Sunday, April 15, 2012

Deluxe Sunfllower - Seed

My aesthetic as a potter is intimately connected to my vocation as a gardener and my interest in native plants and the environment at large. Even though some of my work does not seem to relate very closely to my other vocations (the lace bowls and tool caddies are clearly "outliers"), somewhere there is a relationship, however obscure or tenuous: the lace bowls were derived from the lace center of a sunflower; the first tool caddies featured embossed leaves.

Some of my work is much more closely allied - the sunflowers certainly are. And the first three Deluxe Sunflower designs I created - Pasta, Cake and (lastly) Seed - are all strongly reflective of their inspiration - the genus Helianthus in the family Asteraceae. Pasta and Cake are both more connected to the flower as it's blooming. Seed is inspired by the flower as it develops the resulting fruit. Seed is also the most painful - both mentally and physically - sunflower I make. (Little did I realize this would be the case when I first took the plunge; and now I'm trapped by how great these pieces turn out...!)

My desire was to recreate the patterning a sunflower develops as it goes to seed. I prepare the piece as I do for all my sunflowers - drape the clay slab over the mold and score the entire surface. (This is generally the rule for all the Deluxe Sunflowers where the entire center surface is covered with the applied texture; for those designs that don't have complete coverage, I have learned that any scored surface that is not covered by added clay will still be visible after glazing.) I then apply three rows of graduated petals. (For some designs, I only use two rows; for these more exhausting pieces, I always use three so I have a little less "real estate" to fill in the center.)

Once those have been applied in my usual manner (not being coy here; just don't want to repeat myself!), I roll out a relatively thin piece of clay and, using my Kemper Tools Clay Cutters, I start cutting out little disks of clay. (Lots and lots of little disks of clay. About 500 little disks of clay. Yes, I have counted them.) Then I roll every single little disk of clay into an oblong, sunflower-seed shape. (This is where it becomes more useful than usual to have a work-study person in the studio. Thank you, Barb!) I don't actually cut and roll out all the disks of clay in one go; it's never really certain how many I'll need (plus I'd go insane if I did).

Having cut out and formed a significant number of seeds, I slip the center of the sunflower and begin applying them, working from the outside in. And I keep applying concentric, ever-so-slowly shrinking circles of seeds to the center of the sunflower. (The entire seed manufacturing/applying activity is the mentally painful part of the process.) Until I finally get to the last one. It's important to pack them in closely and get good coverage. I then set the sunflower to dry until leather hard, when I pull it off the mold, apply a receptacle to take a copper fitting for a stake and make holes to take hanging wire. I then let the piece dry completely and fire to Cone 06.

Glazing consists of three coats of Amaco Potter's Choice Temmoku for the center, which I then wax resist to reduce errors and clean-up time. Then I pour Potter's Choice Deep Firebrick over the petals, top side first, then brushing on the back, always making sure everything that could be visible is covered. (This is the physically painful part of the process, as I have to support the piece with my left hand while pouring the glaze with my right - and this is one heavy piece!) The piece is fired to Cone 6.

Despite the pain and agony, I am always pleased with the results. The richness of the glazes really set off the complexity of the design. At the end of the day, it's worth it!

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