Sunday, December 16, 2012

Deluxe Sunflower: Spider

Many, many years ago - when I first started working with clay, I produced a huge series of masks which were featured in my first show at Planet Ant Coffee House (now Planet Ant Theatre) in Hamtramck, Michigan. I had the assistance of a good friend of mine, Jay, in hanging the show. In the course of the several  hours we were at work, he realized that the pieces were organizing themselves into three broad categories: Working Girls (The Four Seasons, The Furies, The Fates, etc.), Great Date Girls ("Three Graces for the Twentieth Century,""Too Cool for Color TV," etc.) and Girls Gone Wrong (several Medusas, Clytie, etc.) One of the pieces I had created which ended up in Girls Gone Wrong was of Arachne, the young woman who, as a result of her hubris in comparing the quality of her weaving with that of Athena, the goddess of weaving, was turned into a spider, who weaves every night, only to consume her web the next day in an endless cycle of creation and destruction. The Arachne I created had a spiderweb made up of extruded clay covering part of her face to allude to both her human and arachnid aspects, a process and outcome that was less than satisfactory as it was quite tedious and the results were not quite "up to snuff".

In the ongoing quest for cool things to do with clay in the context of my Deluxe Sunflower series, I was later reminded of various techniques used to create marbled papers and in slip decorations of ceramic wares. I wanted to see if I could do something with applied slip decoration in combination with a variation on feather-combing, revisiting the Arachne imagery in my Deluxe Sunflower series. This time I decided to use a combination of slip extruded from a pastry bag and a modified feather-combing technique.

Various Plain Round Cake Decorating Tips
When I first explored this idea, I prepared the center of the sunflower before applying the petals, humping the base slab over the mold and finding a rough center. With a pastry bag of rather thick slip with a small, plain round tip #6 (I use #12 for the "Bubbles" design), I traced concentric circles on center of the sunflower. I did not score the surface as the scoring would show through the glaze on the areas that did not have the pattern but I did slip the entire surface to increase the degree of adhesion, with varied results. Where the piping broke or didn't adhere, I used a small tool to "nudge" it back together or back into place.

Fine Detail Cut-out Tool
After I finished the circles, I used a very fine, sharp cutting tool to very gently draw through the slip and make very fine, straight lines radiating out from the center of the flower at regular intervals. In order to replicate the general appearance of a spider's web, I had to work out from the center and did so marking 180 degrees, then 90 degrees, then 45, then 22.5, eventually dividing the center into sixteen "pie slices" through the concentric circles of piped slip. Again, I used a small tool to nudge any slip back into place that had moved in the process. After I finished with the center, I applied three rows of petals.

If I do this pattern again, I would modify it in that I would apply the two outer layers of petals, fabricate the center, then add the last row of petals, as it would be easier to find and preserve the center of the design and I would also have an easier judging exactly how much of the center of the flower needed to be filled with the central motif.

As with all of the sunflowers in the Deluxe series, I glazed the center with Amaco Potter's Choice Temmoku; I used Smoked Sienna from the same series for the petals.

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