Monday, February 20, 2012

Proud Minkie

  "Whatcha doin'?"

The title of this particular blog entry, "Proud Minkie," has a dual meaning. The first, and perhaps not so obvious, is a reference to Tina Turner's rowdy rendition of "Proud Mary." Aside from the incomparable majesty that is Tina Turner, her famous quip, "I never ever seem to do nothing nice and easy" can pretty much describe my method here in the studio. Honestly, it could be my epitaph. 

Because if there's a quick and easy way of going about creating work, I appear to dodge it at every turn. Now, mind you, I try—I truly do. I set out to create something straightforward, with the most sincere and determined of intentions. Only I just can't do it.

You've seen it a million times before on this blog, haven't you? What starts out as something simple and uncomplicated ends up morphing into a piece that pushes the very limits of my skill and sanity. Like that famous "agony of defeat" skier on the World Wide of Sports, I go from "La–dee–da ladee–da" to "OH DEAR GAWD HELP ME!" Pretty much in a {poof} of billowing snow, too.

But like the partner to that agony, "Proud Minkie" refers to the "thrill of victory" in that WWS clip, too. Because after I've gotten up, shaken off the snow, and rattled my head back to coherent thought, I realize that I pulled something off I never thought I couldeither with my skills or the medium. I'm proud of what I've done only because I didn't think I could do it. Being dumbfound and delighted is a peculiar mix!

And so I give you this guy, who I refer to as "Mr. Continental" in reference to his continental braid

CBCM Reflective #7, a OOAK in midfire porcelain. Iberian stallion. Approx. 5x5".

He was supposed to be a simple claybody custom, with just a few tweaks to the head. It was the braids I wanted to focus on because I'd never sculpted anything like them before. But as sculptures tend to do, they take on a life of their own. They hijack the mind and take over the hands. And so one thing lead to another and I ended up with a piece that was far more involved than I ever intended. 

Here's the original Reflective, pulled right from the mold, still with flashing.

Here's the new CBCM version, still in progress (you can see me working on those braids). Straightforward and simple my curls!

Every bit of him was resculpted, including the set of his dock, ears and eye. Even his head was cut in half and reset to create that classic Iberian "ram head." 

Here he is, finished in greenware, drying and waiting to fire. Those braids took forever to sculpt not because of the technicality of sculpting them, but because I often "lost my way" in their pattern and got confused! That perspective can be so challenging to sculpt.

This guy represents some major leaps in my skills with this technique and medium, from the head chopping to how to a portion of those braids are freespanning, with no support between them and the neck. I honestly didn't think I could do thatthat either I didn't have the kahunas, or that the medium wouldn't allow me.

Boy, was I happy to find I was wrong on both counts! This slipcasting porcelain is sturdy stuff even as greenware, and generous enough to encourage the reckless pushing of envelopes. I didn't even need to support those braids during the fire, but pins n' needles were involved for twelve hours.

Muzzle detail. I love horse muzzlesthey're an endless source of expression and quirkiness. One of my favorite aspects is how their lower lip can hang, and here we see that effect ever so slightly. It says that he's relaxed, but also focused on you, in a friendly, curious way. Horses express with every inch of their body.

This piece also provided the missing piece to an ongoing puzzle—how to stop the bubbling during the mature fire. I've been having a bear of a time with this clay bubbling in places during the mature fire, especially in thin areas, or at contact points with the shelf or porcelain prop. I thought maybe it was because I was firing too hot, so I made adjustments with some test pieces. No. I thought maybe the clay wasn't dry enough, so I ran some tests. Still no. I wondered if I needed to do a "preheat," or "hold." But, again, no.

I knew I had to fire it long and hot enough for vitrification, but I wondered if perhaps they were firing too long, that simply being too hot for too long was causing the bubbling. So I reduced the fire from the "slow" to the "medium" speed setting. No, that didn't work either. I was loath to fire shorter than that because you want to take porcelain just to the brinkthat's what causes vitrification and gives it that lovely sheenbut no more so that you literally cause it to boil.

But this guy introduced a whole new problem—those freespanning braids. I knew if I went about business as usual, those things would simply melt and slump into a flagrant display of disaster. I'd considered supporting that portion with porcelain prop, but decided against it because of the heat sink bubbling issues I'd been encountering with the stuff. I even mulled over the idea of creating tiny stilts which could be broken awayfor about two seconds, then I came back to my senses. My only choice was to use the "fast" speed setting and hope for the best.

Here are those braids up close. You can see that freespan, where some of them are actually detached from the neck. It was surprising just how tough this clay is in greenware, holding up just fine to my tinkering to create that air pocket. That isn't to say I didn't hold my breath while I was carving away, though!

Well, the solution made itself apparent with those braidsit's the "fast" setting that proves to be the Goldilocks zone. He came out perfect. So now I've discovered more possibilities as well as the optimum condition for those possibilities, and all thanks to this swarthy fellow. I also discovered to trust the clay. All this time my assumptions were wrong, such as about the bubbling, and I simply needed to dispense with the preconceptions and just listen to the clay. Point taken!

Oh, 2012 is going to be so much fun!

"There is an art to wandering. If I have a destination, a planan objectiveI've lost the ability to find serendipity. I am on a quest, not a ramble. I search for the Holy Grail of particularity and miss the chalice freely offered, filled and overflowing." ~ Cathy Johnson 

[Speaking of chalices freely offered and overflowing, I have to admit that I giggle when I think, "Mr. Continental," because I'm reminded of Christopher Walken's titular character. {snort!}  Champagna?]

Update: If you like, saunter on over to his auction.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Back To Work

One of the new ways my ceramic tiles are making their ways to new mosaics!

After my doctorprescribed three week "pasture rest," I got back to work in earnest, getting knuckle deep in mud once again. I was particularly eager to finalize the various new applications for my tiles and get them up on Etsy pronto. At the top of that list were mosaics, an art form I'd long admired and which my handmade tiles were perfectly suited. Just like with beads, mosaics married mud and glass together with splendiferous results!

So the opening photo (above) is one of three large 9.5" x 9.5" mosaic pieces I put together, and here are the other two...

All three sold in the blink of an eye, something I really didn't expect. I thought they'd sit for months! It was so cool to put these pieces together, choosing just the right components and oozing the grout into the spaces. Forget spatulas or clothsfor me fingers are the best grouting tools! squish squish squish

I must admit that trepidation creeps in when I put new ideas up for sale only because I'm not so sure folks will think they're cool, too. Because I have to also admit that my various creative excursions can be quite random such as, for example, the new Shadow Horses...

On top is a pressing of my Welsh Cob (Section D) sculpture, Dafydd. The middle is from my RESS basrelief piece. On the bottom are two separate pieces pressed onto one slab, those being Imp and Vixen respectively.
Also offered are sets of "undressed" pieces for the buyer to festoon as they wish. I encourage folks to dress 'em up themselves and resell those finished pieces. It's even been suggested they'd make super pendants for necklaces. So true! It's fun when we get to "play together," and when you do, please send along pix so I can feature your pieces on the blog! And some of these showcased Shadow Horses are still available.

These "cameo" pieces were created by pressing my selected sculptures into a slab of clay using a "squish n' roll" technique. How you squish n' roll influences the profile and manifestation of the details, making each one unique. Then the pieces are bisque fired and then glazed, with the glaze being strategically wiped off the high points to make the details "pop." And into the mature fire they go. It's a meticulous, timeintensive process, but the results are really cool. I especially like how the glaze accents the reversal of the sculpture to produce a unique kind of basrelief.

But the curious thing about this project was that certain sculptures really lent themselves to this approach while others totally faceplanted, and for reasons I can't really explain. Totally counterintuitive reasons, really. But it was sure fun finding out who was squishable and who wasn't! As expected though, only the transparent, glassy glazes worked for this project since the more opaque glazes totally obliterated the detail.

Now I'd really like to try some oxides with this idea along with making molds from some of these "negatives" to give me "positives." There are lots of uses for the positives, especially for a certain new series I'm currently designing. As a hint, I have a deep fascination for ruins that feature horses in basrelief (like the Elgin Marbles) and I want to pursue that idea in earnest now that I'm getting a handle on tile pressing and free sculpting stoneware and porcelain. Lots of ideas brewing for that. In fact, if they don't explode in Big Al, the first offerings along those lines, featuring the Shadow Horse effect, may be available soon in the store.

Anyway, I offered quite a few Shadow Horses in this current Etsy cornucopia and waited in bated breath because they're so, well...weird. Boy, was I happy to find that many of you appreciate weirdness, too! But I'm not sure these critters will become a regular item in the store because they simply consume too much time to make. They're really better suited for periodic romps when the mood strikes.

As for the name, I decided to call them Shadow Horses rather than "cameos" only because I liked the idea of them being the "shadows" of the originals. Like antimatter. Like ghosts. Considering it further, it would be fun to try this technique with the entire body of one of my sculptures, which I somewhat attempted with this piece. And I gotta sayI can't wait to see how Dante squishes!

Another random addition to this first 2012 offering were these fun magnet grab bags, made from impressions of my various works in midfire porcelain. Most of them were made for use as glaze test chips, but I got the idea for magnet sets midstride and so invested more time to make them presentable after they served their purpose.

Some are still available!

While lots of fun to make though, they ended up eating more time than expected only because the ruboff glazing technique takes so much work (and I'm so darned picky). It eats up lots of glaze, too, and on top of that, between the touchy clay and the even touchier glazes, I lost about 50% of what I actually made. So I'm not sure if this idea will be revisited anytime soon. Test chips perhaps are best left as throwaways. Though there is the idea for mosaics. Hmmmm....

Onward! Another debut was a new shape: a circle! Adding spice to the mix, unique flourishes were pressed into the clay by hand, along the border between the edge of the square stamp and the edge of the circle. That was a blast! It was such a hoot to grab everyday objects to see what kinds of effects they'd produce.

Here's a new circle porcelain piece still available in "the festoonery."

New, too, were the porcelain coaster sets I offered. This one got snapped up quickly.

This coaster set is still available. The results are hardearned, lemme tell ya. The loss rate during production is alarmingbetween the mid–fire porcelain and the eventual glaze effects, I lost one for every one I made. But I think I know why, so I'm hoping the loss rate on my next batch won't be so outrageous.

The almighty circle also made its way into mosaics such as this piece here, which is still available. It showcases a rather rare stamp design, the "draft horse" version of one of my Dancing Horse stamps. I liked how the black frame set off the tile so well, so I intentionally chose dark mosaic bits to let the tile shine.

Overall, I really ended up liking the circle shape a lot. It has good "palm feel" and reminds me of a medallion or medal. Of course with that came a blinding influx of new ideas, but as per my new motto, "manageable bites," I instead made notes for next year.

Also new were various framing schemes for these new pieces, such as these... 

The top two pieces are sold, but the handsome bottom piece is still available.

What may not be readily apparent in these framed pieces is that these are 3" stamps adapted into 4" tiles. For far too long (than I care to admit), I anguished over how to achieve this result quickly and easily since nearly all tile accoutrements are made for 4" tiles. But it was imperative to maintain the smaller 3" measurement to keep the Dancing Horses (and pieces like them) affordable as single pieces. 

All that extra space along the edges tormented me for what seemed like ages, and I spent quite a bit of mental energy cogitating elaborate workarounds. Somehow I had to avoid duplicating all those stamps in the larger 4" size because not only would that have been prohibitively expensive, but would also eat into the precious studio space that's becoming a rapidly diminishing resource around here. 

So in typical Minkie Modus Operandi fashion (of "just do it and figure it out later"), I blindly dove in when I finally got my 4" tile cutter. It was the staring at flats full of 4" squares imprinted with my 3" stamps that did the mental trick, and the solutions instantly popped into my head. As natural as breathing. So natural, in fact, that I'm still sorely irritated at myself for overthinking the problem!

What's more, the natural solutions are infinitely more flexible and interesting than any of my conceived workarounds! Blarg. Durhay Sarah! Can you be any more stupid? No wait! Don't answer that! Anyway, it's good to know that all tile accessories are now within grasp, in an easy, affordable and adaptable way.

Anyway, back to the Etsy store...also offered were new designs, such as this piece...

The new Solar Stallion in stoneware in "Rust," offered as a small colorway edition of twelve.

The glaze for these twelve pieces is actually an iron oxide applied and then rubbed offa lot of rubbing off. So while I love the rustic touchy–feely finish, the process is the kicker. See, the glazing method is tedious enough, but mix that with a rather irksome glaze and, well...let's just say this finish won't be put into production. The problem is that the oxide tends to smear and restain rather than just go the heck away, meaning that these twelve pieces took a lot of work!

The complement to this piece, the Moon Mare, has been delayed since her design needed retooling and thus a new stamp made. But stay tuned! She'll be available later this year. [It should be noted that these pieces were originally designed for my Runehorse line, but took on a life of their own and inspired an entirely new series. So the "Rune Horse" stamp on the back of these current Solar Stallions will be a bit of a novelty very soon.]

Another unique item in this sale is a festooned Dancing Horse in porcelain, with a brand new hole figuration of one hole on the top and two on the bottom...

This particular piece is a reverse impression of the actual stamp, taken from the matrix board provided by the stamp manufacturer. If you notice, this is the old "head down" version of the current "head up" version now in production. This piece turned out so gorgeous, I'm sorely tempted to keep it! It's still available...for now.

But not to be outdone, lots of regular items pepper the store shelves, from the Dancing Horse singles to all sorts of festooned pieces. Also back are the popular Prancing Pony magnet sets, such as this one...

The fourpiece Prancing Pony magnet set, "Summer Camp," which is still available

To shake it up, I included some porcelain Prancing Ponies to experiment with the medium in this manner. After all was said and done, however, I decided that porcelain is better suited to limited offerings rather than regular production. Stoneware it is then, and the new fancy stoneware clay I recently got is beckoning!

So this weekend I'll be getting the sold items packed up to ship off to their new homes as well as finishing up a couple of side projects. I'll also get back to those promised porcelain basreliefs (scheduled for sale in about two weeks) and continue with the CBCM Reflectives.

Exploring the mosaic theme further, I'm considering incorporating some of those basreliefs and perhaps a CBCM "Reffy" or two into mosaics as well. Then I'll redirect my attention to getting Dante underway and completing new sculptures for 2012, including some clay originals. Very excited! I can't wait!

So as needed as that pasture rest was, I'll tell ya whatit's great to be back up and running again. Back to the good ol' blessed routine. The creative habit. Now the wiser, this addiction is a good thing made even better with a more reasonable pace and less complications. Purpose. Simplicity. Clarity. Serenity. It feels fantastic. Hello, world! I'm back!

"Be regular and orderly in your life, that you may be violent and original in your work." ~ Clive Barker

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