Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pillow Vases III: Lace

My Lace Bowls are some of the most popular pieces in my oeuvre. Their evolution started with a piece of lace I picked up at Michael's and used as one of the textures in my Original Sunflower series. The texture was fairly highly relieved and had a rich, tapestried quality.

I liked the results so much, it became one of the textures I selected for my Fancy Sunflower series, for which I employed some of the more highly-relieved surfaces I had used for my Original Sunflowers - important because I was going to glaze the centers and the designs needed to handle two to three glaze coats.

At about the same time, I was exploring textures with some bowl forms; many of the glazes in my palette are reactive glazes that break to different colors over deeply-relieved textures - I had noticed this characteristic on the test tiles I had made and on the glazed sunflowers I was producing. I started playing around with the idea of lace-textured bowls, buttons and wall art - a product line that has become quite successful and continues to evolve; I'm now experimenting with larger platter-type centerpieces using vintage and contemporary lace.

Once I started working on the Pillow Vase concept, it seemed obvious to use the lace texture again, as it had been so successful in other genres. The challenge here was that, rather than using the lace for the inside of the bowls, I was using it for the outside. Whereas I had easily turned out bowl after bowl using the same piece of lace - rolling out the slab, rolling in the lace, forming the lace slab into the bowl and peeling the lace away, then starting on another piece, I had to invert the process so the lace side of the slab went into the bowl first.

After much trial and error, I've developed a reliable process for these pieces, forming the slab bowl into the mold and roughly trimming, then setting to dry until the lace-covered clay releases. I peel the lace away, place the (still-plastic) clay back in the mold and, gently yet firmly, form it into the mold, especially at the lip, trim and score. I don't cut any holes until after I've removed the pieces from the mold. I select the half for which the lace design's center most closely conforms to the center of the bowl form and use that as the orientation for the finished vase's opening.

The pieces are slipped and joined; the join looks like a natural part of the design, forming a resolved part of the lace motif.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pillow Vases II: Rosette

One of the reasons I wanted to investigate the "Pillow Vase" concept was because I was interested in a mostly-closed form that could be very stable and hold a fair amount of water, minimizing the necessity for refilling the reservoir. I also thought it might be worthwhile to develop a form having a low profile, making it more functional as a dinner table centerpiece - something that wouldn't necessarily interfere with guests' eye contact with one another. I also liked the idea that, in the case of the vases with a single large opening, a pin frog could be used as desired but wouldn't be necessary; once could cut the stems short and fit them tightly into the opening. I also felt that the pieces should be able to stand alone - without flowers - as objects of beauty in and of themselves.

Once the vase sections have dried enough to release from the molds, they're ready for assembly. In the case of the Tiny vases with the multiple openings (much like an old-fashioned pansy vase), I use a Kemper 1/4" Hole Cutter to create an array of 17 holes in the top of the vase, as seen in the piece at the far left of the photo to the left, before assembly. The array is cut entirely freehand but I'm usually able to eyeball it fairly well. I often use a large loop tool to clean up the inside of the top after cutting the openings.

I slip all the pre-scored cut edges of the sections and join tops to bottoms, sandwiching them together. I use a combination of a fairly soft rubber kidney and a metal kidney to marry the pieces to one another. I use an elephant ear sponge to clean the join and work out any inconsistencies.

When I made my Lace, Embossed Leaf or Striped Bowls, I noticed that they would often warp. This is not a problem with these pieces as the two sections hold one another in tension - I have never had one warp (yet!) By using fairly consistent slab thicknesses and joining them firmly together, they seem to stay true to form.

If the pieces are going to be plain, I set them to dry. If I'll be decorating them, I may set them aside to dry some more if they're too plastic such that they may deform in the application process. It's a fine line between being firm enough to not distort and being too dry to take the decoration successfully.

The Rosette pieces are decorated with rosettes cut using Kemper Klay Kutters 5/8 inch "Basic Shapes" set. I either slip the vase's entire top surface or score and slip each individual rosette as I apply it. I apply two to three graduated circles around the center opening (three on all but the Tiny vase with the pansy vase opening). I then set the pieces to dry.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Pillow Vases I: Scrolls

One of the first things I did after my divorce was to go and purchase the tableware I had been looking at for years - a set of Colorstone stoneware dishes from Sasaki in a matte black finish. All of the pieces in this range are based on sections of variously-sized spheres - smaller spheres for the bowls, larger ones for the plates and platters. My idea was to have these very simple, elegant dishes for place settings and collect, over time, hand-made serving pieces; I thought the sophisticated spareness of the place settings would be a complement to a varied selection of handmade serving pieces, making for an interesting table for any occasion.

After I purchased the pieces, I started using them - directly and indirectly - in my pottery as molds. I used the salad plate to create my sushi plates and created molds from the coupe soup bowl to form my poppies and other pieces. I eventually invested in additional pieces (not always in the black) simply to use as molds in the studio, rather than constantly raiding my kitchen cupboards. I started using them to make Lace Bowls, then Embossed Leaf Bowls; I used molds I made from them for my Applied Leaf Bowls.

It was when I was making some Embossed Leaf Bowls that I started thinking about using these same forms for making Pillow Vases - mostly closed, pillow-like forms for flower arranging. I thought I could take two molded sections and marry them.

The great thing about this approach is that, while slab bowls can sometimes warp - the technique is generally less consistent than wheel-throwing, by putting two of them together, they hold one another in stasis, making for a piece that maintains a uniform shape.

To start the process, I roll out a slab of clay about 1/4" thick. I cut a circle appropriate to the size of the piece I'm doing and slump it into the mold. Using a damp sponge, I force the clay into the mold as consistently as possible. I also use a very smooth river stone for this step. Once the piece is consistently molded, I use sharp cutting tool to trim it down to the edge of the mold. (The Colorstone as a flat lip which makes this step really easy.) If I'm making a single large opening (which would allow the vase to take a pin frog) or a single small opening (suitable for an ikebana-type arrangement), I'll cut that out using either a cookie cutter or a 1/2" round Kemper Klay Kutter (only for one of the two sections, for the top). I also score the cut edge in anticipation of assembly. I set the pieces to dry - out in the sun in the summer; under the heat vent during winter - until they will release from the molds (which are not porous). In my next post, I'll describe assembling the basic vase.

For the Scrolled decoration, I use a Kemper Klay Gun with one of the round dies. I extrude a length of clay and fabricate three loose arabesques (the clay scrolled at either end with a straight section in the center - the length of these determined by the size of the vase I'm making - Large, Medium, Small or Tiny) and - using shorter lengths of clay - six tight arabesques. (When I first started working with these design elements, my application was much more varied, both in number of elements and relative placement; I found, in doing production, coming up with a consistently satisfying arrangement I can repeat with minimal variation was essential to my sanity.) I flip these over, score and slip them and then apply them to the vase so the three longer pieces almost meet one another over the vases surface and pairs of the smaller ones "bracket" each resulting intersection. I gently firm the to the vase's surface and allow then to dry.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Goth/Steampunk Pillow Vases

In developing a possible product line for the upcoming DetCon1, I thought it might be worthwhile to take some of my existing designs and revisit them with more of a Goth/Steampunk sensibility. For those of you who are unfamiliar with either of these aesthetics, "Goth" relates to a post-punk era subculture which draws upon influences from 19th-century Gothic literature (think Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, for example) and horror films, often characterized in popular culture through fashions reflecting Victorian styles, most often with dark clothing, make-up and hair styles. "Steampunk" is a sub-genre of science fiction typified by steam-powered machinery, particularly in a context inspired by early industrialized Western culture - especially the 19th century. Like the Goth aesthetic, Steampunk is inspired by the works of Mary Shelley, as well as those of Jules Vern and H.G. Wells.
Back in September, when my friend Sharon (who frequents these events and puts a great deal of effort into creating unique costumes for them) first suggested that this might be a new market for my work, I took some of the Pillow Vases I had already bisque-fired and tried the four metallic glazes in my repertoire. Metallic Black is a glaze recipe I was given by my first pottery teacher, Gene Pluhar. The other three glazes - Saturation Metallic, Saturation Gold and Palladium - are all from Amaco's Potter's Choice Series. With the exception of the Palladium glaze, all are food safe. For this reason, I never use the Palladium on any piece that might conceivably be used for food or beverage for any species - not just humans. I felt the Pillow Vases were a safe bet, though; I can't imagine someone deciding to use them for food service - in fact, I'm not sure they could!

I glazed up at least one of each style - Rosette, Lace, Frosted, Scrolls and Sea Urchin - in sizes ranging from Tiny to Medium. (I wasn't willing to take a risk with a Large Pillow Vase, as those are sufficiently demanding of materials and my effort that I didn't feel it necessary.) I got together with my best friend, Catherine, to celebrate her birthday with a nice meal out and brought the pieces with me for Show & Tell afterwards; I needed some feedback and Catherine has always been willing and able to provide me with useful insights regarding my work. Generally, she was favorable in her critique; she really liked how the Saturation Metallic and Saturation Gold glazes looked on the pieces, especially the Saturation Gold on the Sea Urchin Pillow Vase.

(The example I had for that was a Small Vase. She liked it so much, she showed me how she would display such a piece in her living room, making the observation that it would have to be much larger to work in that space; I later made her, especially, a Large Sea Urchin Pillow Vase in Saturation Gold and left it for her one time when I stopped by to surprise her.)

Catherine was less taken with the Metallic Black and Palladium glazes, although she did not reject them entirely, merely observing that they did not seem to work as well for the particular designs I was showing her as the Saturation Metallic and Saturation Gold examples. She also suggested that I might investigate doing some plain Pillow Vases - with no decoration at all; she felt those might show of the glazes to best advantage.

I decided to do a series of 24 Tiny Pillow Vases: four of each of the five existing designs plus four plain ones; I also varied the openings - the single small opening, or Ikebana vase; the larger single opening that could take a small pin frog; and the "built in" frog with an array of 17 openings for flower-arranging novices. (Being the obsessive-compulsive person that I am, I made sure that there would be an equal distribution of the three openings across the 24 vases and amongst the 6 designs and four glazes.)

I was very happy with the results, especially with the Saturation Metallic and Saturation Gold glazes. The pieces
glazed with Saturation Metallic looked particularly metallic, especially the plain Pillow Vase (see below, the vase farthest left). The experiment seems to confirm our initial determinations, that the Saturation Metallic and Saturation Gold glazes are both safe bets, with the other two glazes less successful but still acceptable. I'm looking for some additional glazes to try - I've been working with Coyote's Gun Metal Green and have some of their Bronze Temmoku to try. So, it will soon be time to glaze up some more pieces and see how they turn out.

As for the photo shoot, Don and I felt that we needed a different background for these pieces, rather than the wood slice we've used so successfully in the past. We concurred that something more "industrial" would be more appropriate. I found a piece of expanded metal in my store room, one side of which still had some black paint from a previous use. It turned out to be the perfect background for the Goth/Steampunk Pillow Vases and Lace Bowls, as well as for the masks I had done almost 20 years ago.