Friday, June 1, 2012

Deluxe Sunflowers: Starry Night

When I started working on new ideas for my Deluxe Sunflowers - designs in which I added clay to the base of the center of the sunflower, I was working with a basic set of tools consisting of a cake decorating set (which I used with rather thick slip, or liquid clay), numerous Kemper Tools Klay Kutters (plunger-style tools) and a Kemper Tools Mini Klay Gun, a mini extruder with a series of dies. I had used this last tool with one of its dies to make the "Pasta" Deluxe Sunflower design.

Years ago, I had experimented with some of the other dies in a series of sushi plates I made. I used the Sasaki Colorstone Stoneware Salad Plate as my "mold" for these giving them a gentle curve, cutting them in round, square and triangular forms. I used half-round, square and triangular extrusions from the Klay Gun to embellish these pieces. I hadn't used those dies since.

I rediscovered the triangular die as I as coming up with new ideas for the Deluxe Sunflowers. I initially used the die to create a new toadstool master, finding it interesting how the clay would curl as it was extruded. I made a new toadstool design consisting of arabesques to which the triangular extrusions seemed to lend themselves. This gave me the idea to do a similar design for a sunflower.

Unlike the "Cake", "Seed" and "Pasta" designs, in this case the center composition had to be completed before the petals were applied so it would completely fill (and even break the frame of) the flower's center. My first attempt was quite successful, actually, although I learned that it was best not to score the entire center surface, as most of it would not be covered by the design and the scoring marks could show through even after glazing; I wanted the center to be as clean as possible so the arabesques really stood out. I did, however, score the area where the petals would be applied so as to not disturbe the central design when I went on to next steps.

The best method I've come up with this technique is to make sure the clay surface is somewhat wet, so I do slip it initially and then spray with water as I work. Extruding a section of clay (fill the Klay Gun as full as possible, with highly plastic clay that will extrude easily; dry clay will tend to crack more easily), I work it into an arabesque, starting in the center of the flower. I work around the surface, well below where I think (based on experience) the petals will begin, even making "half circles" to imply the continuation of the design. For my first attempt, I just did the arabesques. Once the center is completed, slip and begin to apply petals, working from the largest on the outside, finishing with the third row of smallest petals.

I used my typical Amaco's Potters Choice Temmoku for the center. I can't get enough of this glaze 0 although it can look very different on different surfaces, I'm never unhappy with out it turns out, as the warm blackish-brown satin finish subtly plays up the surface without being distracting. I generally blot on three coats to get a really rich, opaque finish. I used Albany Slip Brown from the same glaze collection for the petals, a rich medium red-brown glaze that pools to a lighter orange - it's one of my students' favorite and mine.

Although I was very pleased with the result of my first attempt, after that piece sold and decided I made another, I felt it needed "something more", so I rolled out a thin slab of clay and cut out small circles, which I scattered throughout the composition, usually at the center of an arabesque or in the interstices between them. This is now the template for this design, as you see here.

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