Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Tile Project that Wouldn't Die II

So how did this fish tiles thing happen in the first place? Ah, it is a long and winding road, my friend.

First of all, I'm not a stranger to laying tile in houses. Several years ago, I got very serious about this and took a class from an expert. My first project was a full bathtub surround with a few custom-glazed tile pieces inset into the pattern. Then I laid a kitchen floor/access area to a deck; about a 9 x 12 floor. I made and matched the glaze of a 1950s kitchen floor for a builder. No small feat, that. Next, I did a counter-top, then a free-flowing designed shower pad and a utility room floor. (My tile man raved about this and kept saying, "You did this? You did this?") And I've tiled the infamous shower stall half-way up to befuddlement.

But I digress. My initial thought for the overall design was to make bas-relief tiles using a full fish mold of plaster. So I made this. In the photo it appears to be an 'outtie', but it's an 'innie'.

And the cigar in the fish's mouth? That's added clay the stands above the height of the mold in order to make an indentation into the clay for an open mouth....think about it. I later cut it away on the second head and made a closed mouth on that mold.

I merrily pressed clay into the mold, pulled the slab out, flipped it over and, OH NO! the fish is pointing the wrong way. Well, not the WRONG way, just the opposite way I wanted it to. (Forehead slap)

Do my chicken-walk out of the studio and go back to the house to think.

Then a brilliant idea hit me. Take that clay fish and cut it into sections, bisque it and use it as a press-mold to go INTO the tiles. Sorta anti-bas-relief tiles. Sorta the intaglio/cameo effect. Then I realized I could make more than one head and more than one tail. I could introduce movement into the design. So I made these:

Notice I haven't bothered to be neat on the back or edges. No need since the mold is very thick, which I wanted for strength and the back or edges would never come into use. So now the fish will be pointed in the RIGHT direction.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Tile Project that Wouldn't Die

The Tile Project: An exercise in frustration.

The Idea

Create tiles for my shower stall using the theme of a fish ladder. Now, I must tell you that this will (drumroll) be the third attempt at making free-form fish-impressed tiles that will FIT on the WALL after firing. (rimshot)

Really, I must have some sort of tile dyslexia. I have measured carefully, I have constructed carefully, I have fired carefully and still, they do not fit.

The Process

I made a clay ruler to measure the shrinkage. The inches were marked and I bisque fired, glazed and fired again. I calculated the shrinkage of the tile.

I then made a paper pattern to fit the three walls of the shower. A la Renaissance cartoons for frescoes, I marked grids on the walls and made exactly the same grids on the paper. I drew the pattern on the paper. I cut the individual squares out and numbered them. I used a copy machine to increase the pattern to correspond with the percentage of the shrinkage of the clay. Good analytical thinking, right?

After rolling, impressing, cutting to grid, bisquing and firing, they still didn't fit. Too much shrinkage.

I modified the design. I decided instead of making a free-flow pattern which had too much risk of warpage and poor fit, I would make a band or frieze with new design.

I am making the tiles now.

Pray for me.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Blue Jay Calls

bring back smells of hot summer air

of crushed green leaves,

wet dirt,

cut grass.

warm rain on concrete.

the summers of my childhood.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Studio Jewelry at the Renwick

A few weeks ago we made a busy trip to D.C. Each time we go, I have my 'rounds' to the Renwick, the Corcoran and to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I try to at least make it to these places and as many other museums as possible.

A trip to the Renwick is always inspiring, but this time it was the contemporary jewelry show that sent me back to the hotel with my head buzzing. There was about 250 pieces of work on display.

As well as this huge and beautiful necklace pictured here, there were about 250 pieces on display. This necklace is made of acrylic and sterling.

One truly interesting piece was made of very humble materials indeed--multiple pieces of colored cardboard and elastic thread. A total wonder. I spent a good bit of time trying to visualize how this was made. The artist had to (1) color the board with graduating colors in order to control the variation and progression of color. (2) cut out the shapes so that the juxtaposition creates the 'swirl' repeat. I wish I had a photo, but taking pictures was not allowed in the gallery.

The great thing about this show is that it also included some of the artist's working drawings and diagrams. I was interested to see the variations in these graphic 'thoughts'. Some were works of art in their own right; others were practically gestures. Quickly and spontaneously drawn almost in a rush to get the inspiration down on paper before it flew away.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Potters who Bake/Bakers who Pot

Many potters are excellent cooks. Maybe it's cross-over skills of the same thing. Mixing ingredients, experimentation, understanding how things blend and change in an oven.

A lot of the potters I know can cook up a storm. So it makes sense that a good cook/potter should be able to design dishes that work exceptionally well in the cooking process.

For instance, this baker is rather large, has an exaggerated flare to the top of the rim, is relatively thick. It is large because I usually want to make something that will last at least two meals. It has a very large top surface and a shallow depth so the ingredients will cook in less time and it is thick in order to retain the heat for a longer time after it is removed from the oven. It is also easy to handle.

The clay is stoneware, the glaze is spontaneously applied Cayote light shino, rhubarb, and alligator, I believe, and fired in oxidation at cone 5.

I use a template to cut out the slabbed bottom, throw the rim on the wheel, and form the upper rim angle, but do not bring it out or flare it as much as the finished piece. That comes later. I measure the outside circumference of the bottom using a piece of string. The side is thrown a bit bigger than the bottom. (Use the string to measure the rim to be sure it is bigger. Excess rim will be removed later.)

I carefully wire-cut the rim, but leave it on the wheel. After the rim and base have stiffened, I remove the rim carefully and open it by cutting it down one side and and place it around the scored & slipped outside edge of the bottom. Then I overlap the place where the rim came together. I cut and joined it together. I roll out a worm of clay making it the entire circumference of the inside and join, pressing and smoothing it into place using my fingers and a sponge. I let the piece set up a bit, then gently using a rib, coaxed the upper rim outward into a more pronounced flare.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Casseroles and Bakers

Recently I bought a machine that converts slides into digital files. For years, I've been taking my own slides of work as much to use entering shows as to document my work. So, I've been in the process--off and on-- of converting slides, both of family things and my work. I'm glad I have made a record, but wish I had been more diligent in taking photos of everything because I know there are some pieces I sold before I made a slide.

Anyway, it's interesting to look at old work. Here's one of the first baking dishes I made. It's all slab work with off-set handles. An interesting idea, but not that practical. It's much better to have the ability to grasp a hot dish easily. Flared out rims, sturdy handles are definitely more functional.

The oval blue and white casserole is quite large. I really like the look of it and still have it. Thanks to the flared sides and the end swirls, it is easy to pick up.

This last one is a small vegetable dish. The lid was thrown upside down, with a generous amount of clay allowed at cut-off from the wheel, then allowed to get soft leather-hard and trimmed making the large top area. I really like the look of it. The top ring area is about 4 1/2 inches wide . Easy to grip, but hotter than a knob projecting above the lid.