Friday, July 27, 2012

I've Learned

My formal ceramics training is sparse.  I don't have a degree in fine arts, although I did get introduced to the medium during three classes I took during college.  In addition to those three semesters, I have a ton of independent studio classes under my belt.  I like to think I have a decent foundation on which to work with clay as a medium.

I've learned.  Everyday I learn new things about working in clay.

Sometimes these lessons come from my own experimental nature ... I wonder what would happen if I do this.  Now I have a new foot for some of my bowls that is the envy of others in the studio.  I've already been asked if they could do something similar.  Hmmm ... wonder if I could get royalties out of that?

Sometimes they come from a passerby in the studio watching me work.  The questions, "I thought you have to cut the bottom a little bigger when hand building?"  "Nope, you don't."  I tell an amazed student who you know always secretly knew it was true all the while realizing that it certainly is better to cut it bigger for certain forms.

Sometimes they come about from someone who works in clay with even less formal training than me.  A fellow studio member, who is basically self-taught, mentioned to me one day that the bowl design they were working on that day was great to use up scraps.

I didn't say anything out loud, but scraps?  I looked and she had a whole collection of partial slab pieces in various sizes and shapes waiting to be used.  Just as I was wondering why she doesn't just wedge them, she asked me, "What do you do with your scraps?"  I replied, "I wedge them together."  "Oh, I don't know how to wedge," she replied.

It was, I've got to admit, a really thought provoking conversation.  In both of our minds, the obvious solution to the same problem was so radically different and yet, really, neither solution was wrong.  Why couldn't she approach the problem of scraps by creating something completely different and unique?  Why couldn't she use the opportunity to try out a different idea?  Test a few glazes?  To create a piece for fun?

Recently, I received some clay samples to try out.  The clay samples were, to be blunt, small.  There wasn't much I could do with them.  I decided to make some hearts, little decorative ornaments, out of samples, but as I cut out wonky and fun shaped hearts I found myself with these scraps of clay.  Too small to re-wedge, too small at this point to do anything with I thought.  Then I remembered.

I started adding them in crazy patterns to the hearts.  Some of the designs are definitely abstract, but some I like to think look like faces.  I have always made hearts or pendants when I wanted to take a little break from my more involved pieces, but these made with scraps hearts I think just might be my favorites.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stopped In My Tracks

It started as one of the worst weeks ever.  My car had been hiccuping for a few weeks and then the dreaded check engine light came on.  There was really nothing else to do except take it in to the mechanic.

Monday afternoon the mechanic shared the first inkling of truly bad news.  He thought there was a problem with my transmission, but he wanted to have his transmission guy take a look at the next day.

Tuesday turned the drizzle into a storm.  My car needed its transmission rebuilt.  It would take a few days and just a little bit of money.  I could already hear my bank account groaning at what was "a little bit of money."

Wednesday I hitched a ride to the studio from a friend who works nearby.  She starts work earlier than the studio opens, so I decided to treat myself to a leisurely breakfast.  As I was walking from the restaurant to the studio, I noticed something I had never really noticed before an old church down the street.
I have always loved churches and religious artifacts.  I'm even really sure I can explain why.  More spiritual than religious yet the symbols of organized religion have always drawn me, so I walked closer.  I noticed the peeling paint, the general air of slow decay despite it being an active church, but what really struck me were the windows.  The intricate patterns, different colors and designs.

Now I've seen stained glass windows before, but this was the first time I'd thought about the concept in relation to my art work.  These windows had just been a wonderful piece of art among many works of art in a particular church.  Certainly senses dazzling when the sun hits, but simply another part of the church going experience.

I walked all the way around the outside of the building, gone are the days when churches are left unlocked, taking pictures of the windows.  From the outside, not backlit, their colors are not dazzling, but I could still see the possibilities.

I walked the rest of the way to the studio with my head full of ideas on how to acheive the effect in clay. The very first thing I did when I got to the studio?  Started on what would be the first in a series of work inspired by the stained glass windows of a church that was put in my way.

Weeks, and tons of super positive feedback, later I have to wonder.  Did my car breakdown because that's what cars do?  It is an older model and was probably due for some transmission work.  Did it breakdown to trigger the chain of events leading me to the inspiration for my latest series?  I do know that I would probably have never noticed that church.

It does make me wonder and I am appreciative of the possibility of truly wondrous occurrences in my daily life.  Sometimes they are easy to spot.  Sometimes the universe steps in and stops us in our tracks to pull back the blinders of our routines to amaze us.  I could have done without the mechanics' bill though.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Bacon Barrel Bowl

Every once in awhile you're presented with a proposition that is just too good to pass up.  One such opportunity was presented to me the other week at the studio.

Heidi, our Studio Manager, walked over with a box of Cone 5 clay samples and gave them to me.  There were about 15 to 20 tiny slabs of all different types of clay in the box.

"I thought you could try them out since you have been doing Cone 5 firing and like to use red clay bodies," she said, as she set the box down on the table.

I'm never one to turn down free clay, but I do admit to finding some humor in the situation.  While it is true that I have experimented a little with firing at Cone 5 (cone number is used to designate kiln firing temperature) recently, I fire the vast majority of my work at Cone 10.  The studio member who fires almost exclusively at Cone 5 was sitting feet away during this conversation.  She was not given any clay samples.

As I started to pull out the samples, each approximately 1/4 lb., I noticed that there were only one or two samples per clay body not enough to construct a big piece.  Picking two clay bodies at random, I rolled them out and created strips of clay that I slipped and scored together in an alternating pattern ... strip of slightly darker clay, strip of slightly lighter clay, etc.

Just was I was thinking of turning my striped slab into a bowl, Heidi walked by and pronounced, "It looks like bacon."  Well, what could be better than than?  A Bacon Bowl.  Perfect!  Who wouldn't want a bacon bowl?

I was draping the slab over a mold to create the bowl shape when I noticed the extra strips of clay.  Hmmm ... it might be a good idea to use a couple on the bottom to give the assembled strips a little extra support.  When I was figuring out the best place for the strips I noticed something really cool.  The rough edges of my slab, the alternating clay bodies and the extra strip to the bottom made it look just like a barrel!

Bacon Bowl?  Barrel Bowl?  I'll let you be the judge.

I'm still waiting for this piece to be bisque fired and comtemplating glaze options.  I'm going back and forth between no glaze and clear right now.  Will I make more?  Who knows?  Might be a winner.  For now I'm on to the next experiment with these clay samples.  : )

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Winding Road

The journey started one day when I was pondering the theme of Assemblage, Collage and Recycle for an upcoming Redlands Art Association members show.  As a ceramic artist, it wasn’t immediately apparent what I should submit for display during this upcoming show.  Sure, my current work was technically “assembled” during the hand-building process and as a group ceramicists are good about re-wedging and recycling their clay scraps, but neither of those two factors really sat well with me for justifying entering pieces I had in inventory to the show.

I decided to take a quick break from the studio and walk over to a nearby cafĂ© to pick up something for lunch to clear my head.  It was walking back that it hit me.  A solution, not perfect, but it would be something interesting and it would qualify as a mixed media assemblage piece.

Waffle-weave bowls with fabric woven through and knotted to create a design on the inside of the bowl.  The bottom of the bowl would have all of the rough ends and edges of the fabric sticking out in every direction and add an interesting dimension to the piece.  I had no idea if it would work.  Could I take the image in my head and translate it?  I figured, what the heck, it was worth a shot.  That afternoon I made several waffle-weave bowls and left them to set-up for firing.

Weeks passed and I started to pull together fabric scraps and ideas on designs for the bowls.

In the meantime, I learned about an event in Redlands called Celebrate Citrus.  It is put on annually by the Inland Orange Conservancy (IOC) to raise money to support local citrus growers.  The event organizers were looking for artists to display any citrus-inspired pieces at the event with 15% of any sales going to support the IOC.  I’m well aware of the struggles the local growers have in my area and it was free to participate, so I signed up!

Close to home, exposure opportunity … Great idea, right?  Well, I’ve never used citrus related ideas in any of my pieces.  I spent a little bit of time brainstorming orange peel textured mugs, orange slice bowls and nothing spoke to me.  Instead, I decided to pull some older pieces, wheel-thrown bowls, out of storage and present them as fruit bowls.  It seemed like a decent solution, but I wasn’t convinced.

As the event neared, the waffle-weave bowls also finished the glaze firing process.  They were sitting on the floor in my workroom, spread out and waiting for me to dazzle them with fabric.  That’s when it hit me; they were even more perfect fruit bowls!  Due to the holes in the design, the fruit would get good air flow and they were a nice, big size to hold lots of fruit.

What about my assemblage plans?  I figured, the Celebrate Citrus event was more about exposure than sales especially since the focus would be on the orange groves, so I’d have them back to add fabric with no problem.

Best laid plans and all … the waffle-weave bowls sold out that day along with a few of the smaller wheel-thrown bowls.  I ended up winging the assemblage show with tiles on fabric hangers … sort of in theme, but not really.  I’ve since given up on my grand fabric design ideas.  It certainly was a twisty, winding journey on the inspiration for waffle-weave fruit bowls, but people seem to like them