It’s been a while since I shared an in progress post. I happen to be snowed in today here in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky so since I can’t get to the studio this is a perfect time for one!
First, though. Here is what it looks like outside:
Not least because of that lamp post I was mentally transported to Narnia for a while on my walk outside. I must have read those books a hundred times growing up and the animal characters from the series are a part of my motivation to use animal characters in my work today.
The animal I’ve most recently completed is a rabbit- and my first ever wall piece! Here’s a sneak peek:
In a lot of my sculptures thus far I have faced the challenge of getting animals to look dynamic and lively while also making sure they won’t tip over or break under their own weight. I love showing animals in dynamic poses while running, leaping, or flying- but these are often tough to do with a sculpture because there is little (or no!) contact with the ground in a lot of these positions. You’ll see lots of illustrations on my mugs of animals in such poses:
I just love the way those back legs kick out! They’re so fun to draw ^ ___ ^
So anyhow. One strategy for sculpting an animal in a pose that doesn’t touch the ground is . . . to make a sculpture that doesn’t actually need to touch the ground. That’s what brought me to create a piece for the wall. I wanted to take the image of the rabbit running in a field of clover that I had created on my mug and transform that into a fully realized sculpture. I began by sculpting a tube-like body and then building some legs off of the main form:
After sculpting these legs, I was totally unimpressed with them. I ended up cutting them off and making new legs. I wanted to show you the “mistake” legs, though, just to illustrate that the sculpting process for me often involves backtracking and re-making parts that don’t go quite right the first time.
The new legs. Much better! Also a lovely shot of the organized chaos of my work space. To cushion my sculpture, I am using a foam egg-crate mattress pad that I just cut up with scissors. You can see some of my mugs acting as tool and water holders, too. Off in the top left, you can see some flattened coils I have made which I will use to build up the neck and head.
The head added. I’ve now got madam rabbit propped up on top of a plastic jar. This was a better vantage point for adding the head, and cutting the wall mounting holes on her other side. At this point, before I’ve added the eyelids, I always think the animals look like they are asleep. Sometimes I like to think of it as too early in their development for their eyes to have opened yet. Like they are still floating peacefully in an embryonic state.
The eyelids added. Good morning!
Next I painted the sculpture black with underglaze and began carving out the field of clover. For perspective, the clover get bigger towards the bottom, or foreground of the image and then get smaller as they recede into the background. I imagined the field of clover stretching out on gently rolling hills.
The carving completed! Clouds and sky added in to the background. I like that the swirling marks that act as the background to the image also double as the rabbit’s fur. In the clover area I made these marks more vertically to suggest grass in the clover field.Shout out here to mosaic art- when I learned about the concept of “opus” ( the way tiles are laid in a mosaic to suggest different types of movement or texture) it let me see that I could use the directional lines of my background carving to also suggest different types of movement or texture. In a way, those tiny carving lines could be thought of as functioning similarly to the small pieces of tile in the background of a mosaic.
You would think that I would have learned more about using directional line from drawing classes than from mosaic making. But for some reason mosaics were what really made that concept stick for me. Life’s funny sometimes.
Next I put the sculpture through the bisque kiln- always the most nerve-racking part of the process for me. The bisque (or preliminary firing) is very stressful on the clay and it is best to take a sculpture like this through the process slowly to avoid cracking or pieces coming off. After the bisque:
You can see how dramatically the color of the clay has whitened and the black of the underglaze has darkened.
Next step: cover the piece in glaze and put it through the second firing- the glaze firing.
Running but not going anywhere for the next 24 hours! The glaze firing takes 8-10 hours or so to get to temperature (about 2200 F) and then another 10-12 to cool enough for me to open it up. To be safe I always allow 24 hours from the time I start the kiln to the time I open it back up. If the kiln is especially full or I have to fire it more slowly, sometimes it can be even longer. The glaze looks white now but the heat of the kiln will turn it clear.
Anything with glaze on it will stick to the kiln shelf if it is touching it. So, the parts of madam rabbit touching the shelf were wiped clean of glaze beforehand. Mainly her shoulder and thigh on the back had no glaze on them.
And, the final reveal:
I was very pleased with this result. In fact, I am inspired to make another wall mounted rabbit sometime in the near future. After the glaze firing, you can see that this clay body becomes eggshell-like in color. If you go back and look at the bisque photo you can see quite a striking difference.
I called this piece “The Land of Milk and Honey,” after the idea of paradise or perfection. It represents our seemingly insatiable human pursuit of that goal. Even when we finally reach one goal, oftentimes we hardly stop to appreciate it before straightaway running for another paradise we’ve envisioned. I made this piece to capture that state of mind.
Of course if you had your own interpretation don’t let my description take that away from you. I’d be interested to hear other takes that people might have on the work.
Hope you enjoyed seeing how it was created! Now to go enjoy some warm hot chocolate and see how much more snow has fallen . . .