April 24, 2014

A Tilt in the Pottery

The last group of small pinch and coiled lidded vessels I pit fired all have asymmetry in common. The lids rest on them like a tam pulled at an angle on a sporty person’s head. In order to prevent these from slipping off the vessel they are cut at a forty-five degree angle, as is the lip of the vessel. The vessel at top with the unusual spiral lid was fashioned using a mold made from a small conch shell. It was the first time I had used this mold and I like the results. I’ll make more. All of these have been painstakingly burnished with terra sigillata.

April 23, 2014

Thinking of George Orr While Making Pinch Pots

A potter whose work I much admire was George Orr. Much of my own work is complex and requires several steps and assembly of myriad parts to complete. But looking at George Orr’s subtly altered wheel thrown pots reminds me how evocative a streamlined minimally embellished form can be. Although my ceramic vessels are all pinch and coiled pots, I took inspiration for my recent set of these from Mr. Orr. Some of my pinch pots were rounded and traditional but others were slightly altered into oblong shapes that veered to the right or left. One of these had just barely noticeable feet carved seamlessly onto the base. The one shown at top was made from the bottom piece of clay that had fallen out of the vessel posted in my previous blog. It was just enough clay to yield a small pinch pot. I treated the surface with a terra sigillata glaze that I made from pigment that was harvested from the Tarne Gorges in the South of France - local clay with a touch of France in it! The altered pinch pot at right was made with the last bit of buff colored stoneware I had remaining at the bottom of a barrel - also just enough to make a small vessel. Both of these came out of my recent pit fire.

April 22, 2014

The Mistress of Mishaps

The tall lidded vessel above and the smaller vase at right are both the results of intents gone awry. They are also the products of my penchant for rescue and adaptation of my accidents. Both were labor intensive to create so the inspiration was strong to press on and finish them despite some set backs that required alterations.


The design on these vessels was created by rolling an old railroad spike across a slab of clay then folding the slab around and sealing it into a slightly oblong tube. This was then attached to a pinched and coiled base.

After completing the large vessel I tooled and sanded it until the design was smooth and crisp. The lid was fashioned by hand using the pinch and attachment methods. I went to bed that night with dreams of applying a sumptuous color to this piece that would emphasize the spiral design. When I visited my vessel the following morning, however, I discovered to my dismay that the bottom had dried too fast and had separated from the rest of the piece. What to do? At least the bottom had split off in one evenly rounded piece so I could melt that down and sand smooth the bottom edge of the vessel. Standing on its edge it was not even noticeable that it had no bottom.

I made a flat round tile with a perimeter slightly larger than the vessel for it to rest on so it would have a more finished look. Then an idea occurred to me. I recalled Matrushka dolls that fit one inside the other. Could I make a Matrushka Vase - a smaller one resting on the base inside the larger one? It was a crazy idea - to spend time making a smaller vase that wouldn’t even be seen. But I could not resist trying. It took some time and many adjustments in order to make a vase that would just fit inside the larger one but I managed to do it.
The pieces were finished with terra sigillata, burnished, bisque fired, then smoke fired. Would one still fit inside the other? It did not. Perhaps some unforeseen warping or some unanticipated further shrinking after the bisque firing made the vessels not quite dovetail. And I chipped the smaller vase when I attempted to fit them again. What to do?

After carefully considering the design of the smaller vase I decided that the lip was large enough to sand down to a smaller diameter without affecting the overall shape. After that I carefully sanded down the indented wave designs as well. To both the rim and the indentations I applied composition copper and brass leaf along with touches of acrylic iridescent copper. I thought that this brought out the parts of the vase that had reddened bits of reduced copper carbonate that looked like slashes of bright copper pennies. Call me the Mistress of Mishaps but I think that these were good rescues.

April 21, 2014

A Pot Outside It's Comfort Zone

The blue lidded vessel above is special. It was made for a solemn purpose and tested in the hottest part of the pit fire. For some months I had been experimenting with making a container just the right size and shape for a departed friend’s ashes. The first vessels were too small. The next vessel was too large. This one was just about right but almost did not come into being.


One of the things that made this vessel special is that I went together with the widow into a nearby woods to harvest the clay from which it was made. The clay came directly from a river bank. We carved out a good amount and hoisted it up the side of the bank. It took a few weeks to process the clay and a few months to let it age properly to increase its plasticity.

Last week I finally got around to making the lidded vessel from the clay. It was a white clay that fired to a buff pink color. I decorated the surface with blue and green terra sigillata and burnished it smooth with a stone. After the first firing I noticed that some of the glaze had delaminated off of the lower half of the vessel. I had already started the pit fire and had to leave this vessel out anyway because it would not fit (save the lid) into my makeshift metal container inside the pit. But I decided to try something different with this vessel. I sanded down the delaminated parts of the glaze to expose the clay body. I then wrapped the pot in a layer of Spanish Moss and with the help of a long crooked stick, lowered it directly into the fire. Smothering the fire with the rest of the Spanish moss, I said a potter’s prayer.

The next morning I opened the pit kiln and found to my surprise that the pot had survived the hot spot in the fire. Not only had it survived, the Spanish moss had burned a nice design onto the surface.

Another minor but fortuitous accident was that I found after delivering this gem to the widow that it matched the colors in her couch and rug. The vessel may not be a repository for my neighbor’s remains after all but at least it rests in a good place and stands as a memorial nevertheless.

April 20, 2014

Pit Firing Like Easter Egg Hunts

There has more than an appreciable distance between my blog entries these days. It was due to a hiatus in creating art work then creating art that was time consuming and with several steps involved in completion. I left off my drawing and painting for a while to work on ceramics for another pit firing. These involve several steps: forming the vessels and musical instruments, scraping the vessels, sanding the vessels, low bisque firing of the vessels, smoke firing, then cleaning and polishing. So unlike my two dimensional work, which can be completed and posted often at the rate of one a day, the ceramics take a long time but then are all ready all at once.




This last run of pit fired vessels showed some promise, although not everything made it through unscathed. I celebrated the former and used the latter to experiment with. Many of the lidded vessels that I made for the pit firing reminded me of the pastel hues of Easter eggs and spring flowers. So Easter Sunday seemed like the best time to post them. In order to make these hues I used my velvet underglaze colors mixed with a painting terra sigillata medium. Before firing, I added copper carbonate mixed with sea salt. The copper carbonate reduced in the firing to make some iridescent splashes of red - just what I was hoping for.



With this firing, my collection of buff stoneware clay and locally harvested clay is completely used up. I’ve a bit of red stoneware clay to use for the next pit firing, then some porcelain. After that its on to my accumulated earthenware. Nice to have a few empty containers to use.

April 7, 2014

Garden Cultivator Cat Revisited and Revised

I am working on two fronts. Revising illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats, and slowly using up my supply of locally mined and reconstituted clay. There is just one lump of this clay remaining. The cat illustrations will take a while yet to revise if I go through my entire collection.

The cat illustration I have posted above is my recently completed revision of the Garden Cultivator Cat. I’ve attached the original smaller version at right. For this remake I didn’t have to change much in the composition because I liked the original. The larger format however, did allow me to sharpen the details and add an interesting arch to the composition.

April 2, 2014

Small Works/Big Undertaking and a Grant from the South Carolina State Arts Commission

My recent exhibition of Small Works was taken down yesterday, packed up and delivered. Many thanks are due to Lee Malerich and her husband Glenn for hanging the exhibition and for packing it up again in short order. I am also very grateful to Beth Thomas for all her help with this exhibition and to Julia Quick for gratuitously providing the live music for my opening exhibition. I would also like to thank the South Carolina State Arts Commission for supplying matching funds for this exhibition. It really came in handy and added that official stamp of approval that went beyond the cash award. Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina and by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts.

I’ve pictured at right my ocarina made from local clay and pit fired

March 17, 2014

Slapping Onself Silly Over Medicine

I made a painting of a cat with its arms and legs a tangle of movements. I thought that I had been influenced by Picasso and perhaps was. But after having developed vocal and motor tics with my present illness I realize that to an extent it was a self portrait. Even the nervous miniature paintings around the perimeter of the painting are about movement. They were meant to represent the fly that the cat is attempting to catch.


The irony is that as I was on the cusp of being sent to a movement disorder clinic to try yet another medication I decided to check the medication I am already on, doing a thorough search this time for an extended list of possible side effects. Sure enough, involuntary movements was on the list. Pays to check carefully.

March 7, 2014

Revisioning the Cat Book

With a commission completed and no more scheduled and an exhibition nearing a close, I am about to draw and paint for myself for a while. Yet as I was about to slosh around in acrylics I remembered that there was one more work in progress that could use some attention: The Small Book of Marvelous Cats. What was needed was two more illustrations for the last two unpictured rhymes and the updated version of the first draft of the book. The first draft became a first draft after I started illustrating a new batch of rhymes for the cat with pictures that were twice as large as the former ones and much more detailed. After much hesitation because I knew that it would entail a lot of work, I decided to bring the first group of illustrations up to the level of the second.

Above is the first attempt at a redo. The illustration at right is the original one for the poem “Little Cat up a Tree.” The first one was adequate but the second version is definitely more refined and detailed. Something else changed in the remake. The first drawing is from the perspective of a person observing a small cat up in a tree. The second rendering seems to be more from the perspective of the cat looking downwards.

March 6, 2014

A Painted Box

A commissioned art work is always a challenge. An artist’s artistic abilities are tempered by a client’s need for a particular kind of interior decoration. I don’t mind at all tailoring my painting or mosaics to suit a particular location. It is certainly different, however, from painting freely in the studio. Technical considerations often come up which create a need to learn a few new skills. A client’s tastes and interior decor are factored in as well.


I recently completed a painted box that is to be displayed on a mantel underneath a reproduction of a Piranesi. I didn’t look at my client’s Piranesi print and perhaps I should have, because for some reason although he said “Piranesi” my brain heard “Nicolas Poussin.” Images such as the painting reproduced here danced in my head: dark shapes against a turquoise blue sky. Piranesi, conversely, was more famed for his black and white etchings. Nevertheless, my painting was influenced by classical traditions and hopefully will look just as well beneath a Piranesi as it would have with a Poussin.

My client was interested in a box painted with images of birds and flowers. He is a bright and discerning fellow, with a formidable musical career as scholar, educator, and performer. For this reason I made two mock up studies in acrylic on a long piece of paper that would wrap around the box so he could see what it would look like and have personal input into the aesthetic process. My first painting study was basically a dark on light design. But my second design was based on my visions of the wrong painter, Piranesi, and was dark on light. Good thing I made a second version because that was the one my client chose.

Making the box was somewhat problematic. The top was made from picture molding and the rest from hand crafted poplar. I didn’t have the equipment or skills to create it so I had to find a picture framing willing to take the trouble on. No one wanted to do it. I finally found someone in Charleston willing to make a lid with a matching box because after conversing with him for some time we found that we had attended the same graduate school in New York and knew the same people. Connections and New York “bonding” always come in handy.

The box arrived from Charleston and although well crafted, needed something more in the way of finish. Once again, it turned out to be a wise choice to have my client look it over before I painted it. We decided that the interior needed to be refinished and painted, the inside lip and base sanded and coated with shellac. A final addition was four squares of vitreous glass on the base to raise the bottom of the box.

Before painting the box, I had to finish each side in the traditional way that icons were prepared - several coats of rabbit skin glue followed by several coats of cooked marble dust gesso - applied hot, then cooled and sanded between coats. Because it was a box instead of a flat panel, each side had to be prepared, dried, then turned to do the next side. The process made me recall why I had stopped making painted boxes some years ago. The final step was to seal the gesso with my home made ruby shellac - which added a nice golden glow to the gesso. My client approved of the as yet finished but unpainted box.

For subject matter, I chose images of wildflowers that were local to South Carolina as well as Carolina wrens. The wrens, however, I painted more gold than brown so that they looked a bit more like canaries - more in keeping with Piranesi. I used some rather pricey colors on this painted box; real lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite green and sedona. This made the overall effect jewel-like and very much like a classical painting. The nice thing about painting small on a slick surface is that expensive pigments go a long way.

The commission finished, I can now turn to my haphazard, whatever inspires me art work.