Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wildflower Tiles Series I

Yellow Toad-shade
(Trillium luteum)
When I first started doing pottery, it was through the Grosse Pointe Community Education program, where I had the opportunity to work with Gene Pluhar. The pottery bug having bitten, I often went out to the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Association for classes during the summer, where I met Jan Sadowski. Later, after I moved out of the Grosse Pointe Public School System, coupled with the fact they changed the enrollment process for Gene's very popular classes and that I had not yet established my own studio, I started taking classes at Pewabic Pottery with Tom Gennette. The last class I took through Pewabic was a tile-making class with Dave McGee, a very talented artist who is employed as a designer with the pottery to this day.

Small Solomon's Seal
(Polygonatum biflorum)
Although I didn't actually turn out any "product" in Dave's class, I learned a lot about making tiles, everything behind applying basic theory (negative space is a no-no!) and basic techniques (water-to-plaster proportions in making molds). I've actually reconnected a bit with Dave recently and he continues to generously provide very useful techniques and advice, even to former students!

If I had to label 2012 as a particular "year" for Black Cat Pottery, it would have to be "The Year of the Tile". I created several series of tiles - including my Hot Pepper Tiles, Baby Bell Pepper Tiles, the first two Wildflower Tiles, two Native Leaf Tile designs, a Michigan Tile and two large-format (six-inch) Sweet Pepper Tiles, as well as returning to a large Sunflower Plaque design I worked on while taking Dave's Class.

Yellow Toad-shade (Trillium luteum) and
Small Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
Wildflower Tiles in Indigo Float
The Wildflower Tiles were inspired by Don Schulte's photographs of the wildflowers in my garden and were the first designs I wanted to tackle. I actually met with Don, first to secure his permission to use his copyrighted images as my inspiration. (I didn't think he would have a problem with me doing so - nor did he, but I felt it prudent to ask.) We also discussed various methods of "reproducing" his images, including relief tile designs, photo transfer and a combination of the two. Through our discussion, I realized I really wanted to reinterpret the images as relief tiles.

As I was just returning to the tile-making technique, I thought I should select relatively simple images, finally settling on Small Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and Yellow Toad-shade (Trillium luteum), both of which I have included above for your reference. I knew my tiles were not going to be "verbatim" reproductions of Don's images, nor did I want them to be; I wanted them to be stand-alone works in their own right. I tackled the Trillium image first, as the simplified masses seemed a good place to begin.

Yellow Toad-shade (Trillium luteum) and
Small Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
Wildflower Tiles in Vert Lustre
I started out by making a copy of the image the same size as the master tile and then blocked out the masses I wanted to include in the final design on the copy; I then made several copies of this "blocking" to work with in creating the design.

After rolling out a thick slab of clay, I used a six-inch tile cutter to cut out a correctly-sized square of lay on which to build up my design. (A six-inch tile cutter does not cut out a six-inch tile; it cuts out a tile of the correct size to end up roughly equivalent - depending on a given type of clay's rate of shrinkage - to a standard six-inch tile, which is actually less than six inches as it must allow for the grout around the tile when it is set into a design.)

Yellow Toad-shade (Trillium luteum) and
Small Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
Wildflower Tiles in Vert Lustre
Starting with the blocked section of the design for the leaves of the Yellow Toad-shade, I rolled out a thin slab of clay, overlaid the cut-out from the design and, at an angle, cut it out and then applied it to the slab and smoothed the join all around and corrected the edges. I then went back and followed the same process for the three petals and two sepals that were further back in the design, leaving the sepal at the forefront for last - how to handle its dimension was pretty perplexing still. I left the design for several days and returned to it, finally adding the last sepal.

Making the master is the most demanding part of making a tile. It is the part of the process the artist sweats over, because that's the design, that's what it's going to "be". Once it's finished, the process becomes pretty mechanical: making the mold; casting tile (after tile, after tile, after tile); drying the tiles; cleaning up the tiles; bisque firing the tiles; glazing the tiles; firing the tiles; selling the tiles (hopefully). I was very pleased with how these turned out and will be returning to the series this winter to create the next two designs.

1 comment:

marina jason said...

Amazing creativity. I love this. These tiles look good in the kitchen.
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