Sunday, 27 May 2012

An Explosion in the Kiln....

The broken “Project Angel” sculpture.

On Wed morning this past week, I placed the winged sculpture now just newly named “Project Angel” into the kiln to do a bisque firing at cone 06. All very routine. I worked all day painting Samson and doing some detailing on Foxy David. I went for a coffee break at about 3pm and when I came back the kiln had shut off.

Thursday, the next day, just after lunch I arrived at the studio in great anticipation. “Project Angel” was a new sculpture and would be shown for the first time, a foundational piece of my show, together with the 6.5 Weeks sculpture.  I opened the kiln lid and stood in shock. I could not mentally put together what I was seeing. There were shards of clay scattered everywhere inside the kiln, and one of the hands was completely gone! For the first time, one of my pieces had blown up. Unbelievable! Extreme disappointment filled my being. What timing, just before a show! How unfortunate! And, with the hundreds of shards, any kind of repair was simply impossible.

I tried to think, how could this have happened. An answer came quickly. I’d made the basic hand a kind of hollow “mitt”, upon which I'd fashioned the wings. The mitt was open at the bottom, through the wrist into the hollow arm, which was open at the bottom. But I remembered now how I’d wondered about that as I was working on the hands, building the feathers etc. I wondered if the mitt had not possibly collapsed in the upper more narrow extended region of the hand. I had wondered if the weight of the clay together with the pressure I’d placed on it in adding the clay for feathers and in doing the carving might not be causing the “mitt” beneath to collapse on itself. If so it could very easily trap some air, which would then cause an explosion. I had forgotten about that and felt that was exactly what had happened.

There is one thing every person working with clay accepts. Expect the unexpected. Anything can happen. Most often it has to do with the glazes. The colour is not quite what one might expect. It may have bubbled, it might come out crackled, it might have run down the piece onto the shelf and you need a chisel to get it off, or, as in my case, something has exploded. Pottery folk take all this in stride. Sometimes the surprises are good ones as the glaze may have turned out different than expected but better, a new colour that works, a texture that is amazing etc. So, every time we open the kiln we are prepared for the surprise, either good or bad. We always learn something. Without that attitude, we could not work in pottery!
 New Beginnings...
Never-the-less, this was disappointing and I was a little down Thursday night and Friday. Saturday I had made some decisions which have gotten me going again. First, this was to be part of the show and is part of the story. I will place an explanation on the plinth designated for this piece. It will include pictures of what happened, and the promise of a new piece ASAP. (I’m still trying to decide if I actually show the broken piece.) Secondly, I have now already begun remaking the piece, and when it is done I will place it on it’s plinth with the story of what happened. It’s actually very much a metaphor of our own story! Thirdly, I will do things differently, a) to prevent another explosion and b) I will make it out of porcelain clay. c) finally, it will be different in the rendering of the feathered hands. Now that I’ve done it once I have learned from the experience and plan to render the feathers more realistically. Porcelain brings new inspiration!

So, Saturday, (yesterday) became a day of new energy and excitement for me. I was back at work in my studio. I have always wanted to try porcelain clay and feel that this is the piece that should be rendered in porcelain. The results will have much more of an “angelic quality” than the clay I was using.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness…”
Isaiah 43:19

Saturday, 26 May 2012

That Unexpected Twist.

“Project Angel”

It was Tuesday, May 22nd, and I was working in my studio. There were several pieces for the art show that were still not ready, so I was “lost” working on them. Suddenly I realised it was 2:30PM and that If I was to make it for my art delivery appointment in Altona, that I actually had only one hour to pack the van. I did the calculations and discovered that if I hurried, and all went well, I should make it.

Fortunately, I had packed all my art, ready for travel, after the last art show so all I had to do was bring it out of storage, down the stairs and into the van. On the way, I picked up my wife from home and we were off the one hour trip to Altona. We were going to make it for the appointed time.

As usual, there are deadlines for submitting information on your art to the Galleries. I had already forwarded my artist statement and the write-ups for each piece on display. In the process I’d decided on a theme for the show and wrote up the display notes relating to that theme.  

As we were moving my stuff into the Gallery conversation between our daughter, the curator of the gallery, my wife and I revolved around the subject of my winged sculpture, my warrior angel charcoal drawing and such. A phrase came up. It was the name the police had coined for the investigation of Candace’s murder. They had called it “Project Angel”.

What I did not really realise was that, at the mention of that phrase the two ladies of my life kind of stopped in their tracks saying, “Why don’t we call this art show ‘Project Angel’”?

Now, for me, this was the twist! I hesitated. I had to process this. To give myself time, I stopped moving things, straightened my back, wiped my brow hoping this would look “normal”. I could see there was this kind of “it’s a no brainer decision”, emanating from their expectant faces. But I seriously, had to consider a few things. My mind was going…First, I’d invested a lot of time and thought into my first idea for the theme and I had liked it. Secondly, there was this practical question, I’d already submitted my theme applying it to everything, was it still possible at this late date to change it and re-submit the material? Thirdly, there was my ego I had to consider. Actually, I had to admit, this was a good Idea. Now, my first idea sounded quite flat. This was much more dynamic. It had punch! Drat it! It sounded sooo good. Why had I not thought of that?

Let me say this. I also knew at that moment (confirmed with a lot of past history of wise choices) that I had the two smartest, publicity and promotional savvy women I know, in my very own life. I had to admit it was a very good idea. It truly was a no brainer.

Hoping that my “processing” had not taken too long to be considered a male issue of some kind, I agreed. They were delighted. Nothing, it seemed, stood in the way of making the adjustment. I could re-write it and all would be well.

I learned something from this “unexpected twist”. I do have a fantastic “built in focus group” I should be looking too more often.

"Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgement.”
Proverbs 18:1

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Goliath's Sword

The belt becomes a brace.

Let us continue with “Foxy David”. I have finished his legs, his feet, his robe which is larger and has more drapery than the last Foxy David. There is one more thing I need to work on before I can let him dry. Golioth’s sword needs support.

There have been many ideas about the character of Goliath but it is true that everything about him was large and intimidating. He was nine feet three inches tall. He was a warrior and had already won many single man to man “champion” type battles for his nation. Therefore he carried trophies of his past victories. These trophies would include armour from his various fallen foreign enemies. Therefore the sword he carried is thought to have been the sickle type shown here which he got from the Canaanites and was later, because of it’s effectiveness, adopted by the Egyptian army.

In this sculpture I have his “power sword” (the traditional straight sword) in his left hand. Now, the sword is large being Goliath's, so it needs some bracing. I could probably let it go with just the bottom of it against his foot and the tombstone on which he is sitting but that is risky. One little bump on the arm or sword and it could snap off very easily. I need to brace it up somewhere, somehow to help hold it sturdy and look reasonably natural.

I have decided to use the “belt” that would be part of the scabbard to lie in such a way that it is also bracing the whole piece, giving it stability.

The picture at the top shows  you what I have in mind. It is quite delicate work, rolling a strip of thin clay and keeping it in one piece as you place it where you want it. Then, re-enforcing it in the crucial spots to re-enforce the ultimate purpose and that is to be a true brace to solidify the way the sword is set.

OK, now I have draped the extended parts of the piece with damp cloth/paper towels so the drying will be even. Then I’ve covered him with plastic and we will leave him for a while. When he’s leather hard I will again do some details.

I wish to have him ready for the Altona show and need to deliver him on May 25. I hope that will work. I think I’ll have to ask for an extension...

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword...”
Hebrews 4:12

David and Goliath

Philistine SwordGoliath’s Sword

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Foot Carving.

Sitting at David’s Feet...

Let’s continue with the life of “Foxy David”!

The time has come for him to stand on his own good feet! When I first make his legs and feet (as you can see in the picture above) they are large, over sized, looking like he should be going to his doctor to get something for his bloated legs and feet. Never-the-less I do try to place them in the right positions, so that the only thing left is to begin detailing them. We will do the doctor’s work by carving them down to look like a healthy, yet resting worrier kings kind of feet. OK, just normal male feet with comfortable sandals on.

Then, as you can see, I’ve already placed the soles of the sandals onto his feet. I rolled a thin roll of clay, brushed the bottom edges of his foot with slurry and attached the roll all around. Then I folded the clay against the food all around for a good connection. Yes, it is rough and crude but this will become the edges of the soles of the sandals. This is the base now upon which we detail the rest of the foot.

Because the foot is over sized it will now be carved back to fit the size of the overall figure. Usually I use the head size of the figure as my reference point for the proportions of the whole figure, but, in this case we have a fox head, also over sized for affect so this will not work in this case. His feet would be too large for his overall figure. So, now we need to be a little creative and measure from our own bodies. I’ve already made his arms to the correct proportions of his body so let’s use that. So I take my ruler, measure my own foot and compare that to the upper arm of my body. Beginning at the bent elbow lay the ruler along the upper arm towards the shoulder and see how your foot compares. Then we go to the figure already made, make a measurement of the same percentage of the your foot size on the upper arm and you have the size his feet should be.

The tools I used for this project.

So I cut back the front of his foot, keeping the sole of the sandal intact. I would trim the sole all around after the whole foot was completed. Once the size is confirmed the whole foot and leg must be carved down to match the new smaller size chosen for the foot.

Then, when I finished with the foot, I cut back the edge of the sole to fit. (Size 9.5 W, of course!)

Now we wait for further drying...

You can see that the finished product will need more detailing later for now the clay is to wet for that purpose. When the clay becomes leather hard I will again go over the feet to continue fine tuning the toes, making the leather straps thinner and finer etc.

Centipede to his doctor, “Doc. when my feet hurt, I hurt all over.”

“Look out for the path that your feet must take, and your ways will be secure.”
Prov. 4:26

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Brain Surgery

Ouch, that hurts!

Yesterday was “open house” at Clifton Studios. That means the artists were there to welcome the public and had their creations for sale.

It was a delightful day of meeting new people and old friends who all had an interest in seeing artists in their studios and entering into conversations, not only about purchasing something but also about the creation and technical aspects of their creative processes and work. Always just what any ceramic artist loves to do!  

I was there, in my apron, working in my studio, doing guess what, your right my title gave it away, “brain surgery”! You see, I don’t create “functional” ceramic items. No cups, bowels or vases. No I create strange creatures with fox heads and the like. Customers come to buy things for Mother’s Day and scones for on their walls, dinner ware or special serving dishes etc.

So, I move around and visit with all the artists who are for once all here at the same time. So, time to catch up and visit. Secondly, because I’m not selling I can “work” at something in my studio.

Ready to be closed up again.

Despite all that, visitors did come by, seeing me working in my “smudged up with clay” apron, and my work in progress brought them in. We had amazing conversations that come out of my “dysfunctional pieces”. on words! The subjects of conversation ranged from the ridiculously hilarious to the deep and the sublime. It so happened that I was working on my “Foxy David #2, cutting open the top of his head and removing the insides to make it hollow. So this alone was an amazing subject of conversation. “Brain surgery and lobotomies”were mentioned. It was very stimulating and fun.

I saw personal friends, I met several people who’d seen my show in the Mennonite Heritage Center and many strangers who are now new friends.

Guess what, I sold one of my farm boys, wow. It was a wonderful, and inspirational day.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind...”
Romans 12:2

Friday, 11 May 2012

Art Show #2 in Altona This Summer!!!

I am a little excited.

It gives me great pleasure to announce my second art show. Let me give you the details here so you know where to get them when needed.

The “Altona Gallery in the Park” features their art shows in a large turn of the century home, renovated beautifully into an art gallery. It is set in an outdoor sculpture garden with a fountain, a stream and sculptures all around. It is a beautiful place for a walk of contemplation outdoors midst a variety of art. It is very inspiring.

They are open in the summer only with two shows, a spring and a fall show. I will be in the spring show. Also, I will not be the only artist showing, but I do not know at this time who they are and what will be on display along with my art. But, you might also be interested to know that I will have several new pieces in the show. 

Dates of Show: From June 2 to the end of July, 2012.
Opening will be June 2, doors opening at noon.

General Hours: Open Tue – Sun from 12:00pm – 8:00pm during Spring and Fall Season of 2012. Open July 1 Canada Day, Aug. 6 Civic Holiday and Sept. 3 Labour Day.

Check out their website at: www.altonagalleryinthepark

If you wish to make plans and have questions, here are the numbers:
Year round: (204) 324-9005 and at the Gallery (seasonal) (204)324-9610

How to get there: Altona is a one hour drive from Winnipeg. A normal easy route is to go south on Pembina Hwy. (# 75) Turn right (West) on Hwy. # 14 and South on # 30. Once you are there turn West on 10th Ave. NW to the Gallery. (Simply follow the signs to the gallery.)

I would like to invite all my readers to come out and see this amazing and classy art gallery. It is a great opportunity to go for a drive and make it special. A drive in the country including enjoying little art in the process is a good thing. The town is delightful and has some neat restaurants and you could check dates of other summer events, you might also include in your outing. I’m sure you will love it.

Here is a note about the creator and his creative work you would see on the way to the gallery...

“The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain, they shout for joy and sing.”
Psalm 65:13

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Fur you see is the Fur you Get!

Working at his fur...

Yesterday I worked on and finished the tombstone for the sculpture “Foxy David #2”. It is now drying as we speak. Meanwhile, as you can see in the photo I have begun on the David figure which will ultimately sit on the tombstone.

Since the tombstone is not dry enough, I’ve fashioned at “stand in” stone made out of styrofoam.

His torso was a slab rolled out on the slab-roller. This was then cut into a rectangle and made into a tube. This has been pushed and carved into a hollow male torso. At this point details are not necessary as he will be clothed and so the accurate body shape will help shape the folds of his clothing.

The fox head is a solid piece of clay shaped separately and then attached to the neck. Because the fox head is unbalanced due to the long snout of the fax I’ve had to prepare a custom brace which will be placed under his chin until he is leather hard at least. At that time I will cut the head in half and carve out the inner clay. Then the two shells will be reconnected and his head will then not only be lighter but will also be hollow. This is also done to prevent the head exploding in the kiln. Anything over half an inch thick is at a high risk of exploding. This is due to the fact that moisture is still stuck in the clay and when the clay and the air pockets or water pockets are heated the moisture will expand. If it cannot find it’s way out it will continue to expand and then cause an explosion that will probably ruin the sculpture. Also, if other items are in the Kiln they will also be damaged by the force of flying clay when you have an explosion.

It can be very disappointing, when you have worked many hours on a piece and it is damaged by an explosion or explodes itself. Fortunately, so far I’ve had no explosions.

One thing is I was not confident in rendering fur on the fox head. So, I goggled to see what I could find, but did not find much. Most artists of any note showed how they did fur from a distance. No close-ups. Also, he had a special tool to do this but would not show it close up on the U Tube video. So, in the end I found nothing really new or noteworthy that would help me. So, I’m on my own.
The fur you see is the fur you get.

“And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Matthew 10: 30

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Creating Foxy David #2

The Tombstone of “Foxy David” #1

I sold “Foxy David #1”!

Now, I’m in a situation, I need a “Foxy David” in my body of work. I need him for several reasons, mostly for the story around how I came to create him in the first place. But I’d like to leave that right now and go on to the fact that I must make a second one so I have him for when I have the privilege of showing my work again.

The first thing we need to make is the tomb-stone upon which he is sitting. In actuality David was on the roof of his beautiful home, build by a friendly neighbouring king so as to escape being attacked by David’s army. Smart king that was. It was a great deal for both of them. King David got a beautiful home made out of the “Ceders of Lebanon” and the neighbour saved his kingdom. In reality, of course we know he was not actually sitting on a tombstone. It is symbolic of the resulting tragic deaths resulting from his actions beginning with what he saw from the roof of his house that day.

It is important that the tombstone is the first item we make for this piece as it needs to become dry enough to bear the weight of the second piece, namely the figure of David sitting on it so that we might then finish the details of the piece.

The first thing we do is prepare the clay to go through the slab roller. This is a handy device where one can adjust the thickness of the clay slab desired, place the clay in the fold of a canvas sheet and put it through between the rollers. And bingo you have a smooth uniform slab, exactly the width you need. (This thing reminds me of the old wringer-dryers of my youth.) Now you simply cut out the pieces you need for the sculpture. As you see in the photos, I placed a piece of “saran-wrap” on the board and put the tombstone together on that. This way the clay will not stick to the wooden board and so when it dries it can freely shrink without cracking. It also facilitates easily moving it around if necessary. (The amazing things you learn with a little experience!)

The last photo shows the tombstone finished, and the tools I used in the process. What gets a little tricky is the fact that it is not square. You can see that the top is narrower than the base and so the two end pieces must be cut accordingly. Then, you can also see that the centre of the sides are higher, meaning the top piece will not be a straight rectangle as the centre section will be narrower due to this rise of the sides in the centre. (What a sentence!) So, to make it simple I laid a larger slab over the top of the whole piece and traced the edge lines from underneath. That way it fit perfectly without any fussy measuring necessary.

I have now set it aside to dry. Meanwhile, we will begin on the foxy guy who will sit on this tomb-stone.

"The King asked, “What is that tombstone I see?””
2 Kings 23:17