Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Study in Leaves...

When I first walked into the local pottery studio 7 years ago, I had an idea of what I wanted to create, already in mind.  I have come to learn that sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it only provides fuel to my frustration.  But on that day, I had a thought and wanted to see if I could make it happen in clay.  I had collected pottery from various artist in North Carolina's Seagrove community for about 25 years.  During my many trips to Seagrove, I was exposed to many different artistic interpretations of leaves.  What I was trying to achieve was something more real, or at least realistic in its finished presentation.
Over the past 7 years, I have developed my own "secret" methods to create pieces that use real leaves, and yet allow for glaze and the pottery firing process to alter their appearance.  Here are the basic steps in my process and some pictures to lead you through how I create them.

First, finding the "right" leaf.  After many attempts, what I have found that works best, for my application are leaves that have deep veins.  These are the types of leaves that will leave the best impression, and allow for the most interesting applications with glaze.  I have used Wild Fern, Sycamore, Fig, Grape, Hosta, Hydrangea, and many others.  For this blog, I will show you a recent piece I created with a Fig leaf.  I saw a Fig tree last year outside of a restaurant we enjoy locally, and I thought, "hmmm, I could grow my own Fig tree and then use those leaves!" And so I did.

Once I find the right size leaf, I look for consistency in appearance.  Not necessarily symmetry, but consistency.  This is a subjective aspect of the creation process, but one I find interesting nonetheless.

With the leaf in hand, I then apply it to the raw clay.  In this instance, I have rolled out a slab of clay to make a circular serving dish.  After cutting out the initial circle for the piece, I transfer the slab of clay to my work table and visualize the finished piece.  Then apply the leaf to the raw clay and use a pony roller to impress it.  I let the leaf set up for a while so that when I go to remove the leaf, the clay underneath has had a chance to dry.
Then the piece is dried, and fired to Cone 06.  Once it is bisqued, it is ready for glazing.  This particular piece is being glazed in various shades of blue.  But first, I need to get the glazing onto the leaf impression.  Using ultra-fine brushes, I carefully apply glaze to the edges of the leaf.   This is the hardest area to work with as glaze has the consistency of thick yogurt, and dries very quickly. Once the outside edges are done, I fill in the remainder of the leaf and then let it dry for a period to allow the glaze the "settle."  Once it has dried completely, I apply wax resist to the leaf area so that when I apply glaze to the remainder of the dish it will not be absorbed by the area where the leaf is located.  I use various wax resist products, and there are any number that you can create from scratch, but I do not use a lot of wax resist in my work, so I just purchase mine commercially.  One thing that I have found quite useful is to set aside specific brushes for just my wax resist work.  I keep these brushes in water that I have added a small about of dish washing liquid to in order to keep the brushes soft and allow for the wax not to build up on them.  The brush container is messy, but it does the trick and keeps all of my wax brushes in one place.

 Once the wax resist is on the leaf, I can then apply glaze to the remainder of the piece.  The wax resist will leave a glossy appearance on the glaze once it has dried.  For this particular piece I have layered 3 different types and colors of glaze.  The end result is a speckled appearance which I think adds some depth to the piece.  I was pleased with how these turned out, and have created additional layered glaze combinations the latest of which is in shades of green.  But I think that will be saved for another blog post :).