Brand Plates

photo 1

One of the exciting things about the new studio is our ability to take commission work.  These plates were commissioned by our good friend Gretchen Keller.  We’ve done work for her in the past, but this was the first major order for the new space.  She wanted 12 7″ salad plates decaled with a family brand.  The order was special in another way, She gave us 9 days do get the entire order done so it could be a Christmas gift for family in Wyoming.  I had the plates thrown in a day and trimmed the next, while I worked on the pots Gabe got the decal ready, this includes research, drawing and building the page for the printer.  The plates were out of the bisque in five days and were turned around for glazing the next.  The client was interested in earth tones so we chose related glazes that rely on manganese in different concentrations for colorant.  The turnaround on the decal firing was as quick as the rest of the work and we had the entire order finished in 8 days.  A world record! (maybe)


As an extra service we packed the pots for shipping.  Gabe is getting them ready for the first box.  The pots are always double boxed to ensure safe shipping.  Gretchen wanted us to throw the book in the box as well, she’s a pretty cool friend.

photo 3


Glazing and Firing the Play Set


After the experimentation of the nested monster piece I was interested in pulling away from the very glossy “ceramic” surface of that work.  For this piece I wanted a more varied surface that would reference natural materials such as rock.  To achieve that I mixed two new glazes.  The first was a white reticulating glaze that came from a triaxial blend experiment from a previous semester, the second was a black vitreous engobe.  Mixed in with these was an attempt at a gray clear which was too blue and not suitable for mixing in 10,000 grams.  I like to use 300 gram tests that don’t precede to full batches on one of a kind sculptural work as I am not likely to be asked to reproduce the work by a client.  Sculptural work is also more forgiving of certain glaze flaws that are not negotiable in functional pottery.

Having spent several days in testing and mixing and then on to glazing, the work was finally ready for firing.  Its large size really limited what could load with the piece, this turned out to be a great thing.  Our primary kiln is a very old Skutt on a kiln sitter, up to the day we fired the play set, we had never had any problems with it.  Because of this I had become pretty complacent about witness cones and other precautions to prevent over firing.  So then, since this was an important firing, this is where the problems occurred.  My estimate is that the kiln went at least to cone 10 but probably higher than that.  Fortunately, the sculpture clay that I preferred at the time was a cone 10 body (Laguna’s Soldate 60) so the kiln was not lost, though the shelf the work was on did have to go in the trash.  The glazes and the attachments were fairly ruined.  To my advantage was the brush glazing technique that I chose to use on the play set.  It meant less glaze and so the surface came through fairly in tact, though not at all what I had planned.  For the play set the major problem was massive cracking on the interior.  I was able to do pretty solid repair using PC7 and acrylic paint, so the piece was saved.   The rest of the work in the kiln was a total loss.


The very dark glossy surface of the exterior forced me to completely change my plan for the little action figures.  I was wanting a drab, gray or brown surface for them originally but that would not have been adequate contrast for the video, so I opted to go with bright color that would allow them to be visible both inside and outside the play set during the commercial portion of the video.  This also makes them more in line with actual toys and so felt like minimal compromise



Roosters and Lovers

copperred rooster wood_beatrice-bride_and_groom~OM13d300~10160_20090208_474_2259

The pieces pictured here are two well known works by Beatrice Wood.  The First is titled Copper Red Rooster and was built in 1960.  The second piece is Bride and Groom.  This piece stands 27 inches tall.  I chose these two pieces as influence for my semesters’ art history inspiration.    The rooster is a wonderful example of Beato’s “primitive” style.  The work is direct and whimsical, employing simple hand building techniques to create an over all style of charming simplicity.  The surface is one of the luster glazes she was so well known for.  The effect is a naive sophistication, from the simplicity of the making to the complexity and technicality of the glaze.  The second piece is a larger work for Wood and depicts a common subject, that of men and women.  Here she shows a young couple in love.  The figures stand close to each other, touching heads.  The bride stands partially obscured by her veil, the groom partially hidden by his bride.  The tight composition conveys a unity of form and intention and gives the viewer a glimpse of intimacy.  The eyes however are distant and the mouths are flat.  Perhaps there is more to the work than the first read suggests.  The piece then becomes enigmatic and engages beyond a hallmark moment into the real complexity of relationships between people, especially in matters of love.


For my response to these works I combined the idea and color of the rooster with the eternal theme of the couple.  The work titled Roosters in Love depicts a pair of roosters.  More realism is employed in the sculpting of the head than in the original but the relationship is obvious.  The roosters are a folksy traditional kitchen object that would have worked well in my grandmother’s house.  Without having the title or a discussion with the artist, my comment about queerness would be totally missed, just as a quick read of the bride and groom might mislead.

Here the rooster lean in but do not touch, keeping a polite distance in the house of their possibly conservative hosts.   The surface is Wood inspired but is not the luster she was so well known for.  Rather the color served as inspiration for the entire project.  My solution was to use low fire commercial glazes.


ceramic art

Beatrice Wood



“We are here on account of sex, though we do not understand its force.   There is glory when the sexual force is used creatively, when it is open to the magic of the universe”

The above quote and photo were taken from Playing Chess with the Heart, a book of photographs by Marlene Wood taken of Beatrice Wood in her 100th year.  Wood, born in 1893 and living until 1998, was a participant in some of the most interesting and radical shifts in the whole of art history, but didn’t find her own true medium until rather later in life than most artists that rise to the prominence that she achieved.

Born into an affluent New York family, at a time that the city’s prominence as an important center for art was immerging, Wood was well placed to intersect with the Avant-Garde of the early twentieth century.  It was chance that introduced her to Marcel Duchamp shortly after his great success at the Armory show with Nude Descending a Staircase.  In the hospital room of Edgard Varese, the two were introduced and it was Duchamp that encouraged Wood to pursue art, as her first passion was theater.  She and Duchamp became fast friends and she was soon often at the great artists studio.  Through Duchamp she met Walter and Louise Arensberg, important and influential collectors of the Avant-Garde at the time, and it was through this connection that the young wood developed her artistic sensibilities.   Though the famous quote surrounding the Readymade Fountain is often attributed to Duchamp, Wood claims to have been the author, a claim that has been backed up by others in their circle.



“Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance.  He CHOSE it.  He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view, creating a new thought for that object”

This great idea has ben central to the development of so many facets of art in the 20th century, especially ceramic, and while undoubtedly the idea for fountain was Duchamp’s alone, her presence at this critical juncture for art stayed with and influenced her long career.

Many years past between Dada and her finding clay, which included theater, theosophy, love and a move to California.  She began with clay in 1933 at Hollywood High School Adult Education Department with the intention of making a luster teapot to go with some plates she had purchased in an antique shop in Harlem.  From this humble beginning she developed a love of the art and science of ceramic.  It was this growing passion that shaped her life after.  Her pursuit of independence and a studio for work and developing her craft was her focus for many years.  She had the good fortune to study with Gertrude and Otto Natzler.  It was from Gertrude that she learned to throw and Otto taught her glaze technique.  She also studied with Otto and Vivika Heino.

As a ceramist, Beato (as she was known in Ojai CA, her home for the last half of her life) is best known for her luster glazes and her appreciation and depiction of the changing relationships between men and women.



This piece is titled Bride and Groom and is glazed earthenware, standing at 27” in height.

My interest in Wood began as an interest in her life and person.  She met the challenges of living a life in the arts with a tremendous amount of courage and heart and no small amount of luck.  At one point she completely lost her studio to flood, rather than drowning in her loss, she turned the situation to her advantage and built a better studio.

I also love her frank attitude toward sex and sexuality.  In the book noted earlier some of my favorite photographs are of Beato pulling the shoulder off her blouse, flirting with the camera and the viewer.   To still think of oneself as a sexual being at 100 years of age is incredibly inspirational to me as I solidly enter middle age as a single woman.  She also serves an inspiration to my students who come to art and ceramic at an older age, if Beatrice could do it, why not them?  And then of course my favorite anecdote, that she worked in the studio the day she died at 105 years of age.



The Limited Liability Insurance Company Play Set

Play Set Action Figures and Making a Two Part Mold

IMG_3530 IMG_3534 IMG_3541

The three small objects above are the first attempt at action figures for the play set.  Obviously based on Fisher Price toys from the seventies, I wanted the objects simple and direct and to work with the mold making technique that I am focusing on this semester.  I began with three small pieces of clay that I allowed to dry to leather hard.  Using sketches, I carved the solid figures so that they would have no undercuts so that they could be easily cast and reproduced.  For the video I am wanting to produce several identical objects that can be broken and replaced through the course of the filming.

When the figures were complete I then made forms for the molds using foam core and duct tape. I made the forms in two pieces because the openings are small and I wanted simple access for notching the bottom piece.  The top of the form was attached with more duct tape after the bottom half of the mold was cast.  Rather than setting the object into clay to cast the first half, I placed the figures directly into the wet plaster after it had a moment to slightly set.  This was a great innovation in several ways, however the figures did slip and move making the molds possibly unusable, especially in the case of the male office worker.

After the molds came out of the forms I separated them using hot water and cleaned them up with a metal loop tool.  While I love the little molds I made, there is no doubt there is much improvement that can be made on them.  I’m looking forward to another try.



first piece of the semester


While the play set progresses I have been working on a piece that focus’ on a ceramic work within a larger piece.  The larger object was influenced by a surrealist painting by Rene Magritte titled The Rape, but of course I added a nice hundred pounds to the concept and took rape out of the intention for the piece.  It is undoubtably another monster, but one that is not threatened from without or within.  In fact within is the little fat angel, a sort of child possibly or some inner protective force.

The little piece was crafted specifically to fit within the cavity and rest safely on the terrain of the interior of the monster.  My priorities were to have the object fit the space and to relate to the larger object both in composition and content.  The larger goal for the work was of course to continue to explore challenges the play set gives rise to.  Beyond the mechanics of getting the pieces to work together, I want to push the play set into some of the territory explored in earlier work.  The first play set is a rather external piece.  I would like to eventually bring the concept within as well an explore some of the issues that self portrait demands.  All of the play set work will rely heavily on video to complete the piece, this object is complete without that layer, though I may still produce a video for it.

IMG_3559 IMG_3557

ceramic art

Back in the saddle


A new semester began at FHSU this past Monday and I returned to the studio to resurrect the play set and prepare it for firing.  In spite of 6 weeks dry time and constant careful attention it cracked in several places.  Part of the reason for this was the massive walls of the “rock” body vs the very delicate interior of the space.  I used my favorite recipe for fire able fixes: 200 clay slip from summit brick (its primarily fire clay with lots of grog) Karo syrup and toilet paper.  This gets me great consistent results in stoneware clays with little follow up needed.


IMG_3413 IMG_3414

This piece is intended to serve as a prop in my next video project to be installed on You Tube.  As the project has taken its sweet time to be ready to fire It has allowed the concept for the work to evolve.  While I still intend to base the production of the video off toy commercials of the 80’s, I have increasingly wanted to say something real about work and employment based on my experience dealing with the twists and turns of my job over the last year.  The goal for this piece is to make a video and an object that on first glance is light and funny, but carries the human content and meaning that I need my work to contain.  Stay tuned, it goes in the kiln this morning.

Horse Installation

VIdeo Documentation

The next big project for the installations was to doccument them in video.  I have long wanted to get my work out to the world using video, and this project, because of its scale and complete non portability was a perfect place to start.  It also helped that there was a clear start and it finished within a super reasonable amount of time.  The down side of course was not having decided to make a video until the project was nearly complete.  Fortunately we take tons of pictures and video as a regular practice in our art making so there was more than enough material for the twelve minute piece Gabe and I put together.

As I said the video was decided on after the piece was finished so while there was more than enough documentation there were things that I just didn’t have. For some of that we staged shots, for the rest it was left out.  A process that wont be repeated since we now know that video production will be an integral part of our work form here out.

The film was make entirely with iPhones and my mac book.  The computer worked great but the limit with the phones is one that will have to be overcome, especially mine which has a very limited memory which required uploading all the pics and videos once a day to clear the memory to take more.  Despite all the difficulty we put together a great video.

Since the production of this video I’ve made one myself so that I might  learn the program and participate fully in the production of future projects.  This video documents the erosion of the images on the panels over the last couple weeks

Horse Installation

Adventures in Stucco

IMG_2934 IMG_2937

Finishing the Horse began with research, as usual.  What we wanted was a stucco recipe that had both clay and concrete.  I know this is a sound practice because I used to mix stucco for my professor Vicky Hansen and she used both, but I could neither remember that recipe or find one on line.  We wound up making our own from a recipe I found online that was intended for restoration of historical buildings.  While we wanted portland cement in the mix,we were looking for very little.  Enough to increase durability on a difficult surface but little enough to avoid the surface becoming brittle and hard to repair.  We used these two web pages primarily in our investigations.


We based our recipe off this recipe from the about.com page:

“Materials for Soft Brick Mortar and for Soft Stucco

5 gallons hydrated lime

10 gallons sand

1 quart white, nonstaining portland cement (1 cup only for pointing)

Water to form a workable mix.

(Koch and Wilson, Architects, New Orleans, Louisiana, February, 1980

IMG_2945 IMG_2947

To incorporate the clay we replaced half the aggregate (sand) with the unrefined brick clay we acquired for the project.

Refining the mixing process was difficult, eventually  we decided to mix half batches because we needed  the mix to be rather heavy so it would stick to the underside of the sculpture, also applying the stucco wire was super difficult on such a complex surface so there were spots that were nearly impossible to get the material to adhere.  We used straw to help fill in those spots which helped considerably.


Once we had the mix right it was just a whole lot of work to get the piece finished.  We applied a second coat to the surface to fill gaps and smooth it a bit a couple days after the first.  It was on this second day of stuccoing that we hatched the plan for the video.


Horse Installation

Pony Power


Some ponies are bigger than others and this one is a baby clydesdale.  Also, completely fantastic, so fantastic in fact that we decided it would be a horrible tragedy to cover it entirely with actual horsiness, so we have opted to cover the strauture with the adobe material and not fill it out with straw muscles.  Its is a great decision for art but the added work in applying the stucco wire is a big deal.  We got about half way through it today.  Im still hoping to finish this piece and install it tomorrow but I am also teaching a bit this week.  Fantastic for my life but difficult for all that must be done in the studio.  You can see here that it also got a thin coat of paint.  This was applied to slow the rot of the wood inside the clay.


The Insurance agency also moved a bit in the last couple days.  I should have the structure finished inside and out tomorrow or Saturday.  Ill post pics then.