I laid awake a few nights ago and came up with a plan for freeing up my style. It was encouraging, exciting, motivating. I look forward to implementing it.
The basic points:
• cut / piece / juxtapose parts and fragments to create a whole
• synthesize! with my background in construction, sculptured brass dies, moldmaking, wire sculpture, woodcarving, oil painting, concrete work, graphic design and more, it’s high time to bring all these media together … wood, metal, plaster, cement, mortar, glaze, paint, waxes, adhesives, screws, wire, re-purposed and found objects
• draw from my 50+ years on the planet to come up with concepts that reflect my conclusions / observations about the human condition thus far
• continue to challenge myself to get looser with my work
Three quick clay sketches done on three different evenings, about life size. I don’t yet know exactly why I’m doing them, but I’m finally unbothered by not knowing … having gone through this cycle enough times to know that the “why” will reveal itself eventually.
I’m done with the wet clay sculpting phase for Aristophanes.
I just finished placing all the hollowed out and re-assembled sections back on the armature temporarily to get all four legs/feet to agree on what’s level, and will leave everything uncovered to firm up for a day or so before moving them … ummm … somewhere! to dry for several weeks before firing them.
Attic Gallery says a collector is interested in my “66,000 Generations of Reason” and he’s curious how I made it. So I sent the above screen capture (from my Mac finder) to the proprietor today. It’s pretty low res, but gives a general idea of the steps involved. The gallery said they printed out some copies to have on hand for anyone else interested in my work.
The prospective buyer wasn’t sure how/where to display this large a piece … it would need about a 4′ x 4′ pedestal, admittedly quite a commitment of space. It would be easier if my sketchbook would give me wall pieces to make instead! But mine is not to question why …
I hollowed out the top/final section of the torso tonight. It was pretty dry, which made for difficult and slow going with regular loop tools. I like to cruise kitchen stores for clay tools, and awhile back I bought a sturdy metal gizmo (shaped kind of like a grapefruit spoon) and broke the plastic handle off the shaft so it fits in a drill. Spinning at high speed, it removed the hard clay handily.
I still need to hollow out and re-assemble the above pieces plus the two front legs (not shown) … then I think that’ll be it for hollowing. I’d like to finish the hollowing-out stage tomorrow. I have ideas for what I’d like to make next.
I finished the patina process last night, and got “Reprieve” photographed today in time to make the “must be postmarked by Friday, February 5” deadline to apply for the Feats of Clay juried show. Wish me luck!
Soon after Jackie and I met, we “accidentally” discovered that by combining our talents/skills/knowledge/aptitudes, we could make ceramic tile.
After much research, trial and error, humorous and spectacularly unsuccessful attempts at moldmaking, and then finally producing a collection of about a dozen designs (we now have over 300), we launched a handmade tile business in 1995. I worked full time at it until it was built up enough for Jackie to quit her outside sales job and join me making our fledgling line of hand-pressed, bas relief tile.
The business grew fast, we moved to an industrial space, had six kilns running on three-phase power, up to 11 part-time employees, and … found that we didn’t have time to make art anymore.
We thought a larger company could take our tiles to the “next level,” so in 2000 we approached a corporation we had done a lot of business with about the idea of teaching them how to make tile.
They said yes, so we licensed our designs to them (we owned the designs, they had exclusive rights to produce them), they made our tile line, and gave us a royalty on every tile.
That worked fine for the first few years, then gradually less fine for all concerned until
SUDDENLY AND UNEXPECTEDLY
I found out by a chance phone call that they were going to cease making tile five weeks from that day. Did I mention it was unexpected?!?
This was about a year and a half ago, right when I was on fire artistically … felt I was ready to make some moves … on the verge of putting myself out there in a bigger way.
But then we got the news about tiles, our beloved tiles, our future income forever till we’re wrinkly all over tiles.
On the one hand we were happy and relieved to get “our baby” back under our control once again, but it meant changing our lives entirely and abruptly.
So I immediately swallowed my artist self whole in an instant. He didn’t have time to utter a word, because I put him in head first and gulped. It was brutal, but that’s what I did.
I literally hacked up and threw away a major work in progress since time was of the essence if we were going to jump start a national handmade tile business from scratch in just five weeks!
We also needed space and lots of it. We looked briefly at industrial spaces, but decided it might be “safer” financially (prophetically, looking back) to shoehorn tile operations into our existing studio space.
So I gave up every square inch of my former sculpting space to tiles. We hired and trained people, hired electricians to max out our incoming electrical capacity, bought and wired kilns, made hundreds of tile molds, bought dozens of gallons of glazes and began the arduous process of glaze testing/matching, and on July 1 of 2008 we started producing orders for our dealers all over the country.
The first few months weren’t pretty, but our employees/artisans did a fantastic job of hanging in there and learning and improving to the point that now they have taken our tile line to a new level of quality and beauty beyond our expectations. They’ve raised the bar to the point that I can’t even press a “good enough” tile anymore, not for this crew!
Now, when an order comes in, I have confidence in our team to take it and run with it, and know they’ll do a great job.
It has been a huge undertaking maneuvering the business to this point of efficiency/competence, but the reward is that my day to day involvement has gradually become less necessary.
We had exceptionally good tile orders last August, and decided to re-invest the profits into more studio and storage space. So we had a local contractor build a brand new 14 x 20 studio for Jackie and a 12 x 16 first class storage barn on a slab. I was very involved in the construction, wiring, painting and so on for most of the fall … it was fun, actually!
And then, after everything and everybody else seemed to be pretty well taken care of and humming along relatively smoothly, I began re-organizing, discarding and efficientizing (hey, it’s my blog, I can make up words) to re-claim a 10 x 10 foot corner of my former studio space just for me, just for sculpting. When tiles returned to us out of the blue, I thought I might never have time and space to sculpt again … which has served to make me appreciate all the more deeply the opportunity to resume making large-scale ceramic sculpture once again.
Hence the name of the first piece I sculpted in my new space — “Reprieve” — of a hare that had been stoically sitting in the same position day in and day out, ears limp, eyes unfocused and gazing forward at nothing.
Then a rousing voice, stage right, hollers at him to come on over here and sculpt! He lifts his head a little, then begins to raise up, and slowly turns to see if it could be true, cocking an ear in the direction of … click: freeze frame: “Reprieve.”
I already removed and hollowed out the head earlier in the week, and the ears are shaped and drying.
This evening I started the process of cutting everything into manageable pieces, hollowing them out, and re-assembling them, then re-cutting them apart. I know, it’s insane. This stage is definitely unnerving, and if not done well can lead to major headaches later (like getting all four feet to sit flat after firing).
Due to so many other irons in the fire, I’ve let this sculpture sit for over a month under plastic. Well, clay does have some organic matter in it…and lets just say I now have fresh incentive to finish it faster (although ‘fresh’ is definitely not the right word ).
Not much scheduled for the weekend, so I have no good excuse not to make progress on hollowing out.
Oh, I keep forgetting — I need to make the tail too!
Hollowed out same parts as yesterday on other side.
These photos were taken about a month ago of a smaller hare sculpture which is now ready to bisque fire. It was the first sculpture done in my “new” (re-claiming previous sculpture space…long story) 10’x10′ sculpture-only work area. I’m now working on a much bigger hare sculpture, as yet untitled (his ears featured in yesterday’s blog entry).
Shaping these was an irrationally intensely satisfying experience. Pure joy came out of nowhere and hijacked my body for awhile. My hands took cues from an abstract love of form welling up from the deep. The leather hard clay came off in long curls, each stroke a privilege.
So much precedes such moments: years spent slaloming the learning curve; countless sketches that don’t end up in clay but over time contribute to a sense of what constitutes “perfection” for the ears; enlarging the sketch and building an elaborate armature to support the clay in it’s wet stages; catching the ears at just the right point in their drying cycle where I can carve them like wax, tapering their thickness just so… Why is it so satisfying to finally get to apply that inner conceptual idea of what’s “right” — reinforced by repetition in my mind and sketchbook — to the actual clay?