Friday, July 21, 2017

Texturing Pods

pod with texture in progress

This week's major project was a mental break from more thoughtful sculpting. This project is about a year delayed, since my Aunt asked me to start on it last summer. I'm making these textured, and eventually colorful pod sculptures for her.

textureless pod form
The pod sculptures are wheel thrown, then altered with five or six spines down their length. They have a hole on the bottom for a rod so they can be "planted" in a very large vase.

sketches from last year for this project

The sketches are from last year and though the sketches show mostly just striped texture down the I always knew I was planning on more texture between the ridges. 

sprig texture with plain (incomplete) background

After I added the ridges and smoothed them in place, I pressed clay into a sprig mold (over and over again) and attached the sprigs in between the ridges.

time-lapse video of placing sprigs

This particular sprig (see the link for a definition/demo of sprigs) was made from a plastic food toy. I have since had my daughter do some research and we discovered that the toy was a pineapple.

At first we thought the sprig came from peas, but upon closer inspection, the pineapple looks like a closer fit.

On the first pod, I attached the largest version of the sprig or an almost round smaller version, but on the second sculpture, I accidentally ended up with some single round sections. I added them in between the larger forms and liked the more varied sizes that resulted.

close up of pineapple sprigs of various sizes

After the accidental discovery, I started pressing more varied shapes from the one sprig mold.

sprigs waiting to be attached

I was happy with the resulting forms, but I have a difficult time saying no to texture, so I tried out a new ball stylus tool and then went overboard.

time-lapse of ball stylus texture application

I recently saw a call for an upcoming exhibition called "Pour it On." After I started using the ball stylus to overdo the background texture on the pineapple pod, I thought of this call and how my abstract sculpture usually ends up fitting into the overall category of "pouring on" the texture and color. 

bottom end of the pod

I spent several days on the surfaces of the pods, though the forms took very little time. I textured the lower end opening with the ball stylus, but wanted to change the texture on the top end.

top end of pod, partially textured

I left a hole in the middle of the top because I am thinking about having the support rod go all the way through the center of the form.

I took this video with my phone. It should be horizontal, but I don't know how to change the orientation!

I took several time-lapse videos of my process. It was tricky to get a video of the needle tool texturing because both times, though I held the camera horizontal, the video ended up vertical. It's also tough to hold the camera and use the needle tool at the same time. 

three pods complete

I've finished four of the pods, but I think I want to make at least five. I'm hoping to get these in a bisque kiln early next week and throw the last couple forms next week too.

three pods complete

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Patriot Bulbs in Progress

A Google image search for "Russia" brings up maps and Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. What more beautiful way to represent the country visually than with this beautiful building?

One of my goals this summer is to create more protest bulbs. So while I've been waiting on other things to dry and fire, I've been brainstorming, forming, and decorating the bulbs. I've got plenty of ideas of what topics I want to cover, but its been more difficult to come up with imagery to address those topics.

my jar of inspiration imagery (from spring)

It is important to me that the bulbs be clear in their references, but I don't want to replicate memes. I do want impactful imagery, but I want to leave some room for the viewer to interpret that imagery themselves. The bulbs I created in the spring did this, at least to some extent, with imagery that referenced contemporary problems, but didn't necessarily proscribe a partisan solution or interpretation. 

freshly pressed bulbs

The original idea for the bulbs was, firmly, a reaction to the problems I see as resulting from the current administration. However, thinking critically about these problems over an extended time and with a view to incorporating image references in my work, my view naturally has expanded to some broader issues and to some fundamental questions about contemporary American society that go beyond the current administration.

Sandra Bland's traffic stop

There are systemic issues in our culture and our institutions that predate the current administration and predate my entire life. Awareness of some of these issues seems to have increased in the last few decades, but those decades have coincided with my adult life, making personal awareness difficult to extricate from national awareness. Some of the most important issues that I think of when considering the problems of contemporary society include police violence against people of color, institutional racism, the influence of money in politics, and the increasing gap between the very rich and the rest of the population.

Flint (haven't figured out how I'm going to show the water is polluted rather than just water)

The current administration has brought out into the open racism and misogyny in ways that were more hidden in the recent past. It has also directed our attention to questions of corruption. These are real issues and I want to address them in my work. I also think it can be too easy, particularly in representing issues in imagery and in small pieces, to focus on the straight-forward and extreme events and to direct these images to a partisan audience. 

protest march

The work I am making now could easily become meme-like because of its scale and because my conception of the bulbs as individual pieces working together in a larger group. Like memes on the internet, the bulbs are not meant to have a correct order and can be mixed and rearranged. Though I think it would be interesting to explore the language of memes in this format, that is not what I want to do right now.

Protest Bulbs at Larson Gallery (July 2017)

On the fourth of July, NPR tweeted the Declaration of Independence. Later that day or the next, I saw several articles about how people reacted to the tweets: specifically, some people apparently didn't recognize the source of the 140 character fragments and assumed that the references to the various things the king did in 1776 were contemporary references to the current president. 

Declaration of Independence and bulbs in progress

I had pressed the text of the first amendment onto the surface of some bulbs for the earlier iteration of protest bulbs and I like the visual. I've long been interested in the use of text as pattern and decoration, but haven't always had something to say. I decided to press the text of the Declaration of Independence onto some bulbs, both as a reference to the NPR Twitter strangeness, and as a simple reference to the founding of our country. #civics! With this dual reading, I also want to consider calling the pieces and the eventual installation "Patriot Bulbs" rather than the more prescriptive "Protest Bulbs." We bring different assumptions about content based on one or the other title.

Declaration of Independence bulbs

To get started on the text project, I printed out a copy of the text and sat down for the tedious process of pressing the text into bulbs. I figured it would take about 30 bulbs to contain the whole thing. It took 21, but was significantly more tedious than I expected. I almost dreaded sitting down to press the text. I sat on the floor so I could leave the letter stamps out and organized. After I finished and cleaned up, the rug still had traces of the red clay in the spots where the frequently used letters were kept.

The red clay from my fingertips left traces on the carpet where I picked up each letter.

Would you recognize short fragments of the Declaration of Independence, isolated from the whole and out of context? How many of us have read the whole Declaration of Independence? Recently? I read each section as I pressed the text into the bulb, looking for those sections that led to negative reactions on Twitter. I don't know that I'd ever read the Declaration in its entirety before. I could see how some references to King George could seem to relate to the current president, but what I was most surprised by was the section relating to Native American people: "...the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and condition." Perhaps I am just revealing my limited memory of basic social studies, but I'm also fairly certain this language wasn't discussed in high school.

cutting the hole in a new bulb

While I pressed text into theses bulbs (over and over and over for days), I was listening to A History of the Supreme Court by The Great Courses. We take some things for granted, in our country today; one of those things is that the First Amendment applies to state laws, which is not specifically stated in the Bill of Rights, and another is that the famous phrase from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." is true and it was only warped interpretation that led to it not applying to men with dark skin and maybe even women. Our society suggests that the founding documents are perfectly just and flexible enough to be applied to contemporary society despite the fact that our founding fathers had some warped ideas about freedom, equality, and democracy. It was jarring, to me, to examine the document more closely and find this offensive and hateful prejudice written right in to our initial bid for freedom.


It is also surprising, for someone who hasn't read it all before (that I recall), to realize how crabby the Declaration is. Most of us only read or hear the first two paragraphs, which are fairly inspiring. But the rest is a list of grievances. It was interesting to think, then, in this project, of how these distinct sections read as individual chunks, removed from their textual context. 

homeless man in progress

It also raises the question for me, as an artist, of whether the 21 text bulbs work together or separately, as part of this project. The bulbs, by nature of their shape, are not particularly easy to read, and there are now so many of them with text. The installation of abstract textured bulbs is meant to be read as a whole, where some viewers focus on one bulb or another, but no one is able to focus carefully on all 60 or 100, because there are just too many. Like faces in a crowd, they are meant to blend together. 

abstract bulbs at Yakima Maker Space in April 2017

I embrace the idea of the bulbs alluding to individualism, diversity, and difference and the collective democracy or "melting pot" of the (ideal) USA. The imagery I have been working on this spring and summer works well, to my mind, with this overarching idea of the individual in the group. With so many text bulbs, it is not feasibly for a viewer to read and understood all of them or all of the text together, but I think it might still be feasible for them to work together with the entire work and support or contrast against the imagery. Individuals may stop to read some text on some bulbs. What they notice in the text might be the familiar or the less familiar text. 

First Amendment bulb at Larson Gallery

I didn't carefully control the spacing and legibility of the text or individual phrases or sentences. By cramming the whole document onto 21 bulbs, I didn't force jarring phrases, such as ones that seem to apply to the current president, to be isolated on their own bulbs. Perhaps I should have. I also didn't avoid juxtapositions that may show up in display. I made some discoveries in the development of this work. I suspect the work installed will tell me more about what it is, but I also look forward to talking with people who see the work without knowing what to expect or what I was aiming at.

bulbs, including two text bulbs at Larson Gallery

Since I finished the text bulbs, I am back to working on the imagery heavy bulbs. Among these bulbs are more clear and more ambiguous bulbs. Hopefully they each represent something about our culture. Though my slant is more critical than not, I've changed the working name of the pieces and the group to "Patriot Bulbs" and I want to critically consider how the imagery represents the country as a whole.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Fun with Decals

wet decal, wrinkled, just after I slid the paper out

At NCECA in March, I bought some glaze decals with which to experiment. I haven't used them before, but I kept seeing them everywhere and was curious. I bought a sheet of cats and some Ernst Haeckel-esque images.

cat decal sheet minus the two I used

I didn't have much of a plan for where I was going to use them, but I figured you can put a golden cat on any old mug and the biomorphic designs would fit in with my work generally.

one of two Haeckel decal sheets

The decals are pretty easy to use. You soak them in warm water, then place them on the glaze fired pottery. Then you slide the paper out from under the image. You're supposed to use a tool to press the bubbles out from under the decal. I used a rubber rib and, as long as it was wet, it worked well.

pressing out the wrinkles/ air bubbles in the decal

After firing, the cats seemed to lose their faces and their feet. I don't know if the fading has to do with how they were applied or how they were fired. I don't actually have the instructions for the decals, but I put these in a cone 06 firing with some other stuff. Perhaps these shouldn't be so hot. 

 faceless kitties

I applied the cats on a flawed jar left over from my Yakima Rotary commission. I like the cats looking up at or through the blue slashes. Next time I'll fire the cats to cone 08 and see how their faces fare.

Haeckel decal after firing

The other decals worked just fine. I applied them onto an already fired jar. I had fired this jar last summer with some cone 6 celadons. The decals don't exactly go with the jar, but they're more interesting than the jar was on it's own.


The jar, as it turns out, is an excellent size for cookies, though once I realized it was a cookie jar, I needed to make some lids. I've since thrown a few lid options, but they haven't gotten into a glaze firing yet. The cookie making schedule and the flies combined to require the lid be used before firing.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Text on Bulbs and Mugs

stamp holder ready with with the maximum amount of letters

The work I've been doing in the studio since summer started has been mostly glazing work, but I've also been able to start on some protest bulbs for a show coming up in January. I showed some of the bulbs in June for the Membership Show at Larson Gallery. At that show, I sold several and plan to replace them. 

First Amendment bulbs at Larson Gallery

Two of the bulbs I sold at Larson had text on them. I had a set of rubber text stamps, but that set is apparently missing a letter or two. In spring, after discovering the missing letter on the first text bulb, I purchased a plastic set of letter stamps. The plastic set is a bit larger, in a different font, and the set can be placed in a holder so that a whole word can be stamped at once.

bulb stamped with letters one at a time

The first two bulbs I created with the new plastic stamps were done by holding the tiny plastic letters in my fingertips and pressing them into the clay on one by one. The process is tedious, but not as painful as putting the letters in the little holder. The text holder only can fit about 11 letters at a time and it is hard to slide the letters in place. If they clicked in like Legos it would be a different matter, but the sides of each letter need to be squeezed as they are slid in the end. If you slide them too hard once they are in, they pop out.

stamp holder in action

Since the letters are meant to be used together to form words in the holder, there are multiple letters as well as some punctuation, numbers, and odd shapes. The kit comes with one single container, so using the letters means first sorting them, then sliding them into the holder, then stamping. 

"...or the right..."

To limit the time I spend sorting the letters, I needed a small container that could hold and separate 26 letters, as well as numbers and punctuation. I found some some daily pill boxes at a drug store, scraped off most of the letters and changed the marking to indicate the letters I needed.

letter sorted with the tools I used to modify the containers

The pill boxes worked well and cut out the sorting time, but there is still the tedium of pressing the letters into the clay one by one or pushing them into the holder. The text on the protest bulbs is the First Amendment of the Constitution. I had been thinking of pressing the same text into mugs, so I figured if I made the mugs and the bulbs at the same time, I could assembly-line the stamping process. Friday I threw and trimmed the mugs, attached handles, and press-molded the bulbs, then I was able to stamp each piece 11 letters or so at a time.

letters in their holder

The process was still tedious and my fingertips hurt by the end, but it was probably faster and certainly less tedious than pressing one letter at a time for all 8 pieces. However, the result wasn't as nice as I'd hoped. The bulbs had an obvious problem, as they have convex and concave curves and the stamp holder is flat, it didn't reach all areas evenly and some letters had to be hand stamped. It also is easier to wrap text around a curve letter by letter. The stamp holder also had some trouble when the text was up against the handle of the mugs.

mugs, bulbs and unsorted letter stamps in my studio

The other problems had to do with my planning. The text holder spaces everything more evenly, which meant that I ran out of space on the bulbs and most of the mugs, though I can fit the full text on a bulb when I don't use the holder. I also made the decision to start and end the text at the handle of the mugs, but since the mug is a cylinder, the text reads left to write all the way around. It isn't necessarily logical to drop down a line when reading across the handle. The problem is exasperated by the fact that I didn't always keep my text parallel to the rim of the mug. One mug didn't have a handle, so that line break is just silly.

mugs illustrating the artist's difficulty with parallels and planning

Both the mugs and the bulbs will look different with color, so I plan to fire them and at least see what they look like finished with glaze. The possibility that most of them aren't good enough to sell means that I can try out some different glazes without too much added risk. 

The one mug that looks more or less as planned

Saturday, June 24, 2017

First Summer 2017 Firing

close up of pitcher plant pieces out of the kiln

This week was the first week off from school and I fired my first kiln load of the summer. I thought I was ahead of schedule, but then I went back and looked at last year and discovered I'd fired a glaze load in May and work for a commission by June 23. However, that old kiln was smaller than my new Skutt.

my worktable during the under-glazing process

Last summer, what with the Rotary commission and the functional work for Boxx Gallery and the Art on the Wall piece, I didn't finish any sculpture last summer. It was pretty disappointing, so this year I vowed to avoid the functional, avoid the commissions, and focus on finishing some work.

view inside the (dark) kiln while unloading

The kiln I unloaded last night has some work that's on its second of three (or third of four, in once case) firing for underglaze. I also have some work that are essentially done with firing, but have non-ceramic elements that need to be added.

second of three underglaze layers for this piece

I haven't wholly determined whether the blue and yellow pitcher plant forms are done as they are or will have a matte glaze added over the blue. Either way, the plan is to attach them together in one larger structure which may require some serious work now that they are built. I've got a plan, but that plan requires me to work in a way I haven't worked previously. Stay tuned.

pitcher plants finished?