Art Diary. A weekly wrap-up of art activities. For earlier posts, search under the category Art Diary.
Art is in the details. Be ready, this week there is a lot of clay talk!
Saturday, April 21 – I decided to load the kiln and fire it. Now, you’ve seen a kiln loaded with tiles. That’s relatively simple – all the objects are similar and they are easy to fit in around each other. Here’s a photo of a layout of tiles only, from a past firing:
This load today is different – it combines tiles and objects. I had to consider how to place them in the kiln so as to fit them in and to fire them safely.
Remember, the kiln is just an empty interior on its own, and in each load, I take the shelves and stilts and build a custom arrangement depending on the items to be fired. I need to take into account the heights of objects, airflow, and expansion.
Also, I haven’t fired objects in a while and my guesstimating skills may be rusty. Well, nothing to do but get to it. I looked over my array of items to be fired and came up with a plan.
I decided to lay out tiles in the bottom layer. Remember, I can stack the tiles because there is no glaze on them to stick them together, but I don’t like to go too high, because the objects expand when hot and the more in a pile, the more chance for misshaping and explosions.
I placed my clay “rocks” in this layer (small blobs in groups at the edges). They are thick and may explode – I hoped to limit the damage they could cause if they do. The tiles will not be hurt but a sculpture might be.
I also fit some small objects in this level – they can go there as long as they are shorter than the stilts.
So far so good. Next layer: more tiles.
And here is a shot of the electrical elements that are what make the kiln…HOT.
Next, for layer #3, I placed a whole shelf, believing that my sculptures were short enough to fit the space. They need to be at least 1″ below the closed lid. I should have taken the tallest one first and checked, but no. I put most of the others on the shelves before I got to the tallest one and… bad news. Too tall.
Now I needed to unload this shelf #3; remove the whole shelf from the kiln; unload half of shelf #2; replace the whole shelf with a half shelf.
I’ll interject here that the clay items are dry and extremely fragile. You need to hold each one firmly but gently. Nothing can be picked up by the edges (as you would a plate, say – no, don’t do that). Two hands are needed for handling any object.
You need to think before you even move to place any item (you’d be surprised how often you clunk things into another thing, which is fine if it is two plastic tubs but very bad for two greenware bowls.
And a few more things…No setting pieces down hard. No pushing them on the shelf to adjust them (pick it back up. With two hands). No hurrying. Repeat that – no hurrying.
And my cardinal rule – touch each object one time – bring it to the kiln and place it – do not move it again.
So you can see my kiln-loading skills were a little rusty! It irked me to have to re-load things. I kind of pride myself on loading an efficient kiln in one try.
But. I persevered. First, I re-loaded the sculptures in the open half of shelf two.
Then I added the half shelf for level #3 and filled it. I used the tallest stilts I have so that when I put on the next level, there would be room for the sculptures that needed to fit under it.
I added another half shelf to make level #4 and put the remaining tiles on it. There is plenty of room for them under the closed lid.
Success! Fire us up, say these figurines.
Well, despite the re-load, I count this session a success, as everything made it to the kiln and in place, no breakages. (I have knocked heads off figurines, cracked or crumbled tiles, and broken bowls by grabbing them on the rim, not to mention just flat out squeezing a piece too hard, in this stage, so I mean it when I say getting a kiln loaded and full calls for a sigh of relief). I set the kiln to fire to cone 06, about 1860 degrees. Since this is a bisque load, a first firing, it will take about 9 hours.
This process illustrates something my friend Anna told me when I began doing clay: Don’t fall in love with your pieces until they are finished. Very true. Otherwise there would be heartbreak in every kiln load…
The rest of Saturday art was spent cleaning the studio and reviewing the possibilities – what will I work on next? I put new paper on the work tables and laid out things I’ve got in process. I checked my paint inventory and mostly just puttered around.
Sunday, April 22 – I am sure you are waiting with bated breath for the results of the kiln firing. I can tell you it took 9 hours 35 minutes and that we opned the kiln today about lunchtime – it finished up at about 7:30 last night – and the items were still too hot to handle, but viewable.
Everything in sight looked good and I saw no evidence of shards of clay (which would indicate something blew up). Success! Here are photos when I unloaded it later in the day.
Compare these photos in particular and note the change in the color of the clays.
I took everything back down to the basement and arranged it by category – it helps me to see what my work process should be when applying color.
I also noticed that I cannot put off cleaning the kiln and the shelves any longer. I’ve been allowing things to go along as they are since the weather has been cold and I need to do some of the work outside. First of all, I need to scrape the shelves and reapply kiln wash. You can see the cracks and bubbles in the current coat.
What is kiln wash and why do the shelves need it? Kiln wash is a substance applied to the shelves so that if the glaze on an item runs on to the shelf (remember, I am talking about liquid glass, essentially), the fired item can be lifted off (taking the kiln wash with it) rather than becoming glued to the shelf, ruining both item and shelf. (Then you’ve got to get that ugly white remnant off your item, but that’s another story. Find your dremel, for starters).
My work doesn’t stick to the shelves since I use usually apply underglazes only and don’t add glaze, but I still need the shelves to be ready for glaze in case I do. Some people have sets of shelves they use only for non-glazed items and kiln wash is not necessary, but I’m not that big-time enough to do this.
When the shelves start to flake, the flakes can fall on the work. Even if it is not glazed, flakes can sometimes stick. Ugh. So I need to get to work. I will take the shelves into the back yard and scrape the old layers off and apply new wash. I will show you this process when I do it.
Also – I really need to take out the bottom shelf and vacuum the kiln. You can see kiln wash flakes galore as well as glaze splatters built up on the kiln floor. The latter is not a problem but those flakes once again can fly around and aggravate.
Monday, April 23 – Today was a day for moving some projects forward and for just having some fun.
I took the first steps in applying color to my clay figurines. I am focusing on their faces, which will be more plain as opposed to the wild colors I want to put on the rest of their bodies. I used a technique of washing underglaze that accents the details and leaves large plain surfaces alone. I’ve used it in the past for relief tiles and it has this kind of effect, seen in a tile I made in 2014:
First I painted black underglaze on the areas I wanted to color:
I let things dry for a short time. Not good to wait too long as it gets harder to wash off the underglaze.
Then, I set the faucet to a trickle of water, grabbed a rag, and wet the black area on each item, working one at a time. I scrubbed at the face; the color is removed from the raised surfaces and stays in the grooves. Note: you may be tempted to use your fingers rather than the rag. Don’t. Or your fingers will be angry at you, yes, they will. That rough clay abrades skin pretty fast…
You can see that this technique is perfect for textured surfaces. I used it exclusively for my relief tile and sculptural work for many years and I’ll do it again if I make that style of clay art. For now, though, these current pieces have a lot of smooth surfaces, and that is because I want to add interest through painted-on pattern and color.
I set these items aside. They are ready to be worked on in colors, now.
Otherwise, I painted the edges of the two larger paintings, done recently, in their traditional black:
And, I did some more of those little ATC-sized paintings on claybord that I’ve mentioned earlier. I put random colors on – then I inked in outlines of the shapes that ocurred to me. People again, it looks like. I’m not sure what will be the next step. We’ll just have to let them tell me.
Tuesday, April 24 – I did not have much energy for art today, being busy with a lot of other things that have left me feeling more like sitting down with a book (which I did do). In this kind of mood, it is a mistake to take on anything of much importance. So I looked over the small portraits from yesterday. I decided to paint the backgrounds gray; I added a few more details in ink; and I painted over one of the images because I just did not like it.
That’s ok, it can join this group of panels I painted in plain colors, ready for more later on.
I forgot to mention these items yesterday.
If you follow my poetry blog, you may remember that I have cut out random phrases that appealed to me and glued them on to cards – they give me ideas for poems.
I had accumulated a group. Now I have “enhanced” them – not really interested in the words as words but as print, and the little strips as texture. Don’t know what I’ll do with them – I put them aside for later.
Wednesday, April 25 – I’m on the tired side today – I’ve started back to running now that I can get outside and between that and my body combat classes at the Y – don’t laugh – I’m feeling it – plus I did a lot of poetry editing today. So I just zipped to the basement to get some clay items ready for a session, probably Friday.
I took one of each kind of object – cylinder person, rectangle person, and animal – plus some tiles. I painted Jet Black Velvet underglaze (Velvet is the brand name) in areas where I want to apply color. Like my tiles, I want to be able to scratch through for black lines. Plus, I like a black background for the bright colors and designs I have in mind.
I did leave showing some of the natural color of the clays on the objects.
We’ll see what develops with these figurines and tiles.
After I finished with the clay, I buzzed through my studio to clean some brushes from yesterday (oops, forgot them). And looked over this “artwork”. Really, it’s a piece of Bristol board I used as a drop cloth, then I doodled on it with India ink, then more drop cloth. It’s shaping up nicely as a found art object, or…as a useful drop cloth! Anyway, I thought it might make you laugh at how things occur in my studio.
Friday, April 27 – Before I start on what I did today, let me show you some TV-time work I did a couple of days ago. I had painted a whole sheet of Bristol board with India ink (because I had messed up something I was working on and had to black it out…) I cut it into ATC-sized cards and then I drew on them in a white gel pen. I will use these for something later on, I think. But it was fun to do.
OK, today’s work. I went down to the basement to work on clay. You saw the prepared pieces. Now, I am used to painting tiles, and they lie there nice and flat, no need to worry about colors running. Not so with these objects. I’m out of practice.
I decided to work on them by laying them flat.
That worked pretty well. The little animal was the least cooperative, but he ended up ok. I think he’s done.
Cylinder man is almost finished. I have made his front less busy on purpose, so as not to compete with his face:
but his back is getting a lot of action.
Back to the tall guy. Now, there is always a section of any large piece I do where I go off the rails, and I can always tell, because then I get anxious about it, and I start trying to fix it up, and it gets uglier. With this fellow I had done a section I KNEW was not ok, but – I plowed ahead. Ugh. Finally I resorted to washing it off. Which was tricky, because so much of the figure had been covered. Note to self: stop and repair as soon as you get that feeling things are not right…
I did a pretty good job of protecting the parts I liked. The front is fine:
The area I washed off is on this side. I have re-covered the section with Jet Black.
This side will need some touching and changing, but it’s pretty much ok. The black area on this side had not yet been colored, as a note.
Tomorrow things will have dried and be ready for more color to get things back on track. While I was working on these objects, I was also doing some tiles:
I feel happy about the way all of these items are shaping up, despite the detour.
OK, that’s it for this week! Thank you for coming along with me.