Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fall Colors & More Pots

Ah, the brilliance of aspen foliage. Each day's beauty surpasses the last as green leaves change to yellow gold, orange flame, and stunning red.
Every day the colors intensify beneath an incredibly blue sky.  It's hard to believe it'll end in the next few days, or perhaps in another week, the leaves turning quite suddenly to brown and dropping from the trees.  
As an artist who is deeply moved by the mountain landscape around me, I've been bursting with excitement over the autumn splendor.  If only I could spend every day in the studio, watching the leaves rustle in the breeze, and enjoying a mid-day jog with my puppy companion!  It's lovely to dream...

These are the pieces I finished today:
Tea pot & cups, soup bowl with lid, large goblet, cookie dish.
(It might be fun to take a look back at the previous stage, before I assembled and carved the parts and pieces.)

More condiment servers and a large plate that sits under the small plate:
On second thought, maybe the cookie dish is more of a display for hors d'oevres.
Tomorrow I'll fire my second round of glaze tests (fingers crossed that all goes well) and then I'll bisque these pieces over the weekend.  If my glazes come out satisfactorily, I'll be able to breathe easier...  October is coming quickly!  I can't wait to see what everyone's been working on.  There will be a lot of friendly faces at the opening, since there are fifteen or so artists participating in "For The Table," many of them local clay friends.  One of the regional artists is Tara Wilson.  I had the privilege of watching her throwing & altering demonstration at NCECA '09.

Thank you to the wonderful (and ever-organized) Pam Herring for coordinating this show!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Before and After

A good friend of mine, Nick, visited me in Colorado in June, 2009.  I was teaching an annual clay workshop in the Breckenridge Arts District called Fire It Up.  Nick found pictures from that visit, and emailed them to me this week.

In a pit firing, like a raku firing, the process itself is a lot of fun.  People often ask how pit firing is different from raku, where pots are also a fired at a lower temperature.  One major difference between the two involves the timing of all the chemical reactions (ie, cool effects).  With raku, chemical reactions are brought about once you remove the piece from the kiln, and with pit firing, all those reactions occur during the firing.  Also, it's common to glaze pots for a raku firing, and for pit firing, the most I brush onto a pot is terra sigilata (a clay slip, aka 'terra sig') if I use anything at all.  The effects of both firings are stunning, but very different.
Here I am working on an elephant mask (from that class in 2009).  My friend Rachel is smoothing the bottom of her bird mask.

Texture is important to consider when building a piece for the pit because every indentation or smooth surface remains unchanged through the firing.  There's no glaze to cover up a messy surface.  For the elephant mask, I wanted a smooth, tranquil surface, and I brushed on a warm-hued terra sig to get muted colors.  For the tusk, I used a white terra sig.  White picks up a wide range of colors in the firing: yellows, reds, blues, greens, or grays and black.
I'm demonstrating for Nick that the elephant has its head turned to the side.  One pit firing later, and voila!  I think the mask turned out very well.  I have it available for $60.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Pots, New Show

I am part of a wonderful, new group called Summit County Clay. We are enthusiastic about sharing experiences, critiquing current work, and problem solving clay/glaze/design issues. What an uplifting group of gals--innovative, full of energy, and positive. Two of our members have organized an invitational show for our new work (and work from selected clay artists from around the state) to be displayed at Arts Alive Gallery in Breckenridge. It's coming up quickly, on October 2nd!

The theme is pottery for the table. A local weaver is creating beautiful place mats for each of our table settings. Each ceramic artist creates whatever dishes s/he wants to fill the place mat. There's another table for serving dishes appropriate for the main course, side dishes, dessert, and beverages. I listened to traditional ideas tossed around that I hadn't considered: specific servers for asparagus, fish, strawberries and chocolate, and many more. There are so many possibilities... I spent several weeks simply exploring design ideas that I could extend throughout all the shapes I'd want to throw (I even snuck in sketches while serving on jury duty). What an exciting challenge!

As an overall theme, I immediately thought of carving my pieces, but how exactly? I made several test pieces, pursuing different ideas (including the carved bowl and pitcher from my last post). I was still undecided when I sold nearly all of those pieces during the summer art festivals. Only a week ago, I settled on my original idea of throwing my pieces thicker in parts and using a faceting tool to carve away the extra clay. I opened my sketchbook and formed clear ideas to pursue.

Off to the studio... Yesterday I stopped suddenly around noon and snapped off photographs to capture the organized process. There are balls of clay waiting to be thrown, freshly-thrown parts and pieces awaiting to be carved and assembled, and completed work drying slowly.

I find inspiration in moving with intention in every step. I keep track of which pieces I want to make in my notebook so that I prepare all the parts and pieces at once. Then I weigh individual balls of clay. To keep all the pieces coordinated without breaking concentration, I like to label each ball of clay (a wonderful, borrowed idea). By naming the clay, I feel like I'm focusing its energy and encouraging its success, like a gardener whispering to her plants to encourage their growth. Here I'm urging T(ea) cup, L(arge) plate, and T(ea) pot!

Meanwhile, the wet pots are slowly firming up: condiment servers and a small plate on the left; soup bowl lid in the middle; cookie dish, goblet cup, and feet for those pieces are on the right. I like the challenge of throwing each piece as thick or thin as I need it to be later (to carve into the clay).

I'm pretty happy with this soup bowl. Its inspiration comes from the small, lidded bowls my family used for miso soup. (The lid is in the photo above.) As an adult with my own family, I prefer a much larger bowl now, but I want to keep the cherished feeling of presenting a generous and thoughtful surprise for each guest at the table--even when it's obviously soup.

The challenge here is coming up with an idea for the knob on the lid. Time to work with the wet clay is running out... I'll have to make a decision in the next few days.

Finally, we come to the finished pieces! Here are serving bowls, a condiment bowl with a spoon, and three tumblers. I'm glad I took so much time to prepare because I'm happy with the forms so far.
Now it's time to think about glazing... I'm not so excited about this part. I get very frustrated with my glazes sometimes. I first thought about glazing these pieces dark brown with an accent of green/blue, but as lovely as that looks on some forms, I think it doesn't work with all of them.

Moving forward, I've found an interesting glaze combination I used on a vase a few years ago. Although I'm wary of using a single glaze on every single piece, I'd like to try this glaze on a test piece and see what I think. Maybe I can make a quick test piece tonight so that I can bisque fire it when I'm back in the studio Wednesday and start glaze tests as soon as possible!