Friday, December 9, 2011

Deluxe Sunflower - Teddy Bear

Gary Kohs and Laura Scaccia are two of the people who joined my family in 2010. Laura's sister had purchased one of my sunflowers at Pewabic Pottery and told Laura about me.  She got in touch and we made arrangements for the two of them to stop by the day before Mother's Day.  Gary and Laura arrived a bit early - early enough that, while I was out of the shower, I was not really dressed. I let them in and asked that they hang in the dining room while I dressed. And that is about as formal as our relationship has been since.

Gary and Laura (and their family and friends) have been some of the most supportive folks I've come to know since the inception of Black Cat Pottery: A sunflower tile has been installed above the stove in Gary's kitchen; one of my Ginormous Original Sunflowers hangs in the peak of Gary's pizza oven on his terrace; a plaque reading "Villa Girasole"("House of the Sunflower") is a housewarming gift from Laura; and 40 Mini Original Sunflowers were gifts to the guests at the official housewarming party. And that's just for starters.

The Inspiration. Gary can be kind of a challenging guy. In a good way. The day we first met, he challenged me to fabricate a ginormous sunflower completely covered by petals. I asked him if he was trying to kill me. (I'm still wondering about that....) But I'm not one to let a challenge pass, so I finally started to work, and the product is my Deluxe Teddy Bear Sunflower design.

The Process. I start the process as I would any Deluxe Sunflower, with a slab of clay draped over the hump mold, which has been placed on a kiln shelf. For the Ginormous Deluxe Teddy Bear design (inspired by the Teddy Bear Annual Sunflower, the center of which is entirely covered with petaloids), I use all seven sizes of sunflower petal cookie cutters. I score the entire surface of the slab, then apply the petals in rows around the piece sequentially, largest to smallest. Although I only use one row of each of the six largest-sized petals, I do use multiple rows of the smallest petal for the central rosette. The key here is to make sure to push the petals down as much as possible so they don't stick up and are vulnerable to breakage through the rest of the process. It is pretty heavy, what with the shelf, the plaster mold, and all that clay.

I set the piece to dry until I can lift it off the mold safely - pretty close to leather hard. I carefully lift the piece off the mold, flip it over and cradle it in my left hand (here's where having those petals well down really makes a difference) to cut holes for hanging wire and attach a fitting to the back for a stake. I then carefully flip the sunflower back onto a clean kiln shelf and allow to dry completely before firing.  Because the piece is quite massive, it's best to let it dry for several days before trying to fire; otherwise, it could easily explode - an expensive lesson.

Glazing is simple yet tricky. There is no "center" to glaze another color, so I'm only applying one glaze to the entire surface; in this case, I'm using Amaco's Potter's Choice Salt Buff - for some reason, this was just the "right" glaze for this design. The piece, however, is probably the heaviest piece I have to glaze. I cradle the piece in my left hand, top side up, and ladle the well-mixed glaze into and over all of the petals for three coats, allowing the piece to dry between. Then, using a slip-trail bottle, I drizzle more glaze haphazardly over the entire surface - thereby achieving the "irregular" application necessary to achieve the correct effect. Once the top surface is dry, I flip over the flower and brush glaze on any unglazed portions of all the petals. I then allow to dry and fire on stilts. I have found that using seven or eight bar stilts place under the slabbed flange is the more efficient arrangement.

Because the piece is so large, I tend to allow the kiln to get pretty cool before opening, to minimize the risk of fracturing if it's cooled too quickly.

Gary's next challenge? A sunflower larger than 24 inches across. I'm still working out the details on that one; once I'm about eighty percent there, I'll take that on as well! 

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