April 30, 2014

New Web Site: Barns of South Carolina

For some years, my husband Nathaniel Wallace has been documenting the rural and small town architecture of South Carolina. I’ve been on many photo shoots with him, my small digital camera in tow to gather material for my own paintings as well. Nat used a medium format camera to take haunting images of the architecture. These have now been published to a new website: www.barnsofsouthcarolina.net
Check out the link.

Immediate Results in a Pastel and Charcoal Drawing of a Bull

I have been working on the parts for collage art lately, but in between these preparations, I’ve taken time to make drawings. Pastel and charcoal drawings are good for quick results. And sometimes I just need to have quick results - especially on days when my attention span seems to diminish. The pastel and charcoal drawing above is a revision of an earlier drawing from life of a bull in a pasture. I abstracted the bull and flipped the head around to better center the beast on the paper. This drawing now rounds out a set of four drawings of bulls, the earlier ones being the yellow bull, the black bull and the blue/violet bull. Bully as the British would say I believe.

April 29, 2014

Restoration Work on Vintage Painted Furniture

The days have been marked by domestic diversions in between art work. Although I am preparing materials for art work, these are works that require several stages for completion so there will be nothing new in that arena to post for about another few days to a week.

One thing that I just finished were a series of marble dust gesso panels. Four coats of rabbit skin glue. Eight coats of gesso, sanding between coats. A final coat of home made ruby shellac. Labor intensive stuff indeed, but worth it for having a beautiful finish to paint on.

Coincidentally, we had just acquired some vintage chairs that had been faux finished in green and ochre with charming details of hand painted fruit. Some of these chairs were badly chipped with the finish worn off. I recalled that on old furniture the same gesso used in my panels was used to coat the furniture before it was painted. So I carefully used the leftover gesso to patch these holes, then sanded down the surface so that it was flush with the rest of the painted surface on the chairs. I then tried to match the paint colors with my oil paint over which I washed some brown umber. The match was far from perfect but at least there are no longer large holes. I may touch up a bit more later.

April 26, 2014

Music from The Scraps of Vessels

When I finish a run of ceramic projects, I typically make small items out of the scraped off debris from the larger vessels. These are usually small sculptures, buttons, or whistles. After my most recent run of lidded vessels, I used the trimmings to make three small ocarinas. I used my one-piece of clay method to make these pod shaped musical instruments. To form them, I started with a simple pinch pot which I then folded an sealed much like a dumpling. The mouthpiece was then pinched off of that. The larger one has a terra sigillata glaze on it. The smaller ones were just burnished natural clay. These were easily slipped inside the other vessels in the pit firing, which produced subtle but likeable changes in the surface design.

Despite their small size, the ocarinas make a big sound. The largest one, at about three inches, still has eight holes and plays over an octave. The next step down is a six hole ocarina, and the smallest makes a shrill piccolo sound from its four tiny holes.

April 25, 2014

A Twisted Pit Fired Vase Brought To Light

I had made a vase to fit inside another larger one. Firing and further shrinkage made the smaller one not quite dovetail so I abandoned the idea of the hidden vase. Well, maybe not entirely. I had made an even smaller vase with a similar swirled design. This did indeed fit inside the larger one. But now the question became, yes, but should it be hidden? I decided that after seeing the great colors that came out of the pit firing and the oddly twisted form, the vase deserved to be seen. This was the last of my non-functional vessels to come out of the kiln. I’ve posted a couple of different views of the piece.

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