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.
I once won a $1,000 prize at an art show, and I liked to think that money went a long way in covering the expenses of subsequent competitions. Nevertheless, like many artists, I've wondered over the years whether such competitions are worth the price. As I thumb through my latest copy of Ceramics Monthly, and check out the "call for entries" page, I'm frustrated by the rising cost of entry fees. $45 to enter a show that I may very well not get into, and even if I do, I have to pack my work and pay the shipping expenses. If I don't win a prize or make a sale, is it worth the trouble and expense?
In doing a little research on google, it becomes apparent to me that a lot of artists are struggling with this question.
Some websites and artist's blogs tout the benefits of entering competitions:
Layer by layer, a patchwork vessel is created with small slabs that have been carefully overlapped and sealed together. I enjoy using this method now and then, usually on tall cylindrical, or rounded vessels, such as the piece above.
When using this technique, each small slab can be roughly the same shape, size and texture, or they may be different, depending on the desired results. The form above was made from canvas-textured slabs with torn edges, and of varying sizes and shapes. I've sometimes used clay stamps to give each small slab a different appearance, and the result is reminiscent of a patchwork quilt. (image below)
Is it art or a light fixture -- or both? The beauty of putting light into a ceramic form is that it can be an interesting piece on its own, while providing a unique accent light at the same time. Unlike any standard light fixture, a sculptural ceramic lantern casts shadows in unusual ways, letting light through openings in the form or alternatively, through ultra-thin porcelain walls. A porcelain lantern with a thin, carved surface will cast images and patterns when light shines through (see photos below). The piece at left is is a new one of mine, a closed cylinder with pierced "shells" covering the form.
"Why don't you add some color to your work?" That's a question I am asked now and then, and while I don't mind explaining, it's hard to put into words, as it is a matter of subjective preference, not one with a clear answer that's right for everyone. For the functional potter, in to have a non-porous, durable surface suitable for everyday use, glaze is a must. But for ceramic sculpture, glaze is optional. I'm not personally opposed to glazed sculpture, in fact some of the pieces I most admire are beautifully glazed, colorful works of art.
Yet there is also a rich tradition of "naked" or unglazed ceramics, in which the surface of a piece is enhanced by texture, stains, burnishing or pit-firing. Artist Jane Perryman has written a
book about the history of naked clay, and her book would be a great place to start if you're interested in learning more about the subject.
Here's a link:
The best way to start the new year? Connect with a new gallery! And the Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City is not just new to me, but to the art scene in northern Michigan as well. Opening in late November of 2016, this gallery offers up a contemporary selection of artwork to join the traditional galleries in the area.
Northern Michigan is a beautiful region, and a popular tourist destination in the warmer months of the year. Most local galleries cater to the tourist crowd, selling landscape paintings and other more traditional works. Shanny Brooke, owner of Higher Art Gallery, believes her city is ready for some more diverse options. Her new venue features abstract paintings, photography and sculpture from local, national and international artists.
Soon my ceramics will also find a home in her gallery. Several sculptures and wall pieces will be on their way to Michigan by the end of February, and I'm working on a few new organic wall pieces to add to the selection. Daisy Bouquet (above) will be included in the mix, as will the Round Barnacle Wall Piece (below).
It's that time of year again! With no more warm weather, no more beautiful leaves, and no flowers to lure me outside, I am hunkering down in my basement studio, and entering my most productive phase of the year. This cold, dark dungeon of a studio transforms into a reasonably bright, but not very warm work space. I have a space heater to take off the chill, but the heat only goes so far.
Not to worry! I always keep myself bundled up and focus on the work at hand. Once I have my kiln loaded with new greenware, I get to bask in the warmth that results from the firing process, though the pleasant temperature soon wears off and then I'm back to adding extra layers of clothing. Sometimes I hear the winter wind howling outside, or I see snow piling up against my tiny basement windows, and I feel relieved to be tucked away where it's safe and at least relatively warm.
I am fortunate to have my fall chores done now, so that I can concentrate on my work without distraction. Right now I'm working on a set
of vases made of small, thin, textured slabs that I overlap and carefully join as I build each piece. I'm using a brown stoneware clay, and I plan to apply some black glaze to enhance the texture
of the slabs. The inside of each vase will be fully glazed, but on the exterior I'll brush on and then wipe off the glaze, so that the dark color will remain only in the grooves and crevices. I
look forward to seeing these vases through to the end, and warming up my studio along the way.
Below is the first one of this series: