December 20, 2015

Sonic Hedgehogs with Pearly Eyes

My last batch of zoomorphic ceramic clicking instruments, which I am still calling sonic hedgehogs, emerged from the kiln on the dark side.  I was hoping that the reduction firing would turn them black, but instead many of them became a dark burned cookie shade of brown.  Searching for a way to brighten them up, I found that I had on hand a package of seed pearls and green stones just small enough to put into the eye sockets to create a bright focal point. 
The size and carving of these instruments is small - about the size and feel of Japanese netsuke figures.  The mouth part is proportionately oversized to
 I have yet to hear them all played at once.  They would sound like a field of crickets or cicadas.  But to make that happen someone would have to collect a bunch of them and invite guests to each rattle one.  Perhaps that will happen as I do have someone collecting between ten and fifteen of them.  A good idiophone orchestra might need to be comprised of about a hundred.  One day.
the body to emphasize its function as a noise maker.

December 17, 2015

Sonic Hedgehogs Versus Sonic The Hedgehog

Everyone knows about the video game that features Sonic the Hedgehog.  Everyone but me.  I thought that I had found a good name for  my small ceramic zoomorphic sculptures that made clicking noises when shaken when I read about a molecule called sonic hedgehog.  It turns out that I was influenced by a rather obscure term which had been named after the popular video character.   Every now and then someone would tell me that my name for my idiophones was a video game.  But I didn’t actually look that up until my friend started writing little stories about my sonic hedgehogs.  Looks like we might need a name change before officially going public.  Too bad.  I enjoyed calling my invention sonic hedgehogs.  It seemed so apt.  And I could not  come up with a satisfactory alternative: clicking critters, sonic salamanders, atonal animals....they all fell short.  It seems the best names are always taken!
The second batch of sonic hedgehogs came out of my kiln recently.  This time the substantially reduced atmosphere made most of them quite dark.  But they still make a good clicking noise when shaken, whatever I might eventually name them.

December 16, 2015

Metallic Sheen from a Pit Firing

All of the pottery that comes from my pit fires are experiments.  I try different combinations of organic substances and different levels of oxidation and reduction with each firing.  This yields unexpected surprises.  In my last firing I used  cedar chips, a pile of twigs, and a lot of Spanish Moss.  I kept the atmosphere very reduced with a stopped up kiln for several hours.  The results surprised me.  Although the very dark pots that emerged could be expected from the black sooty atmosphere, everything was covered with an iridescent sheen.  My natural caramel colored clay udu drums turned platinum, copper and silver.  Usually I don’t get too emotional when I open my kiln but I found myself tearing up at the sheer beauty of these surfaces.  The results were almost like a raku firing.  Beautiful!
The waxing and buffing I did to protect the surface of the pit fired vessels took some of the metallic look out but there was still enough preserved to please.  This at least helped compensate for the earlier loss of three udu drums due to premature firing and some clay instability. 
I should try to emulate this effect for the next firing, but I’ve determined to oxidize more and add different organic materials for a more traditional saggar fire.  More experiments yet to come.

December 14, 2015

Cats in Distress

In an effort to salvage work that has gone awry, I sometimes ruin it.  I sometimes try to save an art object that probably should be discarded.  Such was the case with a large rattle in the shape of a feline sculpture.  I put an experimental terra sigillata surface on the piece which crazed in the bisque firing.  Another sculpture with a similar glaze on it also crazed.  I kept one piece, a sculpture in the shape of a possum, with the glaze intact on it.  But I was not satisfied with the extent of the crazing in the cat sculpture because it appeared to be delaminating in places.  So I carefully sanded most of it off.  I should have sealed this and left good enough as it was by sealing the raw clay and quitting.  But I could not resist trying out yet another terra sigillata over the bisqued ware to see what would happen.  And I could not resist throwing the whole thing in a fire without sealing the terra sigillata in a bisque firing first.  The results were interesting, but the terra sigillata glaze began to delaminate again after it cooled.  I started sanding it off once again, but got so tired that I just decided to trash the piece.  But taking a hammer to bowls and whistles is one thing, and smashing a sculpture staring back at me with wide open eyes was another.  I could not quite bring myself to do it after this descent in to animistic sentiment.  Fortunately a friend agreed to take the piece off my hands.  The distressed feline is en route to her now.
A second rattle also did not make it through the bisque firing as it separated into two pieces at the juncture where it had been originally fitted together.  What to do to save it?  I almost threw the piece away.  Then I thought that I might sand down the edges and call the small sculpture “two cats caught in quicksand.”  Finally I resolved to put kitty humpty dumpty together again with a bead stuck inside so that it would make a rattle noise when shaken.  I covered the cracks with silver acrylic for yet another experimental effect.  I don’t think I’ll go this far to attempt to save work again!

December 12, 2015

Revision can be a Subtle Thing

Revision can sometimes be a subtle thing.  I had been culling my ceramic musical instrument collection by resurfacing and tuning the older ocarinas.  Some required substantial work; sanding down an old surface, shaping, tuning, applying a new surface, firing over again, the pit firing for a smoked design.  The ocarinas that required the most work came from a lot that had not fired correctly and would melt when wet.
I was always happy to find some instruments that could be improved just by widening the sound holes and polishing.  An ocarina in the shape of a small mask already had a good sound but only a four note range.  By slowly sanding out the holes the range was increased to a full octave.   After tooling and sanding out the sound holes, I embellished the instrument a bit by adding sgraffito designs, widening and flattening out the eyes in the process.
Some small whistles could be enhanced by adding an inlay of small seed pearls after widening the indentations in the sculpture.  A before and after example is at left.

December 6, 2015

Revised Ocarina

As the year draws to a close, I like to think of one word or phrase that sums up a theme for the year and another key phrase to express the aspirations for the new year.  The key phrase for 2015 is: Editing, Revising and Refining Work.  This year saw the completion of the editing and revision work on three illustrated manuscripts.  I continued to revise and update drawings from my travel books.  December finally saw a culling of my ceramic ocarina collection by either throwing them out or revising them for a better musical range and resurfacing. 
Although I have been revising my ceramic ocarina collection over the last three years, at the end of this year, I became particularly diligent about making necessary changes.  This was prompted in part by seeing just how much better a resurfacing and tuning can help the art work.  For example, the red terra sigillata on the long sweet potato shaped ocarina looked a little shabby to me.  There were too many rough areas so the burnishing was irregular.   This “before” ocarina is pictured at right.  After sanding the whole thing down I expanded the four note range to a full octave by opening up the sound holes and drilling a few more.
There are more revisions to come.  For now I’m celebrating the newly dressed musical instruments coming from my shop.  Below is my “after” ocarina.
This also required adjusting the mouthpiece.  I replaced the old terra sigillata with an aged white, then added some iron oxide brush marks.  I burnished the new surface to a high sheen and then bisque fired the piece with another batch of revised and new pieces.  These were all then smoke fired in my outdoor kiln.  My efforts were for naught, as the fire reoxidized after I vented the kiln too early and all the smoke design was erased.  It happens.  But I was committed to improving this body of work so I smoke fired everything again and kept the kiln stopped up longer.  The result was a good variation of black, grey and white.  When I played the ocarina again, however, I found that one of the sound holes didn’t work.  So instead of risking more tooling around with it, I decided to fill in that hole with a fresh water pearl.  Why not?  It was a nice embellishment and the instrument still played an octave.