December 29, 2013

Messages Not in Every Bottle

Not everything requires a verbal message, I said to myself as I finished up my painting series, “Messages in Bottles.” After painting single bottles with messages, I had started painting multiple bottles with complex prints and messages. The last two of these were painted in bright color triads of red, blue and yellow, one of which is featured below. The painting at the top was the last in my series. For this one, I used only stamps that were designs and not actual language, although they have an ideographic look The central stamp on this orange bottle was influenced by my recent readings of ancient Chinese bronze vessels. Despite the fact that it doesn’t have a particular meaning it became one of my favorite stamps and I used it in other works as well. It had an appearance of some kind of ancient bird deity with a pleasing streamlined design.


My original intention for this series of acrylic paintings was a pragmatic one. I was using up an old box of recycled frames. But as these things usually pan out, I ran out of frames before my ideas were exhausted. So I started removing old drawings from frames, putting them into folios, and re-using those frames as well.

After the bottle paintings I counted up the works for my “Small Works” exhibition and they came to over 75, with ten more in progress. This changed my concept for hanging the exhibition. Many of the works will now be in constellation groups, installation style. But more of that later.

December 27, 2013

The Women of Tunisia


During World War Two, my father served on a destroyer escort. His ship made stops in numerous ports around the world. Fortunately my father kept a photo journal of this trip, documenting life on board the ship, as well as what he saw in each port. I’ve always loved black and white photography and I was fascinated by the discovery of my father’s journal three years ago. What pleased me were the numerous well composed pictures that were little gems of life in Europe and North Africa during the war years. My father took them with an artist’s eye.


Unfortunately these photos were in very bad repair. There may have been dust on the lens or on the negatives because the photos were all snow storms of little white dots and full of scratches. Or perhaps they were just not appreciated at the time and as a consequence not well preserved.

One of the tasks I set myself for the upcoming year was to restore at least a sampling of these photos and print them on archival paper. This is a truly time consuming labor of love but I think will be worth the effort. It may even be somewhat therapeutic to work meticulously on these photographs, removing the dots and scratches in what is most assuredly glacial progress.

The photographs I have been working on are if TIFF files so the jpg printed above is in the unrestored condition. But the gist of the composition can certainly be gleaned from it. The photograph was taken in Tunisia circa 1945 and features three French women in a flower shop. The third woman hiding behind the plant was not revealed to me until closer scrutiny of the photograph in photoshop. Was she hiding from the photographer? Only the self-conscious grin remained visible in her mostly obscured face. I love this photograph not only because of the linear composition and the beautiful arrangement but because of the three women and their three different gazes - one gazing modestly downward, the other boldly facing the photographer, and the third a curiously anonymous smile.

December 26, 2013

Righteousness in a Bottle

Some small paintings, although diminutive, evoke a sense of largeness. That wasn’t my intent for most of my recent paintings of small bottles with imprints of Chinese character on them. But the painting of the last vessel with the imprint of the word for “Righteousness,” ended up seeming larger than its actual dimensions. Perhaps it was my reaction to the large meaning of the word “righteousness.” The etiology of the word for “righteousness” is an interesting compound, or logical aggregate. It is a combination of the word for “I” or “myself” and the word for “Sheep.” My Christian friends have always found that origin rather significant as a possible connection with a tender of the flock. For me it just means that righteousness means taking responsibility for, or being accountable to a community larger than oneself. And that is most likely why this form became different from my vessels of containment. This one is an object of expansion.


The growth of this painting from a small bottle into something that seemed larger started when I painted this vessel differently, not really as a vessel like the others but as a statuesque form something like a totem pole. To add to the textural mystery in the piece I painted in reds on top of variegated metal leaf. The vague image of a two-headed bird on top of the symbol for righteousness was printed from a stamp of the same. Is righteousness double-edged in nature? I would suppose so, as something both given and received.

December 22, 2013

A Little Box of Wisdom

Why can’t a woman...be more like a man?” crooned Rex Harrison years ago in the film version of My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn. He had an odd way of singing that was something halfway between speech and song. Rex Harrison could just as well been sing-speaking “Why can’t singing....be more like talking?”


Oddly enough, when I paint in acrylics, I hear Rex Harrison’s ditty in the back of my mind - only the words go “Why can’t acrylics...be more like oils?” Despite years of advice to my students to exploit the strongest characteristics of the medium they are using, I still try to make acrylic paint do what oil paint does. Oils dry slowly and can be manipulated over time. But acrylic dries quickly, forcing rapid work and quick decisions, neither of which I’m particularly good at. At least I can lean upon my experience with Chinese brush painting to work quickly. But then the quality of soft edges and subtle tonal modulations can be lost. Also, I’ve often found that adding ingredients to retard the drying time of acrylics tends to dull the intensity of the colors. So what can be done to make an acrylic painting....more like an oil?

For one thing, I start with tinted gesso over which I then add colors and textures. The final painting goes on top of that using generous helpings of glaze medium that lets the under painting to show through and allows the paint to slide around. In order to move more quickly with the paint I generally do finger painting. I also manipulate the paint rapidly with palette knives of various sizes, sgraffito and wet rag wipes. Seems like a lot of work to get an acrylic to be a lot like an oil.

These were some of the techniques I used in the painting to the right from my “messages in bottles,” series. A visiting friend saw the painting on my table top the other day. “Is this an oil?” she asked. Victory was mine! I thought when she spoke the precious words. Yet I still felt that it was rather frantic work to make acrylics do what oils do better. The little stamp on the form in this painting reads “wisdom.” Would it be wise to remember that I’m an oil painter at heart?

December 21, 2013

Spiritual Resonance in a Small Green Bottle

Every now and then while I’m painting, my in-house critic makes his favorite picks. For reasons that I’m not certain of, he chose the small painting of a green bottle as his best pick of this run of paintings of small bottles. Was it the color? The form? Or was it because this one was different from the rest? The others have the words printed on the bottle form. In this case I printed the words on the neck of the vessel, leaving the body free to make whimsical swirls of design. Perhaps he picked this one out for that difference.


It was good to shake the forms up slightly by a different placement of the stamped words. In this case I happened to have a carving of the ancient zhuan words for “spiritual resonance,” a line taken from one of the six principles of Chinese painting, carved onto a long thin rock. I used this because the words could apply to much more than just painting or even art in general. They were nice words to live by - almost like the maxim to follow one’s joy.

December 20, 2013

The Shining Moon or Moonshine?

For my next experiment in painting with ancient language on imaginary bottles I started with metal leaf. The metal leaf I used was a composition of brass and copper which had a rich pattern of iridescent colors. I used to used real silver and gold leaf but that became rather expensive and the composition leaf seemed to serve just as well.


I stamped the bottle in the painting with the ancient zhuan words for “the shining moon.” Actually, reading from top to bottom it reads moon first then shine next. Being steeped in the language of another culture in another time, I did not at first realize the joke I was playing on myself by labeling a bottle, “moon shine,” albeit in an archaic script that just about no one would be able to read. I only thought of the romantic shining mystery of a full moon. Even the lid to this vessel I painted white and moon like. The dark surroundings was like a night sky. I wiped and scratched through the dark paint to the shiny metal leaf beneath the surface. A glittering gem of a small painting emerged.

A Little Bit of Joy in a Red Bottle

I’ve always liked the old style Chinese character for joy, as it depicts a person holding two sticks with bells or some other noisemakers on them and dancing happily. Joy is sound and joy is dance and happy is the one who can make both. I thought it fitting to print this on my painting of imaginary red lidded bottle. I have been trying to create an entire palette of colors on this things and this was my first round red one. The joy on the bottle is tempered however by prints of the character for wisdom in the background of the painting. It is the wise man who knows when to contain his joy.


Update: It is also the now visually impaired artist who chose the wrong seal for the background print. It is the seal for “excellence” and not wisdom. They look a little bit close. Oh well.

December 19, 2013

The Virtuous Heart in a Bottle

The virtuous heart. The words are printed quite clearly on my painting of a snuff bottle from my imagination. The stone was carved decades ago and I have hardly ever used it. But I thought it would be amusing to use it to embellish this painting of a bottle. As if virtue could be administered from a small bottle. Perhaps there is an ironic theme developing in these bottles conjured in paint emblazoned with messages promising an instant acquiring of virtues, abilities, and achievements that are generally slow in coming if at all. But irony is always present in my art, whether I intend it or no.


At least the bottles are colorful and engaging. This one was painted on paper sized with a blue tinted ground which shows through at the base and through the places where the stamp pulled the wet paint off. For good measure I added some sgraffito as well to bounce the blue around.

December 18, 2013

Messages in Bottles

For the past week, I’ve been finishing my acrylic paintings on paper for my small works exhibition. I had started out with repainted folk art designs but then a new theme developed - vessels and bottles. The square paintings of teapots completed, I turned to the very tiny pieces of sized paper and determined that a life sized snuff bottle could fit just right on to this format. Before painting my imaginary snuff bottles I carved a series of linoleum blocks with ancient Chinese Zhuan script on them. A few I carved with just pictographic designs. These I filled with acrylic paint in modulated colors. I then stamped these into the wet but not oozing paintings of the wet bottles. The ridges of paint that formed around the words gave an embossed effect which gave the effect of designs in low relief. I painted about twelve of these in various shapes and colors. My thoughts for display are to have them hung in three separate rows on top of one another to give the impression of a snuff bottle collection.


There is a current exhibition of snuff bottles at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which, health permitting, I just might be able to see on my next medical trip. The message in the lid and on the body of the blue bottle at right say “Remarkable World.” Perhaps I should have printed a sign for good health on one of the bottles.

December 11, 2013

Stamps on Theoretical Teapots

My recent small painting projects have evolved once again into a combination of painting, collage, and monoprints. This is probably why I also make mosaics. I can’t get away from thinking of paint as the glue in which to adhere things. Even the stamps I apply wet into wet so that the pigment oozes between the lines of the print, preserving the viscous quality of the substance of paint.


In the latest in my series of “The Theoretical Teapot,” I used a labyrinthine stamp on the body of the vessel. The background was textured by painting through a woven piece of fiber. Using the stuff of applied materials feels like free painting - the shapes practically make themselves. All I do is delicately emphasize these textures with a small paintbrush, varnish and pigment. Unlike many of my stamps, the one I used for this painting is decorative only and doesn’t actually say or mean anything. But can language be far behind? A day spent carving Chinese stamps will change the way this series evolves.

December 9, 2013

Theoretical Teapot Two

For my second "theoretical teapot" I chose a soft earth tone palette. The painting is a fusion of two teapots that I have in my collection, one a very large cream colored piece by a contemporary artist and the other a miniature votive offering which probably came from a tomb. So it is both of them or neither. I liked the soft and subtle Morandi like earth tone palette in the painting. I’ve always been fascinated by the effects of glazes on pottery - especially specialty firing like ash glazes or shino glazes in a wood fired kiln - and sought to use paint as though it were in a mutable form like something that melts in a fire.

December 7, 2013

Theoretical Teapots

My husband and I love tea. We love hand made art teapots almost as much. Over the years we collected teapots from various ceramic artists. But because we are both inclined towards clumsiness we never use them. Instead our morning ritual tea is steeped in an old hand made teapot I made in during my college years. Oddly enough, despite our clumsiness it never breaks. One day recently my husband decided that the old teapot should be retired because it doesn’t hold quite enough for more than two people should we have a guest, and because it doesn’t exactly pour efficiently. And it is rather ugly. So a decision was made to commission a new teapot from a local artist despite the fact that we have a fine collection of serviceable ones from years of acquiring them. I first tried to convince my husband to put one of our myriad teapots into service but he was skeptical. “But they are art pots,” my husband protested. I convinced him to try a Shawn Ireland stoneware teapot anyway. It surely looked sturdy enough for us couple of bulls in the China shop. But this teapot had an overhead bamboo handle that was rigidly fixed in an upright position, interfering with emptying water into it with ease. So I tried to convince my husband to try an old teapot that I got from my father that was made in England circa World War II. “But that is a collectible,” came his reply. I suppose he was right. And we would end up acquiring yet another teapot, this time commissioned to specifications for our daily morning use.


I thought that perhaps I should make a teapot. I no longer have a potter’s wheel although I do have access to one. But I do have plenty of plaster forms for rounded objects which could easily be put into service in making a hand built teapot. Had I mentioned this to my husband? Perhaps not because I could see that he was set on putting an order in for a teapot from a professional ceramicist. Most likely the professional ceramicist would make a pot more easily and more technically proficient than me.

Yet the idea that I could come up with a good teapot had not left me. I had been studying teapot designs on Etsy and even juried online exhibitions of my favorite designs. I mulled this over as I sat down to work on paintings for my miniature art show. What emerged from my paint that day was a series of paintings of imaginary teapots. Theoretical teapots, I named the series. They all have a handle on the side so as not to interfere with putting in water or removing expended tealeaves. I imagined them large and providing tea for the multitudes. I liked how the series progressed, and allowed myself great experimentation with faux finishing tecnques, stamps and stencils. I liked the series so much that I started stealing paintings of other objects and making them into teapots. An example is an old painting of a seated Buddha in meditation. Add a handle, lid and spout and he is born anew as a vessel for pouring tea.

December 6, 2013

Homage to Bruegel

There is a painting by Pieter Bruegel of Hunters in the Snow where a group of dogs on the hill in the foreground walk with the hunter past a tall dark tree. The tree passes through the dark body of the dog yet does not blend with it, even though it is practically the same color and intensity as the dog. I have often wondered whether there is just enough subtlety in hue to disconnect the tree trunk from the dog’s body or if we disconnect it ourselves because we can make a cognitive differentiation between dog and tree although they are one and the same on the two dimensional surface.


In my painting of dogs in the woods I did a similar thing to the Bruegel painting of the hunting scene by putting a white dog behind a white tree. Only I was not as confident as Bruegal in making the cognitive shift from dog to tree when they are the same color so I outlined the tree and changed the tone somewhat. But the idea remains the same.

The dogs depicted in the painting are from drawings I made of my father’s black sheep dog. I used these sketches in a number of drawings and with this painting the sketches are now officially retired and have been discarded, lest I be tempted to use them again.

As usual, the painting is a little too stiff for me - most likely because I’ve just switched media from pencil illustrations. A few more paintings ought to work that out and the paint will swing again.

December 5, 2013

Salacious Poetry in the Book of Cats

Yesterday I finished my last illustration for my no longer “small” book, “The Small Book of Marvelous Cats.” This last illustration was for a short verse that began as a scatological bit of doggerel that I wrote on a short trip to North Carolina. The short poem was somewhat problematic for me. Although I liked the pun for “Fornicat” the verse may be too heavily weighted on the salacious side to include. So I came up with a discreet illustration and a more Victorian sounding poem to match it. But I will include, for readers’ curiosity the original poem and the tamer version. I hope that the second version, however, is more reader friendly. But I still have a secret preference for the former. I no longer get comments on this blog but it anyone would like to name their preferred version of poem for this illustration then I would be grateful for the input.


Fornicat

Fornicat wears a salacious grin

on account of where he’s been

Other Toms say he isn’t fussy

But he does prefer his Persian Pussy



Revised Version

Lover Cat

Lover Cat wears a contented smile

He’s been with his favorite Puss for a while

Cavorting among flowers in the month of May

And in a room to themselves in a country chalet

December 4, 2013

Coon Hunts, Boar Hunts, and the Wildlife Exhibition of Orangeburg County

Today the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center hung opened an exhibition which hopefully will become a new annual tradition: work by local artists featuring wildlife. The idea behind the exhibition was to piggy back (or should I say wild piggy back) on Orangeburg County’s very popular annual coon hunt festival, which happens in early January every year.




I have never been to the great American Coon hunt but have always been curious about it. Not being a hunter or hunting inclined I’ve tended to avoid such events here in South Carolina. But even for non-hunters the event may be worth a look. For one thing, no animals, racoons or others, are actually killed. The sport is to test the ability of hunting dogs (aka the coon dog) to rustle up racoons and have them run up into a tree. Apparently the dog that gets the most racoons up a tree wins the contest.



In order to participate in the call to local artists to create and lend work for the coon hunt/wild life exhibition I ransacked my domestic oeuvre to find paintings or drawings that might feature wildlife. There was a cavernous space to fill and not many contributions of artwork so I lent a total of eight pieces to the exhibition, seven my own and an eighth a work by the Chinese painter, Gao Guan-hua that features an insect. I didn’t want to be a hog. I just didn’t want the show to open with a blank wall or two. In addition to my own work I rustled up a nice wildlife photograph from my husband, Nat Wallace, and some beautiful ceramic plates by Jeri Burdick featuring various amphibians. The ceramic plates are my favorite art works in this exhibition. They are the only pieces that are sculptural and I am certain will be the highlight of the show.



Some of the work I put in this exhibition was new, but some of it went back a few decades. The picture of the wild boar depicted with this blog was an ink painting on a long horizontal scroll that I did while a graduate student in Chinese art back in the 1980's. I chose this piece because it was life size and therefore filled a wall, and depicted an animal that had some relevance to the South Carolina hunting scene. I had read an article some time ago about wild boars in South Carolina and their sporting interest to hunters. I don’t know if boar hunting has been maintained since I read that article but if so, then the submission was apropos. I hope that someone enjoys it.



November 25, 2013

Zen in Black and White with Shades of Gray

My most recent mosaic began with an interest in origami. I had watched a documentary film about this art form with its applications in mathematics and science. If slabs of clay were rolled out very thin and allowed to stiffen up to hold a shape yet not break, could they too, not be folded to look like origami? I wondered. I wasn’t certain how to do this but I started by scratching a design on a thin slab of clay that looked similar to the ones I had seen in the film. I was almost more fascinated by the geometric patterns on the flat piece of paper than the finished folded project. They were exquisite designs with diamonds, squares and rectangles in various configurations.


Needless to say, my clay, when folded either broke against the creases if it was too hardened, or undulated to look more like the folds of fabric than stiff paper if bent when too wet. But since I usually allow the medium to speak for itself in my work, I went with the flow of the folds and created something that looked like a rectangular piece of fabric.

Although there was no origami, I retained a Japanese aesthetic for the completion of the mosaic. The palette of colors for the mosaic was black and white with shades of grey throughout. The small tiles of seal script could be Japanese as well as Chinese so I incorporated them. They read “the breath of life,” “having a home,” and “enlightenment.” I encased the mysterious piece of cloth in a bamboo shrine. For this I happened to have a cast that I took of an old bamboo handle from a brush that was no longer usable. The crown for this shrine to the cloth was simply a large piece of flint which I obtained a few years ago from a course in making neolithic style arrow heads and knives.

This small mosaic was another milestone. It was the last mosaic for my upcoming exhibition of small works. For the duration of this month and well in to the next I’ll be returning to small acrylic paintings on paper, and my ongoing illustrations for the Small Book of Marvelous Cats.

November 24, 2013

Lost in the Laundry

Pete Seeger once said that music does more than get people through rough times. Music helps us, and I am paraphrasing here, understand pain and begin to do something about it. One could easily substitute the more general word “art” for music to incorporate all art forms that may have this capacity.


I recently thought of the possible healing power (or I suppose coping through understanding power) of art on the occasion of a dream recently and one from the past. If any dream could be a portent of things to come, a dream I had a few years ago about meeting a Zen monk most assuredly would be. In that dream I was walking along a path in the countryside and came across a zen monk with long black hair and a long black beard. He had his arms and legs neatly folded in a meditative pose. When I asked him for a bit of advice on my art he replied that I should paint the terrible and paint the ugly but make every mark beautiful. I asked him if this meant that I should be detached from the subject matter or if I should be confronting it in an attached way. The monk looked serenely off into the distance and replied, “It is difficult to say.” That last phrase was something I often heard while in China so it was not surprising that it was imbedded somewhere in my unconscious ripe and at the ready for dream pickings.

I thought about that first dream after I had a decidedly unpleasant nightmare due most likely to the bouts of vertigo and headaches from my illness. I had a sick dream to match. In this unwelcome nightmare I lifted the lid on a washing machine and saw my own head spinning around in the laundry. Dream logic being what it is, there was no problem with how, being without a head, I was able to see this apparition. Nevertheless the image stuck with me and I decided to make an art work out of it based upon the advice of my dreamland Zen monk. But how to make something hideous beautiful? I decided to make a mosaic that kept with the laundry and the floating head theme only creating something ambiguous and gem like rather than ghoulish. The head I used in the mosaic was made from a cast that I taken earlier from a porcelain doll. I painted this with underglaze colors and a clear shiny overglaze. I then created thin folded pieces out of earthenware clay and painted them to look like towels or other fabrics. The small fragments of very colorful fabric designs with gold enameling were the remains of a ceramic dress that I broken a few years ago when I dropped the mosaic that it was embedded in. I was happy to have an opportunity to recycle this. For the background of this mosaic I felt that should use washing machine watery substances. The strings of pearls and glass beads function as bubbles and the iridized green glass as detergent waters. I put everything together and named the piece “Lost in the Laundry.” Anything can be lost in this laundry....a sock, a dress, towels, a head or two. But can they be found again and made sense of now that the dream is a concrete reality?

November 21, 2013

A Tangle of Colors and Textures in a Fallow Field

Late in the Fall, my husband and I visited a fallow field in the South Carolina countryside. Uncultivated areas of wild and wooly growth abound in this state and particularly in Orangeburg County. Finding them is a joy of botanical and wildlife discoveries. These are the sites where we stumble across old farmsteads, sharecropper’s homes, and abandoned vestiges of gardens where old varieties of flowers still sprout and bloom. Sometimes we’ll find the rare bobcat, or a larger than believable fox squirrel. On this particular trip we found a ten foot high wall of wild flowers growing next to a cotton field. The flowers were small but in a rainbow of colors ranging from white, violet red, blue, and splashes of yellow and orange. They seemed like exotic things that one would come across in a rainforest. I took many close-up photos of these as well as the interesting cotton pods which I had not fully noticed before. I used a few of these in paintings earlier but today decided to paint not from photographs but from the memory of these spots of color within the chaos of underbrush. The result was a miniature painting that was an impression of what I had seen earlier, an untamed uncultivated expression of textures and colors.

November 20, 2013

Meaning in Clouds of Paint

There is something very satisfying about painting while the parts for other art works are being processed. It makes creative life feel like the cottage industry it used to be when I was a professional artist. Today as parts for mixed media works are cooking in the kiln I am doing small paintings for my miniature art exhibition. I am completing them as stream of consciousness art works, without a set plan or design. For some, I am using bits and pieces of collage material, others are just paint. It helps to execute these on a surface that is already painted with a textured surface, the swirls and scratches in the paint holding the beginnings of images.


I recall reading that Michelangelo used to envision images in the cracks of his ceiling or in the patterns of wood grain in doorways. There must be something in the human consciousness that seeks meaning in forms like that - a need to connect the dots and make a visual language out of otherwise senseless marks. That is why it feels right and peaceful to see forms in the clouds.

In my latest work, I am making the clouds in which to tease out a meaning. The one posted here I call “Rooms in a Stream of Consciousness.” It is so named for the collage pieces embedded in the composition that are prints from stone seals that say alternatively “a small room” or “One’s own room.” I have tucked these in between the swirling forms to which I have added structure and color to create a visual narrative.

November 19, 2013

When art comes back to haunt

When the decades roll by in the career of an artist, a curious thing happens. Art from the past can return to bring back warm fuzzy memories, embarrass with reminders of what one was willing to do for cash, or haunt the artist with life changes that have a ripple effect on art from times past.


Times change and with that comes the departure of loved ones, moving of households, new marriages and the ending of old ones. Sometimes these changes have resulted in my art work finding a better home, like in a museum where it is well cared for. Other times these changes have meant the loss of my art - the once cherished paintings and mosaics given away or relegated to a closet. At least the closet, if it is indoors, is better than a storage space that is not temperature or humidity controlled. I’ve had the experience of moldy art returning to me from southern storage facilities.

Some years ago I made a pair of mosaic masks in celebration of a marriage that recently ended. The masks were made in ceramic from casts of the then happy couple. They were decorated with glazes, fused glass and a healthy helping of gold tesserae. The golden masks were lovingly made and nicely displayed for a number of years. But with the end of that relationship I was recently contacted about selling these. I replied that even in good times it is very hard to sell art. I posted them on my website...there were few lookers no takers. I posted them on my Etsy shop as a sale item...there were more lookers no takers. So here is one posted on my last on-line venue - the blog. The golden mosaic mask, once a proud part of a household, now feels a bit like a once noble but now stray cat. “Won’t someone give me a loving home?” She seems to say. Or one could hope that although relationships are fleeting, whether by divorce or demise, the art that commemorated these relationships can rise eternal above and beyond an original purpose. This is certainly the case, I would like to think, of these art masks that aren’t really portraits but decorated impressions that supercede the ephemeral lives that brought them in to being. And since they are built of hearty materials they won’t go moldy in storage.

November 18, 2013

Getting a Wee Bit Too Hasty?

Sometimes the end result of an art work doesn’t quite come up to the level of the vision. I imagined a cat in a cart for the poem "Cargo Cat" from the now nearing completion "Small Book of Marvelous Cats." I perused the internet for images of carts and images of seated cats that I could combine and alter. I settled on a large eared Bengal Cat for his wiry, animated and eager look. Definitely fodder for a restless road loving cat. The combination worked well, as did the cobblestone garden path. But the bamboo grove and birch trees looked a little hasty. The exotic flora of my imagination were replaced by mundane garden cabbages. Have I become too eager to finish this project? Or had I peaked out with the exotic image of Shaman Cat with all subsequent illustrations now paling in comparison? I’ve decided to correct my hastiness by including an exotic carpet design for the next illustration.

November 13, 2013

More Better Whiskers on Pirate Cat

I had set a goal to finish the illustrations for my cat poetry book by the end of November. With my slow pace of drawing along with other projects to finish I may have to revise this deadline to the end of the year. No matter. There is no publisher chomping on the bit to have it at the ready - only a sentimental desire to make some prints available for Christmas presents.


With the completion of this latest illustration, there are four more to go to make the cat book ready, maybe five if I do one over. The above illustration is for the poem, Pirate Cat. In keeping with the theme of the last drawing, this cat also has very prominent whiskers. I adapted this cat from an old photograph of the beautiful cat we shared our home with for fourteen years. The background was inspired by my husband’s photograph of a wharf in Charleston. The poem for Pirate Cat:

Pirate Cat wears a patch on his eye

He swills down beer and eats fish fry

He hoists up the jibboom and fixes the rig

Then leans over to starboard and dances a jig

November 12, 2013

Never Pick a Lady's Slipper

“You shouldn’t pick Lady’s Slippers” my mother told me about this unusual pink orchid we had growing in our woods. We didn’t often see these flowers and it was a rare treat when one grew out of the forest floor and blossomed. My mother and I loved those woods and all the amazing flora and fauna that could be found there. It was the perfect respite after coming home from Princeton High School.


Recently the memory of the woods and the flower came back to me when an old friend from Princeton High School sent me a photograph of a painting that I had made almost forty years ago of a Lady’s Slipper. It was amazing how an image could bring me back so vividly to a different time, a different place. I almost felt like a teenager again for a moment. I recalled how I had first made a sketch of the plant (Not sure what ever happened to that drawing) then set up an easel and painted it in acrylic on location. Generally I used to pick flowers to study them closely but the Lady’s Slipper was not one that could be harvested for closer scrutiny. You can’t pick Lady’s Slippers. Although then as now I didn’t paint on location much I recall that doing so was a quiet and peaceful exercise.

The painting and the memory that it evokes is interesting in that although it was probably my earliest work on record and has a decidedly untutored look it still embodies ideas and artistic proclivities that remained consistent throughout the decades. It recalls a love for nature, textures and details. It reminds me that I am tied to this love of the woods and the need to get my hands in dirt and paint. It also reminds me of the miracles of personal ties to family and friends that remain strong despite the passage of so much time.

November 9, 2013

Do Design Cats Go with Everything?

Do words sometimes get in the way of pictures? In my last illustration for my ongoing Book of Marvelous Cats, I was stumped while trying to come up with an image for the poem “Designer Cats.” I think what tripped me up was the last line of the poem...”Designer Cats go with everything.” I just could not come up with a design that worked because I kept designing an environment then trying to fit the cats into it. Things became easier one day when I drew the cats first then worked in an environment to suit them. So the forms and patterns on the cushions and vase were determined by the fur and the tails of cats rather than vice versa.


So many cat illustrations! I’ll be taking a break from these to work on some ceramics for a short while. That usually helps freshen up ideas.

November 7, 2013

So Its Whiskers You Want? Try a Shaman Cat

The illustration for my poem about the “Culinary Cat” that I had posted earlier had been making its rounds to cat lovers on line. One very discriminating aficionado of cat illustrations noted that she could not see the whiskers on that cat. The comment touched a nerve of consternation in me because I do sometimes leave out obvious whiskers on my cat drawings. The reasons for this are that the drawings are small and detailed. Whiskers are very fine and often white. Not really possible to make a white line in a pencil drawing without the use of a pencil eraser - which I kept finding was too thick. Black lines either got lost in the cat body or were too thick when enlarged.


But to satisfy the audience desire for whiskers on a cat, for my next illustration, I gave the cat very long, animated whiskers.

The cat pictured above is for the poem “Shaman Cat.” It was inspired by a Romanian homeopathic doctor with rather dubious practices. One technique of hers was ostensibly a method for determining radiation contamination in her patients. She apparently did this by seeing if a gold chain she held in her right hand would swing around in circles as she held the left of her patient while the patient held a bottle of “radialgen” in his or her right hand. That was indirectly was influenced my drawing of the cat spinning a mouse around in circles above her patient’s head. Everything else is pure maniacal imagination except for Shaman Cat’s basket of herbal goods. I really do have a woven African basket which I drew into this composition.

Now comes the superstitious part of my Shaman Cat illustration story. After spending a few days on this drawing, I turned it over to write the catalogue number on the back and noticed that what I had drawn this on was not a piece of acid free drawing paper but the reverse side of a hotel menu. For some reason it had gotten into my mix and was the same dimensions of the other pieces of paper. Now Shaman Cat will have to be done completely over again on proper paper. Did a witch doctor sense what I was doing and put a hex on me and my drawing? Oh well.

The poem for Shaman Cat does indeed poke fun at the plethora of alternative medical practices that seem on the wild side. There may be validity to some of them. I’ve had Chinese herbs and acupuncture with some success in the past. Crystals, auras, and swinging chains go a bit beyond my comfort zone of rational thinking. But if it works for you........

The Shaman Cat Poem:

Forget about your exercise

Shaman Cat will exorcize

your evil spirits and bad blood

They’ll leave your body with a thud

Shaman Cat can see your aura

and change its color with fauna and flora

And he can fix a broken bone

just by warming up a stone

He’ll cure the swelling in your eye socket

with magnets from his mystery pocket

He’ll place kitty moss between your toes

and blow healing crystals out his nose

Shaman Cat knows that pussy willow

will help you sleep well upon your pillow

He’ll clean your liver and kidneys too

Do you believe all this is true

If you do then Shaman you.

November 3, 2013

Old Works New Venue: The Homecoming Two Exhibition at the I.P. Stanback Museum

Quite recently I wrote about the bugbear that artists face in the two-year rule for competitive exhibitions and how it sometimes rules out suitable work that was done before the “cut off” date. Fortunately exhibitions in specialized museums are one exception to this rule. I will now have an opportunity to share some older art work with the public that was completed two to six years ago that never really did get much exposure - two mosaics and a painting series. The I.P. Stanback Museum here in Orangeburg will be holding its second annual Homecoming celebration with an exhibition of art on the theme of civil rights by Southern artists. The three pieces of mine that the curator selected are all on the theme of women; “Foolish Women,” “Woman in an Oven Fixture,” and “Dreaming of Better Outfits.” There is a lot of text to “Foolish Women,” and a lot of thought to “Dreaming of Better Outfits.” Hopefully this will generate some good conversations. A lot of nudity in the “Foolish Women” series, which is political as well as gender satire, made for a bold selection on the part of the curator. Orangeburg swings a bit with this one. I was told that there was such a large quantity of fine and diverse work for this exhibition that there will be a catalogue of the exhibition. How nice! One more thing for my scrap book. The exhibition will open 6 pm Thursday Evening on November 7. Details are on my Upcoming Exhibitions tab.

October 30, 2013

The Eye of the Gold Lotus

For a few days, I have been watching in fits and starts a series of Bill Moyers interviews with the late Professor Joseph Campbell. The series of interviews were made in 1988, and as such, may no longer be thought pertinent. That was the year I started graduate school. The Personal Computer revolution had not yet taken us by storm and people interfaced without the internet. I was not walking around with a cell phone in my pocket. Amazing to think how unplugged we all were! So interviews with a professor speaking about how myth applies to the modern age at first did not seem like they would be relevant. Yet despite the context and the time, Joseph Campbell’s lectures were still moving and relevant. I suppose this is because regardless of the medium through which one presses on through life, the struggles for identity and the quest for meaning remain eternal.


Some of the myths that were expounded upon in the Bill Moyers interviews ( looking about boyish) were incredibly beautiful and often illustrated with a gifted painterly hand. One of my favorites was the myth of the lotus emerging from the omphalos of Vishnu upon which Brahma the creator is born. I was fascinated by the concept of time in this myth - a day in the life of Brahma being the equivalent of four billion earth years. A new universe is created in the blink of a Brahma eye.

The mosaic I just completed is a condensed version of the aforementioned creation myth. I made the central eye from fused glass. The central surrounding glass is the recycled piece of beautifully incised stained glass which had relief carvings of floral motifs. I adhered metal leaf on to the back of the stained glass to give it the look of gold. (Sometimes I used real gold leaf on the back of glass but I believe this one is brass - I neglected to label it). The surrounding areas in this mosaic are made in pique assiette style with fragments of ceramic shards and blue/green glass smalti to symbolize water. The ceramic shards come from three sources: a collectible antique plate with a rose design, a hand painted arts and crafts plate, and a piece of Chinese hand painted porcelain that broke into fragments a long time ago. The last piece I had a sentimental attachment to but finally came to the realization that it was useless to just have a bag of shards lying around fallow. As I write this I realize that these four materials - the three ceramic plates and the smalti can also be considered consistent with the Brahma myth - there were the creations of the four Vedas by Brahma. So if it is not pushing the metaphor too much I guess it all fits.

October 28, 2013

A Mosaic of Conjoined Twins

I had made a mold of a head of an old China doll and used it recently to create the mixed media mosaic above of conjoined twins. Like most of my mosaics, it took several steps. The heads were first made with stoneware clay pressed into the molds. I then hand sculpted stoneware bodies onto these heads, spontaneously melding their bodies to make them conjoined twins. Why? Perhaps it is a subliminal self portrait of myself and the illness I battle - lugging along an unwanted appendage throughout the day that makes for difficult maneuvers to get anything done.


I stamped a print of a stone seal in the oval space joining the twins which reads, somewhat sardonically, “the breath of life.” Instead of glazing the stoneware, I burnished the raw clay surface before bisque firing then smoke firing in the outdoor pit kiln. A final cleaning and wax polishing gave the figures a surface look like a metal patina - which was what I was trying for.

The figure at the left rests on a stoneware cicada that I cast from a mold I had made earlier. The cicada represents a hope for rebirth and restoration of natural balance.

The background rocks come from various sites in the Carolinas. These were quartz pieces in white, gold and topaz that I carefully cut with a hammer and anvil then fitted around the figures. In some spaces close to the figures I used the white quartz and even some white marble to help delineate their form. In other areas I blended them with similar background colors for an embedded and amorphous look.

October 25, 2013

Clay on the Wild Side: Processing Locally Mined Clay

For the past month, I’ve been slowly mining and processing local clay. I try to tell myself that by using local materials I not only save money but help keep the planet green by not ordering clay that is machinery mined elsewhere then shipped. But in fact I am really fascinated by the process of foraging for raw materials in nature and making things entirely from scratch. The clay that I processed above is in slightly different hues depending upon what part of the clay vein it was mined from. It is clay from the wilds. Collecting it feels like harvesting wild berries or acorns for food.


Every one of these lovely lumps of clay is a natural color except for the large cone shaped piece. That one wasn’t quite dark enough so I added some red and yellow ochre pigments that came from Italy and Southern France. So that piece is an international clay body. Actually all the clays have some additions to them to strengthen them or make them more plastic. My intention with these wild clays is to pit fire them unglazed so that the natural clay color can shine through.

In processing the clay by hand I soon learned just how tedious this could be - mostly because I had been doing it the hard way by letting the clay dry out, then pulverizing it and sifting. It took forever. After doing some reading and with the help of an expert on Etsy, I learned that the wet method of processing the clay is by far superior, cleaner and faster.

The first step is to wash off the surface debris from the clay then break it into smaller pieces. These pieces are then softened under water in a large bowl or bucket - about half clay to water. After softening a few days the clay is then mixed to a smooth and creamy finish. I used an old blender to do this. In the blender, I add a small amount of volcanic ash for clay strengthening and a small amount of ball clay for plasticity. My colleague on Etsy uses a drill that is fitted with a mixing tool (found in the paint section of Lowes) which probably goes faster and would be much easier to clean. The resultant slip is then left to settle. After siphoning off water from the top, the thickened middle part of the slip is run through screen that is 80 mesh or higher. I use a very fine mesh that not only removes sticks and stones but heavier sand as well. The slip is usually a little too thick to just run through on its own so I squeeze it through the screen with a stiff paint brush.

I let the sieved clay slip settle again for a few days, then siphon off the water that accumulates at the top. The slip is then spread out onto thick plaster bats to dry. (These can be easily made by pouring plaster of paris into old aluminum casserole trays or in larger plastic trays - but be certain to grease them first so that the hardened plaster can release. ) Sometimes I hasten the drying process along a bit by leaving the slip on the plaster to dry out in the sun. Depending upon whether the drying slip is indoors or outdoors and the humidity, it can take one to two days for it to become ready to roll up and wedge. That’s the fun part, when it finally feels like Free clay, despite the time to gather and process the stuff.

The final step is to wrap the clay in plastic bags - supermarket bags will suffice. For extra caution against drying out I put the plastic wrapped balls of clay into a large plastic bucket with a lid. The lid is marked “Wild Clay.” But before packing it up I like to meditate on it for a short time, envisioning the sculpture and vessels that will be produced from it. I pack those visions up with the clay - letting both season a while.

October 23, 2013

Culinary Cat is Added to the Small Book of Marvelous Cats

“Can’t at least one of the cats be a Siamese?” pleaded my Siamese owning friend and avid collector of cat books. I had to do a bit of looking at images of Siamese cats to come up with one for the poem “Culinary Cat” to add to my ever growing “Small Book of Marvelous Cats.” This one is in the new larger format which allows for greater details and for more elaborate compositions. There are now only four more illustrations to complete. That is, unless you count the two more cat poems I just wrote while vacationing in the hills of North Carolina. Will it ever end?


As always, the illustration above requires some close scrutiny to see some of the pertinent details, like the dead bird, paw prints and decorative mouse heads on the cake. Paw prints are also on the rolls and the hanging cutting board in the background. To add to the Siamese theme, I blackened the edges of the drawers to imitate the markings of the cat. The rest of the embellishments were also kept plain and sleek.

My tawdry little poem for Culinary Cat goes like this:

Culinary Cat makes tuna fondue

With lizard and mouse puffs for a party of two

He never cooks anything straight from a can

Not even for his delectable Mew Goo Guy Pan

-Janet Kozachek, in a very silly mood

October 22, 2013

Acrobatic Cats Illustration

Switching gears again from painting back to illustrating, I dug right back in to working on my Small Book of Marvelous Cats. If I keep on writing and illustrating these short poems, then I may have to take the “Small” out of the title and not market it as a humorous chapbook.


This week I just finished the second larger format illustration for the poem “Acrobatic Cats.” My friend described the smaller cat balancing on a ball on a tight rope as “whimsical” for the expression on his face while he hold a mouse by its tail. It occurred to me later that the other cat’s dramatic twists and turns could be an allusion to the infamous cat death dance in celebration of the captured mouse.

I tried something a little different on this illustration with dramatic spot lighting. Note the interspecies audience.

October 21, 2013

And Then There Appeared One More Chinese Folk Paper Cut

Just when I thought that I had recycled all my old Chinese folk paper cuts into collage art, one more turned up. It was yet another paper cut of a lady riding on the back of a bird. So I carefully cut her out with a utility blade, primed the flimsy paper with gesso and secured her onto primed paper with neutral PH PVA white glue. The next day she was ready to paint. Before painting I added an aura of metal leaf around the figure. She still looked small in her environment so I painted in a third creature underneath the bird. The bird itself I transformed into a human headed harpy-like beast alluding to the one I had read about in the Chinese classic, The Shan Hai Jing (A song of mountains and oceans).


With reddened hair and a color patterned dress, the figure once again has been edged slightly out of China and into Eastern Europe. I cannot say what the turquoise color creature is, but it reminds me of a tapir. And with this small work, my chapter on small paintings based on folk art is closed.

October 16, 2013

Expiring Painting of a Collapsed Building

This weekend is the last chance to catch the South Carolina State Fair and the exciting exhibitions that go with it. As usual, my husband and I did our autumn ritual entering of our art work; photography for him and a painting and drawing for me. This time my painting was juried in but my drawing, which I actually thought was much better, was juried out. I chose to enter my painting of a collapsed building not because it was a work that I was excited about, but because I thought that I had painted it at the end of 2011 and therefore about to “expire” with regard to the nothing over two years old rule that usually is the guideline for public exhibitions. This rule has always been a bugbear for me. It is ostensibly meant to deter people from being lazy and not producing anything new for a few years or so. But it also penalizes artists too prolific to exhibit everything they make. Time goes by, and before you know it, the studio is filled with “expired” art that never sees the public light. Then it goes on line or in brick and mortar galleries for a while, then back to the utility room or studio. It rests there for a while until a time that I really want to be rid of it. Then it goes to a fund raising auction. Such is the life cycle of art in South Carolina.


But I can live with this painting of a collapse building, it roof forming a gentle arc like a Brancusi sculpture. I was happy to capture the structure at this particular stage of collapse, in between a time when it was a functional piece of architecture and then no more than a pile of rubble on the ground. And since it was actually painted in early 2012, it can be recycled into the County Fair next year.

October 15, 2013

Paintings of the Fire Dance

In late spring I burned color paper dolls in an outdoor pit where I usually smoke fire my pottery.


I photographed them in various stages of their transformation into ashes. Then I put the photographs aside as my ideas about how to use them slow cooked in my consciousness. And there they simmered until I brought them out again this autumn.

I had thought about tooling with them in photoshop but I’m not adept enough in that medium to be sufficiently creative. So this week I just painted from the photographs, transforming the figures the old fashioned way - through the manipulation of paint and medium. Using acrylic paints and mica mortars I tried to capture a fiery, smokey atmosphere for the figures. Instead of “Burning Paper Dolls,” I renamed the series “Fire Dance,” making the figures active participants in a strange ritual rather than passive victims of the fire. Nevertheless, there is still something macabre about them - good for October.In late spring I burned color paper dolls in an outdoor pit where I usually smoke fire my pottery.


I photographed them in various stages of their transformation into ashes. Then I put the photographs aside as my ideas about how to use them slow cooked in my consciousness. And there they simmered until I brought them out again this autumn.

I had thought about tooling with them in photoshop but I’m not adept enough in that medium to be sufficiently creative. So this week I just painted from the photographs, transforming the figures the old fashioned way - through the manipulation of paint and medium. Using acrylic paints and mica mortars I tried to capture a fiery, smokey atmosphere for the figures. Instead of “Burning Paper Dolls,” I renamed the series “Fire Dance,” making the figures active participants in a strange ritual rather than passive victims of the fire. Nevertheless, there is still something macabre about them - good for October.

Working in acrylic on paper is still a challenge for me because I prefer the slow pace of oil painting. In acrylics, in order for the painting to remain fluid and gestural, I have to paint very rapidly. I suppose this is where my Chinese brush painting training helps. I even sometimes used the Chinese ink brushes and finger painting techniques to keep the colors moving. A lot of medium and washes helps with this as well.
Working in acrylic on paper is still a challenge for me because I prefer the slow pace of oil painting. In acrylics, in order for the painting to remain fluid and gestural, I have to paint very rapidly. I suppose this is where my Chinese brush painting training helps. I even sometimes used the Chinese ink brushes and finger painting techniques to keep the colors moving. A lot of medium and washes helps with this as well.

October 14, 2013

Autumnal Cicadas

Autumn marks the end of those chirping, buzzing cicadas. But for people like myself, intrigued more by the sight than the sound of them, you can always keep a desiccated sample of one around for a while well after the cicada season is over. I had a dried specimen of a cicada that I kept for its golden ochre markings and its flash of iridescent green on its wings. In order to study it better I placed it on my computer scanner to scan and enlarge it.


When painting from my cicada scans I used many variations of greens, golds and violet hues. To make the creature a little more “lively” I also remembered to alter the legs as I painted - pulling them outwards and away from the folded corpse pose. These images I combined with a small wildflower that I had photographed earlier. The painting may become part of my small works exhibition in February if I don’t use it before then for a local wildlife exhibition. Or perhaps it will do double duty and be in both.

October 12, 2013

Magic Cat

I finally finished editing and revising the poems for my illustrated book of cats and have proceeded to slowly make the illustrations for the second generation of imagined felines. The new illustrations are about four times the size of the former ones. This helps with detail and composition. Now this feels like “serious” illustrating. I didn’t want to face it at first but I am now coming to the conclusion that my earlier illustrations should be enlarged and done over as well. I’ll see how I feel after finished eight more new ones. The new illustration is for the poem


“Magic Cat.” As with all of the previous poems, it is an Ogden Nash like whimsical piece of fluff - not nearly as hard to write as it was to illustrate. The illustration, pictured above, I think captures the spirit of the verse:

Magic Cat does many tricks

Sometimes for money

or just for kicks

Should his conjuring cause us fear

Then Magic Cat will disappear

October 8, 2013

Cats of Prologues and Epilogues

Conversations with knowledgeable people can always improve upon one’s creative output. Last year, I had completed a small book of fun poems and illustrations of imaginary and extraordinary cats. It started out as a project to fill in one of my sister’s handmade books that she had given to me as a birthday present. She later compiled the illustrations along with my poems into a small hard bound book. I was on the cusp of attempting to publish this and had even sent out one on-line query when I began chatting on line with an old friend who happened to be an avid collector of cat books. So I began sending her a poem and a cat picture daily so that she could bind them herself into a volume for her collection. In the course of our conversations, I found from my research on her suggested publishers that publishing would be no easy feat, even for an attractive book that could have broad appeal. But I also discovered through my friend, ways of expanding and editing the book to make it better. For one thing, in addition to the cats that were illustrating the small book, I sent to my friend other sketches of cats that I had made from life. She chose one of a sleeping cat and modestly suggested that it required a poem too. I was confused at first because the sleeping cat was a drawing of a real cat and the illustrations were imaginary ones to go with the nonsense poetry. Then I came up with the idea of using this study of the sleeping cat as a prologue to the book, making the sleeper also the dreamer of the fantastic cats.


As our conversations continued I started coming up with more poems for cats not yet illustrated; Shaman Cat, Culinary Cat, Designer Cat, and Magic Cat, to name a few. While my ideas for illustrations for these cats were cooking in my head I came across another sketch that I had done of the same sleeping cat that I was now using as a prologue. Only this sketch was of the cat waking up and rolling around. So I carefully recreated the same detailed background in this drawing and waking kitty became the epilogue to the book, with his own poem.

I’ve made much more work for myself, but I do believe when it is finished it will be a better book to approach a publisher with.

October 6, 2013

Fossil Fueled Art

The nice thing about going through old boxes and cases preserved from one’s youth are the treasures that can be found there. Parents often preserve what we are likely to forget or not understand the value of as we become teenagers and young adults. Such was the case for my mother and for my husband’s mother as well. Despite living in a small apartment, my late mother-in-law kept the things her children made and preserved the precious nature items that they found. My husband had a collection of rocks, arrow heads and fossils which again were shown the light of day after his mother’s storage area was opened and gone through. Some of the broken fossil shark’s teeth I repaired with plasticine clay and made plaster casts. These became the molds for my clay whistles and ocarinas. But there was also an intriguing segment of a shark vertebra amongst these fossil treasures that I had also made a cast from but didn’t use until now.


The center portion of the vessel posted here was made from the clay impressions of this vertebra, to which I then added a lid and three feet. The glaze was a simple terra sigillata white which was bisque fired then pit fired for a smokey effect. This was one of the pieces that did not get a lot of dramatic coloring because the fire never got very hot - a consequence of firing too soon after a spate of drenching rains. But I liked the subtlety of the white barely grazed by smoke. There will be opportunities ahead to make more vessels from the vertebra, most likely in red and blackened clay but possibly ochre with a touch of earthy green as well. But that is for winter.

October 4, 2013

Intact, Browned and Beautified by a Pit Fire

Finally I have a lidded vessel that I didn’t chip or poke a hole into. Although it was an interesting challenge to come up with ingenious ways of disguising or revising these things it was a pleasure not to have to save a piece from my clumsiness for a change. This pit fired lidded vessel has all the characteristics that I sought - a surface that looks drawn upon in inks and charcoal. Mission accomplished here, I’ll return to drawing and painting for a while. The next pit firing will probably be in December or January - when dry leaves have all fallen and been raked up.


Yesterday was the closing celebration of my exhibition “A Gaze Upon Woman.” It was a pleasure to see old friends again. The show was expertly hung by the curator, Michael Wessel. Doing all those drawings to distract myself from symptoms, I had no idea that they would one day be put to use. It was nice to share them.

October 2, 2013

All Seeing Eye Vessel

In my second attempt to make a ceramic urn for holding ashes, I opted for a more elongated shape than that of my previous urn-turned-into-a-soup-tureen. This time, after I added a hollow knob on the top, I realized after inspecting the lid that the hole from the lid to the knob was closed off. So I carefully carved from the base of the lid through the neck and into the knob to allow air to exit in the firing. Unfortunately the clay in the neck was too thin and was punctured. This left a hole in the neck just under the knob. I patched this immediately. But some time later the hole came back to haunt me. Once again, during the burnishing process it burst through the neck. Well, I had put a lot of work into the vessel so I fired it anyway, then smoke fired it in the kiln.


After that I had a decision to make. To fill in the hole with an inlay or leave it blank? I left it blank for a while then asked my husband for a second opinion as to whether or not the hole was disconcerting, distracting, or otherwise evoked a feeling of a wounded or incomplete vessel. The consensus between the two of us was that the hole must be filled. I tried out several kinds of fillings; stones, glass, smalti, gold. Nothing seemed to do quite the trick. Then I found a small eye that I had made earlier from fused glass. It fit the space perfectly so without much more deliberation I sealed the eye into place. Now the vessel became rather disconcerting. The eye seemed to animate the piece in a rather unsettling way. This would be a very weird vessel to use as a container for storing the remains of a loved one, I thought. It would look like the dearly departed were still there, keeping a watchful eye upon the living. Not an attractive idea.

It occurred to me that the vessel was just too weird to be commercially viable but I posted it in my online shop anyway. It also occurred to me that I could always enter it in an art exhibition as a curiosity piece but thus far has not made it into either the state or county fair. Perhaps next year.

October 1, 2013

Rabbit's Elixir of Longevity Vessel

“And that’s why you’re dying,” a doctor said to me recently after a diagnosis that was based on a dubious technique. I didn’t jump at those words and I’m not sure if it was because it was a relief to finally hear words from someone else’s mouth that had been circulating around in my head for the past two years. Could anyone be this symptomatic and not be dying by slow increments? Or perhaps I was not moved because of the doctor’s technique of determining that I had radiation exposure by having me hold my right hand on “the cure” drops while holding my left hand in his right hand and watching a gold chain held in his left hand spin in circles. I just couldn’t take it very seriously. Really. I suspended a gold chain from my own left hand later in the privacy of my home, sans “cure drops” bottle and it spun in circles just the same. And I seemed to recall that this suspended chain spinning technique was also superstitious technique for determining the gender of a baby in a pregnant woman. So much for homeopathy. I haven’t entirely given up on homeopathy as possibly having some value but probably not in conjunction with this particular diagnostic technique.


But getting back to death and dying, it occurred to me after this pronouncement about my appointment with the grim reaper that since I had requested that my body be cremated when my time arrives I could be prepared by making my own cremation urn and pit firing it - ashes to hold ashes. So I made a free form vessel using a pukit mold and coiling techniques then added something intriguing on the inside of the vessel - a print from my ancient Chinese stamp that read “Long Life and Eternal Joy.” I liked the idea of my ashes resting on those words. But it was not to be. The bottom of the pot distorted the print when I altered the shape. Then later, as I was applying the terra sigillata glaze to the greenware I inadvertently broke a chunk out of the vessel along the upper lip. Now what? So the piece became something else entirely. I smoothed over the break and created a ladle so that the vessel would look like a soup tureen. It would have to be a non functional soup tureen. Somehow it no longer worked as a cremation urn either. Just what would the ladle be for? To slowly season steaks and omelettes with my ashes?

As I finished the piece I thought of the Chinese myth of the magic rabbit making the elixir of longevity for the goddess Guan Yin. He had a mortar and pestle for this but perhaps he could have stored his elixir in a small tureen with a longevity stamp in its interior. So now the piece has a new name: Vessel for Rabbit’s Elixer. And for now I’ll be trying more healing methods, and even had the effrontery to start scheduling exhibitions for spring 2014 should any of these methods actually work.  Or perhaps I could find a magic rabbit?

September 29, 2013

Golden Clay from the Pit Fire

The outdoor pit firing kiln was opened. Everything made it out intact - even the lid from one of the pots that fell outside the inside protected core and into the fire. This lid did get much more toasted than the rest of the pot but the dark black knob adds a nice counterbalance to the red pot. This lidded vessel, as well as the pinch bowl at the bottom right, were made from clay I found locally which appears to be a tributary creek from the Edisto River. The clay was naturally plastic and didn’t have much debris in it so it was easy to shape. I tried something new with a white terra sigillata inlay on the pinch bowl which yielded some interesting results in the reduction firing. Needless to say, I could not help but go back for a little more of this clay.


The white found clay didn’t do quite as well. One vessel chipped in the firing perhaps because of adulterants in the clay or too much sand. But another vessel made from the white clay came out of the kiln with lovely pink and grey smoke designs.

September 28, 2013

Monstrous Little Painting

This painting started out as a collage of a paper representing a creature which I could not identify. It looked bovine but could just as well have been a large dog. Such is naive art. Yet its very anonymity gave me free reign to paint over its shape without delineating any features. As I painted, however, the body seemed to sprout a man’s head sporting a blue beard. He looked familiar, like someone I knew when I was in high school. Amazing what subliminal memories come to the fore when doing stream of consciousness art.


Since the beast now had a human head I decided to replace the hooves with human feet, two left feet and two right feet. No longer bearing any resemblance to the gentle cow of Chinese folk art I was yet reminded of something in Chinese classical literature. Earlier last year I read the Shan Hai Jing, an ancient compendium of mythical monsters and their favorite haunts. I thought that it would be entertaining reading but found that it was instead a tedious laundry list of outrageous descriptions. I don’t even remember them save one - a creature described as having its anus above rather than below its tail. I considered adding this feature to the painting above but refrained myself. And here seemed to be the best place to close my short chapter on these folk paintings.

September 27, 2013

Dragon West Travelers East

Nearing the end of my Chinese Folk Art series of small paintings, I completed one thatlooks like an amalgam of Chinese and Russian Folk Art. I call this painting “Going Home,” so named for the red print in the lower right hand corner that was printed from a stone with those very words carved on it in ancient Chinese. The print now serves as an embellishment for the tail of a partially obscured dragon. With his head at the left side of the painting he appears to be moving westward, in a direction opposite the travelers with the goat cart and the red kid. West bound dragons and east bound travelers. Perhaps it is emblematic of my belief that for the last few decades China is becoming increasingly westernized as the west becomes more eastern. But perhaps that may be reading too much into a simple painting.


The yellow goat, although painted in western colors, is in a classic pose from Chinese painting, his head twisted backwards and upwards to look at birds flying overhead. His colors, as are all the other colors, are freely painted with no regard for the monochromatic paper cut from which they emerged. I painted the center of interest, the yelping kid, a bright red to highlight his terrified white eye. He obviously doesn’t want to be making this trip.