Tag Archives: sculpture

Art Diary 2018 – Week Ending April 27

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:

AD Kiln Level 1 2-10-18014

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.

AD 4-21 #1010

So far so good. Next layer: more tiles.

AD 4-21 #2009

And here is a shot of the electrical elements that are what make the kiln…HOT.

AD 4-21 #3008

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.

AD 4-21 #6005

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.

AD 4-21 #7004

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.

AD 4-21 #8003

Success! Fire us up, say these figurines.

AD 4-21 #9002

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.

AD 4-21 #10001

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.

AD 4-22 #3006

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.

AD 4-22 #5004

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:

three white tiles 1-14

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:

AD 4-23 #10003

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.

AD 4-24 #2004

I forgot to mention these items yesterday.

AD 4-24 #3003

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.

Montco 2-1-18 card001

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.

AD 4-25 #4004

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.

AD 4-25 #3001

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:

AD 4-27 #18003

but his back is getting a lot of action.

AD 4-27 #19002

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:

AD 4-27 #13008

The area I washed off is on this side. I have re-covered the section with Jet Black.

AD 4-27 #14007

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.

AD 4-27 #15006

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:

AD 4-27 #20001

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.


Two Favorites

I visited the city on Wednesday, August 9, the city being my city, Philadelphia. My husband had a meeting at his downtown office and I decided to take the ride in and go look around.

It was a beautiful day. I rarely go into Philadelphia anymore, but for many years I was here every day – I worked in several different locations (for the same employer) in Center City and in the historic district. I also drove all over the place for my job, so I know a lot about the entire city; but it’s the hub of things I want to talk about today.

On this walk, I visited two of my favorite art pieces, both public art. I’ll show you a little bit and then, if you are interested, you can find more info on the internet or…you can visit Philadelphia!

All right. We’ll start with some relief sculptures on this building.

It’s the US Courthouse (now Robert C Nix Federal Building) and the William Penn Annex of the post office. The building is quite large – it extends a half block on Market Street and goes all the way through the block to Chestnut Street.

The reliefs I am interested in are along the 9th street facade. They were the work of Edmond Amateis and commissioned by the government through the WPA to ornament this 1930’s building.

They depict mail delivery and show it taking place in far-flung locations. I have always loved these sculptures for their style and beauty, and for the idea that mail delivery unites the world, with people working hard to get a letter where it needs to go.

Here they are: they are arranged in two pairs. You will notice a difference in the look of the reliefs – two were in the sun and two in shadow.

First, the cowboy and the city postman:

Next, mail delivery in the tropics and in the far north:

Every time I am in the neighborhood I stop to take a look. For more information look here.


Now, my other favorite. It’s Dream Garden, a huge mosaic located in the lobby of the Curtis Center at 6th and Walnut Streets, right next to the Independence Hall complex. I worked in a building around the corner for some time and when I needed a respite, I’d come over and visit the mural.

It was designed by Maxfield Parrish and created by the Tiffany studios. Many many small pieces of glass, iridescent, opaque, all glowing. It was installed in 1916 in this building, at the time the home of Curtis Publishing (Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post). The building itself is fascinating and beautiful, but I am showing you just the mosaic today.

As a note – there are a lot of pictures on the internet, better than mine – here is its official entry by its owner, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The mosaic was almost lost to the city about 20 years ago, when its owner died and the heir proposed selling it to a Las Vegas casino. In a complicated transaction with public donations and the cooperation of other beneficiaries under the will, the mosaic became the property of PAFA and is now protected as a historic object.

I noticed some “band-aids” on the mosaic that were not there when I last saw it.

A bit of research told me that construction elsewhere in the building had shaken the structure a year ago and damaged the mosaic. I can’t find details on what the restoration plan is, except that it is being studied for repair. I feel better knowing it is in the care of a museum, at least. Anyway, my pleasure was not diminished by the “band-aids”.

All right, now you’ve seen them. My favorites.

Art Camp Day 6 – August 8

I’ve decided to sign up for another week at Art Camp Claudia McGill. So we’ll see what we do there this week. Hard to say, because the counselor doesn’t tell me, the lone camper, what we will be doing until I arrive. Each day is a surprise.

Today’s session involved concrete. Or, to be more correct, mortar mix.

As background, after last week’s stone carving session, I couldn’t get concrete carving out of my mind. What pushed me into it, though, was the half-used bag of mortar mix we had on hand after doing some re-grouting of the bricks on our house.

Mortar mix is a pre-mixed version of concrete specially formulated for non-load-bearing purposes, usually to bond together or fill surfaces such as in brick walls. It behaves in the same manner as concrete as far as carving. Maybe even better, since it is very fine and contains no irregularities.

Mortar mix small 8-16

I decided to keep things simple. I would create small shapes in free-form concrete, let them set up, and carve them into a herd of stone-age-art animals. This way I didn’t need forms or molds, which I hadn’t stockpiled. Each animal would be small, so that if it went wrong from a technical standpoint, such as breaking in half or large parts falling off during carving – well, the whole project wouldn’t be a disaster. I felt it important to work this way because it’s been a long time since I did any concrete carving and I questioned my skills.

OK. I assembled my tools. We had stopped at the thrift shop on the weekend to buy some basics – serrated knives, a table knife, and some pointy spoons, spending about $4. (A grapefruit spoon is even better, with its toothed end, but hard to find). And what I had on hand –  A rasp (an old one, as concrete is ruinous to a nice rasp). Latex gloves (concrete eats skin, leaving little sores that really hurt). A bucket of water. A trowel. Rags. A couple of cardboard boxes. A large mixing container, one that I have used in the past. I also brought the hose around to the work area.

I took all these things outside. I then put some mortar mix into the mixing container. I didn’t measure it, as all I was adding was water, and I would decide on the proportions by eye and feel. Mortar mix is very powdery and should not be breathed in. So I used a small plastic container to transfer it from the bag, rather than pouring. If I were doing a large project, I would wear a mask for this stage.

I then added water, slowly, from the bucket, and mixed it with the trowel. I wanted it to be quite stiff, so that it would hold a shape. I was satisfied when things looked like this:

Mortar mix mixed small 8-16

I let it sit about 15 minutes, then I began shaping it into forms. The technique is to grab up a handful and pat it together, with some force. Concrete cannot be pressed as clay can – it needs to settle into itself. If I were putting concrete into a form, for example, I would then vigorously tap the sides of the form to get the concrete to settle and compress.

I created a crowd of shapes and set them in the cardboard to set up. Concrete does not “dry” – it “cures”. It’s a chemical bonding that continues through the life of the object – concrete just continues to harden. Forever.

I cleaned the mixing container with the hose and went away and left things for four hours. When I came back, I could mark the concrete with my fingernail, but the shape itself did not budge. Knowing when to start carving is a judgement call and takes practice. The shape has to hold up to pressure but also needs to be soft enough to work with. Additionally, time passes as carving goes on, and the shape gets harder, so that needs to be taken into account. I had a lot of animals to carve and I would need to work fast.

My first step was always to rasp or carve away the “skin” on the outside of the shape.

Concrete in progress small 8-16

After that, I looked over each shape and tried to find an animal in it. I guess it took me about 2 or 2 1/2 hours of work to assemble a herd.

Concrete animals finished small 8-16

I used the knives, rasp, and spoons about equally. They each have their strengths. Knowing how the tools work is also something gained through practice. I worked tentatively at first but it came back to me and I worked more fluidly as time went on.

A fair amount of debris is created. After each animal I cleared my board by tossing the leftovers into a paper bag to be thrown out later.

Once I was done, I thoroughly washed each item in the bucket (I had also used the water here to wash my hands at intervals). It is essential to get every bit of concrete off the tools. It will set and cannot be removed later. I also rinsed all work surfaces with the hose and later came out and rinsed off my clothes and the rags I used before putting them in the washer. Under no circumstances can anything be washed in a sink inside – concrete will flow down the pipes and, as it can set underwater,  will block them. So, if you do concrete, remember this fact, if you remember nothing else!

I then left the animals outside overnight. The next morning, I came out and rinsed them with the hose.

If I were making larger items, or ones prone to cracking, such as stepping-stones, I would wrap each item in a wet towel and cover it in plastic, so that it would go through the initial stages of curing very slowly. I’d leave them in this state for about a week. With these little animals, though, it’s not as likely they will have those problems, so I will just come out and rinse them several times a day for a couple of days. I also have them set in the shade – the sun is not good for curing concrete.

OK! Stone age animals made. I’ll take some better pictures in a week or so, when they are ready to join the world.

I Am Unique

This lady is about 3" tall or so. Terracotta clay with Velvet underglazes, fired at cone 05.

This lady is about 3″ tall or so. Terracotta clay with Velvet underglazes, fired at cone 05.

When I work in clay, I seem to be attracted to doing a series, or even several different series at the same time. I like exploring the individuality of similar items. So if I make one small figurine in a painted dress, you can be pretty sure there will be more. And more. Until one day I just get tired of them and stop. No more!

Once in a while, though, I make just one. Maybe I don’t keep going because the first one wasn’t interesting to me for some reason. Or, sometimes, one is just enough.

This figurine was composed of leftover pieces of clay from other items. She’s a little rectangle-box-shaped lady with four tiny feet.

Maybe I’ll make her some cousins and sisters someday. Not right now. I do like her, though.

Neighborhood Under Construction

I’ve been making these small clay houses for a while. I do a few every so often. They are two or three inches high.

I use mid-fire clays, choosing different colors as the mood strikes me. I construct the house and then let it dry for a while, until it holds its shape but is still a little flexible.

I use underglazes to paint the houses. I try hard to coat them evenly, but if it doesn’t work out that way, I don’t worry. I also choose colors that will contrast with the underlying clay color.

Then I take my needle tool and incise the clay to outline the various features.

I like these little houses. I plan to make more and more of them. It’s the kind of object that you can play with – I have always loved houses and I can very easily fall into quite a daydream about these little residences and their occupants as I move them around.

Catching Up on Some Different Situations

I’m going to talk about several different things here. It’s time to get caught up. Here we go.

Remember the latest three painted stone figurines I mentioned? The ones I set out in separate places because I couldn’t put them in the usual spot unobserved? I’ve got them all back together now. It just seemed like something I had to do. So here they are.

I also set out a figure that I made some time ago. She’s quite heavy, so I put her in the abandoned train control box nearest the parking lot. I thought it might be easier on whoever might want her, as far as transportation to the car goes.

And here is a cat. A white cat. Another painted stone creature. I made it earlier this summer and I meant to drop it off on the porch of my collage friends Anna, Liv, Luke, and Nellie. Never got around to it. So – I took it over there when I visited last week.


Stray Cat

I’ve made some figurines from stones I picked up in Lorimer Park. They were different from this little cat figure – I painted them with acrylics and in doing so obliterated their original characteristics as stones.

While collecting those rocks, I found this one, and I saw a cat in it. I really liked the colors in the rock and I decided to see what I could do with it while altering it as little as possible.

So, this cat has clay eyes and nose, a twig for a mouth, and copper wire whiskers. Seemed to be enough.

Cat (stone, clay, twig, and copper wire) About 5" high or so

(stone, clay, twig, and copper wire)
About 5″ high or so