifty in total!

Of course, Mr. Pony is my centerpiece contribution. Some lucky person will be taking him home! I also provided eight magnet sets for the peeps who are sitting at my centerpiece table ((below), so each person at my table gets to take something extra home.

So...what have I learned with all this, especially with Mr. Pony? 

In a word: GOBS. 

I discovered that I'm a really fast sculptor, and it's been my previous media (epoxy clay and oil clay) that have slowed me down. Mud is a different story - it can keep up with me. It's essentially the acrylic paint of sculpting mediums. Not only that, it also works with me, becoming a true partner in the process. Being able to just sculpt without impediment has been a thrilling experience, and this revelation is a new direction I intend to explore in earnest.

My tiles can be integrated together nicely using different hole configurations. This opens up whole new options for what I offer for sale, and even themes for new future designs.

The "slow fire" program in Big Al's computer brain is a most valuable tool. I've rarely used it before Mr. Pony, but I suspect I'll be dependent on this setting for many future projects!

Lastly, I learned to always keep an open-mind in the face of failure. If you think a process or medium is beyond your abilities, too difficult or scary - believe me when I tell you that you're probably very wrong. Very very wrong. Dive in, fearless and eager! "Success" or "failure" are empty judgments we tack onto our experience, not the truth of that experience. Whether we reach our goal or not, we gain insight that can be applied in some fashion in the future - that is the treasure. New options, new horizons, new methods, new ideas...new everything is there for the taking if you just make the leap. Take a risk. It's good for you. Certainly has been for me. I know I'll never be afraid again!

Thank you BOYCC for these invaluable lessons and experiences these past few weeks! Even though I'm unable to attend, this event still had a profound effect on me, and for that I'm eternally grateful. Thank you Joanie and Addi!

"So many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable." ~ Christopher Reeve


Friday, May 13, 2011

Mr. Pony's Candy Coating

Mr. Pony and buddies in Maury - before I rethought that firing.

Now that this guy has made it through the bisque fire, he has one more fiery gauntlet to run: the glaze fire. This usually isn't such a big deal because it's run at a temperature well below the bisque fire, Cone 06. In other words, anything that would have exploded already would have.

But one can't be too cautious. I'd initially put Mr. Pony and a gaggle of clay critters into Maury, my small kiln (as you can see above). In case you're wondering, "Maury" is short for Moravia, a location in central slavic Europe thought by archeologists to be the first place where ceramics were created purely for aesthetic reasons. 

Anyway, unlike my big kiln, Big Al, who has a digital programming pad, Maury is manual only and so he doesn't have the "slow" fire program that Big Al has. So when I turned on Maury, I realized that Mr. Pony was bisque fired on the "slow" setting in Big Al. Would anything other than that scenario cause him to explode, even in a glaze fire? Maybe. Regardless, I couldn't take the chance at this point. BOYCC is next week! (Btw: plane tickets are really cheap right now, so if you're thinking about going - DO.)

So I turned off Maury and loaded everyone into Big Al instead, along with all the BOYCC swag bag and award tiles. At this point it was 4am Friday morning. I set the program to "slow fire" and turned on Big Al...and hoped for the best.

Glaze fires are very different from bisque fires. Remember that glaze really is glass and glass needs time to cool, otherwise it'll crack, or shatter. This is why art glass works need to be annealed. Complicating matters, glass glazed onto ceramics needs to cool around a rigid bisque body, like a glove on a hand. Any disruption will result in cracking, shattering or crazing (not to be confused with crackle glazes). 

Thus the general rule of thumb for the cool-down period is to triple the firing time of a glaze fire, to allow the glass time to cool evenly in tandem with the bisque. So, in a sense, we anneal even a ceramic glazed piece, using our kiln as the mechanism. This means that since Big Al's slow 06 fire took 11 hours, that means the cooling time would be 33 hours. So if I fired him up at 4am Friday morning, I can't open him up until Sunday, about noon.

To say that this wait time is excruciating is an understatement, particularly since ceramics always - always - has a surprise waiting in store for you. This media dances to its own drum and at times it may invite you along to sashay, but more times than not, it's a mosh pit. Only those hardcore enough can rock...in making pretty rocks, practically speaking.

So getting back to Mr. Pony...he needed glaze. I'd debated about leaving the pony bisque with an oxide accent, but I figured with him being a functional piece (especially since he might be used as a vase -- read: water), the durability of an impermeable glaze was the ticket.

I finally settled on an underglaze "directional" airbrush treatment in vibrant colors. What I mean by "directional" is that the airbrush is held at an extreme angle to the piece, usually from underneath the features, so that shading is placed on the underside of the anatomical bulges and protrusions. Then clear glaze would be applied on top. This tends to flatter a realistic piece most. The tube would then have a drippy art glaze treatment. 

But I had to get him all done in one firing - there was no time for multiple firings for this guy. Luckily, my strategy allowed me to get him all done in one fell swoop!

Here's Mr. Pony with his blues and purples applied, with directional airbrush shading. The underglaze is pure pigment, and it's extremely fragile, being a kind of powdered dust. If I touched it, or even sneezed on it, it would be ruined. So once the pigment is laid down, I can't touch it. Lucky for me, his tube provided a perfect "handle."

Now for the reddish purples and greens.

Once he was underglazed, I airbrushed on his clear glaze, which is why he's all pinkish-white here.

Now for the tube. I Saran-wrapped Mr. Pony to avoid any art glaze from splattering onto him.

Here you can see the drippy effect. I used four glazes here. On the bottom is Copper Adventurine, a blasted finicky glaze that I have yet to get work well, but I figured what the heck - it's a tube. Above that is Blue Grotto, a new glaze that I have no clue how it's going to look. Again, what the heck. Above that is Cornflower Blue only because I wanted to use it up. On top of that is Sea Spray, one of my very favorite glazes (the tube's inside is glazed with clear and Sea Spray dripping down into it). However, glaze does its own thing...and kilns do their own thing. 

Despite any ideas of how I think this will all turn out, the reality is I have no clue. It is what it is - that's it. It all could come out completely different than what I envision - and probably will. Hence the excruciating wait. With fingers and toes crossed. Hoping.

But patience isn't one of my virtues. Not by a long shot.

"patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue." ~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary


Monday, May 9, 2011

Pony Bisque and Beyond

HAZZAH! Success! Mr. Pony made it through the bisque fire intact and unscathed! Now I can start breathing again. I'm going to be honest - I didn't expect him to survive. He has a solid head and neck and I'm new at this and I sorta stumbled through him...so truth be told, he beat the odds! Big odds.

I suspect a large part of this happy outcome was the clay. It's a low-fire, porous earthenware (Laguna EM-347 Whiteware with grog) and so it's far more forgiving than a mid-fire or high-fire clay, such as stoneware or porcelain. What I mean by that is that air and water have a better chance of escaping during the fire because the clay is more "spongy." In contrast, mid-fire and high-fire clays are less porous (and many turn vitreous when fired to maturity), so any air or moisture that wants to escape tends to do so explosively. And like the Michigan Model Madness show tiles, there wouldn't have been time to recreate a replacement if things went wrong with Mr. Pony.

I've also been holding my breath over Mr. Pony for another reason - I desperately wanted this project to succeed because I really wanted to create work with this approach. So because Mr. Pony didn't pop, I now know this mode of sculpting is something I can do. I don't think I've ever been this excited about new prospects in a long time! 

Nonetheless, I took cautious steps with the firing because I had very little idea of what I was actually doing with all this. The thing was, I wasn't only worried about an explosion, but also about cracks, knowing they would be inevitable since I was so inexperienced. So I put him through a "soft fire" first, hoping that would reveal where cracks would occur so I could fix them before the final fire, which would save time and hedge my bets even more.

A soft fire is a firing well below the clay's mature fire, so in this case, Mr. Pony's soft fire was at Cone 010 rather than the mature fire of Cone 04. When it comes to the "0" before the number, think of it as a negative symbol in mathematics, meaning that the higher the number behind the "0", the cooler the fire.

And the soft fire worked like a charm! I was quite surprised to find how few cracks occurred (that tells me I'm on the right track), and also how easy it was to fix them - simply wet the area, apply more slip and work it into the crack, then blend with a wet brush. Then I put him through the mature fire of Cone 04...and ta-da! A fully fired pony, ready for glazing...

Mr. Pony is bisquey goodness. Phew!

(Left) You can see how I blended the tail into the tube. I'd originally thought of attaching the tube on the other side of his hinder, but then I'd have to add more tail hair and have it wind around the tube in the opposite direction. In the end, I decided that wouldn't only make the tail excessively thick, but it would make the design awkward. By placing the tube on the side the tail was already laying solved that problem and created a more flowing design.

Here you can see the tube, which turned out surprisingly well. No cracks anywhere and it fired perfectly. I actually thought the tube would be a real problem only because it was so simple to make, and with ceramics "easy" can be frighteningly deceptive! I also expected a mess of cracks between it and the tail connection, but nope!

Here you can see a crack that occurred on the inside. Having appeared during the soft fire, I decided to leave it unfixed. It spoke of the new experience and the process, so I liked it. That's probably not the best attitude to have when it comes to ceramics, but well, I've never been one to follow convention. Aren't we the sum of our good and pesky points? Well, so is a piece of art work.

 Here you can see the grog creating a "grain" in the clay. Unlike my other work, which needs a smoother surface, I think clay lends itself to a looser finish. It's a reflection of the media and I like that to show.

Now I'm presented with a conundrum for glazing, due to the groggy texture of Mr. Pony. If I use a directional spray with a colored underglaze, it will pick up the grain along with the details and sculpting. Will that be too distracting? On the other hand, should I simply apply a colored glaze? While it would dampen the effect of the grain, it would obliterate most of the details. Given a choice between the two, I know I want to avoid obscuring all the details I worked so hard in infuse in the piece, so I'm leaning towards the directional spraying paired with some transparent colored glaze...and simply hoping for the best. I'm praying that may be the best of both worlds.

So either tonight or tomorrow, I'll start glazing this fellow. What I do know for sure is that my beloved crackle glaze is out. All those little cracks would allow water to penetrate into the clay and if the winner of this piece wants to use him as a vase, that would compromise his long-term durability. I also know that realistic colors are out, too. Not only wouldn't they work well with the grain, but that approach just doesn't fit the feel of this piece. Realistic glazes have their place, but this line of work really isn't one of them, at least in my view.

Nonetheless, I need to finish this guy before I dive into the BOYCC swag bag tiles. All that art glaze combined with my clumsiness threatens to contaminate Mr. Pony if the two are created side-by-side. I know me and art glaze, and we tend to be a tornado together! So wish me luck!

"I await joyous surprises while working, an awakening of the materials that I work with and that my spirit develops." ~Odilon Redon

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