Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Science of Art. Or welcoming back my inner nerd.

I was a math and science nerd in high school. I was the one who got all A’s, joined the honor society and actually liked algebra, chemistry and physics. Ok, I hated Latin, but then, doesn’t everybody? I had one brief shining non-nerd moment as the high school basketball star’s girlfriend, then my family moved across the country and that was that.

Then I rebelled. I refused to take anymore nerd classes and took art instead. My inner artist came out to play. She never stopped. I’ve spent years studying art, making art, showing and selling art. But a few weeks ago, my artist had a problem. She called for help and got advice from more experience clay artists but didn’t find the answer.

That’s when she called her inner nerd to solve the mystery of the bumpy bowls.

Enter the nerd. Theory: It was either the wrong clear glaze with the under glaze or it was a firing problem with the kiln too hot or too cool.

The experiment: All pieces in the most recent batch of wheel thrown pieces were noted, numbered and charted. The group was divided into three to test three different glazes. Then pieces from each glaze group were fired at two different temperatures, cone 6 and cone 5. The groups were unloaded and the nerd neatly noted each and every piece for glaze consistency, color changes, and clay changes.

Nerd glaze conclusions: Black, purple, green, yellow and orange underglazes react more consistently with zinc free clear but some do change. A new chocolate brown was discovered with the regular clears. Reds stay red regardless of the clear used. The best overall coverage and smoothest feel was the zinc free clear. Jet black underglaze did not accept any of the clear glazes consistently.

Nerd firing conclusions: Cone 5 or 6 firings did not affect the color changes in any of the clear glazes. Several pieces fired with solid satin black and red did not fire all the way at cone 5. Stay at cone 6 for best over all results.

The mystery of the bumpy bowls still perplexed the nerd. Neither theory had proved to be the solution.

That's when the artist remembered something about a few throwing sessions months ago. The nerd listened as the artist explained feeling hard bits while pulling up the clay. Something that had never happened before but as the bowls and mug was thrown, pressure compressed the bits and they seemed to go away. So the artist kept throwing. No bumps appeared at greenware or bisqueware stages, so the artist shrugged it off as nothing. The nerd got excited.

Nerd clay conclusions: Bumps appeared this time in only two pieces and both were fired at cone 6. After hearing about the hard bits and throwing sessions by the artist, the nerd took out all the pieces with bumps. Adding up the weights of all bumpy pieces equaled 25 pound bag of clay. It was a bad bag of clay.

This experiment was over. The mystery of the bumpy bowls was solved.

My inner artist was proud to know what happened and why. But my inner nerd isn't satisfied with the glaze results and wants to do more tests. My inner artist sighs, shakes her head and just wants to go back to throwing. My inner nerd wants the artist to keep better track of clay changes in the future.

I see a bright future ahead for both of them. The experiment gave the artist a way to make a beautiful brown and the nerd problem to solve. The conclusions made the artist happy knowing she didn’t make the bumps and the nerd figured out how to prevent the problem.

My conclusion: The nerd and the artist may look like opposites but when they play on the same team, the combination of science and art is beautiful.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Breathing room.

Last time I wrote about waiting, I’d just loaded the kiln. Inside were many pieces of clay work including three big, porcelain sgraffito bowls. I had high hopes. I wanted these three bowls to come out smooth, shiny and perfect. I tried to wait patiently but I was excited and anxious.

When they came out, they looked like they had a bad rash. They were bumpy, not beautiful. And all my hopes of entering them in a local ceramic show were over. I’d never had this happen with any of my bowls before. I didn’t know what went wrong.

I do know what I did right.

I asked friends for help and support. They were kind and sympathetic and helpful. But even though they have many more years of experience than I, they weren’t sure what went wrong. I found out that this, glaze business, is not an exact science and it goes wrong all the time. I called the glaze manufacturer for help and got a few ideas. I got on the internet and did searches, read forums and took notes. I found out my problem isn’t a new one and I’m not alone.

This time, I was going to give myself time. I was going to wait before trying any more glazing on anything. But although I told myself I was just being wise and cautious and careful. I was just procrastinating out of fear. Then, my stubbornness kicked in. I wanted to persist. Push on. Fast forward through this failure to success. Now. Today. That’s when I saw the flip side of my fears. Pushing and over working.

Breathing room.

That’s what I really needed. A little space to digest the disappointment. Research the problem. Gather new information and glazes. Devise a testing strategy. And try again. I spent days glazing mugs, vases and bowls made with the same clay, using the same underglazes and bisqued at the same temperature with three different clear glazes. I coded each and every piece, made notes of the glazing procedure and took pictures of what they looked like before and during the process. I’m planning on firing them in two smaller batches at two different cone temperatures to see how that affects the clay and glazes. And the smaller batches give the pieces more room for heat and air circulation.

Today, I loaded the kiln to fire the first batch of clear glazed pieces. While the kiln fires and cools, I’m giving myself time to rest, write, catch up on laundry and make a roast for dinner. Because I see I’m a lot like my clay. It needs room to breathe during each stage of the process from throwing and glazing to firing and cool down.

It needs breathing room and so do I.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New beginnings.

Blooming tulips. Mating geese. Leaf buds opening. And dogs shedding. There’s no doubt about it, it’s spring. And I love it, even though it means weeding and pruning and sweeping up piles of dog hair.

But doesn’t that seem right?

In order to have new beginnings, we have to let go of the old. We have to dig up and weed out all the past hurts that choke our present and prevent new growth. We have to prune back the branches that have gotten too long, extending ourselves into areas that now may not be healthy. We have to shed our winter coats that have protected us against the cold and let our skins feel the fresh breeze and soak in the new warmth from the spring sunshine.

I’m the first to admit, I always want to jump into the new right away. I’m not the best at letting go of the old. I can find myself mired in old mud. Stuck. Then, I get it. With each shovel of dirt that I dig out of my past, I turn over the soil in my soul. It gets more air, water and light. So do I.

Now the seeds of new beginnings can take root and grow and bloom. It’s spring outside and inside me, too.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Talking to the Trees: Release and Embrace Joy.

(This is the fourth from my collection of essays. To read the first three go here and here and here.)

A year of wonderful changes brings a spring that sparkles with energy, new beginnings and rebirth. As the plum blossoms, the yellow forsythia bushes out and the daffodils and hyacinths sway in the wind, I smile and sigh a sigh of peaceful happiness.

I want to open my arms and wrap all the blooming around myself, drink in the happiness and let it enliven my winter damp spirit. But in the sweet stillness my mind buzzes with worries: a storm may be beyond the horizon. I can let myself be happy, but what do I do? Resist.

“Release,” said the Mother Tree.

As I lean against her wide, welcoming trunk, all the above going through my mind, I hear her words and smile. She is so right, of course. So much is right in my world. So much has changed for the better, more than I ever imagined. And I am very grateful. And I want more than ever to open up and accept my gladness, my good fortune for my family and my thankfulness. But, silly as it may seem, I didn’t know how.

What I know is how to fear, cry, wish, hope and beg. I’d been doing that at the base of Mother Tree’s trunk for 3 years. Now my wishes and hopes are coming true, my fears dissolving and I don’t know how to embrace it all.

But Mother Tree did.

When she said, “Release,” she told me to cry, to smile, to laugh, to be thankful, and mostly, to let that old energy go back into the earth so that I could embrace the new energy. I could hug my renewal and rebirth. And then, I would blossom, too. And that budding, opening, unfolding would burst into creative energy that could enliven the world around me just as the plum, daffodils and hyacinth flowers energize my life.

I see a new leaf woman sculpture and sculpted masks of the wise trees in clay. Along with essays like this one gathered together to help bring this energy into the lives of others, either opening their eyes to the wisdom all around them or let them know that what they hear whispered between the leaves is true and that they are not the only ones who hear it.

Will I make all the sculptures that I envision?

Will I write all the wisdom that I hear? Will I get a chance to bring this to the world in a way that is understood and brings about renewal and rebirth to others?

I don’t know.

I do know I can embrace this new happiness, renewal and rebirth in myself. And, I can also worry that it’s too good to be true. But my heart is open and my worried mind will not stop life’s joyful changes anymore than the rain stops the blooms from blossoming.

After all, the roots need the rain to feed the limbs to grow the blossoms. So rain leads to flowering.

“Release,” said Mother Tree. I did.