Sunday, October 25, 2015

Leaf Serving Pieces II: Tiles/Trivets

Six-inch Silver Maple
Back when I first started making Spoon Rests, I also made complementary Tiles/Trivets to go with them. These were flat pieces with embossed leaves - like the Spoon Rests -  that could either be used flat to protect your table from a hot or damp dish or hung on the wall as a decoration. (As I've said for years, I grew up with a very rigid and controlling family; I'm still rebelling by being as versatile and flexible in my art as possible....) When I first started making these, since I had not yet taken a tile class and so had not learned how to make and use tile molds, I would work directly from a clay slab.

Six-inch Eastern Redbud
Rolling out a half-inch-thick slab of clay on the slab roller, I would scrape the canvas texture away with the flat side of a metal kidney (sometimes following this up with a quick roll with my rolling pin), place a leaf (vein side down on the clay - this is very important) on the smooth surface and roll the leaf into it. Using my six-inch tile cutter, I'd cut around the leaf to make the tile/trivet.
Six-inch Eastern Cottonwood

The difficulty was getting a good clean release from the tile cutter. All too often, the clay would stick on part of the device and release unevenly, warping the tile/trivet in the process. Since I hadn't learned about using scrap drywall to dry my flat pieces more evenly (even stacking dry wall with more tiles or other work on top, in a tower of tiles and other pottery), the warping might not be corrected as the piece dried and was bisque and glaze fired; clay has memory and, sometimes, it can be pretty tenacious. I sold quite a few of those pieces - both individually and in sets with a spoon rest - but I was never completely happy with them. I finally stopped making them.
Eight-inch Northern Catalpa

Fast forward a few years and my Hanging Bird Bowls have evolved into, among other things, Applied Leaf Bowls and, earlier this year, Applied Leaf Trays. (I'll be doing posts on those shortly.) On the advice of my mentor, I decided to put additional pieces to assemble a comprehensive series for serving use at the dining or buffet table. Reviving the Spoon Rests and Trivets seemed obvious.

Eight-inch Common Witch-hazel
In the interim, I had taken a tile-making class with David McGee at Pewabic Pottery. (David is an excellent instructor as well as a uniquely talented artist in his own right. I would encourage anyone interested in learning about pottery in general or in tile making specifically to take at least one class with him.) I learned how to design master tiles as well as how to make molds of those masters in order to take a design into production.

Eight-inch White Oak
The challenge with these sorts of leaf designs is that, if you were to make a mold of an embossed leaf tile, the design is so subtle and has so little relief that, in pounding out the tile, you get "echoes" of the leaf rather than a clear image, which doesn't make for a particularly satisfying design. So, I've made a blank master mold and place a leaf into the mold (in this case, vein side up so it will be against the clay surface) each time I make a piece. The down side is that, for some leaves, you can only get one impression; the up side is that, even if you can re-use the leaf, each piece is unique as recreating the exact placement is essentially impossible. I insert hanging divots in three places in the back of the Tile/Trivet so the leaf can hang either square (with the leaf's tip pointing to the upper right or the upper left) or as a diamond (with the leaf tip pointing upward).

Once dried, cleaned up and bisque fired, the pieces are finished in my typical fashion, using a water-based stain on the leaf and drawing the excess off with a damp sponge to bring up the veins. Wax resist is applied to the leaf (I also use it on the backs of my tiles - it's just easier for me to do that rather than clean off glaze) and allowed to cure. I then glaze the piece, wiping the edges so they don't drip. I fire to Cone 6 with a 40-minute hold. The Tiles/Trivets are food safe and heatproof.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Leaf Serving Pieces I: Spoon Rest

Silver Maple Spoon Rest
It's been almost a year-and-a-half since my last post. My apologies for my long-term absence; it's been a tough time but I'm starting to get back to my normal. So, I thought I'd just plunge back in and start with a blog post. Finally.

Northern Catalpa Spoon Rest
I've been working on a series of pieces for a wholesale website and, in the process, returning to some (very) old designs as well as taking some more recent ones to a new level. I've been developing a collection of serving pieces based on my Applied Leaf Bowls and, in that context, revisiting some pieces I had stopped producing, having realized they worked well with my new direction.

Eastern Redbud Spoon Rest
Common Witch-hazel Spoon Rest
The spoon rests are one of my earliest leaf pieces, inspired by my friend Rebecca who asked for something she could use on her stovetop. I had been using leaves fired with a stain to bring up the texture of the veins but she wanted something with some glaze and a more consistent shape. I came up with a pie-piece (actually, about 120 degrees, or a third of a circle) that I formed it into one of my small bowl molds, embossed a leaf into it and added a small clay branch. The key is to make sure any canvas texture is smoothed away from the surface before embossing the leaf; emboss the leaf with a smooth stone rather than a sponge, which would pull clay away from the surface and not push the leaf into the clay surface consistently.
Eastern Cottonwood Spoon Rest

After drying, the piece is cleaned up (synthetic steel wool is great for this; I save the accumulated clay dust and recycle it with the rest of my waste clay) and bisque fired to Cone 04 or 06.

White Oak Spoon Rest
Glazing follows the same process I use for all of my leaf and branch pieces. I use burnt umber solution to stain the branch, pulling the excess away with a damp sponge. Then I stain the leaf (I have a "key" I've developed that tells me which stain and glaze combination is used with a given type of leaf) and, again, pull the excess away with a damp sponge to bring up the leaf's veins. Both surfaces are treated with wax resist and, after curing for several hours, dipped in the appropriate glaze. I fire on stilts to Cone 6 with a 40-minute hold.

Although designed as spoon rests, they also work as soap dishes, change stashes, jewelry dishes, tea-bag rests and candle holders. All are food safe and can go in the dishwasher.