Monday, April 27, 2015

Learning to Sculpt

I don't sculpt.  I should say, I've never tried to sculpt before.  A few weeks ago I decided I would start teaching myself.  My cousin had been posting photos of her new pet hedgehog so I figured that was a good place to start.
My first two stoneware hedgies
These were my first two tries.  Not so great but not so bad as to make me quit trying right then and there (my complaining would suggest otherwise).  I took some advice from friends and kept going.
Silly stoneware hedgehog with tiny body
I don't know what happened here.  He came out with a big head and almost no body.  Ok, let's try some more.  
Two stoneware frogs and a hedgehog
This little guy made me happy.  His head to body ratio was better and I changed the shape of his mouth (also based on feedback from friends).  After I made a couple of hedgehogs I played around and made those little frog heads.  

Start of a stoneware cat face 
After the hedgehogs and frogs, I decided to try a cat face.  I made little silly-looking cat face charms a few years ago but decided it was time to up my game.  I rolled out a base and then attached two balls of clay for ears and began shaping them.

Cat face before eyes
I kept adding and taking away clay, adding more and taking some away.  Eventually I was left with a face with no eyes.  I couldn't decide how to make them.
Cat faces with two different types of eyes
Originally I made faces with the eyes on the left.  They didn't look right to me so I got more feedback and then made a change to one of them.  I carved out the eye area and then rolled two little balls and pressed them in.  I left the other one as-is just so I could see how the finished pieces would look.
Some of the finished test pieces with oxide and glaze
After all the pieces were sponged, bisque-fired, stained and glazed, I glaze-fired them and these were the end results.  I'm happy with the hedgehogs and frogs but the cat faces need some further adjustments.  

I started working on some more last week.  Here's a little hedgehog in porcelain.  I want to test a specific glaze on him.
Porcelain hedgehog
So my goal this week is to make some more in stoneware with the necessary adjustments and hopefully have a batch of them ready sometime next week.  It's been a fun (and at times frustrating) process trying to teach myself something as simple as these little animals.  I'm excited though to see what else I'll be able to create as I gain more experience.

Happy Beading!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sketching - Designing - Coloring?

Greetings, fellow bead addicts!  Since my last post I have been spending my time recovering from minor surgery.  Unfortunately this has not meant time beading...most of my bead boxes are too heavy for me to move around while I'm in the recovery period.  Here's some eye candy anyway!!!
What I've been up to instead is a bunch of coloring and thinking about what projects I have coming up in the near future.  Collecting and using new drawing and coloring utensils has sparked some new thoughts about the way I sketch and plan out my beadwork.  Now, I don't sketch every piece beforehand...or even most of them.  But when I feel my ideas are lacking or jumbled, often I reach for paper and pen to help organize my brain.  Let me show you the different ways I've sketched in the past:
I have random pages like these sprinkled through all my sketch books.  When I become focused on a theme or idea (like beetles or faces) I like to document all the different variations I can find - but in my style.  This gives me a jumping off point for all of my different art beads that encompass the the theme...or tells me if I need to break out the polymer clay and make my own.  I like to flip through these pages when I need an idea.
Sometimes a basic sketch leads to a finished design.  Both of these simple sketches were based around the focal (the face or the jellyfish).  As you can see, there's not a lot of detail or notes on these sketches...what you can't see on the rest of the page is all the other variations that I quick sketched for the same focal.  I like doing these thumbnail sketches - possibility sketches - when I don't have a specific idea for the focal in question.  They help me narrow down the overall shape of the design so I can start getting an idea of the seed and accent beads I might want to work with...and then usually, the beads take over.
Man Behind the Curtain, Man in the Moon, and Man in the Machine were all conceived from this concept list.
Sometimes I riff with words - on this page you can see lists of concepts or titles that I was considering investigating.  On the left are three finished necklaces that were born from the sketchbook page!  You can see my brain went from fiction and folklore to Shakespeare and old country songs.  A stream of consciousness like this often leads me to design epiphanies.
On larger, more epic scale pieces, I often find the need for a more detailed sketch.  In these cases I try to make as many notes about color, shape, structure, and bead choice as possible.  This helps me to know what I need to pull out of my stash, if I need to buy anything new, if there are going to be any structural issues I'm going to have to solve, etc.
These are a couple of more current sketches.  On the right, shows some of the research I've been doing on prayer beads.  Writing down information like this helps to cement it into my brain, so that when I am out in the world and encounter beads, I will remember things like I need 108 of the same bead if I want to make a mala (Buddhist prayer beads).  On the left, shows a necklace design that I've got in the works, including a list of words that make me think of the focus of the piece - the color red.
What have these got to do with coloring?  Well, (in my copious online recovery shopping) I discovered the super cool blog over at  In becoming obsessed with coloring utensils and reading all of their guides and reviews, I found THIS post, a super cool guide to help students improve their note taking skills.  Well, I thought, why can't I apply this to my bead sketch books?  Oh, wait...I can!  I'm actually wondering now why the concept of using color to aid my design sketches never occurred to me before now.  Doh!  I also really like the idea of using sticky flags to note recurrent themes...perhaps I will use little blue flags for ocean themed designs, green for flora designs, pink for people, etc.  It sure would be neat to be able to pick up a sketch book and be able to quickly flip to the ideas I was thinking of...instead of having to flip through the entire book.  

Do you ever sketch designs?  How does it help you?  I'm not trying to say that you should sketch...I know a lot of people think they can't "draw", and therefore sketching causes more anxiety than it should.  The reality of sketching for yourself like this is that you are the only one your drawing needs to make sense to.  No one ever needs to see your sketchbook!  I find sketching most useful when I have either too many ideas, or not enough.  For some reason, putting a pen to paper just helps get my creative juices flowing.  If you haven't tried sketching lately, you might give it another never know what ideas might emerge from the ink and paper!

Happy sketching (and beading...and coloring?),

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Inspiration from the East

I’ve always been a little bit in love with Japanese culture. Their dress, traditions and landscapes are truly inspiring. They seem to create everything just perfectly, from gardens to architecture to art. You can feel their heritage running through it. 

Every year they celebrate the flowering of cherry trees. The tradition is called Ohanami and means  'go and watch the Sakura blossoms'
I think it’s the sense of history that runs through their lives that I find most appealing. Traditions started thousands of years ago are still followed to this day.

Koishikawa Korakuen garden in Tokyo was created in 1629 and is now surrounded by office buildings.
And they proudly pass these traditions through to their children to keep them alive. Our house is currently joining in with some of their culture by watching Totoro on repeat… a wonderful animated story of two Japanese children who befriend woodland spirits and are rewarded with nuts and seeds to plant in their garden. The Japanese believe that the world is fully spiritually alive which I think is a wonderful belief to have!

Totoro and friends making the trees grow.
Their traditional dress is Kimono. It literally means ‘thing to wear’ 

A little bit fancier than it's name suggests!
They are made from silk and can be suited to any occasion, including weddings, geisha and maiko, and were even part of the armour worn by samurai.

Vintage Japanese doll in Samurai armour
Kimono have no pockets, so to carry their medicines, brushes, tobacco or money, wearers would either tuck them in to the sleeves, or wear them on their belts in hanging Sagemono (little boxes). The boxes were hung from a cord with ojime (a sliding bead) and the cord was passed behind the belt and held in place with a netsuke to stop it from slipping through. It’s the netsuke that particularly appeals to me. They are little carvings, made from wood, precious stones, ivory, shell or metal and could be seen as a giant bead. 

Wearing an Inro (medicine box) held in place with a netsuke.
There are many different types of netsuke and are carved to represent all kinds of objects including flora and fauna, heroes, mystical beasts and daily activities and many were believed to be talismans. 

Plum Blossom Netsuke
Street performers
Ivory Dragon
Rabbit with the moon
I’m currently waiting for a book delivery from Amazon on some of the carving techniques which I hope will transfer to clay sculpting, but already inspired by these tiny carvings, I have been trying out some miniature designs of my own. 

New tools!
I recently treated myself to a new set of tools so tested them out on some porcelain clay. 

Forest Bead
My favourite subject - a running hare
They're not a patch on the proper netsuke, but I really like how they turned out, a little 3dimensional picture you can wear! I hope to have some free time to make more soon! 
Disclaimer: This post does not in any way condone the use of ivory. The sample shown is purely for art appreciation purposes and should be viewed in the context of the time in which it was created. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Moving Forwards, Glazing Backwards?

Glazing. So much glazing to do... 

I do like to get all things organized first... 
I have been doing so much of it lately... my first large festival of the year is in a week and there's a new Ceramic Art Bead Market (auction site) on Fb that is taking off. I have new work to glaze and get out there, and i have old favorites to restock and replenish. My pieces are very detailed, a bit narrative, and completely mythic/nature inspired. Let me give you a glimpse into the glazing routine that draws on my painting background. (Back in the art school days before clay found me...)
Highlights and lowlights, Fins and ombre shading. 
I work most often with a combination of "low-fire" glazes and underglazes. I like the way I can mix and paint with the underglazes, layering, blending and the like. In the mermaids above you can see three tones in each hair color, and the type of color variations I use on the tails. But then that is all covered by 2-3 coats of a transparent turquoise glaze (below) This does allow the color variations painted in underglazes to show through, and gives an underwater appearance. Many layers? Yes. An investment in time? Yes. But I think its worth it. Tiny paintbrushes? Yes! 
Some of these tiny dears are looking a little worse for wear.
With a new crow design I am working on this year - I had to drastically change my approach. I did a series of these at a fellow artists request. I wanted to capture the iridescence of the crow's feathers, and so painted them in black underglaze, thin like a watercolor wash, and then applied blue and purple highlights. No good. I have approached these now in a backwards fashion... Here's what I mean: 
Backgrounds glazed, then first payers of underglaze. 
Three colors on each berry. 
adding one more color, then the black. 
I begin by glazing the background and the pendants reverse side in low fire glazes, three coats of course. Then I begin the details. First a bright cobalt, then a purple. The berry has shadow and highlight, each in a simple brushstroke accent. Then one more color, a teal and I add the black. They are each a bit different, but consistent. Of course now - after I finish writing this, all the areas so painstakingly painted in underglaze have to be glazed over with 2-3 layers of clear gloss! 
seals, crows, hares awaiting clear glaze... 
The kiln is loaded from yesterday's marathon glazing session, just waiting for these beauties on the top later. Let me refill the coffee and go crack open that jar of clear! I'd love to hear what you think of these new demanding colorful corvids...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Master the Mess Month!

Yes, believe it or not, some of us here are guilty of wallowing in one huge beady mess and we've decided it's time to do something about it. We've challenged ourselves (and each other) to have a spring clean and get it sorted and to make sure we do, we're sharing photos with you here in the hope of shaming ourselves into action! We have one month to get these studios ship-shape before we post new pictures of them all looking clean and sparkly like our beads.

Now as you'll see some of us are worse than others and some of us have excuses...but there is definitely a common theme here...

Diana - "Half the office, half the mess. Yes, that's my childhood Cabbage Patch doll on the desk. Even she is annoyed that my desk and chair are currently unusable. My first goal is to make it so I can actually work at this desk again. Sitting on the floor is getting old...and it hurts my back."

"The  other half of my messy office..."

Lindsay - 'My living Room...I mean Bead Room. There was floor less than a week ago. Apparently my recovery period 5lb weight limit only applies to putting things away."

Jennifer - "I don't even know where to start..."

Linda - 'This is supposedly my jewelry design table. But um, no space to design."

"My clay area has been invaded by encroaching bead minions."

Some team members tell us are not quite as messy as others...

Caroline - "This is tidy (unless you listen to my husband) You will note that you can see loads of table!"

Karen - "I'm not normally this messy. I blame it on shop update frenzy!"

Jenny - "Organized chaos. And still room to work."

And then of course there's me and I definitely fall into the tidy category....NOT!

I haven't made any jewellery for a while so my work table has become a bit of a dumping ground...or could that be that I've not made any jewellery because it's become a dumping ground...?

My clay bench is pretty messy to but to be fair I was actually working there when this was taken...

And as for this area the less said the better I think!

So please do come back in a months time and see what progress we've made...I suspect that in my case there will be more than one clean up before then! If you have any great tips for keeping unruly work spaces in order then let us know because we need all the help we can get.