Thursday, June 28, 2018

Abstract Bulbs for Art a Day

bulbs drying
After a lackluster beginning to my summer studio time, I got moving a bit better early this week. Since my brain wasn't fully engaged last week, I decided to just concentrate on making some abstract bulbs this week. My goal was ten finished pieces to make up for the fact that I only made four last week. I finished the eleventh piece today, meaning I now have 15 abstract pieces and am halfway through the making of these pieces for the project if I decide to just do the abstract pieces.

one half of a press mold with slip

The process of making the bulb forms themselves is pretty fast. I have two plaster press molds that I use, one I made in college and one I made later to speed up my process. I press wet clay into each side of the mold, score and slip the edge of the clay, and press the two molds together. The wet clay inside the mold dries a bit as the porous plaster absorbs the moisture, the scored and slipped edges adhere to one another, and after 10-20 minutes, I can pull the completed bulb out of the mold.

my assistant helping press the molds

I have been using different clay bodies for the different types of bulbs. For the political bulbs, which are darker in mood, I use a dark mica clay. For the abstract bulbs, which I intend to finish with bright layered underglazes, I use a mixed up clay body that I recycled last year from whatever clay was around the studio over the past 10 years or so. This clay has some stoneware, some low fire, some sculpture and raku clay, and even some red clay. The clay is a bit of a mystery as far as vitrification temperature and durability, but it works fine for low fire sculpture.

a bulb partially removed from the plaster mold (you can tell this is an old picture from before I started using the red mica clay)

I started on the abstract bulbs last week just using sprigged decoration. I have drawers full of sprigs that I've made over the years, and these are what I think of as the main work I do and most of the abstract bulbs. They use of sprigs and impressed repetitive texture from various tools allows me lots of room for layering various underglazes. I usually cover the sprigs and the background with two different colors, then fire those on. Then I add a wash of two top colors, leaving those second colors visible in the indents or low areas of both textures.

last week's bulbs

Last week I ended up using a couple of sprig molds that were not ones I made myself. One set was a silicon mold of flowers that I bought at Michaels, the other was a plastic hemisphere mold from a set from one of the booths at NCECA

adding cornstarch to a plastic sprig mold

The plastic and silicon molds don't come absorb the moisture from the clay like a plaster mold or a ceramic sprig does, so the pieces tend to stick. I ended up getting a small cup of cornstarch and a paintbrush and brushing the cornstarch into the sprig molds before putting in the clay. This approach works really well and I only have to add the cornstarch ever other or every third sprig I mold.

sprigs done with a plastic mold and cornstarch

After making a bunch of pieces with sprigs, I wanted to look for a different texture. I have a few new stamps I made from some silicone mold last fall, so I used one that was fairly shallow to press into a molded bulb. The bulb was too soft and tended to give way, not capturing the middle texture. It would probably work better if I were able to press the clay against the sprig from the inside. I decided to activate the surface in a more interesting way by adding little clay spikes onto the surface. These spikes can later be colored in contrasting underglaze.

impressed and added textures

With the political mugs I have barely started, I've been thinking about having two contrasting sides. This was the original intention with the bulb installations as well. When I first made them, I glazed the two sides with contrasting colors. The idea was that the bulbs could be hung facing either way and the orientation could change the feel of the bulbs. I wanted to get back to this idea a bit with the abstract bulbs, or at least with some, so I applied contrasting sprigged textures on several.

two types of sprigs meant to create two contrasting textures

The tricky part about contrasting textures with sprigs is the shape of both the sprigs and the bulb itself. I tried this on several bulbs, but generally one texture bleeds into the viewable area of the other side because the bottom and sides are visible regardless of orientation.

the front and back of a bike-part sprigged bulb

I also wanted to get back into incorporating other materials into the bulbs directly, since a number of these pieces have sold from my recent installations of this work. I made one bulb with a cut out for a bike chain. Though it looks fairly rough right now, I think it will look better once the chain is obscuring the cut away section.

a groove for a chain

I also looked around the studio for stuff I hadn't considered before and found a bunch of small slip cast hands from a mold I may not even own anymore. I decided to plan to attach this random little hands onto one of the bulbs.

slipcast hands in their future positions

I like to add texture to all my bulbs both because it allows me to layer underglazes to make a more complex color palette, but also because the underglaze is less likely to have trouble adhering or flaking off after firing. Again I was looking around for something I hadn't used before and decided to use a chisel to create a patchwork pattern on the surface of the hand bulb. The pattern works fine across the bulb's front, but get's odd as it moves around curves. The pattern is much less regular on the back.

using a chisel to add a patchwork texture

I was trying to do something different and decided I wanted to incorporate a thrown flower form that I used some last summer onto one of the bulbs. Because I didn't want to sit down to throw this clay and make just one tiny piece, I made several closed forms for the flower. I used one as intended, by cutting the top and curving back the "petals." This bulb is really large on the front, and is more similar to some of the political bulbs that have entire sculpted parts coming out the front.

a "flower" added to a bulb

The extra thrown parts I ended up using to further altar the shape of another bulb. I tried to roll texture onto this bulb, but it was a bit dry when I began the process. I'm not sure how I am going to glaze this piece, but I know both of these bulbs with thrown additions will only be able to hang on the wall in one direction.

thrown pieces to altar the bulb shape

After a slow start last week, I am feeling much better about the pieces. I've still got quite a ways to go on them in just about a month. I need to make as many again as I made so far, and I need to get started on the under-glazing process fairly soon.

white clay abstract bulbs with a few red clay politics bulbs in back

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Summer Week 1: Bulbs and Lethargy

abstract bulbs in progress
Last week was the first week of the summer break and my home studio work time. I found it really really difficult to get started. The week in the studio felt lethargic and I felt apathetic. I am hopeful that the malaise of this first week and my difficulty getting excited about working is a combination of our odd schedule the first week off and the change in momentum after finals week. My spring was extra busy at work and mentally exhausting to boot. Maybe when I've regained some motivation and energy I'll write about it.

my studio helper doesn't know that this bag is not a toy  
Realistically, at least a part of my lethargy is probably due to my mind going in several different directions about how I should be spending my summer work time. My goals for this summer are a bit different than usual. In a typical summer, I try to focus on work in my home studio in preparation for shows during the year. This summer I do have one show coming up, for which I need to make work and fairly quickly, but I also intend to spend some of my summer making some fairly significant changes to my YVC classes.

one of the politics bulbs in progress

The upcoming show is at the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, Oregon, where I have been showing a lot in the last couple of years. The show, which opens in August, is called Art a Day and the idea is that the exhibiting artists making one piece each day for a month. My initial plan was to make 30 abstract bulbs. I got excited, in about March, about doing 30 political bulbs, like the work I had installed most recently at the Columbia Center for the Arts and Boxx Gallery in Tieton.

one of the abstract bulbs in progress

And then I got thinking about making 30 political mugs that would hang on the wall and have contrasting political views decorating the opposing sides, so that the piece could be installed with one perspective, flipped to announce the opposing view, or intermixed to show some of each. Needless to say, I've overcomplicated my plans for the show and given myself an exhausting project (3 projects) to try to complete in the allotted time.

a politics bulb piece in progress

The abstract bulbs are pretty fast and easy to make compared to the political bulbs and the mugs, and the abstract forms take a lot less mental energy to make, but the political pieces are more exciting and more meaningful and the mugs are intriguing because they are a new idea.

a politics bulb piece in progress

This week's work time was, actually, fairly productive even though it didn't feel that way. I threw, trimmed, and attached handles on maybe 8-10 mugs (I'm too lazy today to go check) and molded about 13 bulbs, 8 of which I finished building. The reason I'm reluctantly calling this productive is that my work time was very interrupted during the week. My daughter attended two different camps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon and I needed to drop her off at 9, pick her up at 12, drop her off at 1 and pick her up at 4, which meant driving across town three times every day and taking a lunch break that was a bit longer than an hour. Granted, driving across town in Yakima doesn't take that long, but still. Lunch with her every day was actually nice, but didn't contribute to my studio motivation.

a politics bulb piece in progress

I also had an all morning meeting on Monday, she had an appointment Wednesday morning, and the first camp had an hour and a half long event Friday morning, all of which cut into my work time. Tuesday I did an all day project outside of the studio. Coming back to the studio after each of these breaks took just a little bit of energy to get back in the swing of the work.

a politics bulb piece in progress

I started the week with the mugs and press molding the bulbs for the political pieces. I finished the mugs on Wednesday, then focused on the political bulbs. By Thursday I was feeling uninspired (and just exhausted) on the political front, so I started on the abstract bulbs. As I said, the abstract bulbs require much less mental energy and proceed a lot faster.

my studio helper, she really enjoyed sticking her head in the slip, throwing water, and clay recycling buckets

Next week I have only one appointment and no meetings and my daughter will be at camp from 9am-3pm including lunch. My daily work time technically won't be longer, but it will be much less interrupted. Hopefully I will be able to sustain my inspiration through a week's work of work (or three week's, based on what I actually want to do.

a piece for one of the politics bulbs in progress

I am supposed to be making one piece a week, this week I made four of each type of bulb in 5 days and took the weekend off entirely (except for some clay recycling that was time sensitive). Theoretically I will have had almost a month and a half to get the work done, but the work also needs to be glazed and fired before the drop off day in late July.

pieces for the politics bulbs in progress
I think the best advice for making studio work is to just work, even if one isn't feeling inspired. So I applied that suggestion as best I could last week and I am applying the same idea here with the blog. I don't feel like talking about the work, but I can talk about not wanting to talk about the work. Hopefully next post I'll want to talk about it.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Fourth Grade Clay

my daughter's vase with five glaze colors

Last week I visited my daughter's 4th grade class and had the students make coil pots. Most of these kids had done at least one clay project with me before this. Here are the results of the project.

fourth grade coil built pieces

Most of the kids these year were in the same class last year because they looped up with their teacher, so most of them were in the class last year when we made critters from molds. Some of the kids were also in the class the year before when we made wind chimes (which is not my favorite clay project, and apparently I didn't even write about it in the blog), and the year before that when we did Salmon Bells and the year before that when we made plaques of the life cycle of a butterfly.   

the bottom coil on the front piece is slightly lighter clay than the clay of the top coils

I used to go to my daughter's pre school and do clay projects, like this simplified bell project and a super fun version of a name plate (Derek's still makes me laugh), but none of these kids were in her preschool. I also used to do a second grade clay project at another school every year, but their organizers changed and chose not to do the project this year.

both hearts were glazed in clear with some colored glazes highlighting the interior textures

So this year's group had lots of kids who'd had one or two or three or four years of doing clay, albeit once a year. The district elementary schools don't have art in the classroom or as a "specialist" class like music or PE, so the kids don't get to do much art ever. Strangely, their report "cards" have a spot for art, but I'm not sure what they measure. Maybe my clay project is it.

many of the students put handles on their coil built shapes

I figured that kids at this age with or without much clay experience would be dextrous enough to build with coils and could listen to directions well enough to to make a structurally sound vase or mug in about an hour. I think the vast majority of the kids would have like to have more than an hour, but they were all basically successful. 

this student was very careful about adding different textures to each coil, so we decided to glaze each with different colors

One student had a base that came detached from the walls of the piece, but I was able to reattach it using glaze as a adhesive. Another student had a decoration come off the wall of his or her piece, but that accident was helped along by one of my adult students who was loading the kiln and bumped the dry piece against the shelf.

some students added decorations to their pieces that seemed to call for contrasting colors

It would have been nice to have the students glaze their own pieces, but in just an hour I wanted the students to concentrate on building, not adding colors. Also I was a little concerned about students getting glaze on the bottoms, or getting their just-built pieces so wet from the glaze that the walls became soft and fragile.

the angel is glazed in clear with another color on the coils

Obviously if I had the students in class on a regular basis, they could have built and glazed their work over the course of several days (or weeks). Next year I might suggest a project where we come back and have the students glaze. 

the coils in the mustache mug were done with clear over a wash of another glaze, the eyes on the other mug were hard to see before I highlighted the eyebrows. I think the cup on the right had its base reattached with glaze.

I ended up glazing the pieces myself with help from my daughter. It seemed a little heavy-handed to glaze the work for them, but I also thought the students would enjoy having glossy pieces. I initially planned to just glaze everything with a simple coat of clear, but when it came to it, I discovered I didn't have much clear. 

this student added little balls of clay under some of the coils, they were fun to highlight with another color glaze

I did have a variety of glaze colors in pints and smaller sizes. I don't use these glazes a lot, so I figured we could use them on the students stuff and maybe use them up. I had some glazes that would highlight textures, but I also used some to highlight different pieces the kids used in their coil building.

this mug had so much going on that we tried most of the glazes on it

My daughter also helped glaze some, she especially concentrated her time on glazing her own, but she helped on a few of her classmates' pieces as well.

the piece on the right is the only one that is has a permanently closed top

The pieces were bisque fired first, then glazed with several cone 05 commercial glazes from Amaco and Mayco. Then I fired them in my home electric kiln and was able to get them back to the kids before school let out this week.

this one has stars all over the inside which we tried to highlight with Copper Averturine

We used Amaco's Clear Transparent, Deco Gloss Mocha, Artist's Choice Green Float, Camel and Burnt Orange, and Mayco Elements Copper Aventurine and Malachite. The Camel and Burnt Orange don't really highlight texture, but I was hoping the Aventurine would. It showed variation with application, but was also a bit distracting, at least the way we applied it.

I think this one also has Copper Aventurine

The Burnt Orange was really dried out, so we added water, but it didn't want to mix. I ended up using a wash of Burnt Orange under a coat of clear gloss. This was one of the more successful glazes, actually, because it highlighted the texture of the coils. Basically I just got as much color in the water as I could and then made sure to cover it with clear so it would be glossy.

on the mugs with smoother surfaces, we tried using some of the more opaque glazes like Mocha

All the pieces were made with some recycled clay from last year which is a mix of whatever I had around the studio. The mature or vitrification temperature of the clay is unknown. Additionally, I didn't realize this until we were in the middle of the project, but some of the clay in the bag I brought was slightly redder in color due to what was recycled. This may not have been a bag of the clay the kids recycled with me, it may have been some I recycled in a pillowcase later in the summer (the link is not where I learned this originally, but that may have been a Facebook post).

this footed bowl has mocha inside and probably Aventurine outside
Anyway, the two color clay didn't impact the attachments for the pieces or the color of the glazes, but it did show up as a very subtle different under the clear glaze in one instance where the student made the bottom coil with the lighter clay and the top coil with the redder clay.

the bowl on the left has Copper Float on the outside, I believe

One of the risks of working with kids is that they apply too much glaze or get it on the bottom. I carefully cleaned off all the bottoms before loading the kiln, but we also glazed the handles and walls all the way to the bottom, meaning that if I set the pieces right on the shelf, the handles were likely to stick and the glaze on the walls might melt down and stick, too.

drips on the bottom of my daughter's vase

To prevent that kind of trouble, I fired everything on stilts and was glaze I did. Only two dripped, but one dripped from the inside right through a faint crack in the floor and would have stuck to the shelf. My daughter's also dripped slightly down the walls and onto the bottom. Because we stilted it, it didn't stick and now sits nicely on the table.
drips running through the floor of Giselle's mug