Getting back into the clay groove

Summer session in the studio is intense. Its three days a week from 9 am – 2 pm but at the same time its so short, only six weeks instead of the months we have in spring and fall. Because of all of this, the Quan Yin statue is a lot farther along in just two days of work than I had expected. I suspect that by the end of Monday she will be ready to start the slow drying process. If all goes well with that, she’ll go into a bisque kiln in the Fall.

A work in progress, Sculpture of the goddess quan yin out of grey clay. this image: front close up

On Monday the dragon finally got his limbs back (I had to take the draft versions off to get all his scales done) and horns! now he’s still cute, but a teeny bit more mature looking (he thinks).

Tuesday I had planned to do QY’s hands, but in order to do that, I had to finish cleaning her up. That and the addition of the texture on the base (“Swirling vortex clouds” anyone?) took up most of the day.

A work in progress, Sculpture of the goddess quan yin out of grey clay. this image: base focusing on clouds before the dragon or striations are added.

A work in progress, Sculpture of the goddess quan yin out of grey clay. this image: base with new angled striations to imply swirling motion, also part of the dragon body and clouds

All of which means, next Monday, she gets hands. This actually gives me the weekend to experiment with some ideas I have for how to make them look the way I want them too. With fimo you can use wire armature to build sculpture over because that is only heated a hundred or so degrees. With clay, the first firing is 1800 degrees and the second can be as high as 2700. Armature melts very quickly that way. I know of at least one sculptor who uses metal under clay but he has a rig in the kiln to catch the metal run off. I don’t have that option in a school setting, so I’m pondering other ideas. We shall see how they work out!

Quan Yin gets a dragon: Left side=rough in Right side=with scales and more details:

Quan yin gets a dragon 4

Quan Yin gets a Dragon 3

Quan yin gets a dragon 1

Quan yin gets a dragon 2

and this week:

A work in progress, Sculpture of the goddess quan yin out of grey clay. this image: Left side with focus on the dragon's head (2 horns, 3 layer fringe on the back and scales)

A work in progress, Sculpture of the goddess quan yin out of grey clay. this image: front view

A work in progress, Sculpture of the goddess quan yin out of grey clay. this image: right side view

Ceramics and Writing

My brain is a busy busy place. Even when I’m at my lowest energy wise, dealing with chronic pain and / or chronic illness, invariably my brain is still going as fast as possible generating tons of ideas, plots and plans. I can always tell when I’m on an upswing health wise because my brain shifts from scattered and kind of sluggish thought forms to clear and concise idea just waiting to get written down. Once the hands stop hurting and the fingers can type more than a line or two, I’m off and running on whatever story I have at the head of the line.

On the days when my brain is a little slower and my body is struggling with a few more aches, I have found that I can channel some of the whirl of ideas into clay. Using my hands in different way than typing helps stretch them out and alleviate some of the pain while thinking in pictures lets my intellect rest for a while. Ceramic art is very mediative for me. The clay is cool and damn and easy on my hyper-sensitive skin and theres a magic in watching the shapes take form. Seeing words form on a screen is fun, but the three dimensionality of clay is a whole other type of cool. Both fill my soul and help me stay positive about life and the slow path I’ve found myself on for the past eight years.

In February I celebrated the publication of my first short story: “A Rose by Any Other Name” in Torquere Press’ Valentines Day anthology: “Conversation Hearts”. With that story off and spreading its wings, I’ve started working on a new story about werewolves and fireboxes and circuses. This one’s gonna be long and take a while, but its’ so much fun and is going to be well worth the work! You can find my story here: “A Rose by Any Other Name” and the Anthology here: Conversation Hearts

Last summer I worked on two ceramic projects. One was a statue of the Greek Goddess Demeter and one was of the Norse Goddess Hella. They are both about 20″ tall and started out with about 50 lbs of clay each. After firing and glazing and a second firing they weigh a little less and were ready to come home.

Hella and Demeter wrapped for the slooooooow drying process.
Hella and Demeter loaded into the kiln for the final (high) fire

Demeter was built with a high fire clay called Rod’s Bod that is very pale after the first / bisque fire and goes a dark wheat toast color after the final firing. I choose this clay specifically for that dark earthy quality since Demeter is the Goddess of the Grain. Another cool thing with Rods Bod is that it has lot of grit in it to give it solidity. the particles that make up the grit are easy to see once its fired and often interact with the glazes creating unpredictable speckling and colorations. The color work ended up being three layers. The first was colored slip (very watered down clay that has pigment added) in free for her himation and yellow for her chiton. After the bisque fire I added a layer of yellow under glaze over both garments, her crown and the bundle of wheat in her arms. Because I was looking for a blend between detailed and ephemeral I added a final brushed on layer of high fire glaze in Yellow Salt. The final result was very close to what I had imagined and the places that were different were wonderful for those differences.


Demeter in process, early rough in on forms

Demeter in process, colored slip, pre-face

Demeter sculpt complete, front

Demeter sculpt, complete side and back views

Coming off of Demeter, I was still plugged into the anthropomorphic mode and started Hella by trying to recreate the details of her half bone/dead side and half flesh/alive side. It became clear very quickly that this was not working. I pulled all the details off and started over, just listening to the clay and feeling my way through to something that feels very primal and raw but also very much Hella.

I used two different color clays for this piece. The dark side is a clay called Black Mountain that fires out to a light milk chocolate after bisque and a dark chocolate after the final firing. To boost the darkness of this side, I added a layer of black under glaze before the final fire. The light side is a clay called EBS (literally East Bay Sculpture) that starts out gray and fires out first to a light tan and then to a slightly darker and grittier tan. Since her colors are usually white and black, I added a layer of white underglaze to the light side. This turned into a teaching moment for me 🙂 I had never seen the EBS fired out, so I was going off of other peoples memories, and we thought it would fire out much closer to a white than it finally did. If I had realized how dark the clay went I would have done several layers of white slip before bisque and then several layers (more than I actually did) of white underglaze. It still might not have gone all the way white, but it would have been closer.

Because the elements of life and death collide along the center line of the sculpture, I painted a line of red slip that was mixed with crumbled bits of a reddish clay called Cinnamon. The end result was a textured line uniting the two parts of her essence.


Hella sculpt, in process – first “draft”

Hella sculpt ready for the kiln. Front w/ black colored slip applied. Back before colored slip.

Hella sculpt complete, set on her new altar space

Hella sculpt complete, set in her new altar space, left and right side views

Now that these two ladies are comfortably settled in their new homes, I have two new projects in the works 🙂 One is a commission piece depicting the African Diasporic Power called Ogun. He’s finally dry enough to fire, so he should be going into the kiln next week. The other is probably going to be for sale and is a sculpt of Quan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion. She’s still very much in process. Next week, the dragon who wanted to “help” gets his head cut off and a new one (much smaller and less “LOOK AT ME!”) made to go in its place. She probably won’t be ready for her first fire until the middle of summer term, and then I have to figure out what glaze color(s) she’s going to get.

Its a hard life *grin* but someones gotta do it!

Portrait of the Artist covered in clay and gleeful