Let the Beauty of what you Love be what you Do...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Experiments, Persistence, Big News & Delightfully My Longest Post Ever!

"All life is an experiment... the more experiments you make, the better."
              ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

So here I go again with my Experiments in Clay! I'm sure you all thought that I had forgotten all about trying to go large after my big bear "busted loose" earlier in the semester. Nope! Ideas have just been percolating, that's all! And I came up with (what I thought was) a brilliant one!! It's a long story with lots of photos, but stick with me here, 'cause it has a  very exciting ending!(You may want to grab a cup of coffee & a snack... and feel free to take an intermission at your leisure!) O.k. so here was my big idea- build an armature out of chicken wire, cover it w/ slabs of Magic Clay, cut it apart,& put it back together.(Remembering the properties of this fiber clay- unlike standard clay bodies,you are supposed to be able to add wet to dry, take apart, put back together & so forth.) No Problema, right?  Right... in theory anyhow. Well, as I said, I thought this idea was simply brilliant, and I'm always up for a good experiment so off I went! First to the hardware store, where I bought a roll of chicken wire... and about 2 or so hours later, I had put together a roughly 2 ft long by foot high bear "undersculpture."

A few days later, I took it to school, covered it in plastic wrap & tape so that the clay would not stick to the chicken wire, and, at the suggestion of my instructor, added some foam to provide some "give" as the clay shrank during the drying process, so as to prevent cracking.

Here I have rolled out clay slabs & blended them together to form the top of the bear body. So far, all was going according to plan. Little did I know my plan was about to change.

My original plan was to cover the under sculpture completely in clay, let it dry, cut it apart & put it back together. After I did the top, I realized it how difficult it would be to flip the bear on it's back w/ wet clay on top in order to do the bottom portion.

So on I went to plan B. I was really just making this up as I went along, which was rather funny, because I can't tell you how many people came up to me asking what the heck I was doing... as if I could give them a concrete answer! All I could say was "I have no idea, I'm just experimenting!" Anywho, so what I did next was (hold on to your seat!)let it dry to a little less than a "leather hard" state, so I could begin the cutting. 

I realized that if I had even finished the legs, I'd have a really difficult time getting them loose from the chicken wire, so I took off the top & the lateral portion of the legs, flipped it on it's back, and did the underside.

Problem was, the top portion was large, and was not dry enough to hold its shape off the under sculpture.

The pieces had to dry together, or as close together as I could get them, in order to maintain their shape so that I could get the pieces back together at some point. So, everything went back together on the under sculpture.

Keep in mind that the clay on the underside is in quite a wet state, so even keeping it together at this point was a feat! Until a came up with another brilliant idea. Tape!

Poor guy. It looks like he is being held hostage! I left him there over the weekend to dry completely with a note stuck to him that said "this is not trash- don't throw away! :)" 
When I came in the following week he was fully dry, so I untaped him, armed with a ceramic file, goggles and mask- with full intention of putting it all back together.(Dang! I wish I had a picture of that- I'm sure I looked pretty hilarious... or crazy... or both!) After about an hour outside, I could see it was just not going to work. The pieces just weren't going to fit properly and to try to reattach with the magic clay would be certain failure. At this point, I was still up for firing it- just to see what would happen. This is what happened- my many pieces broke into many more. Aaaah, my hopes deflated!

Now, this is the point where I was ready to call it quits. I roughly assembled the pieces, thinking I could possibly glue it back together, but took a look at it and thought "Nope, I'm done... I tried, I failed- no big deal." I'd have never known unless I experimented, & really, it was just something I needed to do, and it was fun! But then, my instructor came up with an awesome idea. He suggested we do a sawdust fire. Sounds great to me!

All my bear bits & pieces went into the can, along with wads of paper & sawdust, where they smoked away for many hours. When I came in the next day to pull out the pieces, this is what I found. Yes, that's right, my bear pieces broke into even more pieces!!! But I was not disheartened... what caught my eye was the beautiful patterns of smoke created by this process. Sifting through the ash, I felt like a kid an easter egg hunt... stopping to examine each piece like it was the greatest treasure ever! Thankfully the top portion stayed in one piece!

The day after that I got to work!! Well not that I hadn't been already, but you know what I mean.(My instructor had suggested that I put it together & enter it in the student art show... well, of course I was going to put it together, but I was not deluding myself at that point that I would enter. Plus the Jury to get in was only a day & 1/2 away!)Putting this together was what I would imagine it to be like if one were putting together archeological remnants. Sometimes it was slow going, like putting together puzzle pieces... and trying to find out just what pieces fit where.

And some pieces were quite small!

But it was so much fun... and challenging! By the way- the "5 minute epoxy" really starts setting in about 2 minutes or less, so you've really got to work fast once you mix it. And clearly, you can't put it all together at once, so it's mix, piece together, mix etc. The red tape is holding the pieces until they fully set, which is about an hour.

After about 7 hours, I was finally making progress!!

One of the hardest parts was trying to get the bottom part of the Jaw attached. The points of contact were just too small. It was getting late, so I got it as close as I could & propped it up with a needle tool, hoping it would hold. 

I came in the next morning for my Micaceous Class & found that it didn't. (Note to self: Tape! Not needle tool! Arrrgh!)
Well I was a little bummed, because at this point,I was thinking about that student show... hmmmm. So on my lunch break from Micaceous, there I was, sitting on the floor in the hallway with my piece, frantically mixing epoxy & trying to find the best position for the jaw... once I felt I did, I wrapped it very securely. 4 hours later, I took the tape off, and it held! YES!!
So here it was friday night- the Jury for the Student Show was at 9 a.m the next morning & I had to work. Should I enter? It's a pretty strange piece, to say the least! 

But with the last little of bit of encouragement from my Micaceous instructor, I decided what the heck. I left my entry form, along with my finished piece in the studio~

(Now I did have a little panic attack at work the next day thinking "why the heck did I even enter... I've got to get in there & get it out before anyone sees it!" But, thankfully it was too late for that!)
Because, after all of that... YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!!! It is like the fledgling artist fairy tale! Not only did I get into the Juried Student Art Show, but I won First Place for Ceramic Sculpture!!!
I am honored, a little shocked, and certainly excited to say the least!

Here is my piece in it's new home in the Foyer of the Art Building @ Santa Fe Community College~ 

It is quite fun (and quite an honor)to walk through & see it on display amongst many other talented works! The show will be up for the next couple of months, so stop on by if you get the chance!


(ps- Thanks to all for stopping by & reading this post, as I realize it's a looooong one! As you may know, I am quite a documenter of process... and I just couldn't leave anything out on this one! Perhaps I should've done it as a 4 part mini-series! Special thanks also, to both of my ceramics instructors @ SFCC, who encouraged me to keep going with this project & enter this piece!)


Trevor Woodford said...

Well done...! It is certainly a very impressive piece.
Your description of the process was first class. A tremendous post.


Barb said...

Well - I got chills just reading this suspense/art/action story! Congratulations, Becky!!! The soul of the bear finally shone through.

Annie said...

Becky, I already knew the whole story, but I could not resist reading the entire post :-). I really like the smoky firing too, can you do that in a trash can? I am wondering what porcelain would look like fired like that! Congrats again on the win!!!!
Just goes to show you never know, I would have given up way before you did. Good job! xoxo

DirtKicker Pottery said...

Becky, He is soooo awesome!! When I read "get a cup of coffee and a snack" I just knew this was going to be good :)
The thing I love most about this story is that in all your humbleness, you still pushed through and allowed the light shine on your talent.
Fantastic post!

John Brisson said...

Just fantastic!!!


Dad said...

I just love it. Forgive me for trying to describe what I see with very limited art backround, but any way. Its part, like you say, archeology/primitive, but also paleo and with a modern art feel. The bear theme continues to be great and the process could be expanded to other paleo creatures don't you think like dire wolves,
mastadons,mammoths saber tooth tigers, giant sloths, prehistoric camels etc.

Anonymous said...

If you had imagined it coming out this way, it wouldn't have, but Look at It, it is great.

By the way, I thought the chicken wire frame looked pretty good, too!

Wanda..... said...

It pays not to give up! Your bear looks very impressive on display.

Congratulations, Becky!

Pat said...

So - bottom line - perseverance pays off! Congratulations! How cool is that! What a wonderful, wacky, off-the-beaten-path you took to get to a wonderful ending! I love it!

Randy said...

CONGRATULATIONS! Becky that is just amazing. This post really gave me the push I need to go in and put in that additional six hours to complete my final project. Today nothing went right and I left the campus so upset and beat down. Tomorrow I will sleep in a little and then I will get back to work to the finish line. You my friend are an inspiration.

marianne said...

congrats becky! how exciting- i love seeing experiments work out- just not maybe quite as they'd been envisioned. and the prize is great. love the bear- there's a lot of personality there.

Tammie Lee said...

amazing adventure! that is so cool that you took it to the end and have this interesting wonderful sculpture.

clairz said...

I love this bear! So fantastic to read about how accident and fate both helped you to get where you were going. This piece says so much as a culmination of your process story, but so much more when standing on its own. I love its title, "Once."

Rick said...

Several things could be read into the title of your winner, Becky - 'once', and never again (I doubt it), 'once' upon a time ... (fits in with that archaeological thread running through it) ...

Amazing how this turned out - unique to say the least ! Congrats on your deserved win, and on a great post !

Let us know when both your feet are back on the ground ;-)

Ms. Becky said...

I was whoot whooting by the end of this post! it was so worth the read, albeit I did get up once to re-fill my coffee cup. this was a total inspiration for me. thanks for sharing. I'm going to tuck this one away for those trying times when I need it the most. it's beautiful.

forgetmenot said...

Congratulations!! You certainly deserve "something" for all that work and frustration. Your piece turned out great even if things went awry at first. Who would ever have thought you would have met with that kind of success after all you went through. Nice, though long and tedious, work!!! Mickie :)

snowwhite said...

Becky, Congratulations!
It was thrilling and exciting to read your story. I was amazed and moved with your "Never Give Up" spirit. Your bear has unique attractiveness. I do love your bear!!
Have a nice day!

jo©o said...

How did I get to miss this exciting news???
Told you that you'd be famous one day. Art students will pore over your work notes and documentation. You mark my words.

Such fun to be Princess of show and out in the middle there.

Next time I pass by Santa Fe [:-)] I'll be sure to stop in and stroke the beastie.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

I have read through many of your posts but this one tells much about your character and determination. I have taken a few classes and have a raku piece or two which I am only saying as a point of reference that I understand the challenges of the artform. A dear artist friend once told me that there are no mistakes in art, only "opportunities." I always keep that in mind.

Lovely blog and thanks for the comment you made on mine!


Linda Starr said...

Wow, that's perserverance, beautiful piece, congrats to you.

Brian said...


Shelley Whiting said...

Your piece turned out really cool. It looks organic and very natural. I loved seeing the process. Beautiful job.