Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hanging Bird Bowl

Although my "first" love outdoors is probably the plants, it is tempered by the profound awareness they they are but one part (if, perhaps, the most critical part) of an overall web which includes the members of the animal kingdom. The relationships between plant and animal species are significant and, sometimes, exclusive, as the species evolved together in an intimate dance of interdependence. Every plant has at least *a* function in the natural world - the world in which it evolved - and often has many roles, none of which evolved for our particular benefit.

I am also profoundly aware of the degree to which we have altered the environment here in the continental United States, especially to the East of the Mississippi River, where less than five percent of the land mass can be characterized as "undeveloped". Just as our plant species have lost ground and, in some cases, have been extirpated from their native range, the animal species have suffered in turn, including everything from native insects through our birds and our mammals.

I am familiar with the fact that a bird will not get into a birdbath that is too deep for it. Furthermore, birds don't have pads like humans and many other mammals but must cling  solely with the help of their nails; sticking to a slippery glazed surface would not be an easy task. It was with an eye to providing something beautiful as well as highly functional that I designed my Hanging Bird Bowl to address both of these concerns.

Detail of Ladybug and Branch
I start out with a slab of clay which I slump into a mold, using an elephant-ear sponge and a rubber kidney to work it well in. I tear the edge of the clay bowl to create an irregular and naturalistic edge. Rolling out a coil of clay, I texturize it with a wooden tool or roll it on a textured surface to give it the appearance of bark as well as to give a more complex surface which will be easier for a bird to cling to. I then score and slip the coil and apply it to the bowl in an irregular, naturalistic fashion - smooth curves tend to look contrived whereas subtle bends seem to convey more the idea of a real wooden branch.

Rolling out another, thinner, slab of clay, I scrape away the canvas texture with the flat side of a metal kidney. I roll a large leaf into the clay and cut it out with a sharp tool. Scoring and slipping the underside of the leaf, I attach it to the bowl in such a way that it is cantilevered over the bowl, providing a secure perch for a bathing or drinking bird. (A small sponge or wad of newspaper can be used to prop a "floppy" leaf up until it dries sufficiently to stay in place on its own.)

Using a half-inch round Kemper Klay Kutter, I cut three holes in rim of the bowl, reserving one of the cut-outs to make a ladybug, as described in my previous post about the Spring Green Woman. AFter the piece is dried, I carefully sand the edges of the bowl and the leaf cout-out with synthetic steel wool so they are all smooth. (A sharp edge, once glazed, can become sharp enough to inflict a small cut.) The piece is then bisque fired.

Glazing is a seven step process. The "branch" is stained with Burnt Umber and the excess removed with a damp sponge. A Mason Stain of choice (in this case, Titanium Yellow) is applied to the leaf in the same manner. Three coats of Amaco Celebration Series Scarlet Red are applied to the ladybug's body and two coats of Amaco Sahara Black to the head and spots. Then the branch, leaf and ladybug are all coated with wax resist. Once that is completely dried, I glaze the entire bowl and fire on a stilt to Cone 6.

Detail of Branch and Lark's Head Knot
Once the piece is out of the kiln, I use a diamond grinding attachment to smooth the stilt marks on the bottom of the piece. (I could just as easily not glaze the bottom and not have to use stilts but, because the piece is designed to hang, I prefer to glaze the bottom as well.) Three five-foot lengths of leather lace (available in various colors, including Black, Beige, Tan, Medium Brown and Dark Brown, at Michael's stores) are folded in half and looped, one through each of the holes, and secured with a lark's-head knot. The three are joined together at their ends using an overhand knot. Your Hanging Bird Bowl is ready to hang from a small tree. Be sure to use a non-abrading hanging arrangement that will not injure the tree's cambium.

I also have a welder who makes custom-designed ring stands for these pieces for those folks who don't happen to have a convenient small tree.

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