Monday, August 31, 2009

Three down, three to go

A couple more barnacle pots all fired and ready to go to a local exhibition in November. This makes 3 finished of the ridiculous goal that I've set for myself. Expectations are meant to be revised as the deadline nears, right?

And here's 3 more, glazed and ready to fire tomorrow night. They are resting nicely in the kiln right now. Those pinkish rims will be white by Wednesday morning and the gray green centers will be blue just like the pots above. Actually the larger platter is an unknown as it's layered with an untested combination. Sometimes it gets confusing when I glaze because what I see on the piece going in often has no resemblence at all to what comes out. But it is always a surprise when I open a kiln, hopefully a good one, sometimes not, but always a departure point for a new idea. This is what keeps me drawn to working in clay. There's something new each time I see the fired results. Usually exciting, occasionally disappointing, but never boring.

And before I go for the evening, there is still time to leave a comment to have a chance at this bronze pendant. I'll be using ye olde random generator tomorrow evening to find out just who this piece will be winging it's way to. So if you haven't done so already, head on over to this post.
Night All,

Friday, August 28, 2009

Genius of the Fire Blast

Genius of the Fire Blast, photo by Martie Geiger-Ho

When I showed you all a photo last week of my kiln ‘god,’ I kept wondering where this notion of a kiln god came from. It’s a pretty common potter thing to set a little sculpture on the kiln while firing. It’s like a talisman, or charm. It’s a bit of tradition.

It appears that the kiln god concept is quite ancient, originating in China. In fact there is more than one kiln god as many pottery villages in China had their own deity or guardian. I like Feng Ho Hsien, “Genius of the Fire Blast,” described by Martie Geiger-Ho. Cool name, eh? He was a potter who died when the Imperial kiln he was helping to fire collapsed. The Emperor then made him into a god to quiet the unrest of the repressed potters who produced the porcelain in Jingdezhen. Given I work mainly in porcelain, I think this is the kiln god for me. He even comes with 8 gaurdians and his own temple.

Potters Temple, Jingdezhen, photo by Martie Geiger-Ho

What is interesting to me is how this ancient tradition has been Westernized. Here, we make all sorts of little more or less impromptu sculptures that we call kiln gods. We even have a national kiln god competition. But I think there is a little something in many of us that wants an insurance policy. No matter how well you know how things work, no matter how many times we’ve done the same thing over and again, there is always a little error or even a disaster that can creep in when that kiln goes on.

Little Great Mother Kiln Goddess, Marti Geiger-Ho

Me, I think I’m going to head off to build a little temple for my kiln guardian. Well actually, mine's more like a kiln gargoyle. I might even make 8 gaurdians. I can use all the help I can get. I’m certainly going to dust him off to show just a bit more respect. And maybe even reunite him with the ear that’s gotten knocked off. He is after all the rabbit’s foot of my kiln. And speaking of lore….where does that one come from?

Have a fantabulous weekend everyone!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My love hate relationship with chemistry

Knowing a little glaze chemistry when you make all your own glazes is a necessary evil. On the one hand I love tweeking things a bit to get different effects. It appeals to my inner mad scientist. On the other hand there is that sense of loss, and the mourning that comes with it, when you've sacrificed another piece to the kiln god.

This glaze on these beads is my favourite. I could quite happily use it on just about every porcelain piece I make. But then that would be just plain boring. This is the colour I want on the insides of some of the barnacle pots. It would be just about perfect.

This is what happens when you put that same glaze on the stoneware the barnacle pots are made from. Bleck, yuck, .... expletives, profanity. It is just not anywhere close. I've tried all sorts of things to correct this problem and get that beautiful glaze that is on the porcelain pieces.

And voila! The light bulb in my head brightened momentarily. That's the light bulb that is mostly on the lowest dimmer setting. Months of fiddling and it was just a matter of layering one glaze over another. Now I just want to put this on everything. I'm thinking I need a glaze intervention.

This pot was in my last kiln firing. It has taken me a few days to decide that this will do. Well it sort of has to given that I've got a lot to do before studio tour. Now I just have to fix up the white breaking rust glaze on the rim of the pot. But I actually have an idea and a plan. Crisis mode makes my mind sharper. Or maybe I just am willing to compromise more.
Oh and have I told you about my love hate relationship with white backgrounds? Another time perhaps.

On another note entirely, I am absolutely overwhelmed with all of your very warm and kind comments on my last blog post. You are indeed a generous lot and I truly value your company here in blogland.

Hugs to all!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thanks So Much and Give A Way

It's been just a wee bit over a year since I opened my jewelry components and button Etsy shop. I started with porcelain buttons, I added pendants, charms, and various jewelry components. This has been so much fun! I get to induldge my penchant for working with itty bitty things. I love small.

I am absolutely, thrilled each and every time one of you uses my components in your beautiful works of art. I love that you share these with me.

The give away is for one bronze pendant a little less than 1 inch (25 mm) in diameter, with a patina aged surface. There are no real rules to this. Just leave me a comment, just one, please. If you'd like to spread the word about this on your blog, or by any other means, please do so. But,really all you need to do is to leave a comment. I'll randomly draw a winner on Tuesday the 1 September.

This give away is my thank you to all of you who have been so supportive of my journey over the last year. I'd never have grown so much without you all.

Many, many thanks, LeAnn

Monday, August 24, 2009

Raising lentils

I have raised pinto beans, lima beans, and green beans in my garden, but never, ever a lentil. But, Kelly, an amazing lamp work bead maker, suggested last week that I post a step by step on making lentil beads. I had no idea that anyone might be interested. And maybe nobody but Kelly is interested. So here is a step by step on how I raise lentil beads in my studio.

First things first, tools. Must have the proper tools. Needle tool, cookie cutter, water, sponge….a little spit. Yes, it’s true. I do sometimes lick my fingers instead of reaching for the water. Cornstarch from the kitchen. Actually, I think that Peter put a second box of cornstarch in the cupboard, hoping that I will leave that one alone.

I start by rolling out very thin sheets of porcelain (about 1/8”, 3 mm). These get textured on plates that I make from found objects, stamps I carve, really, just about anything that catches my eye. By the time the sheets of porcelain have been rolled across the texture plate it becomes even thinner, even translucent. Circles are cut and then the clay is gently tapped onto the back of a plastic painter’s tray. Previously I used a round bottom measuring spoon. But making one half lentil bead at a time was too tedious even for me. The set of measuring spoons has now been returned to the kitchen, properly scourged of all clay stuff.

I let those little disks of clay set up to an almost dry stage. The clay at this point won’t bend at all. Then the edge gets scraped back flat, scored, and a magick potion is applied. In the world of ceramics there is this innovation of paper clay. I use it on all of the larger handbuilt work I make but only just started using it on these beads. Sometimes the light bulb in my head is on a dimmer switch and it takes a while to figure out this stuff.

What, you might well ask is paper clay. Well it’s very technical with a very complicated formula. OK, just kidding. Like my tool set this is not particularly sophisticated. For my use, it’s just a 50/50 mix of paper pulp and wet sloppy clay all stirred together. I use soaked and blended toilet paper in my magick potion. Toilet paper is designed to break down in water so it’s just about perfect. Mixed with sloppy clay this stuff is the super glue of my studio.

Once the edges of the bead halves have softened up a bit, they get placed together, patterns aligned, and the edges are gently squished (technical term) to stick them together. I use a needle tool to poke a hole through them. I don’t always check for hole alignment in the beads but it’s kind a cool photo, don’t you think?

Once the beads are assembled they get wrapped up in plastic for the night so all of the moisture in the beads equalizes while they sleep. In the morning they get unwrapped a little bit, slowly dried, and then cleaned up.

Voila! There is a little pile of beads waiting for the first firing on their journey to becoming full grown beads.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Old Mother Hubbard

Old mother hubbard, went to the cuboard, to fetch her poor dog a bead.....OK you get the idea... My cupboard is pretty bare right now, bead wise. But lest you think I've gone to the dark side and devoted myself to making pots, let me set you straight. I've spent the last couple of days making pendants, a few beads, glazing, and loading a kiln with lots of stuff. There are lentil beads in there. There are some of my old favourite pendants in there. There are barnacle pots in there. There are my favourite of all--experiments in there. It's a kitchen sink of stuff. And come Monday, you all should have a sampling of what's in there.

Meanwhile, this kiln 'god' is looking over things as the alchemy of firery magick happens. Made be my son, this looks a lot more like a gargoyle or devil to me. But who am I to argue. Maybe what you need is something fierce to gaurd your precious makings.
Have a fantastic weekend all!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A little more on bronze

This is my favourite piece that came out of my last firing of bronze clay. It's not perfect but I'm overall happy with this piece. But the bronze is fickle stuff and I'm in a love /hate relationship with it right now. I love the colour. I hate it's finicky working properties. But I'm almost certain that it's finished qualities will win out in the end.

The pieces on the left are fresh out of tumble polishing. I am certain I had a photo of the pieces before tumbling. But it seems to be lost in the great abyss of my organisational system. The pieces on the right are ones that have been patined with liver of sulfur. BTW my house smells of rotten eggs right now. But that is not the first smell that popped into Pete's mind when he walked in the door this afternoon. I had a lot of explaining and back peddling to do. A lot of, 'maybe the dogs?'
The dragonfly in the center has not had a LOS treatment and is a sort of reference piece. Pretty bland by comparison, I'd say. The top two pieces went back into the tumbler for a bit of polish. The bottom right piece was just rubbled and finished by hand with a cotton cloth. The bottom left piece is straight from patination. No frills, this is what you get when you take it out of the smelly stuff.

Anyhoo, it's late for me....I've got a bisque kiln firing and I need to move on to getting that one to bed for the night. In fact, I need to get on to bed soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Look what Alice found

It all started with a persistent, yet quiet, woofing in the back garden. Not your ordinary, alert me to the threat of someone emptying trash into the bin in the alley, kind of woofing. Just a series of little puffs of woof. Finally, I got myself out of the studio, looked for the 'threat' and found Alice in with her nose down in an intense examination of something on the ground. My first thought was dead pigeon. But then Alice has no problem bringing me a dead pigeon. No this was serious.

This little box turtle was Alice's trophy of the day. I was quite surprised to find a turtle here. Having grown up around lakes and streams, I've always thought of turtles as water creatures, specifically the snapping kind. Not so! This little girl is a box turtle, specifically an Ornate Box Turtle, a terrapene ornata, to be precise. And you might well wonder how I know it is a girl. Well, Alice's treasure sent me on a mad and all consuming hunt for any and all information pertaining to the terrapene ornata. For example, I know this is a girl because she has yellow eyes (the boys have red). Females may lay 200 eggs in a lifetime but only a handful make it to adults. There are almost always 4 toes on the hind feet and these are dry land turtles. These turtles are considered endangered in Wisconsin and are the state reptile of Kansas. I did not even know that states have state reptiles. Birds, sure, but reptiles?

I think you can probably see what happened to my afternoon. Alice spent the afternoon looking for the turtle. She is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Bob spent the afternoon napping on the deck. In fact, he was completely uninterested in the turtle. Far beneath the attention of an old dog with serious napping to do.

From the look of the mud on the little girl, it seems Alice probably rolled her around a bit before I got to her. Fortunately, she's a box turtle which means she's constructed with a hinge to slam the front door shut over her head. I did not know this before today.
She's been safely relocated on the other side of the fence where there are no dogs. Last time I looked she was long gone, so I'm pretty sure she suffered no lasting damage.
Now I'm off to fill out my box turtle sighting report. Yes, it is true. Texas Parks and Wildlife wants to know when and where you've seen a box turtle.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lentil soup

I made these beads just before I left for Portland and they were waiting for me when I got back and opened the kiln. I had sort of forgotten about them until I cleaned up my table. These are a little fiddly to make. But as we all know, I like fiddly things. They are made from very very thin slabs of porcelain and molded over a measuring spoon. That's right, nothing is sacred in our kitchen. It is all fair game in my studio.
I can see these as focals in a necklace or bracelet. I just can't see the design very clearly because I do so little jewelry design. I'd love to see them made as pendants with a collection of charms off the bottom and a heavily wrapped wire loop at the top. The vision is just there at the edge of my fuzzy brain. And someday I just might get around to doing just that. But for now I'm concentrating on finishing some of those big barnacle pots. 6 done now, 1 to go, and only 34 to go before studio tour.
Oh in case you are shocked at a morning post from me. My computer cracked a mental last evening and so did I. But the computer fairies have been in to do a little counceling and magick and all is right with the world.
The whip cracks and I am back to the studio. Jeesh, my boss is so hard core. Isn't a Friday morning off OK once in a while?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's not like riding a bike!

Nope, not at all. Throwing pots after being away from the wheel for nearly a year is not at all like getting back on a bike. In fact, it is much more like getting back on the horse that threw you. And there is a reason why when you are first learning to throw, you start with 1 pound lumps of clay...not 5 pound. I might add, trimming pots at 4 am in your nighty is not really all that much fun either.

You might well ask, just exactly why is LeAnn doing this? Just before I left for Portland I got notification that I'd been juried into the Fall Studio Tour. I was pretty much over the moon. That is until I got back and realized that I had a scant 3 months to get ready. You see I only have 2 finished barnacle pots for the show. I reckon I need about 40 pots. But not all barnacle pots. These babies can take 4 weeks to make from start to finish. So 4 am is about the coolest time of day in my studio and everyone in my house is asleep then. No need to wake everyone up by turning on lights to get dressed. Besides, that nighty is pretty darned comfy. Spent the whole day in it. OK, enough of the personal details.
Once those pots are trimmed, I get to start on the part that I truly enjoy ....applying about a zillion little pads of clay, stamping them, and poking their centers to make a little crater. The pot gets scored all over then the bottom gets filled in with barnacles. It gets turned right side up and the rim gets embellished with very thin strips of very moist clay. The top barnacles then get filled in.

And voila! Several hours later (I don't keep track of time, the pot is finished. I do really love the embellishment part. It sets up its own rythm and becomes something like a meditation. The work just sort of flows and the pattern emerges.
This pot is all wrapped up for the night so the moisture can equalize. Then it will dry very slowly for the next few days. I finished 3 pots today, so only 37 more to go!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old Friends, New Memories

silver falls state park, oregon
Nearly 10 years is too long! We've just returned from a visit to Portland where we had something of a family reunion with my dear friend Susan. We moved to Australia, she moved to Portland and the time between visits has been far too long. Susan and I have known each other since we were young mothers of under fivers. In fact when I looked into her daughter's face I could clearly see the 6 month old baby I once knew. Ah, but she is such a beautiful adult now.

What a wonderful time we had and I am totally smitten with Portland. The city center reminds me of the life and vibrancy of Brunswick Street in my old Melbourne home. The Alberta Street last Thursday happening was a cornucopia of visual treats and fun. The layers of green in the Japanese garden and the hush of it's quiet beauty, the cool breeze on Manzanita beach, picnic and walking at Silver many things, so many new memories.

But best of all were quiet evenings under the pergola in Susan's back garden. It was as if time had stood still for us and the years apart had never happened.

Seems that Susan has developed something of an obsession with photographing feet to remember special times. It somehow seems so appropriate that our five feet, hers, mine, her partner, my partner, and her daughters have all been captured in a circle on our last day. With old friends life is a circle. You move apart, but that loving circle of friendship remains intact.

And I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention Jack. Susan's first dog, a rescued border collie mix with a ton of energy, a love of belly rubs, and total devotion to Susan. Our brand new friend.