Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lace Bowls 2: Lotus Bowl

Indigo Float Lotus Bowl
I spent a fair bit of time at the end of 2011 and the beginning of this year exploring some more ideas in connection with my Lace Bowl project. I'd begun to refer to the entire range of lace vessels as  my "Ocean's 11 Lace Bowls" because the initial had been quite successful in a number of galleries for the Christmas season, allowing me to work on my less salable, artier "vanity projects". Suggestions and requests for other forms and finishes had been made, from platters and trays to bridal/shower/girlie colors for Spring. I was also given the opportunity to work with some handmade lace donated to me by some of my friends, in addition to the pieces I had found at two national arts and crafts store chains.

Some prized pieces of handmade lace were  donated to me by my friend Deb Hall. Of Maltese descent, her maternal grandmother had won first prize at the World's Fair in the 1930s for her hand-made bedspread. You can imagine my gratitude when Deb gifted me with some of her grandmother's beautiful work, including a large oblong piece suitable for a rectangular try and various forms suitable for round bowls.

One piece in particular inspired a different take on the pieces I had been doing - a large, six-pointed star-shaped piece with a lot of texture and interesting negative space. I decided to try using the entire form instead of limiting myself to a typical bowl with a consistent edge.

Textured Turquoise Lotus Bowl
Following my already-established technique, I roll out a slab of clay about 3/8" thick. To release the clay completely from the canvas, thereby reducing the risk of the clay tearing, I peel back the canvas, flip the canvas back, flip the entire slab-and-canvas over and flip back the other side of the canvas. Now I'm ready to do pretty much anything with the clay slab, from making a sunflower to a mask or a lace bowl. I place the lace doily on the slab, making sure it is as smooth as possible and, in this case, that the points are as uniformly extended as possible.

Using Kemper's Fine Detail Cut-Out Tool (C-090-109), I cut out the lace form. I cut or pull away the excess clay between the points to minimize distortion as I remove the clay from the rest of the slab - as long as at least fifty percent of the perimeter is "free", you're pretty much good to go. I carefully remove the cut-out piece with the lace doily intact I'm ready to actually form the piece.

I've been using the Large Salad Bowl from Sasaki's Colorstone stoneware for these particular pieces - with great success. I gently "encourage" the slab down into the mold, shaping it to the sides as much as possible and minimizing the buckling of the clay. Once I've gotten the piece well into the mold, I use a very smooth river stone to further conform the slab to the mold paying particular attention to the upper edge of the bowl.

Frosted Melon Lotus Bowl
To make the form more interesting, I pinch each of the points - one finger on the top of the center of each point, two other fingers on either side underneath - to add a nice detail to the form as well as to help the unsupported points to stay somewhat "up". If the clay is too plastic, these points can slump badly. If this happens, the piece should be recycled, as this can cause failures in the piece that may not be visible until after glaze firing.

Unlike most of the other bowl forms - which should be dried slowly without a fan to minimize distortion, these pieces seem to dry well in front of a fan with minimal warping. Once they're dry, I use a fine synthetic steel wool to clean up the edges, and undesirable marks from the molding process on the underside, and to soften the lace impression on the inside. This last is very important, as a glaze will only enhance any sharp edges, making an otherwise inviting, tactile piece more than a bit uncomfortable.

For bisque firing, I've been able to stack at least two high - make sure to turn each piece in a stack one-twelfth of a rotation so the points are not on top of one another to reduce stresses during firing.

For glazing, first rinse the pieces to remove any dust generated during the clean-up process. I use a 2-ounce ladle to glaze the interior, grab the piece with a pair glaze tongs, turn it over, and ladle the glaze over the bottom. Because of the size and shape of these pieces, glazing can get a bit messy - always clean up your glazing area afterwards to reduce free silica in your workspace.

These pieces are glaze-fired on a large 10x15 stilt - smaller stilts can't take the weight of these pieces. I use a ceramic Dremel accessory to remove any irregularities caused by the stilts.

Because of the form of these pieces - especially the pinched tips, glaze effects are quite dramatic and pleasing. As a thank-you to Deb, I glazed a piece with Amaco's Potter's Choice Frosted Melon. I hope to give it to her at our next class.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Anniversary Sunflower

I did a post last year about a series of Deluxe Sunflowers I did for a show at the Grosse Pointe Art Association's "Word Play" show. I took a slab of clay and stamped it all over with the word "sunflower" and added some rosettes over where the ascenders ("f" and "l") rose into each line of text and used that to form the centers of three sunflowers - large, extra-large and ginormous - I was going to use to create the piece I called "What kind of flower *is* that?" It ended up being accepted for the show, a wonderful treat in a surprisingly successful year of submissions.

My friend Estela Boudreau sponsored a show of my work at her gallery in Grosse Pointe Woods, Galeria Mariposa, late last year, and we decided to feature those three sunflowers. Instead of hanging them as I had at the GPAA show, we thought it would be cool to display them on stakes, as I had at one of my garden tours. This necessitated the fabrication of a stable display stand to hold the stakes securely with no risk of tilting or any other movement.

I, of course, took this challenge to my very capable handyman, Keith Battjes, my go-to guy for everything from toilet back-ups to fashioning worktables for my studio. I hauled the three pieces and their respective stakes over to his shop and, over a couple of beers, we figured out what we needed to do. The stand was a complete success and Estela eventually purchased the three sunflowers with stakes for her "Wind Rise" retreat center near Metamora. I have the base in storage for the next similar project.

Fast forward to January 2012. My toilet has had a crisis. Keith comes to the rescue. He then asks about a sunflower as a gift for his wife for their upcoming 31st anniversary, recalling the sunflowers he had worked with previously. Luckily, he and his wife have relatively short names ("Diane" and "Keith") and, after ascertaining which name should "go on top" (his wife's of course!), I began the process of creating my first Anniversary Sunflower. Which Keith picked up today and put up in their kitchen this evening. What a wonderful project!

Please send out best wishes to Keith and Diane on their anniversary, this Sunday, February 19.