Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sunflower Leaves (*Giant* Sunflower Leaves)

I finally had (a little bit of) luck this summer growing sunflowers in my garden - not a a big issue getting there, just time.  And space.  And enough sun.  Anyway, I finally got a few pretty decent plants (photos of some of which you can see in the notecards featured in my last post).  Then, late in the season, I started noticing the leaves.  They were really cool looking, all toothy and textury.  When the flowers were spent and the plants started looking pretty peeked, I harvested some of the better leaves and made some nice bowl-form pieces.  Some really nice bowl-form pieces.
During my travels this summer, I had also come across a bunch of sunflowers with really huge leaves.  I decided to try to make them into some even bigger pieces.  This was a huge learning experience because the veins on these puppies are so darned big that the piece will literally fall apart out of the mold because the clay is so thin behind the three main veins.  I didn't want to let go of it because the leaf was so large (the largest I could find).  So, I waited until I was well rested (relatively speaking).  First, I carefully peeled the dry leaf off the clay of the broken piece.  This was not easy.  It came off in sections - some pretty big.  I needed to rehydrate the leaf to use it, so I soaked a newspaper spread (re-use!), laid it out on my work table, laid the pieces of the leaf on top, correctly oriented to one another, sprayed it down with water and topped it with another damp piece of newsprint.  I went and rolled out my really big, think slab of clay and prepared it.

When the leaf was completely re-hydrated, I took the whole newspaper/leaf sandwich over to the slab and, making sure the vein side was up, removed the top piece of newsprint and flipped the remaining leaf and newspaper backing onto the slab.  I removed the newspaper, used my very fine cutting tool to adjust the pieces of the leaf, rolled it into the clay and cut it out.
When working with a slab this large, it's a good idea to use an old pie baker's trick - roll the slab onto a large rolling pin (the kind made to work with clay).  Then, you just unroll it over the mold in/onto which your putting the piece.  Once I worked the slab into the mold and shaped it to my satisfaction, I used my clay gun to extrude a consistent coil of clay, which I then fabricated into a flat coil, which I scored and slipped and then applied to the back of the piece where the veins converged.
This time, the piece survived - right through the bisque firing.  Of course, I still had to finish it.  I used Sage Gray Mason Stain and Amaco Potter's Choice Temmoku Glaze and fired the piece upside down on four eight-inch posts, using nine-inch posts for the next shelf.  I let the kiln cool down within 20 degrees of the outside temperature before taking it out.

I think it was worth it.

See this piece and others at my upcoming show at my friend Estela Boudreau's new studio/gallery in Grosse Pointe Woods, Galeria Mariposa, 20445 Mack Avenue.  The opening is this Friday, November 4, 6-9pm, with artisan baked goods by my friend Jennifer Flynn of Urban Attic and live music provided by my friend Charlie Palazzola.

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