"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!)