The kiln opens. About once a week the newly completed glazed pieces are laid out on the table. We artists see the magical transformation that has, or, sometimes in my case, has not, taken place. Some of the my pieces lining the table were worked months ago. I had been eagerly awaiting them for such a long time. Others, the small ones, might have been unformed clay only a week or two before.
From the moment I use the wire to cut off a hunk of clay I form a relationship with it. With smaller pieces I squish smaller shapes between my fingers and form the raven, the chess piece or the Buddha relatively quickly. I put the piece aside, and move on to the next. I wait until the clay dries a bit to put finishing touches on a piece, the final shape of a cheek or lip, the definition of fingers or wing feathers.
Each piece is then set aside to dry. It is wrapped in plastic to prevent it drying too quickly. If the process goes too quickly the piece could crack. I form pretty close relationships with my art, so I feel twinge of sadness when I walk in and discover the fatal condition of the piece. It takes only a few days for small pieces to dry. Bigger ones can take several weeks to go through the process. I need to gradually remove some of the plastic to enable the process.
Next each piece is bisqued, fired in a kiln for the first time. It moves from being extremely fragile “green” to becoming a hard piece of ceramics. Pieces look totally different than they had when they were soft clay, Many of the artists at the ranch throw pots.
The next step is to glaze the piece. This for me, is the scariest. By now I have a relationship with the work, and a vision of how I want it to come out. I select a glaze, and hope it will magically transform what used to be a lump of clay into a beautiful piece of ceramic art. It often does not work that way for me. I have struggled with the amount of glaze to put into a piece. The glaze gets on too thickly, and it ends up looking like it was dunked unto a creamy frosting. For me, though, I have the opposite problem. A piece I expected to look blue will come out thinly glazed, black and nondescript. It is the process of glazing which will be the most important in determining how the sculpture will look in the end. Poorly glazed, no color. After having put in so much work to get it to this point, I sometimes go away frustrated by what I have.
But, fortunately, this is not the last step in my creating my art. I bring the pieces back to my studio and match them each up with a piece of wood. My art happens when the right piece of wood is attached to the sculpture. This process redeems some of my inability to glaze.
I made a planter with a head on it. When I glazed it, only the head was glazed to its true color. Beneath that some of it was mildly transformed. Most artists would throw this away, calling it a “failure.” For me, however, those pieces can be very exciting. While not what I expected, the final result looks almost stone-like, and when it is attached to a piece of driftwood, it looks almost natural. The blue-green head on a yellow-red clay-body takes on a life of its own.
To find the right piece of wood to finish an object becomes a dating game. I might pull up as many as fifteen different scraps of wood to see which looks best. When the right two pieces are matched, there is a narrative connection between, a story hinted to explain their placement together. “That now looks led a bird on a branch.” “That poor guy now drags a burden behind him!
So, fortunately, seeing the glazed piece for the first time is not an end, in itself, but a step towards its final presentation. This process is my favorite part of the entire creation. And having an entire pile of wood from which to select the proper mate, means sometimes it take three or four pairings and leaving the piece alone for a day or two before I know the process has worked.
Once definite matches are found, I move onto my final step, that of using plumber’s epoxy to connect the wood and ceramic This is a tube of gritty white putty with grittier grey putty inside. I mash the two together until they form a solid grey and begin to feel hot. At that point I connect the wood and clay. I work relatively quickly so it does not harden before the connection is made. I sculpt the putty so it becomes a part of the piece, not just a connective lump. Then I use three or four different latex paints I had purchased at Ace Hardware to cover the gray putty. Like all my art, this process is improving as I move through it over and over.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"