Friday, July 24, 2009

My Work as Meditation. . .

It has just occurred to me, after all these years doing of doing art in the studio, that my work is like a meditation. It makes sense now why I never took to doing production pottery. Not that I couldn’t sit down at the wheel and throw a set of bowls or plates or almost identical cups for someone. But it was never all that satisfying. Maybe it was too easy for me – throwing bowls or cups off the hump (taking a larger piece of clay and only centering the top part to make a bowl or cup) went pretty fast –too fast.

My MO is (and has always been) that I like to take my time with a piece. The piece I recently threw as a base for Scarlett’s towel/cloth holder (see my earlier post -Porcelain, the Diva of Clays) took about an hour total from wedging to forming on the wheel. But that was just the beginning. I spent the next couple of days shaping the foot and then carving the outside of the bowl to get just the right curvature and then carving my signature design onto one side.

Why it’s taking longer than usual is the size of the bowl. I’ve been working on much smaller diameter bowls – thrown or pinched – which I could just hand hold for carving. But this piece needs to be turned not in hand but sandwiched between two bats, and then flipped over. Then I have to have it placed at just the right height and angle for carving. A piece that can be held in hand is much easier.

I go to the studio almost daily, usually after noon, and after three hours, I’m just getting into the rhythm – carve, look from all angles, flip, look again, then carve again. It’s a rhythm, which, in its own way, is the meditation. Time has stopped and time seems to fly by. I’m rarely ready to leave when I must. But there’s always tomorrow when I can begin again.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Note on My Banner. . .

I want to write a few words about the image I’ve chosen for my banner. It’s a piece I created a few years ago when I was finishing one series and wanted to begin anew. I thought it would be perfect for this blog as it speaks not only to my process but also to the image I’d like to think I project - with a wink and a nod. . .

The Palimpsest series started with my penchant for recycling, using what I had at hand to inspire new work. At one point, I had done a series of abstract watercolors with intense, saturated watercolor inks on very expensive hot press watercolor paper. Some had sold. Others were languishing in frames waiting for what - new home? . . . a possible new exhibit? . . . a chance at being rotated onto a prominent place on one of my walls when I decided to re-hang my work? None of that was happening.

This piece, Studio Reverie, came at a time when I needed a push to move in a new direction. I took a few of the old watercolors out of the frames and decided to work with what was on the page to create something new, not by just covering over it, but using what was there, the colors, the shapes, the lines, to inspire new visions, new images, a new story.

I was doing a lot of collage work at the time, and this was a chance to use it in a new way, taking the collage, making a color Xerox copy which could then be placed strategically onto the watercolor, then blending it into the background with prisma color pencils, craypas and oil pastels. Here I actually took another watercolor, cut it and collaged in onto the first watercolor and then continued its patterns by drawing them into the background watercolor.

This is one of my favorites in the Palimpsest Series – it’s a little joke about just how an artist spends her time in the studio. . . lying naked on a chaise lounge, eating Godiva chocolates and dreaming of armadillos with a lucky gecko as her muse. . . well, we can always dream.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Porcelain, the Diva of Clays . . .

Or When White Isn't White

I have been commissioned to do a large vessel for holding wash cloths and perhaps even small hand towels by my good friend and vocal instructor, Scarlett Hepworth ( She was hoping I could do this in porcelain or if not, then in the black stoneware which I like to use. I mentioned porcelain can be very finicky and often doesn’t lend itself to larger pieces. According to the clay and glaze guru, the late Daniel Rhodes, the more pure the porcelain (using mostly kaolins, the white burning clays), the more difficult it is to make anything out of it.

I love working in porcelain. But I can tell you from my own personal experience, working in porcelain is a lot like trying to form pieces out of butter. It’s because there is little if any grog in porcelain. Grog is clay which has been fired, then ground into various degrees of fineness and added to clay to make it more forgiving when forming large, thick walled vessels or sculptures. Even if you are able to create a magnificent bowl or vessel in porcelain and get it from table or wheel to kiln in one piece, there is no guarantee it will make it out of either the bisque or glaze fire in tact. Porcelain is truly the diva of clays.

I have been using a couple of mid high fire porcelains for the past year or so and only recently did I realize while they both fire at the same temp. (∆5 – 1180 degrees Centigrade) they are NOT the same shade of white. How is that possible? Well, it has to do with which of the many different kaolin clays are used. It became all too apparent to me that I was mixing my porcelains when I threw a small vessel for a commission and began to carve it while it was leather hard. All of a sudden the outer wall looked like a white snow leopard –very soft white white spots all imbedded in a slightly more grey white. I know you can go to any paint store and find 10 different shades of whites with all kinds of designery names like Sea Pearl, Soft Shoulders, Swiss Coffee (yes, white!) or for those who might not be really sure of using white, Timid White, but I was a little taken aback when I finally noticed the discrepancy in the 2 porcelains’ whites. Would I have to redo this piece, which was almost finished and ready for the bisque fire or would I be lucky enough that when fired this wouldn’t be noticeable? Now that the piece is dry and ready for the bisque, I can’t see the spots so I’m hoping this won’t be an issue.

On Monday I was looking through my half used and reconstituted bags of porcelain hoping I would find enough to make the large thrown bowl portion of Scarlett’s piece. I did find about 6 lbs of the grey white, a bit hard but still wedgeable and enough of the soft white which I’ll use for the hand built part. I threw the bowl yesterday – I left it on the wheel 11 ¼ ” w x 7” h. Today, now that it is slightly dry, I was able to nudge it about ½” wider, making the bowl shape more graceful and now a bit over 5” h. Yes, you have to take your time with porcelain – patience is ever the virtue with this clay. And really, when isn’t it when you work in the mud?