Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Magic of the Kiln

                                                            There are two exciting times for me in the wonderful world of ceramics.The first is the actual creative process, where I am  taking raw clay and creating the shape I desire. The second comes here, as I am unloading the shelves in my kiln. This is one of my large porcelain bowls. The turquoise glaze  turned out just as I had hoped, which is success for me. 
 There is always that element of surprise when playing with clay. First of all is the actual clay itself. I use porcelain, which can be temperamental. Is there a hidden crack that I failed to see? Did the glaze run because I applied it  too thick? Is there a  bare spot because it was too thin? You would think after all these years I would know what to expect, but it is always with baited breath I crack the lid and peer in. Then there are the Kiln Gods to contend with. Don't laugh. We don't see them. We can't touch them, but they can change your firing depending on their moods. Fortunately, they were happy and smiled down on me today.
 You can see here I fire with electricity rather than gas.  
 I love my kiln. It is old, fires manually with cones rather than a computer, and I wouldn't change it for anything. I recently had to replace all these elements you see on the sides.That was a challenge taking them out,  putting in the new ones in and connecting them correctly. Fortunately, I had help from a fellow craftsman.
 I fire a lot and to a high temperature to achieve these colors. That is 1360 centigrade, for my European readers, which translates to  2480 for we Americans.So there is the technical side to all of this. There is also the magic.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Ceramic Mug

                                                 Well, in the last blog I was siting at the potters wheel. These two photos  are examples of what I created out of that basic cylinder form.The top shot is the rounded, carved out mountain mug. The shot below shows the actual indentations of my fingers in the basic shape. I think I do like it that the marks of my fingers are so apparent in the finished product. "Made by hand" has a whole new definition and feeling to me. 
 A long time ago I made a lot of mugs. They were a sure seller, albeit not so exciting to me as  a  sculpture. I stopped making them for a while, not wanting  to follow that path any more. Then I changed my mind. An artist friend tells me that any functional object we create deserves to be  as excellent as we can possible achieve. I agree.
 I started refining my shapes; the designs; adding a lighter glaze interior.The turquoise outer glaze always works best on  porcelain.Using that clay is a lot like playing with butter, easier on toast I assure you.However, the end results seem worth it to me. The vibrant colors and the smooth texture. 
When I am in the gallery, I have encountered people from all over who collect handmade mugs. Used for coffee, tea, or just to feel the handmade drinking vessel, no matter what it contains. Often it is a memory of where they visited. I like that . It is my desire to take the functional, and make it beautiful and joyful for the hand holding it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Art of the Potter's Wheel

Here I am at my pottery wheel. It has been a while since I have sat down to throw. That is what you call it, throwing the clay. 
Starting with a lump of clay, as the wheel turns, my fingers pull the clay up from inside. I balance with my other hand on the outside. I am always pulling upward. Not quite as simple as it sounds. It is usual to start with the cylinder shape, as in this photo. Then I can use my hand or a tool inside to flare it out.This will be one of my mugs. 
They are  a challenge. My mugs are very labor intensive, including  the handle, hand carving, and dual glazing.   However people like them, and it is good  to sell.
I am known for making  ceramic bowls, masks, and sculpture by hand, using the smooth, white, porcelain clay I favor. However I like to throw when I am centered, and the clay and I are one.
 This week, it was time to pull out my Shimpo wheel. Except for replacing the bearings a long time ago, this wheel is so well made that it just "keeps on keeping on".
 I bought it second hand  back in the late 1970's, when I lived in Venice California. It cost a lot for  me at the time, but it certainly has been my friend. I like to buy the very best in art equipment and tools that I can afford.Clean and repair is my motto, and my preference. 
For certain symmetrical shapes, there is nothing like using the potter's wheel. It all starts here, with the basic cylinder. From there comes the rest of the art. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mask Magic

I think there is some nice mask magic surrounding me.
Recently, I hadn't been selling very much.That can send me  into my head, where I tell myself stories without happy endings. Often a gallery will call or email about a sale in order for me to  replace the item. Ceramic masks, decorated with yarn,feathers, or  fur. 
 I came home to find a phone message.My large mask sold in  Tlaquepaque, an intriguing gallery  area here in Sedona. Could I bring in some replacements? Delicious to sell  what I  am proud of!  Fortunately I had just finished two new,  large clay pieces,  each measuring about 14 " with  lots of tall feathers. I was covered! I always like to have something already made to replace a sold item. Fill the space and avoid that panic feeling.
 When  I went to my computer a message appeared about a sale of, you guessed it, a mask. Wow, this was  a nice way to start a Monday. On Tuesday afternoon came a call from Jerome about the sale of another miniature mask.I created this small piece, entitled " Fur Mask", to have for a replacement, just in case.
Three masks, three days. What are the odds? Mere coincidence? All I can figure is that it is  some sort of swirling energy. I choose to call it magic.
Now I get to return to my clay studio and create, well of course, new ceramic masks!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Long Stitch Book

Here I am back in the wonderful world of handmade books . This long stitch book was used by clerics and travelers alike as early as the 14th century.
I chose to use leather for my cover, but paper or cloth also work well. The  soft outside  allows the book to open flat, making the signatures inside easy to write or sketch upon. A signature is a gathering of pages sewn together and then bound in some form to the spine. Historically,it was one page folded in four, or its multiples, and then bound together.That was for printing purposes. A book buyer would then have to cut those folded pages.
Today we choose how may pages to include. 
I chose three sheets, folded in half, nestled one inside the other, thus creating creating six pages. This book has six signatures, i. e. thirty six pages. I had to measure and hand punch each hole in the leather in order to get my linen thread through.Each grouping then connects to the next, making it a solid book.
I chose a handmade button and cut a long strip out of the leather to create a thong to hold it together. I have seen historical examples like this. Along the spine, I added three beads for ornamentation and a bit of color.
This style feels good to me. I want to create another long stitch book.