Friday, September 13, 2013

Getting Started and Revising Plans

Last week I was working on a particular piece and feeling a little stuck and uninspired. I had a bike part I wanted to use. The part is a broken front fork that is relatively narrow and could serve as the intermediate element of a sculpture with a ceramic base and ceramic top.  I made the base and determined the fit, but started to feel like I was making a glorified planter for the base. I worked on it during the week and all day on Friday.

possible placement of a gear attachment on my boring planter base
I finally decided to just pause where I was. I stopped because it was time to go pick up my daughter from school, not because I had made much progress.

alternate placement of a gear attachment
It wasn't until I was driving home from picking up my daughter that something finally clicked and I was able to see a different solution to the problems of design I was experiencing. I hurried inside to sketch some more appropriate bases, and ended up turning the piece upside down and making some significant changes to the base and top. My sketches were for several different versions of the piece.

"duck feet" sketches
I had already built most of my single base, so I won't be able to use the "duck feet" on this fork piece, but I have three more forks with shock absorbers. These forks aren't broken so they will be a better fit for the "feet."
plans for the revised base I was working on Friday

It felt really good to change my approach to the project partway through building. Taking some time to think and sketch can be an interesting intermediate step in the process when things aren't moving along quite right. One of my impulses is to work hard and fast during the day so as not to waste any time. I was feeling frustrated on Friday afternoon, but by the time my daughter and I were back at the house, I was feeling great. Last week I was moving along making things, but this week I have felt like I have more ideas than time to complete them. I much prefer the state of too-many-ideas/too-little-time to the alternate state of not-enough-ideas.

Monday's additions to the base 
I completed last week's base on Monday, combining elements as I envisioned them on Thursday and early Friday and adding and changing elements that became clear in my sketching session (or car ride) on Friday afternoon.
with Friday's gear 
The top pieces really need to be fired before I can be sure about how they will function together. Because of the strength (or lack thereof) of wet clay, I didn't feel comfortable putting the three unfired top pieces together as I intend them to be after firing. I am only able to guess and estimate their eventual relationships on the fork at this point.

placing a "pitcher plant" on the bike fork to get a sense of proportion

I threw and formed each of the top "pitcher plant" pieces into the shape I wanted and then chose to add a kind of ring to the back of each one so that it will fit on the metal of of the bike fork. I checked the fit of the rings by forming the rings over the metal and then sliding the mostly finished piece back over the metal, but I held onto each piece for support as I didn't trust the rings to hold the weight of the clay before firing. Clay can be stressed when it is wet or during the drying process, or really anytime before it is fired. Since each piece has a joint that would take the brunt of the stress when holding up the clay, I thought it best not to push my luck and risk cracking that seam before firing. Sometimes stresses in the clay while it is wet don't show up as cracks until after firing (and after it is too late to fix them).

one of the pitcher plants, drying

The upshot is that I have to more or less imagine howe each of the rings will fit together after firing. I would have liked to make the attachments more organic, like the skinny bending bases of real pitcher plants, but after working on the forms for most of 2 weeks, I felt it was important to finish, fire, and eventually test my attachments. I have other pieces in mind to build and I can consider a different top attachment for a later piece. After these pieces are fired, I can check the connections and learn from any mistakes or weird relationships in the stronger fired pieces.

measuring for the ring attachment
Though I've planned to squeeze in quite a bit of work during my one-quarter sabbatical, technically the quarter hasn't started yet, so I feel I can afford a tiny bit of room to experiment before the pieces need to be perfect. Last week I was unsure what I would be working on for the next few weeks. This week I feel like I have plenty of work to make and lots of options to play with. Other artists* have said it (and if I could remember how it was most beautifully said, I might be able to look it up and attribute it to the right artist), but I repeat it for my students and now reinforce it for myself. Sometimes an artist just needs to start making work and the inspiration will come.

ring attachment after cleanup
After next week's firing, I'll post pictures of the new pieces on the broken fork. I'm off to sketch now before the weekend break.

Edit: Picasso said it, of course, "Inspiration does exist but it must find you working."

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