Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Green Man: Winter

Green Man - Winter: Gene Pluhar
I think most of us have heard (or, perhaps, even used) the phrase "Old Man Winter". While the face I used for Winter in my Green Man/Woman series is not of what I would call and "old man", it is definitely the face of an "older" person, a quality further conveyed by the face's beard. I was able to acquire a facial cast of my first pottery teacher, Gene Pluhar, who - at the time (and likely still the case now, although I'm not certain) - had a full beard and mustache. I had originally planned to use his face for a wall fountain idea I had (and may someday return to) featuring a face of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. Using his face for Winter was a logical progression.

I used a couple of techniques to convey the sense of the coldest season in this mask. No ladybugs, obviously, and instead of having no acorns or immature or ripe acorns, I made some acorn caps to add to the tips of the three "branches". I made a small acorn nut, which I then fired and keep in a safe place (it's very easy to misplace) and I form the caps over it, as the wet clay will not stick to the still-porous bisque-fired "nut". The caps are carefully attached (remembering they can easily collapse if pinched too tightly) as the full acorns were attached in the Summer and Autumn masks, by gently scoring one section of the cap, slipping it and then attaching it securely.

Detail of acorn caps
When deciding where the branches go on all of these faces, I often use the mask's brow as a guide, using the branch to "echo" the eyebrow or the brow ridge. I usually only use two branches in these compositions - one on either side of the face, one of them arching up over the eyes onto the forehead - but because there are no leaves to "fill in" the Winter composition and it looks excessively bare with only two main branches, I decided to include an additional "sub-branch" to fill in some space high on the forehead. The placement of the branches in relation to the hanging holes is more critical in this design, as there are no leaves to further mask them; in this case, I used a cluster of acorn caps to help conceal the hanging hole and wire on the left side of the face, while a branch was sufficient on the right.

I also wanted to create the sense of "frostiness" on the face, including the facial hair (beard, mustache, eyebrows) and the upper surfaces of the branches and caps (frost usually hits the top side of an object first). In the first few iterations, I used Amaco Sierra High Fire Glaze White, but was not entirely satisfied with the results - they weren't quite "frosty" enough. In working with Crackle White raku glaze, I had learned that most white glazes are not at all opaque but are, rather, translucent, so that they pick up some of the color of the underlying clay body. Because I was using a reddish clay body (to give the faces some natural warmth), the white really wasn't coming up "white" but kind of pinkish.

Detail of eyebrow and branch
My eventual solution was to brush white stoneware slip on the places I would want to be frost after finishing fabricating the piece before it was dry. The downside of this is I must make some of my glazing decisions before the piece is even bisque fired, but it has worked well: the "frosty" areas actually look pretty white and... frosty!

Once again, I use Burnt Umber to stain the branch and caps. I am very careful in applying and sponging it off so as not to get it on the "frosted" portions; it's nearly impossible to remove all stray oxide should that occur, thereby minimizing the impact of the "frosting". (Additional white slip cannot be successfully applied to the piece after bisque firing - it will not adhere.) As with the other masks in this series, this piece can be glaze-fired on a raw, untreated shelf, as there is no glaze near the bottom edge to vitrify.

Although it took a few years and several experiments to get this design "right", I've been very happy with my solution to the "frostiness" issue and, having resolved that issue satisfactorily, I later went on to create one piece incorporating aspects of all four seasons.

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