Sunday, December 23, 2012

Green Woman: Spring

Green Woman - Spring; Tia Nero
When I first started working with pottery, I had already had some studio art experience during my undergraduate days, when I did an Honors College project on lost-wax bronze casting. One of the pieces I made during that project was a mask of my boyfriend at the time, made from a plaster cast I had made after my friend Tim Mason showed me how. Although I am no longer with that boyfriend, I have kept the mask as it was actually quite successful

When I started the pottery in 1993, I soon returned to the mask motif, often influenced by my background in Art History and Archaeology. Natural motifs were also an important influence - as the offspring of a family of gardeners, plant themes and forms were a continual inspiration to me. I made some masks in which I pressed the clay into the mold, having placed leaves or flowers in it first; others involved applied decoration made using leaves. These last eventually evolved into my four-season series of Green Men and Women using leaves from native oak tree species and the faces of friends and acquaintances.

I wanted to retain a certain degree of botanical "truth" with these pieces, using seasonally-appropriate details and colors. I also wanted to have a certain degree of variety in the faces used, including gender, cultural background and overall features. The faces I enjoy working with most seem to have fairly balanced features, as well. There is also a definite synchronicity to my work, relating to everything from the leaves I associate with certain seasons to the stains and glazes I relate to different plants. This all comes into play with the Green Man and Woman faces.

When deciding which face to use for Spring, I found the delicacy of my friend Tia's features made for a rather fragile strength, which seemed to me perfect for the image of Spring. I opted for White Oak (Quercus alba) leaves stained in my own proprietary "Spring Green" Mason Stain (50% Titanium Yellow plus 50% Green-Ivy). I also decided to include a strategically-placed ladybug for a little additional color.

When creating these masks, I follow the same process for making the life cast and pulling the clay cast from it. I trim the back edge to get the desired "angle" for the way the face will hang and put holes for wire at about the point of the outside corner of each eye. Then, I roll out coils of clay for branches and, slipping and scoring these, apply them, wide end at the chin, framing the face, one usually ending above the eye on one side, the other up onto the forehead and over most of the brow. I join them together under the chin in a twisted "knot", making sure they will not pull away from the mask.

Detail of leaves.
Having selected a number of leaves (I try to use an odd number over all and select extras to allow for variations and to have a choice in the process), I roll out a relatively thin slab and, having removed the canvas surface with the flat edge of a metal kidney, roll them into the slab and cut them out with a very sharp tool. I try to have a range of sizes, keeping in mind that a smaller face needs smaller leaves overall. Having cut them all out, I start to play with arranging them on the branches on the face, working from largest at the bottom of the branches at the chin to smallest at the tip of the longer branch. Once I arrive at a satisfactory arrangement, I score, slip and attach them so larger leaves overlap smaller ones.

I sometimes use half-inch posts to support the leaves so they don't drop down to the plane of the kiln shelf on which I'm fabricating the piece, thereby minimizing the risk of breakage further on in the process. If I'm producing a number of these pieces, I'll often do so on large kiln shelves, creating two or three on a single shelf with an individual piece of newsprint under each one, so I can easily move them around without disturbing the individual pieces used to create a given work. I apply the leaves and branches so as to make sure the wire used to hang the piece will not be visible when it's completed.

Detail of Ladybug
I use four tools to make my ladybugs: a half-inch round Klay Kutter to cut the piece of clay out, which I then roll into an oval shape and then press lightly onto a flat surface to flatten the bottom; I use the curved end of a Kemper B-3 Clean-up Tool to make a line differentiating the head from the thorax; I use the back of a fettling knife to separate the back into the two wing cases; and I use the circular end of a small, inexpensive paint brush to put a spot on each wing case. I score and slip the underside and then attach to the mask.

After bisque firing, I apply water-based burnt umber solution to the "branches" and pull off the excess with a damp sponge. I then apply Spring Green Mason Stain to the leaves, following the same process. Three coats of Amaco Celebration Series Scarlet Red on the ladybug's thorax are followed by two coats of Amaco Sahara Black for the head and spots. Because there is no glaze on the piece except on the ladybug, it can be glaze fired on a clean, untreated shelf, to Cone 6.

I really enjoy these pieces, although they are a great deal of work, from collecting the leaves to the intricacies of the fabrication and glazing processes. I actually sold a set of four to one person who planned to hang them from the trees along her horse-back riding path - I thought that made for a great idea!

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