|I believe to draw is to think. Therefore, when I begin my next piece, I always start with pencil and paper. I often look through nature books to jump start my brain and begin to draw the things that move in and out of consciousness. All the animals I produce are inspired by nature, but they are of my own design. After drawing for hours or sometimes even days, I review my progress and select the pieces that compel me the most. I then re-sketch the work until it is functioning both on a narrative level well as a design level.|
Once satisfied, I draw the piece a final time in the appropriate scale. It may take me a few tries of drawing the desired piece in a variety of sizes to determine exactly how large it needs to be. This enables me to see how effective the piece would be at different scales. This life-size drawing is like a map that informs me how to get from point A to point B. As I build the piece I will continuously refer to this map in order to avoid distortion of my original design.
All of my pieces are hand built. Most are slab constructed since I find it the quickest and most enjoyable way to work. Nevertheless, I do not remain faithful to this technique alone. I will use the most suitable technique for the form. Working with slabs is much like sewing with large flat pieces of clay that join together to create a three-dimensional object. However it is not imperative that the pieces fit together perfectly as they can be easily modified during the construction process. Once the underlying form is constructed and is air tight I am able to paddle the form into shape because the air pressure on the inside keeps the form from collapsing.
The clay body I use is low-fire earthenware that fires to a creamy white color at cone 04. I make my clay from scratch only because I have not found a pre-made clay body that is as flexible, plastic, and smooth as the clay body I make. I am also drawn to this clay body because its white color allows me to be flexible and enables me to achieve whatever color I desire. I choose to work with low-fire for two reasons: there is less chance of damage in the firing process and it allows me a wide color range. Because my work is so time consuming (I average about 1 piece per month), I do not want to take the risk of a high-fire clay body.
Since the animals I create do not always have flat bottoms on which to sit, bases have to be designed to hold the piece. This creates an engineering problem for me because if the creatures and bases were built as a whole they would be a nightmare to get into the kiln without breakage let alone shipping the pieces. I have to engineer the pieces to be assembled and disassembled. I often use brass rods that will slide into a matching brass tube to hold the animal into place. The tubes are glued into place with PC-7 after the piece has gone through its final glaze firing. The rods then slides in and out of the tubes allowing the animal to slide on and off the base at any given point.
Once the building process is complete, I bisque fire it to cone 04. At this temperature the clay body becomes very strong which is important since my work is usually delicate and fragile. At this point I must decide on a color combination. Choosing the appropriate color combination is usually done after I bisque fire the piece. Rarely do I know the color before its initial firing. Therefore, I will sketch the piece several times and color it in with colored pencils as if it were in a children’s coloring book. This allows me to work out the color combination before committing to glaze, underglaze, enamel, and/or oil paint. I enjoy using a variety of surface techniques because each has its unique strength and inherent connotation.
I enjoy underglazes because of its consistency and the almost limitless color possibilities, but mostly because of its durability. I also enjoy the speed of which it sets. I am able to blend one color into another and may layer several colors to create a deep, luscious surface. I often airbrush the underglazes to create a flawless surface. The underglaze I use also allows me the option of a matt or glossy surface. After I finish underglazing I fire the piece to cone 04. Once the piece comes out of the kiln I may go over it with more underglazes in order to get the desired affect. If I’m lucky I get it right the first time. Otherwise I may fire it multiple times until it is just right. Once I like what I see I will determine which areas should be glossy or matt so that I may apply clear glaze on the appropriate areas. Once it has gone through the final firing I will seal the matt surfaces with a poly urethane to prevent it from becoming dirty.
However, lately I have been primarily utilizing oil paints because not only to I love the process, but I love the look of the finished product. Nothing parallels the delicious surface quality of oil paints as well as the depth attained by layering up a myriad of translucent and luminous colors. I love the control I have over the oil paints and that there is no color unavailable to me, unlike underglazes. I also like that what you see is what you get. No surprises after opening a kiln! I liken painting with underglazes to painting in the dark. You kind of know what you are going to get, but until it comes out of the kiln and the light is on, you can never be sure. Opening the kiln after underglazing can either be like Christmas morning or the day after. Sometimes it surpasses you wildest dreams, while other times it can be a big let down. Therefore, oil paints seem ideal in comparison. But the down side of oil paints is that the surface is much more fragile and needs to be cared for tenderly as not to damage the surface.
Working with ceramics has been a continuous challenge for me. It is by far the most challenging medium I have ever encountered. Not only do I have to design each piece I have to build it, engineer it to disassemble, and I have to paint it. Each step poses its own unique challenges which never fail to keep me engaged in my pursuit of beauty.
Recipe for cone 04 Clay Body:
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