A couple of years ago I spent some time at a studio out in the east end of the city. I worked under a potter there who was a brilliant sculptor, and it was under her tutelage that I learnt most of the core slab-building techniques that I now use.
When most people think of pottery, what comes to mind is the classic scene from Ghost, where Patrick Swayze “helps” Demi Moore on the pottery wheel, and sexiness ensues. (Let me assure you that there’s nothing sexy about wet clay. It gets everywhere, and it’s gritty.) Wheel-throwing is just one method of building structures in clay, though. It’s great if you want something round, or at least round-ish, but it’s far from the pinnacle of the fine art of pottery.
Slab-building doesn’t employ a wheel at all, though you can build most of the same basic shapes with it. Instead, the potter begins with a hunk of clay and rolls it out flat, much as you would a pie crust. The slab can be draped, pressed into a mould, folded, twisted, curled, cut into strips and re-attached at crazy angles – the options are endless.
For this piece, I started with a slab draped over a dinner plate for a gently rounded base. Then I cut asymmetrical strips and attached them to build up the sides and form the handles.
I didn’t have any specific creatures in mind as I formed it, but rather impressions of sponges and corals and sea stars and eels and seaweed. I wanted it to evoke the feeling of a coral reef without actually depicting one. Similarly, I chose glazes that call to mind the ocean for the interior of the vessel, but glazed the outside in the matte white of bleached shell and bone and coral.
This is one of my favourite pieces, so I hope you enjoy it!
After months of planning and consultation with several helpful nerds, I’m pleased to present my latest art work! I made this piece specifically for the Dinovember art show at the Toronto Etsy Street Team Gallery in Toronto. If you’re in the area, you can check it out until November 14th.
Here’s the video of the installed piece. You’ll want to be in a quiet space and crank the volume up – the music is subtle even in situ, and my phone didn’t pick it up as well as I’d have liked.
I had to learn a few new tricks for this project. The sound (an original composition by Brian Engh, used with permission) is controlled by an Arduino Uno with an Adafruit Music Maker shield. I used copper wire for the veins on the exterior of the heart, and these are attached to the stack to act as antennae for the capacitive sensor. When you approach the heart, the sound is triggered.
Here are some making-of photos :)
The heart itself is earthenware clay, and based on a chicken heart. The magnolias I sculpted from Fimo. The cycad and ferns are synthetic, but the moss and lichen are real, and the blue morpho butterfly is one I pinned myself at a workshop a couple of months back :)
I learnt to solder (thanks to Ele Willoughby, who also talked me through the whole process and dealt with my panic and terror with infinite patience and grace), connect speaker wires, and splice a USB cable to a power connector. I read a lot about resistors and capacitance and absorbed only barely enough of it to get this working, albeit with room for improvement.
And now I’m thinking about my next Arduino project ;)
Week 3 of #Inktober on Twitter is complete! I splurged and bought myself some decent pens midway through the week so I’m no longer stuck with Sharpies pilfered from the lab :)
Previous #Inktober posts: Week 1 Week 2
As usual, you can click on the images to go directly to the original tweet.
Sometimes projects don’t work out quite the way we intend. Sometimes you get done with a thing and think “wow, that is not what I was going for”.
A while ago I had the brilliant idea to make a vase in the form of the bacterial type III secretion system. This is basically an assemblage of proteins that some bacteria are able to make, which they use like a tiny syringe to inject stuff into cells that they want to hijack. It’s a pretty cool shape:
I took an unplanned 3-week break from the studio shortly after starting the base structure (the blue section). The shape was pretty much where I wanted it, but I needed to add the upper segments. Unfortunately by the time I got back in to the studio again, the main structure had dried too much to add pieces, so I had to make them separately and add them on. it didn’t really work as well as I’d hoped, and frankly I got a bit demoralized and rushed the collar section, so it’s not really the right shape or scale at all. I am pretty happy with the base and the detail I added on the underside, though, so I’ll definitely revisit this design later on down the road and try to do a better job of it. Heck, I might even try making it on the wheel.
I was going through some old photos on my phone and discovered a few custom pieces I never ended up posting about here. Most of the time when I do custom orders, they’re for designs I already have in the shop, but just in a different colour or shape. Every once in a while, though, I get to flex my sculpting muscles a bit and play with something completely unique. Here are just a few of the special orders I’ve created for customers over the last couple of years.
I’ve done a few fun things with spiders recently, and thought I’d share them with you. Over the last couple of years I’ve made friends with some spider nerds on Twitter, who have naturally only encouraged my existing fascination with these elegant critters.
One of these delightful humans is the excellent @Cataranea, who studies Latrodectus spiders – you’ll know the most famous member of this genus as the black widow. Catherine asked me to create a logo for a crowdfunding campaign last year. She was raising money for field experiments in BC, looking at mating habits in a wild Latrodectus population there. My design for that project needed to be friendly and accessible, but still capture the essential form of the male and female of the species:
Catherine is also responsible for a new jewellery design :)
It took a couple of tries to get the stamp sculpt right, and frankly these are a huge pain to glaze, but man, are they ever worth it!
One more black widow design came out of a ridiculous Twitter conversation, and quickly because one of my favourite t-shirt designs to date:
Finally, I turned my attention to one of the world’s most charming dancers, the vibrantly-coloured Peacock spider. I’me particularly delighted with how well these beauties came out, and hope to sell out of them soon so I have an excuse to paint some more!