Thursday, July 28, 2011

Leaf Platters

Three-Leaf Redbud Leaf Platter
Back in January, one of the "topics" Don and I worked on during our shoot was a new series of pieces I call my "Leaf Platters".  They are a direct off-shoot from the small leaves I featured in this blog (much) earlier this year.  In this case, I had wanted to come up with a larger-format design that could work as a small serving piece for the table or simply be a beautiful object in the home.

Oakleaf Hydrangea
Leaf Platter
The first challenge was to come up with leaves of sufficient size - not a lot of trees have really big leaves - or find ways to combine multiple leaves.  I also had to find an appropriate mold to get the shallower shape I was looking for.

I solved the first by focusing on species such as Redbud, Oakleaf Hydrangea (not a native to this part of the States but does well here without being at all invasive), Northern Catalpa, Tulip Tree, Eastern Cottonwood and American Sycamore, at least for starters.  With the Redbud, by combining three large leaves together (in many tree species, juvenile foliage can be much larger than the foliage found on a more mature specimen), with the points facing out, I was able to create a satisfactorily resolved form; I used the same approach with Eastern Cottonwood.  I was able to find the occasional very large leaf on my Oakleaf Hydrangea and local individuals of Tulip Tree.  American Sycamores can have some very large leaves, which present their own challenges in this format; medium-sized leaves (while still quite large relative to other plants) from this tree worked well.  The same applied to the Northern Catalpa.

Tulip Tree Leaf Platter
The second challenge - finding the right mold - was solved by making a plaster cast of a beautiful glazed terracotta bowl I was given as a wedding present by my friends Marcia Mogelonsky and Barry Strauss (that tells you how long I've treasured this particular piece of pottery!)  It had a relative shallow draft with a flat bottom that really worked nicely with the pieces I wanted to do.

American Sycamore
Leaf Platter
I followed my basic slab technique, rolling out the slab of clay and smoothing it with a metal kidney to remove any texture from the canvas.  I'd then roll the fresh or re-hydrated leaves on to the clay and then cut them out with a very sharp cutting tool.  One concern was to make sure, especially on plants with very think stems and primary veins, the clay slab was thick enough that it wouldn't split while drying; this was especially a challenge with the Northern Catalpa leaves.  I'd then press the clay (with the leaf still on it) into the mold and let dry.  In some instances, I could remove the leaf before bisque firing, after the clay was completely dry.  (Removing it while the clay is still wet can diminish the leaf's impression.)  Before firing, I use a piece of synthetic steel wool to clean all edges.

Five Leaf Redbud Leaf Platter
Glazing consists of Mason Stains applied as a water-based wash, removed with a damp sponge so the colorant stays in the veins.  I then wax the upper surface of the piece and glaze afterwards, so the glaze covers the edges and the bottom.  I fire to Cone 6 inverted on one or more posts of a height so the piece will not touch the shelf, even if it "relaxes" in the firing (this last part requires a lot of trail and error).  I wanted these pieces to be very clean and wanted to avoid stilt marks on the underside as much as possible.  It is important to use a ceramic post or other ceramic prop as anything with metal (the pointy side of a stilt, for example) will burn into the clay.  The large American Sycamore leaves were especially challenging because they'd relax so much.  I finally started firing them right side up, even though it left stilt marks.

I'm taking this idea further with larger format pieces, generally using larger arrays of leaves.  I've managed to do a five-part Redbud platter with the leaves pointing in but the clay ends up having stresses both at the joints between the leaves and along the leaves' midlines.  I also did an even larger piece in one of my larger bird-bowl molds with twelve Redbud leaves (four in the center, with eight outside but these pieces split as well - so I have a challenge to resolve!

1 comment:

Rima Al-Turki said...

I am so happy to have found your page.Your platters are beautiful.
I love working with slabs and recently tried using leaves. I am new to doing my own pottery at home, I have just bought a new small kiln and want to double check if I can fire a piece of buff clay with a leaf imbedded in it? I found a great maple leaf, and rolled it into my clay and now it is sitting in the slab in a mold drying slowly. Can it be bisqued safely with the leaf in the clay or should I remove it?

Thank you