Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I ReDo that Taboo with Voodoo

Maury is so happy! He's done more firing in the last few days than both he and Big Al have done in the last few years combined!

As mentioned in the previous post, that Taboo came out of his final glaze fire with his pinking completely cooked out. This is common with reds (and to a lesser degree oranges and yellows), which tend to fade during the fire, especially if insufficient fresh air is supplied. This is why we like to keep at least half of our peep holes open (or all of them) if we have red–laden pieces baking away. Even so, reds are notoriously unstable and so pinking should be applied rather liberally to have any hope of adequate intensity after the fire. I've yet to figure out just how much that is though, and somehow manage to screw up on the side of the spectrum of "not enough" with hairpulling regularity. Such was the case with that Taboo.

Here he is, right out of the final glaze fire with all his carefully shaded pinking gone gone gone. BAH!

Creating art—especially in the learning stages—isn't all joy and rainbows and brilliant strokes of genius. There's actually quite a bit of bumbling around, accidents (both good and bad), total surprises (again, both good and bad), lots of pondering, and at times frustration and disappointment. It's messy. And sometimes you get mad. Indeed, sometimes you need to get mad since it can be the battering ram needed to bust down barriers to advancement, or said another way, to drown out that little voice of failure. Crafting art can be like boot camp at times it seems, and if that was the case here then that Taboo was the target I just couldn't hit. I needed a howitzer.

That's to say I needed a bigger toolbox. Cue in overglazes. I'd been wanting to play with this stuff for some time, using the nifty starter kit Lynn provided at the last Mudhenge. But it wasn't until Karen's handpainting demo that things really clicked into place for me because the techniques she demonstrated were similar to my ol' coldpainting methods. So with that Taboo defiantly staring me in the face, fatally flawed and excruciatingly irritating, there's no time like the present, is there? What do they say about necessity and invention? How does that saying go about getting mad and getting even? All clich├ęs aside, that provocation really got the gears going, greased by my inherent stubbornness.

So with dubious abilities and blind enthusiasm, I just dove in, using pigments from the kits both Lynn and Karen so generously provided. Totally reckless. That shouldn't come as a surprise, though. As you may know by now, I'm not one to cautiously test the creative waters with a toe, properly outfitted with the appropriate gear and fully trained, to then carefully wade into the waters with one eye affixed on the shore. Nope. I get a running start and cannonball! BANZAI! *Splash* I'm lucky if I remember to take off my shoes.

Some of the materials enlisted to fix this puppy. That's a plastic palette and in the tins and tall glass bottles are the dry overglaze pigments. There are various mediums you can use to emulsify the pigmentsdepending on what you want to achieve and how you prefer the consistencybut here I'm using the glycerine Lynn provided in her kit (you can find it in the cakemaking or soapmaking isles in an arts and crafts store like Michaels). You mix the pigments directly into the medium (in this case glycerine) to the consistency you want. In my case, I aimed for the consistency of heavy cream and applied it with brushes.

To distill all that messy, "on the fly" learning into one coherent impression then: it was true love even before my bristles touched that shiny surface! Here was a fired media that combined with underglaze to produce results that not only matched my aims, but did so in a way more agreeable to my madnessinduced way of creating. So let me share some interesting things I discovered along the way so farand expect more as I wallow deeper in this marriage as I'm sure plenty more revelations are waiting! 

So first off, let's discuss some of the pigments I was using, those provided by Lynn and Karen

These are the colors I used on this guy. Lots of horsey colors are possible even with this limited palette, and the options are infinite with the addition of new pigments. Really, I suspect I'll be duplicating the massive coldpaint collection I have with overglaze pigments!

So here are some of the loosey goosey aspects of overglaze pigments:
  • You can utilize complementary colors to deepen, darken or enrich your target color without having to kill it with black. That means you can use blues, purples, greens, violets and such to amplify your palette.
  • Likewise, you can use pure brights to intensify highlights rather than relying on underlying white. So bright reds, oranges, yellows and the like can be used to punch up colors without the "pastel" effect of white.
  • You can custom mix your own colors from the large array of standard colors.
  • You can custom mix the consistency of your overglaze pigments through all the various mediums you can use. For instance, glycerine imparts the feel of oils thinned for glazing, or a thick watercolor feel. Conversely, fat oil creates a thicker, traditional oil paint feel. There's also lavendar oil, clove oil and many more mediums to suit just about anyone's preferences. I even successfully tried honey! 
  • You can use overglaze pigments in their glossy form (as–is), or turn them into a satin finish or further still into a true matte finish with zinc oxide, a matting agent available in powder form. You do this by grinding together the oxide in with the pigments in a (dedicated) mortal and pestle, varying the ratio depending on the effect you want. Then mix with your chosen medium and voila! You can then use the glossy versions on eyes, and the satin versions on hooves and nostrils for an array of appealing realistic effects.
  • Don't like what you just painted? No problem! Just wash it off with water and start again! Overglaze only becomes permanent when it's fired, so feel free to make as many changes you want before that happens.
  • You don't have to paint white markings or patterns! Amen! That tedious chore dreaded in cold–painting is totally circumvented in china painting only because your underlying (glazed) bisque provides the white background, so you simply wipe off the pigment from an area you wish to remain white.
  • You don't need an airbrush to china paint as brushes, sponges, or any assortment of typical cold–painting paraphernalia can be used instead. Keep in mind you'll have to adapt their use a bit, but that's to be expected with any media. That isn't to say an airbrush isn't an immensely handy tool in the glazing studio, however. I find that airbrushing on underglazes to block in areas with smooth, even gradients works better (and faster) than trying to do so with overglazes.
  • You never use water with overglazes, but only your chosen medium(s), thinning with glycerine when necessary.
  • You can keep your overglaze pigments and custom mixes in powder form in a suitably sturdy and tight–lidded container, or you can mix them with your chosen medium and store them thusly that way, too. You can even keep them on your palette (like many oil painters do) given that your palette is air–tight and covered to prevent debris and dust from contaminating the pigments. Gunk in your pigments makes painting a glossy surface rather tricky, and since overglazes fire at much lower temperatures (usually between Cone 016-018), not everything you'd expect to fire out actually will. 
  • Rather than waiting hours or days for your piece to cool down to apply additional layers with underglazing, you can more rapidly apply successive coats in overglazing only because of the lower temps involved. For example, after your kiln shuts off let it drop to about 1000˚F, then you can pop and prop the lid on the lowest "tooth." Then when it drops to 400˚F–500˚F, you can pop the lid fully for even faster cooling. For someone as creatively impatient as I am, this is a big plus! (I work in acrylics and color pencils for a reason!) But as always, exercise your good judgement here, as each piece and each kiln have their own tolerances and parameters.
  • Overglaze pigments fire pretty much WYSIWYG"what you see is what you get." On top of that, how you applied them also is pretty much WYSIWYG (with some exceptions, which I'll share as I discover them). This is in sharp contrast to underglaze where you have to paint "blind," and because chemicals combine and change during the fire, colors may be altered quite a bit away from what you'd expect. For someone who prefers a high degree of control and predictability—like me—WYSIWYG is always very appealing.
  • So far, I've found I get better results if I apply thin layers or washes rather than thick, gunky layers. Overglazes definitely have body, so if you glop it on it will result in a bump or ridge. If that's the desired effect, great! But if not, you can sand it off with a bit of elbow grease (and carefully with wetted wet/dry sandpaper in ultra–fine grit and with dust precautions), refire it, and then redo that feature in thinner layers.

Here we go! My very first interlude with overglazes on my own!

To crunch it all down to one idea thenif you're familiar with oils, watercolors, or inks, these overglaze pigments aren't too far afield in terms of feel and workability. But a few critical words of caution regardless:
  • Many overglaze pigments contain poisons and are highly toxic. So I recommend reading data sheets and sticking with the lead–free and cadmiumfree pigments, no matter how appealing a color may be.
  • Exercise common sense and caution with silica–based fine powders and chemical pigments or mediums.
  • As for mediums, you may come across references to motor oil or other such materials. Just remember that whatever you put into your pigments will be fired at over 1000˚F in your kiln, so safety issues with vapors and flammable materials are important, especially if your kiln resides in your house or garage. 
  • Use dedicated tools and containers for all your overglazing materials since these pigments are totally unlike those used for underglazing or coldpainting.
  • Above all, do your homework and exercise appropriate precautions to stay safe! We want you around to happily glaze for a very long time.

As for the pigments in general, Reusche is a dominant supplier (and made in the US to boot), and having used such pigments provided in Lynn's and Karen's kits, I can say unequivocally that they're wonderful. But here's the hiccup: Reusche sells its pigments only in bulk, which is both very expensive and rather impractical for our purposes. So if you want to sample of bunch of different colors out of curiosity, an eyepopping bill with be the unfortunate result. ACK! Nonetheless, check out Reusche's china painting catalog to get an idea of all the enticing colors availableand that's just one supplier!

Here he is during his final fire with overglaze! In theory, this should be it!

And there are many other suppliers! Better still, many of them offer Reusche pigments in smaller (affordable) quantities, or who may have their own custom colors created for purchase. Check out Ann Cline (recommended by both Karen and Lynn), Kathy Peterson's shopping pages, China Painting Today's store, Maryland China, Rynne China, and Colorific Porcelain, just to name a few. Pigments are typically sold in powder form by the dram. It's hard to say how far a dram would last, though, since we each would work differently and each piece has different needs. But I do hope to have a better handle on "dramability" as soon as I gain experience with a larger body of overglazed work. But I can say at this point that a little bit generally goes a long way!

Regardless, Karen reiterated to two important points to look for while choosing from all those lovely pigments: (1) are they lead–free and cadmiumfree?, and (2) do they all fire at about the same temperature range? Using pigments that demand rather different Cone temps can really complicate matters, so focusing on pigments that are both safe and compatible allows us to concentrate on creating rather than (avoidable) aggravations. Smart advice! With those two tips in my head, I can't wait to go pigment shopping! 

And hey, here's a tip: I'd initially mixed Persian Red and True White, with a tad of Brown (to richen it a bit), to create that coveted pinking tone, only this time in overglaze. But to my dismay, that dang Persian Red kept firing away, even at Cone 022! What was particularly interesting was that it seemed True White was the instigator of this vanishing act as those parts where Persian Red was used almost purely tended to stick better than those areas where True White dominated the blend. So after five attempts at trying to get Persian Red to stay, I got pugnacious and simply switched to another reddish color replacement in my White and Brown mix: Ebony Brown. Bingo! I got a nice pink that finally stuck around! Now on a piece of this tiny scale, you really only need an indication of pink here and there, so I still have to see if this pinking mix would be convincing on a larger piece where bigger swaths of color will be needed. Something to discover! Fun!

And ta–da! I did it! Say hello to GoTime Buster! I bet you can guess where his name came from! Pining for pink ushered in a whole new era for the studio, and I can't wait to really take the bit between my teeth and run with it! Feeling a bit like Buster!

And now to backtrack a bit, back to 2010I found it incredibly exciting that the blues, purples, reds, yellows, and oranges I'd used for underglazing ol' Buster also worked! This opens up even more possibilities since it suggests that our color mixes for underglazes may have more options beyond blacks for darkening and using the underlying white bisque for highlighting. Even more curious, those bright reds (and yellows and oranges) retained their potency a lot better than the reddish brownshmmm. Lots to experiment with in that department now as well!

So hey, here's the deal: if I can do all this, you definitely can, too! Having said that, though, clearly I'm a total neophyte right now. Not even a baby yet, really. Heck, I'm barely a zygote! But it's so inspiring to be literally looking out over a vast expanse of unknown territory, full of promise and peril, and surely with tall tales waiting to be lived and told! So come along with me and we'll chart it together, and here's a terrific resource to get you started! If you're serious about overglazing, too, becoming a member is a great idea because that opens up their archives rich in wisdom and insights.

In the meantime then, pop on over to Buster's album for more images, and also check out his 5day auction on eBay! I still can't believe I actually pulled this off, but it wasn't done alone! With the help and guidance of the wonderful mudhens, I made it up and over my 1,000 foot wall with nary a sweatso thank you gals! So much! You always seem to make the impossible not so impossible after all!

"Let your curiosity be greater than your fear." — Pema Chodron


Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Turning Point

An aftereffect bene of artist retreats (like Mudhenge) is a hot hinder. I'm not talking about something found in a centerfold, mind you. I'm talking about a barbecued bootay. A pyrotechnic posterior. Seared seatbones. Glowing hot glutes. In other wordsa fire under one's patootie. Specifically in my case, it's the gumption to finish a longstanding piece that's been weighing on my mind for two and a half years

Yeah. That one. For all this time (I'm ashamed to say), he's been sitting on the shelf halfdone and glaring at me with zombielike eyes. It wasn't because I couldn't glaze him, though, it was because I'd forgotten how I'd glazed him.

Half the game with underglazing is memorizing how many layers of what pigment you put where and how because they work very much like watercolors in that they intensify, darken and change with each successive layer. So if you forget the unique sequential process on a piecebecause, ohsayyou got distracted after having finished one side and then completely forgot about it for weeks afterward—there's a very good chance one side will end up looking disturbingly unlike the other. 

Compounding my predicament, I had used blues, purples and greens in his colors as an experiment rather than the good ol' trusted mixes, so I had nothing to fall back on. As if that wasn't enough, I'd also employed some experimental techniques that I couldn't quite remember how I'd done. I'm also still rather new to the whole underglazing game, having been pulled in the opposite direction by art glaze all this time, and so I still have a rather paltry mental library from which to pull predictions for informed decisions.

It was a pickle. A big one. Extra warty. Not a place to be in ceramics. I had this lingering image of being a rather juicy worm impaled on the end of a rather gruesome hook, dangled over the open maw of Big Al sporting rather alarming teeth. So there sat that clinky Taboo for over two years while I hemmed and hawed whether to ever finish him, full of trepidation and self doubt. He may be only three inches tall, but to me he seemed like an unscalable wall 1,000 feet high.

But the thing about carousin' with talented, inspiring friends is that they stoke those internal fires of fearlessness and gift you with a kind of moxie. You get braver. "Cheeky" becomes your middle name. Then all of a sudden a set of mighty impressive kahunas sprout out of nowhere and you think, as TV's Frank bellows on MST, "I'M THE GOD! I'M THE GOD!"

So as I nursed the bereavement of my muddy buddies after they'd left, I turned to that clinky Taboo and squinted. You. YOU. It's GO–TIME buster! LOOK at my kahunas! BEHOLD. They may be as fictional as yours, but they're still WAAAAAAY bigger! And so with MST's First Spaceship on Venus blaring on my iPhone, and with my new iPad in tow for reference photos, I blindly careened back into that clinky Taboo with freakish abandon, utterly (albeit absurdly) confident that I could pull off this longshot.

And soI flail.

Despite all the factors working against me, however, I knew the one thing in my favor was my palette. In a moment of uncharacteristic foresight, I'd airbrushed some of his basic colors onto it to preserve them for handpainting later. That pigment time capsule not only provided a baseline, but actually nudged memories back to the fore, allowing me to reasonably reconstruct what I'd previously done. I could even input some new handpainting techniques I'd adopted since nearly three years had passed in the interim. So after a couple of loops of "Venus," with a loop or two of MST's Sidehackers for good measure, that clinky Taboo was ready for his final glaze fire in Maury, my small kiln. 

Push kiln to "on" and wait.

The good thing about having no idea what you're doing is that you have no real expectations. Anything good resulting from a creative melange has the potential to become a euphoric triumph while subsequent hiccups often fail to pop that celebratory balloon. So as I pulled that clinky Taboo from his glaze fire, I was tickled beyond belief. It worked! Sweet Sons of Sasquatch! It worked! My deliriuminduced kahunas pulled me through like a boss!


Upon closer inspectionafter the frothy intoxication of jubilation wore offI saw that his pinking had vanished. Utterly. Gone. I guess I didn't blast it on thick enough, and so my inexperience was showing again (pardon me!). But rather than getting deflated, resigning myself to partial success (which to a perfectionist like me actually translates into shrieking, mindcrushing failure), I got pissed. Really pissed. OH NO YOU DINNIT. After all that fretting for all that time, and all that effort to complete this piece, I wasn't going to be trumped by anything like my own incompetence. 

And so back to Mudhenge again. Had I been corralled with just underglazes, this piece would have been stuck that waypinkless, hapless and hopeless. But because (cue in the chorus of angelic trumpets) Karen G. had demonstrated handpainting techniques for overglaze, and since both she and Lynn provided us with some basic materials to get started, I now had options. Now I'd originally planned to use all this to fix an old Spinnaker I'd screwed up at a previous Mudhenge back in '06, but instead that clinky Taboo got shoved to the front of the queue, front and center. Simple, right?

Well, actuallyYES.

Surprisingly, yes. Welcomingly, yes. Ecstatically, yes! To my astonishment, a total newb pinking mistake led me straight to this newly discovered soul mate of glazing media. Handpainting these overglazes came as natural to me as scarfing down chocolate glazed donuts, and on top of thatit was fun! And I didn't even have to think about any of itI just did it. Was I channeling Great Gran?

So of course things escalated beyond simply fixing his pinking, having found that I could achieve a level of nuance and detail I couldn't yet with underglazes. Moreover, I could also adjust the tones of the spots, punch up the mapping, detail his hoofies, and even add layers of color to his mane and tail. And I could do all this in a nonthreatening way since what you don't like you can simply wipe away and start again!

What's more, discovering the blissful marriage between underglaze and overglaze has been a joy so farand there's still so much more to learn! For starters, underglaze imparts a luminosity and glow, and is ideal for even gradient tones and blocking in areas of color with ease when airbrushed. In turn, overglaze lends complexity and depth along with the ability to recreate effects easily that are otherwise quite difficult to mimic in underglaze. Overglaze also provides the opportunity to fix booboos after the final glaze fire (which tend to happen more often than they should here). Seamlessly, one compliments the other in gorgeous, unique ways, and it's going to be so exciting to stumble upon them as I delve into this blessed union!

Integrating overglaze also offers a creative familiarity plus the capacity to finish my ceramic pieces in a way that's friendly with my obsessively fixated nature (hey, I'm attracted to realism for a reason!). Indeed, I've cold–painted my sculptures for over twenty years, and to my delight I found that many of my familiar techniques are adaptable to overglaze. I'm also not so handy with the airbrush, being more dependent on handpainting, so this medium fits nicely into my existing skill set.

But perhaps more pivotal, I'm a painter who prefers a high degree of control in what I want to achieve (insanely so it could be argued). It's that whole OCD thing. I become stressed and hesitant when I feel too much control is relinquished to the media, especially when so much time and energy has already been invested in getting a piece to that point. So by combining underglaze and overglaze, I literally get to have my proverbial cake and eat it, too. This is something I can really grow into and make my own.

Even more, my method is fraught with madness. I'm a very chaotic artist who fares bestand creates bestwhen able to metaphorically go back and forth, up and down, in and out, and even sideways when creating a piece. It's very difficult for me to think linearly, to think in terms of fixed procedural steps to accomplish a finished piece. Yet this is what underglazing is all about—starting at Point A and then following a specific sequence to Point Z. Many of the fixed nonnegotiable steps have been a big trip circuit for me because I create so much "in the moment" that I literally cannot see the road ahead of meso I end up stuck in a lot of dead ends. But with the application of overglaze I now have the ability to teleport my creativity anywhere I want it to go; I can glaze as messily as I create!

So now I'm eyeballing all the molds, bisques and partially finished projects gathering dust here with fiery new eyes, lit from within by fires set ablaze from the glorious sparks of underglaze and overglaze. Mudhenge 2012 squirted a whole bunch of proverbial lighter fluid onto my creative embers, and I can barely contain the inferno! Put it all together and it means this is a turning point in my career. A gamechanger. All the pieces of my puzzle have now been found and fitted together. I have the means to realize my goals now. No more hesitation, self doubt, or unease. What an amazing feeling! THANK YOU Joanie, Lesli, Lynn and Karen! I hope someday to return your favors in kind!

And to thinkall this got jumpstarted by a newb blunder! It was a pink nose that nudged open a door that would revolutionize my studio, and I can't think of a better vanguard. More mistakes await on the creative horizon as I tease out the secrets of this magic pairing, but mistakes are as necessary for progress as successes. Each hiccup reveals something new, offers a fresh take, or pinpoints the need for another approach. As long as we know how to put them to good use and remain open to their suggestions, mistakes actually tend to be more useful for growththis escapade being a classic example. 

So, yeahthings are going to get really interesting really fast around here. How fast? Just wait for the next post. Then in following posts I'll talk about some impromptu experiments I began, having been thoroughly swept away by this magic team of two. Forget your yellow brick roads, your silver linings, your pots of goldmy treasure is dirt. 

"How will we ever know what we could do if we only do what we know we can do? Today's failure is tomorrow's starting point." Beth Ferrier


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mud Slingin'

Sunny sunflowers in Lynn's beautiful garden, against the blue Idaho sky.

One of my favorite times of the year doesn't involve a holiday or festival, but an annual gathering where lots of mud gets slung around. That is to say, a muddy buddy rendezvous where my fellow ceramic addicts visit for a week to share each others' techniques and innovations. We originally referred to this time as "Mayhem," since May usually was the target month and "mayhem" aptly described the ensuing chaos. But this year, our bout of silliness was delayed until September due to scheduling. In response, Karen coined an even better declaration for this weeklong mud bathMudhenge. YES. How perfect is that?! Our group this year entailed The Usual Suspects: Joanie B.Lesli K.Lynn F. and myself, and with the addition of Karen G. 

The last two years, though, we experienced a dearth of mudfesting only because each of our circumstances made it too difficult to carve out a week. But now that things have settled down a bit, 2012 marks the welcome reboot of our raucous mud slingin' caucus! 

And what a time we had! 

For starters, we scheduled it to coincide with Art in the Park, the wonderful arts and crafts bazaar that occurs every September here in Boise. We each got some artsy goodies, studied the tent set–ups and types of presentation, and enjoyed the beautiful weather. 

This year AitP had some really cool new and returning artists such as Rocky Canyon Tileworks, Winfield Designs, Masak Pottery, Hudson River Inlay, Studio RynkiewiczBlueside Metal Art, and Arisa Niita. It was fantastic! 

Studio Rynkiewicz was especially fun since the artist was Polish and recognized "Minkiewicz" as Polish, too! We found a fellow "kiewicz!" So we joked over that as we admired his gorgeous glasswork. His handblown pumpkins especially captured my eyethe irresistible cute shape of a plump pumpkin paired with the glitter and glow of art glass was a winning combo for me! And apparently for others, too, since he seemed to have sold out of them by the next day.

So after that feast for the eyes, it was time to gorge on our own creativity! Each of us offered a demo or discussion, and in this round–table fashion we learned from each other and confabbed on ideas, directions, and issues. For instance, Lesli offered two nights of fascinating equine color and genetics presentations, with lots of discussion and Q&A. Joanie showed us a special rub–off glazing technique she developed, an approach especially useful for pieces with lots of sculpted fuzz (like Oliver and Brownie).

In kind, Lesli and Joanie taught Karen some underglazing techniques while Karen did a whole afternoon of china painting demonstrations at Lynn's studio, which was intriguing to say the least. The handpainting methods she demoed were particularly enticing to me because they were similar to my own cold–painting methods. So I can't wait to try them—I think I'll take to china painting like a rattie to scrambled eggs! Banzai! In her generosity, Lynn made us some pieces we could use for china painting, and I'm itchin' to dive in!

As for myself I demoed pouring and tweaking porcelain, and specifically how I claybodied those Reflectives. Apparently I break every rule in the book, but I had no idea. As Joanie quipped: no one told me I couldn't do things that way, so I just went ahead and did them. I listen to the clay and go with my gut, and somehow it works. Makes me wonder just how much of the rules are hand–me–down dogma, or on the other hand how much of them actually apply to what I'm doing, since what I'm doing is a bit off the deep end anyway. I guess I'll find out!

That in mind then, I got a wild hair and poured a porcelain LimerickCollier and Brownie. As if that wasn't enough, I intend to claybody them as well. Feelin' bonko and going with it. Let 'er RIP. The tricky part about casting porcelain is that it cannot be bent or fudged when removed from the mold due to the clay's memory. So pulling those castings was a real breathholder, but they pulled just fine! We're all anxious to see how they fire, particularly if they have slumping issues like fine bone china. We can create solutions whether they do or not, but if we can get this porcelain to work for full body sculptures, a whole new clay is open to us and that means new possibilities—so keep those fingers crossed!

But beyond learning, inspiring, challenging, and tinkering, Mudhenge is also about having a great time. A really great time. Our industry tends to place artists into an antagonistic relationship with each other, something I find uncomfortable and a bit counterproductive to the community. But all of us are friends, first and foremost, and Mudhenge is our rebuttal of sorts. We all love horses, we all thrive on creativity, we all value innovation, we all relish learning new things, and we all worship that miraculous substance that feeds our pugnacious, pudgy kilns. So Mudhenge is a time for celebrating our true bonds of friendship, appreciating our shared enthusiasms, and reconnecting on deeper levels.

Breaking bread together is understandably a core activity then. Indeed, lovingly nestled within all this earthy goodness is food. Lots and lots of fantastic food. Boise is definitely a foodie town—folks here love to eat and eat well—and so we're blessed with a shameless plethora of delectable restaurants, eateries, confectionaries, and food trucks

This is convenient because creativity eats up a ton of calories, and then laughing and being endlessly silly eats up a ton more. So we're obliged to imbibe copious amounts of Basque, Thai, BBQ, croquetas, sweet potato hash browns, risotto, crepes, squishy french fries, curry, bacon…you name it. We partook of our favorite haunts SaWahDee, Bar Gernika, Fork, Berryhill Co., TableRock, Jerry's, Goldy's, Goodwood, and Cutter's BBQ, just to name a few. Mom also made an awesome banana bread which was consumed posthaste. Gotta feed those cells, in more ways than one! So at the end of the week, not only were our brains burgeoning at the seams from being fed…so were our bellies! Both my skull and my waistbands are feeling a bit tight lately. As it should be!

Mud slingin' also requires chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. So off we went to check out a new chocolatier in BodoSaroli Chocolate. I got Pop a giant hunk of dark chocolate fudge, (which I'm told he devoured like a velociraptor), and I got Mom some scrumptious dark chocolate goodies (which I suspect didn't last the car ride home). I particularly liked their key lime gummi fruit slicesthey didn't last long. So a bag of goodies came back to the studio with each of us, but which were pretty much emptied by the next day. This crisis then required an emergency trip to our perennial favorite, The Chocolate Bar, in order to restock our depleted supplies. My favorites there are the dehydrated and candied (real) orange slices (with rind!) dipped in chocolate, and the milk chocolate caramels with sea salt. I'm a milk chocolate girl while Hubby is a dark chocolate guy. So one way or 'nuther, any box of chocolates doesn't stand a chance!

After procuring a new stash of cocoa essentials, we headed to The Potter's Center, the requisite destination for any ceramicist in Boise. It's where I buy all my clay and equipment, and both Karen and Lesli wanted to buy the same slipcasting porcelain I'm using. I also bought some new clay to use for my Dancing HorsesTM to mix up the collection a bit, and the porcelain pugs I need for the 2012 Christmas ornament edition. So we descended on them like chattering locusts, and thus loaded with new supplies (our car's rear wheels were so squished down, it looked like we were doing a wheelie in a sedan!), we headed back to the studio to continue on with our muddy merriment.

Amidst all this, Karen worked on one of her Roundies in underglaze while both Joanie and Lesli glazed a couple of Olivers Lesli brought. Lesli gave me her finished Oliver (thank you, Lesli!) who I named "Mudhengie" while Joanie named hers "Chutney," in honor of the curry chicken sandwich she had earlier at Berryhill. I can't wait to get started on Elsie and Oliver castings, especially for claybodying! Same goes for Dante! Pair that with the china painting techniques Karen shared, and me thinks I'll be happier than a bug in a rug! It would be really fun to blend underglazing and overglazing, too, to see what neat effects can be achieved.

In particular, hooves are a real trouble spot for me. Attaining that sort of embedded "bruised" appearance of stripes coupled with the complex networks of staining, growth rings, periople and everything else makes hooves one of the most difficult aspects of the equine to capture convincingly, in any media. So I'm hoping overglazing will help me get closer to my goals.

I also have an old Spinnaker I glazed some years ago at a previous Mudhenge, but I goofed on the manethere's a series of big bald spots on the high points where my finger accidentally rubbed off the underglaze before I could catch the goof before applying the final glaze layer. Ordinarily that would be a permanent flaw, but it's totally fixable with overglazing! I also want to see what additional details I can add to this hapless piece with that medium, so be expecting a blog post about him sometime soon.

As for myself, I requested that while they were here, Lesli and Joanie show me how to pull castings from their molds. Considering how complicated their molds arein order to accommodate the complicated sculptures I send them (what goes around comes around!)—it was immensely helpful to be guided through the process of demolding a Vixen, Imp, and Dante, for instance. There's definitely a sequence to it in order to pull a viable casting.

My wonderful hubby was a gem the entire week, too. He doted on us, making sure we were all comfortable, hydrated, wellfed, cooledoff in the ceramic studio or warm inside the house

He lit scented candles, brought out afghans, set up Lesli's presentation on our TV, and made sure all the muddy buddies could get online through our network. He also took pictures, drove us all around, carried our bags, and generally became our go–to–guy for anything we'd need as well. So thank you, Ham, you're a peach! Marvelous Mom was also invaluable, especially when helping me prepare the house for the onslaught of awesomeness. Thank you Mom, you RULE! Pulling off a week like this is definitely a team effort!

But it's curious how things come full circle when we follow our passions. I knew my Great Grandma (Mom's side) was a "mudhen" who specialized in finely crafted china painting on porcelain figurines, plates, tea sets, bowlsthe whole shebang. She did the whole nine yards, toodipping lace in porcelain slip and everything. Over the years she created a massive collection readily on display on shelves, but almost all of it was destroyed in a big Southern California earthquake some years back (*sob*). But even more, Mom recently revealed that twice a month, Great Gran would host social gatherings at her house built around classes on ceramics and glazing. Deja vu! In a way, we just picked up where she and her friends left off, and I'd like to think she's with us during our muddin' around. I can just imagine her grinnin' from ear to ear! Looking back, I wish I could have gotten my hands on her kiln, or old enough at the time to have learned some techniques from her. But the best I can do now is to carry the torch and do her proud in my own way, with all this sure adding a cool new dimension to these "dirty" dealings.

At the end of the week, Lesli was the first to return home, then after her, Karen and Paul moseyed back to their abode. That left Joanie, who stayed with us for two nights, and we met up with Lynn and Barry at Goldy's for a final meal before she embarked on her long journey home the next morning in her mighty Mini Cooper, "Winnie the Mini." It was a tasty end to a tasty week, but it was very hard to say farewell nonetheless. I'm still pining for my muddy buddies to be honest, and feel a bit discombobulated, like I don't quite know what to do with myself. All that learning, laughing and creative inspiration is a potent drug, and I wish every artist could experience that high, even if just once. So I'll think of that Beatles song, With a Little Help from my Friends, and look forward to next year, aiming to innovate something worth sharing with the gang.

In the spirit of Mudhenge then: may your belly be full like a happy kiln, may your soul be stoked by the fires of inspiration, may your year be fruitful like a wellcrafted mold, may love and joy envelop you like a gleaming glaze coating, and may your days be blessed with dear ones who enjoy getting down and "dirty" right along with you. Ceramics is about alchemy, and boydo we make magic together! 

"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends." ~ Richard Bach

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