Sunday, October 16, 2011


Wanted to share some of my friend Don Schulte's more recent work, a new set of notecards he'll be rolling out shortly featuring sunflowers, both annual and perennial, that he's photographed in my garden in the last year or so.

My friend Catherine Dumke-Derbyshire actually "planted the seed" for this idea.  I've been feeding Don ideas for a few years now, including capturing images of Fall color, native plants, herbs, Hydrangeas and Clematis (many of which he's photographed in my garden), but this was one topic I completely missed, which is pretty ironic as I make all kinds of pottery sunflowers - they're kind of my "trademark" as an artist!

Don was able to get some very nice shots of Helianthus annuus (Annual Sunflower), as well as beautiful images of Helianthus giganteus (Giant Sunflower, upper right) and Helianthus mollis (Downy Sunflower, so called as the foliage has a velvety quality, lower left).  We're hoping next year I may be able to get some Helianthus divaricatus (Woodland Sunflower) established; we've tried two years in a row but the squirrels keep digging them out - I'll probably have to cage them!

By the way, the genus name "Helianthus" comes from the Greek for "sun" ("Helios") and "flower" ("anthos") - together, they mean Sunflower; the epithet (second part of the binomial Latin name) for the annual sunflower - "annuus" - refers to its annual habit.  The meaning of the epithet for Giant Sunflower is pretty self-evident; "mollis" means "soft", reflecting the texture of Downy Sunflower's leaves; and "divaricatus" means "spreading" or "diverging" - and is a common epithet for woodland plant species.

Don will have these and other notecards - including hopefully a new set of Autumn Wildflowers - for our Holiday Open House coming up Saturday, December 10, 10a-4p.  See you there!

All photos Don Schulte copyright.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunflower Masks 4 - Hair

When I first started making these pieces, as many of them self-destructed in the fabrication process as survived it.  The biggest challenge was to get the petals to come through the process unmolested.  I went through a few experiments, both in terms of fabrication and firing, to support the petals effectively through those steps, with varied results.  One goal was to not have the petals subside to the plane defining the back of the piece, so as to reduce the risk of breakage - and also retain the sense of a three-dimensionality.  What I finally did was to use kiln posts to support the petals while fabricating and through bisque firing.

The final process now consists of taking a kiln shelf the size of the kiln in which I will be bisque firing the piece (I often use a 22" shelf and fabricate two pieces on the same shelf) and line sections of it with as many pieces of newspaper as pieces I'll be fabricating.  (I use the same basic technique for all my masks, Clyties and Green People.)

I take the clay cast and trim it so it lies on a flat plan on the shelf on top of a piece of newspaper.  I find it helps if I trim one side of the piece, rest that on the shelf with the other half over the edge so I can trim the excess; I adjust the edge until I get it to rest flat on the surface.  At this point, I use a hole cutter to make a hole (for the hanging wire) on either side of the face, usually at about the level of the outer corner of each eye.  This hole may be covered by the petals during assembly but it will still be easier to re-cut it than try to place it later on.

I use the same custom-made "cookie cutters" for the petals on my Clyties as I use for my Original, Fancy and Deluxe Sunflowers.  Because it is a general anatomical fact that men's heads are bigger than women's (I could digress a whole lot on that topic but will resist the urge to do so!), I use the second and fourth largest cutters for the male faces and the third and fifth largest for the female masks - these proportions seem to work in most cases, so the petals and the face are in balance.

I score and slip the bottom edge of the mask, usually coming up a bit around the chin.  I start attaching the set of larger petals at the center top, working my way down on either side, alternating so they are arranged relatively symmetrically, ending with the last petal (or two) centered on the chin.  (It's likely in the course applying this first layer of petals that the holes will be covered - re-cut them as you apply the petals.)  I use 1/2", 1" and 2" kiln posts to support the petals, using 2" to 2-1/2" for the center top and bottom and reducing the height by 1/2" increments between, so the petals are resting on 1/2" posts at the center of each side.  Once the piece is entirely fabricated, I can pull it around on the shelf using the piece of newspaper. potentially maximizing space usage and ease for loading.

The great thing about using the posts to support the petals is that they can go right into the kiln without  the artist having to touch the piece.  Once these things have dried leather hard, they're very fragile until they come out of the bisque firing, so if I can get away without having to touch them at all once they're finished, it's really best.  I can load the shelf directly into the kiln (need good upper body for this part of the exercise), the newspaper burns away and the pieces now come out of the bisque firing with no damage about 90-95% of the time.

These "Hair" masks trace their development to a sunflower face I made of myself for my garden.  The mold had deteriorated quite a lot, to the point that a lot of the detail had diminished, and I couldn't make another one.  So I flashed back to my childhood when I always had my hair in my face and thought, why don't I just do that to "camouflage" the lack of detail?  And thus came up with another Clytie style.  In this case, like the "String Theory" Deluxe Sunflower, the key is to apply the "hair" before the petals go on, to make it look as naturalistic as possible.  Sometimes the "hair" will pull away from the face as it dries - an issue that can be prevented by brushing it with some diluted wax resist; but I rather like when that happens as it provides an additional layer of dimensionality to these pieces.