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

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