Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Green Woman: Autumn

Green Woman - Autumn: Cheryl M. English
Although I seldom use my face in my work, I decided to use it for the "Autumn" mask in the Green Man/ Woman series because the scale is similar to that of the face used for Spring (my friend Tia Nero) and I really like the Fall palette of colors - I am definitely a "Fall" in terms of my coloring, so I suppose there's a certain degree of synchronicity at work here as well.

One issue with the mold for my face - it has deteriorated a lot in the last 15-plus years and I can't make another. In that time, I have developed a sufficiently severe case of asthma that I am no longer comfortable having my entire face encased in plaster, forcing me to breathe solely through two straws inserted in my nose, although I'm entirely capable of breathing exclusively through my nose under "normal" circumstances. My friend Catherine tried twice to make a new cast and, after our second attempt, swore she was never going through that again! The cast I have is the cast I have, despite its decline; I've simply learned some strategies to minimize the evidence of its deterioration.

Detail of "knot" at base of chin
For the Autumn mask in the Green Man/Woman series, I decided to use Red Oak (Quercus rubra) leaves, to play on their relatively intense Fall color. I follow my general routine in preparing the mask in terms of casting, cleaning up and making holes for hanging the mask once complete. You'll notice on a lot of these that the portion of the mask above the forehead is often roughly broken or torn, in keeping with the naturalistic aesthetic I follow in much of my work, in which I try not to "overwork" the clay; I am, however, very careful to make sure the sides of the face and the chin are trimmed in such a way that they should lay roughly flat against the wall (or other surface).

I prepare the branches, rolling out coils and adding texture, then affixing them to the mask with a "knot" where they are joined under the chin. I find the pad of my thumb or one of my fingers is effective in not only making the final "join" for this step but also make for a very naturalistic appearance; I have often been asked how I put the "wood" on the clay, so I am successfully conveying the "idea" of an actual wooden branch in the pieces in which I use this technique. (Some folks react to the manner in which I drape my clay in some designs by thinking I must be working with leather!)

Detail of acorns
I select, fabricate and apply the leaves as in the other Green Man/Woman masks, using Red Oak leaves I easily find in my Detroit neighborhood. (Quercus rubra was one of the five trees the city used as street trees before the onslaught of the Emerald Ash Borer essentially extirpated all the ash trees in the city; now they are planting a greater variety of trees in a more random arrangement, rather than having whole streets plante with an arboricultural monoculture.) These can be a little tough to work with in the glazing process with their pointed lobes but I think, between their form and color I use to stain them, that they make an excellent contrast to the White Oak (Quercus alba) and Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) leaves I use for Spring and Summer (respectively).

For the acorns, I use the same process as I use for the "immature acorns" I make for the Summer mask, just making the actual nut a bit larger to convey its maturity and proximity to ripeness. The acorns are plump and the caps don't fold down around the "nut" as much in the Summer acorns. They are fabricated and attached in exactly the same manner, just using more clay for the "nut". 
Detail of ladybug

I also usually include a ladybug on these pieces as the ladybugs are still active well into the Autumn. I also really like the contrast between the glossy glaze I use for the ladybug and the matte finish on the rest of thee pieces, including the untouched clay of the faces, which can show every "blemish" and "imperfection", which I think only serves to make these pieces even more visually interesting. I do admit to following some of the 17th century in placing the ladybug, such that it fulfills the role of a strategically placed "beauty mark".

Once the piece is bisque fired, I finish as with the other masks, using Hazelnut Mason Stain instead of Spring Green or Green-Ivy on the leaves. I like the warm reddish quality to this stain, which makes a great complement to the greens of Spring and Summer and the even more subdued palette I use for the final, Winter, mask in the series.

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