As anyone who works with clay can tell you, sometimes disasters in the studio can't be stopped, but when they can it is such a relief! And yesterday I nearly destroyed a piece I'd worked on for hours, just as I was adding the finishing touches. Peering closely at the texture I'd added, I got distracted, and tipped the top-heavy piece a little too far. The next thing I knew, it was falling, and I grabbed it as fast as I could. As I did, I heard the sound of pieces breaking off, and I feared the whole thing was crumbling apart, so I closed my eyes and didn't look until I was ready to face the damage. But to my surprise, only a few pieces had broken off, and it was clear my sculpture could be saved.
Working against me was the fact that this tubular structure was becoming brittle, as it was drying out faster than I preferred.This time of year the air is extremely dry, and with a space heater on in my chilly basement, keeping my wet clay pieces in workable condition is a challenge. I have my spray bottle handy, and frequently mist the sculpture I'm building, but even so, some pieces get a little too dry.
I'm aware there are other methods for preventing rapid drying, such as draping dampened paper towels over the form while it's stored under plastic wrap, or keeping the piece in a damp box in between work sessions. It's also good practice to keep a large piece under wraps during construction, while allowing only the section being worked on to be exposed to the air. However, I find it's hard to resist the temptation to look at the sculpture in its entirety as I work, and the trade off is that my pieces dry out fast.
Delicate forms with tendrils and long pointy-ended tubes are prone to dry out faster at the outer edges. And once the clay becomes brittle, one false move can result in a whole section breaking off.
On this sculpture, multiple pointy tips and tendrils snapped off, and at left is one of the sections I repaired. Each broken piece had to be dampened and carefully reattached -- adding extra time
to an already time-consuming project.
And there are no guarantees the piece will survive being fired, so there's nothing I can take for granted throughout the entire process.
One challenge of this particular piece is the addition of intricate detail at the top of each tube, designed to resemble a carnivorous pitcher plant. I've added a small basin inside each tube,
where I intend to place ceramic "insects" when the piece is fired. In nature, a pitcher plant is designed to lure in insects that become trapped in the "pitcher" and then consumed by the
plant. It's a process that is both fascinating and disturbing.
My intention is to include this pitcher plant form in a nature themed exhibition next summer. Details about the exhibition will come later. In the meantime, I have many more sculptures to complete.
Below is a cluster of beautifully enticing pitcher plants, the inspiration for my piece.