Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Leaf Pockets

Catalpa speciosa (Northern Catalpa)
Leaf Pocket
The Inspiration.  Starting in Autumn 2010, I returned to an ongoing source of inspiration in my pottery - the leaves of native trees, shrubs and vines.  My interest in native plants and passion for woodies certainly intersects here and I've always loved trees and their highly-varied foliage (both in form and color, and the latter's seasonal transitions).  I had been using leaves in my work from early on, when Gene Pluhar first introduced me to the use of stains on textured surfaces, a technique that is a hallmark of much of my work.

Populus deltoides (Eastern Cottonwood)
Leaf Pocket
My increasing interest in native plants is a direct by-product of my Master Gardener training and the community of gardeners in which I've found myself in the succeeding 10-1/2 years.  As I educated myself more and more, I came to recognize the critical role these plants play in our indigenous life community and began to reexamine them more closely.  As a result, I found myself focussing almost exclusively on native and near-native plants in my pottery.  (I, of course, accept commissions for work featuring other materials as well.)

Quercus rubra (Red Oak)
Leaf Pocket
One of the designs arising out of this renewed interest and inspiration is what I refer to as my "Leaf Pockets".  Taking the concept of the leaf-adorned Wall Pocket I had been making (and continue to make) for years, I pared it down to feature the leaf and the leaf alone.  I thought I would only be able to focus on plants that had really large leaves - Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa, native just south of here), American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).  But I actually found that smaller leaves - from the same trees, as well as Common Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) and Red-twig Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) - provided for very satisfying results.  Sometimes I was able to exploit some plants tendency to produce very large leaves on very young saplings (maximizing photosynthetic capacity in the face of limited foliar potential) - especially in Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), American Elm (Ulmus americana) and Basswood (Tilia americana).  In some instances - Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) and Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides), I actually combined multiple leaves to fabricate a larger form.

Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud)
Leaf Pocket (Large)
The Process.  I developed a new process with these pieces.  Well, I had to.  And it's still evolving, although I do think I'm getting close to perfecting it.  The leaves are used either fresh or rehydrated.  I follow my general technique when using leaves - roll out an appropriately-thick clay slab, remove the canvas texture using the flat edge of a metal kidney and rolling with a clean rolling pin, arrange leaves on slab and roll in.  Initially, I followed my usual process, cutting the leaves out using the cutting tool perpendicular to the slab's surface - straight up-and-down.  I'd remove the cut-out piece, place it elsewhere on the slab, and cut out the same thing again, for the back.

Hamamelis virginiana (Common
Witchhazel) Leaf Pocket
I placed the bottom piece on a kiln shelf  (I use kiln shelves for much of my fabrication - they will not warp, unless overheated, and they can go right into a kiln if I'm working with a delicate piece) and punch a hole at the center top for hanging (despite all sarcasm to the contrary, I see no point in making things more complicated than they have to be).  Then scored and generously slipped the side edges.  Using newspaper (the Metro Times is ideal for this, as well as for lining bird cages, etc., once you've read it), I created some "stuffing" to help "pop up" the leaf pocket.  (Sometimes, as for a larger piece, I may use a whole spread, or even two; for smaller pieces, I may only need an eighth of a spread.)  Compressing the paper toward the center/top of the clay slab, I carefully applied the top piece with the leaves, pressing down along the sides to get a good connection.  I then smoothed the edges with my fingers or a sponge, cleaning up any excess clay.  The piece is then dried.  (If you're using a fan, make sure the bottom of the pocket is toward the fan; if air is blown into the pocket from the top as it dries, the bottom will crack.  Believe me.)  After drying, I cleaned up the piece to remove any rough edges using synthetic steel wool.  Then, bisque firing.

Asimina triloba (Paw Paw)
Leaf Pocket
Once bisque fired, I would stain and wax resist the top surface per my usual process, then glaze the rest of the piece.  The pieces were fired upside down on clean posts or the ceramic ("bottom") side of clean stilts.  This resulted in a very resolved work, but you couldn't really see the glaze, as it was just on the edges.  So, I rethought the process this fall and figured out that, if I cut the leaf out at an angle, so there was flange leading out from the edge of the leaf, and continued that when cutting out the bottom, more glazeable surface would result.

So, the process now consists of cutting out the entire leaf at an angle, carefully removing the surrounding clay, laying the cut-out piece on the slab, cutting out the top edge at an angle and then cutting a very rough shape around the rest of the leaf.  The bottom piece goes on the kiln shelf as before, the hole is punched as before, the newspaper is used as before, but wider "edges" are generously scored and slipped to account for any surface area the top may hit as the piece is finished.  The top slab is applied so it registers as much as possible with the top edge of the bottom slab and, once a good connection is made, I cut the rest of the piece out again, at an angle.  The process then continues as before.  With this refinement, the leaf pockets are a much more successful design.

I have had to modify the process in some instances.  For Red Oak (Quercus rubra), because the lobes are rather deeply-cut, I do try to find leaves with shallower lobes and use a bamboo paintbrush handle to "pocket" them, with good success.  The Witch-hazel pockets are probably my favorites - something about the leaves' shape; so much so that, although I seldom (although more frequently of late) make things for myself, I made a set of three for my home - although I don't yet know where I'll put them!


sosolobi said...

could you make a videotutorial of this and upload to youtube?? Smiles

sanjay117 said...

dear blogger
can you please let me knopw in details how to make this 'POT'?