Thursday, April 28, 2011

Deluxe Sunflower - Bubbles

One of the bugs that bit me late last year was returning to some fancier sunflower designs I had tried some years ago with some success.  I initially called them my "Extra Fancy" Sunflowers but that got rather cumbersome, so now I call them my "Deluxe" Sunflowers, reserving "Fancy" for the sunflowers I do with brightly-glazed petals.

My goal with the Deluxe Sunflowers was to come up with interesting applied textures.  The three original styles I had developed included "Pasta", using a mini extruder to apply an infinitesimal series of tiny tubes of clay to look like an entire carpet of stamens.  (I once did an entire series of five of these of various sizes for friends for Christmas; I swore off them for a while after that!)  I also used a star-shaped cake tip and slip to cover the flower's center, a much less exhausting process which worked quite successfully and I call "Cake".  Finally, I cut out 300-400 pieces of clay and rolled them into seed-like shapes and applied those for "Seed" in a process about a laborious as making "Pasta".  Yes, I do have a strong masochistic streak.

I was inspired by Amaco's Potter's Choice glaze series to explore this series further.  I really liked the rich tones of some of the earthier glazes, especially the Temmoku, which makes for a great sunflower center color, varying subtly on diverse textures.  In the last couple years, they've come out with some terrific colors, both brighter and more subtle; the former I'm been employing for my "Fancy" Sunflowers, the latter for the "Deluxe" series.

I featured my Deluxe Teddy Bear Sunflower earlier and there are now seven other designs in addition to Cake, Pasta and Seed.  This one, "Bubbles", uses the same technique as I used with "Cake" but with a large, round tip on the pastry bag with the slip.  I got these nice, big, round blots of slip, usually with a little peak in the center, which worked well with the Temmoku.  When I try these ideas out, I usually don't know for sure how it will evolve - this was a pleasing outcome for me.

In terms of the glazes I select, the piece seems to dictate that for me.  For some reason, this design wanted a brighter, lighter tone, so I selected Frosted Melon.  On a white clay body, as I think I've said before, this glaze is positively anemic.  On the peach stoneware I use, it really comes to life, going orangier where it's thinner and pooling to almost a pale yellow-green.

I hand-paint the center with at least two and sometimes three coats of Temmoku.  I then use wax resist over this, blotting - not brushing - it on so I don't pull away the glaze; I have a special jar reserved for these projects because it's difficult not to pick up a bit of the glaze in the process.  I let the piece sit for a couple hours (or put it under the furnace vent in the basement!) before I apply the glaze for the petals.  For smaller pieces - tiny, small and medium - I can usually dip the pieces in the glaze bucket.  For the larger pieces - large, extra-large and ginormous - I use a two-ounce ladle I found at Goldstar Products.  I typically do the back of the petals first and then the front, checking as I go to make sure I've gotten complete coverage,  I keep a number 3 or 4 brush handy to blot glaze into hard-to-reach areas between petals and a container of water and a small sponge to clean up drops of glaze off the center.

The pieces are fired on stilts, the number increasing with the size of the piece.  This can get tricky as some of these (especially Seed, Pasta and Teddy Bear) are pretty heavy - the more stilts you can fit around, the less likely you'll overwhelm a given stilt and have less salubrious results.

I was happy with this result.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spring - Is Sprung? Finally?

I don't know about you but I'm thinking the winter of 2010-2011 is going to go down as one of those winters that just didn't want to give up.  My friend Theresa and I went up to Ubly (it's OK if you don't know where that is) on March 25 and it looked like Christmas up there - they had had a snow day two days before!  Crazy!  And the day we got in from Chicago, April 18, we were greeted with snow when we got up later in the morning, when we had to unload the truck.  My most indelible memory of late snow has to be 1983, though, when it snowed on April 30 in East Lansing.  So, it could be worse.

But, things are finally starting to warm up.  I can go outside in my garden in the morning and the evening and things look radically different.  So you know I'm going out there at least twice a day, right?  Just to see what's happened in the last 8-12 hours.  What's happening - and it's happening fast, now, between all the torrential rain, the gale-force winds and the sudden warming up - is that things are popping, budding, flowering, fading, some at record rates of speed.  So I got out there yesterday, between cleaning up the big central bed in the backyard, putting down five bags of mulch and pruning another 10-15% of my Clematis, and took a few pictures of some of the Spring flowers.

The first two pictures are of Sanguinaria canadensis, or Bloodroot.  I used to have some of the double form of this plant from my Mom but it died out and none the plants I dug from her garden before we sold the house seem to have survived - not even with the two friends with whom I shared them.  However, woodland wildflowers have an interesting habit of going dormant for a season when disturbed so I'll hold out hope for next year.  What I do have is the more common, and hardier, single form, which is quite lovely as well.  (The double looks like a miniature white water lily.)  This plant is a true harbinger of spring, with the flower rising up through the curled leaf, emerging, blooming and then withering.  Of the flowers in these pictures, all but one have already dropped their petals, all in a day or so.  So their beauty is as fleeting as it is fragile.  The leaf will continue to expand and unfold into a distinctive, deeply-lobed, roughly heart shape.  And then it will go completely dormant.  Why "Bloodroot"?  Because the plant's sap is a true red and was used in a number of functions by indigenous populations.  A friend has offered me the opportunity to collect some of the double form from her yard later this year, and I probably will.

The next two pictures are of Twinleaf, or Jeffersonia diphylla.  (The epithet in the botanical Latin literally translates as "twin-leaf".)  As William Cullina says in his authoritative work on wildflowers, capturing an image of this flower is not easy.  It is especially short lived, lasting no more than a day or two - which is interesting, as there cannot be that many pollinators floating around this early in the season.  (I saw my first bee on Sunday, so they are out there).  It started to look like it would flower on Sunday but it didn't warm up enough early enough in the day for it to really get going.  By Monday it showed itself a bit more but still did not open completely as conditions were not yet acceptable - it seems it isn't just a function of the amount of sunlight but also of the overall temperature.  Finally, on Tuesday, it opened completely, as you see here.  And by this morning all the petals had dropped.  So, I'm grateful to have been able to capture these images.  The plant persists after flowering, setting a small urn-shaped seed pod with a little lid, unlike any other seed pod I've seen.  It does spread modestly and makes for a nice ground cover of medium height.

Finally, a picture of Erythronium americanum, or Yellow Trout Lily.  The members of this genus go by a number of names, including Fawn Lily (which, like "Trout Lily", refers to the mottling of the leaves) and Adder's Tongue, a reference to the seedpod with its projecting stamen.  There are two species native to the eastern United States, this being the more common; the other, Erythronium albidum, although less common overall, is quite common on Belle Isle here in Detroit and for a time, before the shrubs began to grow in after the deer were penned up, covered whole swathes of clearings in the woods near the racketball courts.  You can still see many of them there but they are losing some ground to the Spicebush and Drummond's Dogwood, among other species.  Like Mayapple, only mature plants - meaning those with two leaves - will flower.  I had dug these from a friend's property in Macomb Township last Spring, so you can imagine my delight when I had not one, but two flowers this Spring.  (Some lummox of a squirrel broke the smaller one off sometime today.)  These plants have a tendency to pull themselves lower into the ground, preventing flowering; the strategy is to lay a slab of rock about 5-6 inches below grade and then planting above so they don't have the chance to do that.  So, I'll be digging these guys up (again) and planting them again accordingly, in hopes that we will have flowers again next year (and maybe the next).

Lots of great events coming up.  We have the final line-up for the Garden Tours on June 4 and August 20 (10:00am-2:00pm) and will be featuring the art of Black Cat Pottery, Notable Greetings, Farmbrook Designs and Bird Homes by Tim.  My friend Stephen Hulbert of Hulbee will be providing refreshments - so we're going to have a great time!  Look for updates on the events here and on my Facebook page.

It's raining.  Again.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fancy Sunflowers 1

Ginormous Fancy Sunflower, Melon
Don was over on Thursday, March 31 (my birthday) to shoot my new Fancy Sunflowers.  After I got over my obsessive invention and production phase with the Deluxe Sunflowers (see the Teddy Bear Sunflower entry of November 30, 2010, the subject of which, by the way, was in the Green Show at the Grosse Pointe Art Center, which closed today), I started thinking of other ways to take the sunflowers to a new level.  I chose a number of the more highly relieved textures I have been using in my original sunflowers and decided to glaze the centers with the Amaco Potters Choice Temmoku glaze, as I had done with the Deluxe Sunflowers, and use really bright, jewel-tone glazes from that same series and from my own recipes for the petals.  The results are as you see here.

I only did these in the Medium, Large, Extra Large (a new size, with this series, based on the Vegetable Bowl from my stoneware dishes set, Sasaki's Colorstone, no longer in production but available through Table Tops, Etc. and other on-line replacement retailers) and Ginormous.  Although they're very distinctive, I felt that they could be "lost" in the landscape if they were too small - especially as I wanted the textured centers to be really distinctive.

Ginormous Fancy Sunflower, Turquoise
As with the original sunflowers, I find myself associating certain petal "colors" with certain center textures.  The center of the Large Frosted Melon sunflower above is achieved by dropping the clay slab on a bamboo placemat I purchased at Pier 1 (a great place to haunt for texture sources, as are the clearance areas at Joann's and Michael's - funny; maybe those two should meet...).  The flower pattern of the placemat "wants" yellow petals.  The Medium Lace Sunflower (left) is finished with Textured Turquoise.  Indigo Float (below, Extra Large Sunflower) is one of my students' favorite glazes, as well as one of mine.  It really sets off the bubble wrap texture, which looks completely different when glazed as opposed to the Burnt Umber stain I use on my original sunflowers.  The other colors I'm using include Chun Plum,  Lustrous Jade, Vert Lustre, Toasted Sage (like Frosted Melon, utterly anemic on white stoneware but quite interesting on the red), Deep Sienna Speckle (all Amaco Potters Choice) and my own Dark Slate.

Ginormous Fancy Sunflower, Indigo
The most important criteria I had for the glazes I selected was that they had to "break" over the edges of the petals.  This means that, where the glaze thins over edges as it become vitreous, takes on a different color, often influenced by the clay body underneath.  By working with a higher-iron-content body, more intense variations can be achieved.  I did two series of lace bowls - in red and white stoneware - comparing some of the glazes and found the white stoneware series, well, frankly insipid.  The red series was much more interesting and visually complex as the glazes broke over the relief created by the lace impressions.  That's carried over well into this series of sunflowers.

Don used the same set-up as we used back in January - we seem to have this down, and it really helps unify the presentation of my work.  We can slap it together pretty quickly now and just "shoot away" - I'll clear the work table and organize the pieces to be shot and assist him in moving them through the set.  The different sorts of lights he's using - one with a sparkly background the effect of which you can see on the right side of the flowers - really bring out the depth of the textures I'm using as well as the glossiness and colors of the glazes.  He'll hopefully be coming again sometime next week to shoot some of the Deluxe Sunflowers that are now coming out of the kilns - which are looking pretty damned fine, if I do say so myself - as well as the straggling Fancy Sunflowers.  I'm thinking all of these will do well in Chicago - they're certainly very rich from a design standpoint, the Deluxe Sunflowers reminding lots of folks of expensive chocolates, whereas the Fancy Sunflowers are more "flowery", which we really need with this Winter that just won't let go.