Maquettes for Sculpture and Pottery.
My recent architectural sculptures are particularly suited to experimentation on a small scale before large scale construction commences. 'Sketching' quickly (and three-dimensionally) and working always with solid clay for my architectural maquettes, leaves me unfettered by the usual constraints of working with structurally weak walls of wet clay.
With several maquettes roughly sketched out, I choose the most appealing of the group and decide what techniques I will use in the construction of its larger version.
The first two major architectural sculptures based on maquettes were made from slabs. To accurately copy the complicated structures, I made paper patterns from every 'side' of each component by disassembling the maquettes and literally tracing each clay surface onto paper. Then I digitally scanned and scaled-up each shape using Photoshop, printing out enlarged patterns that netted a slab-built sculpture much bigger than the maquette. The large pieces are not exact duplicates of the maquettes but they certainly come close. The technique was novel and intriguing enough to use a third time, but I like variety in my process so the third sculpture combined extruded elements with slabs made from digitally enlarged patterns.
Subsequently (and for yet more variety), I turned to coil building for a particularly large sculpture based on a maquette. Next, I employed building-solid-and-hollowing for another large 'Hale'. After that I used throwing and altering combined with slab building for the next large piece. And finally, I experimented with throwing combined with extrusions. Changing the process keeps me engaged, and since the look of the finished piece is inevitably changed, it also inspires me with new ideas for forms and surface treatments.
Interestingly, some of the maquettes convey a freshness and spontaneity that is lost in the more dramatic scale of the larger pieces. Favorite maquettes are cut apart into sections when leather hard, hollowed, scored and slipped back together, and then fired to become additional (though much smaller) finished pieces.
I include the word 'Hale' in the titles for these pieces, since I have lived on Maui in Hawaii for more than 35 years, and 'Hale' is the Hawaiian word for house. The smaller maquettes that are worthy of firing become intimate 'Na Hale' ('na' makes the subsequent word plural in Hawaiian), while the larger finished pieces, recently shown on Maui and Oahu in group and solo shows, are titled 'Na Hale'Akoakoa', which means 'Gathering Places'.
I first began working on the series in the summer of 2010 when I was busy planning two memorial services: one for my mother and another for my best friend. It was a productive summer. I was finding comfort, perhaps even a way of grieving, in the process of making. Eventually I began to see a connection between the church-like forms I was making and the memorial services I was planning and attending. Working alone in the studio I had time to reflect on family, friends, the ties that bind, the refuge of home, and the meaning inherent in the places where community comes together.
When I turned my attention to large sectionally thrown and altered vases it made sense to use maquettes to work out new shapes and ideas. I threw and altered some small studies first and then selected only the best ideas to make as large vases. I now make a point of employing maquettes for all large projects, be they functional or sculptural. Likewise, I recommend this process to my intermediate and advanced ceramics students, trusting it will benefit their work as it has my own.
Creating subtle colour variations in salt and soda firing
Many clay bodies will naturally produce varied color and texture when salt or soda fired.
I especially like whitish clay bodies that, when fired in reduction in a sodium vapor kiln, produce speckling in different colors, such as Big White from Laguna Clay Company. This clay will produce tiny spots of orange, yellow, grey, brown, black, white, and even blueish hues, when reduced moderately during the salt firing. It contains fairly coarse grog, which I like for sculptural work and don't mind throwing on the wheel for sculptural components (see image of Hale 'Akoakoa 1). I also love white clays that blush salmon-orange in the "shadow" or "dry" parts of the forms where they receive less salt, and my favorite is UWL 412 from Seattle Pottery Supply. This is a smooth body, so I add grog for large pieces. On top of both of these white clay bodies, I like to use subtly colored slip-glazes to create variations in color on the finished pieces. My current favorites are the following two recipes, the first a slip-glaze applied to bisque, the second a slip applied to leather-hard or damp clay.
Shino slip-glaze #6
Developed through testing from a recipe from Randy Johnston, [show photos of small Hale and Tall Hale 'Akoakoa as examples of this slip] Apply to bisque in the thickness of a normal glaze, by painting, dipping or pouring.
Recipe: Kona F4 feldspar: 10.8 Spodumene 15.2 Soda Ash 4 N.S. 45 OM 4 Ball Clay 15 EPK 35
Silicon Carbide Slip
Developed through testing from a suggestion in a Ceramics Monthly article. Apply to damp or leather hard greenware. See Hale Akoakoa 14 on previous page.
Recipe: 2-3 teaspoons 60 mesh Silicon Carbide mixed into 1 cup of thick white slip (use slip made from whatever clay body the pieces are made from).
Salt firing sculptural ceramics
I salt- or soda-fire in a 14 cubic foot cross-draft propane kiln. I built it with my friend Steven Moore, based on his design, using a three-layer construction with hard brick on the inside (hot) surface, soft brick on the outside surface, and fiber insulating blanket between the two. The hardbrick interior holds up well under salting; the fiber blanket and soft brick insulate well and minimize gas use. I brick up the door by hand, using the same three-layer system. This is time-consuming but saves on fuel. The cross draft design is a variation on the typical downdraft kiln; it promotes uneven salting or a light/shadow, wet/dry contrast on the sculptures. Once-firing is a common practice with salt firings since pieces are rarely glazed. I, however, bisque everything first, since I can save fuel by firing the less efficient hardbrick-lined salt kiln as quickly as possible. Loading large sculptural pieces (which need to have wadding separating them from the kiln shelves) into the salt kiln is also easier if they are already bisqued.
I use the kiln for both salt- and soda-firing, and like both effects equally. Whether using salt or soda, I 'salt' 4 or 5 times over a 2-2 1/2 hour period at cone 9-10, keeping the kiln in reduction for ten minutes after salting with the gas turned down about half way and the damper somewhat closed. Then I turn the gas back up, open the damper for neutral atmosphere, and fire back up to cone 9-10 during the next 10-15 minutes, in preparation for the next salting. Each salting consists of putting salt or soda into each of the two salt ports three times in quick succession.
When soda firing, I use a mixture of 90% baking soda and 10% salt for salting and use 10-15 pounds per firing. Since soda doesn't vaporize as readily as salt I can't just dump it behind the bag wall as you can with salt. Instead I use a 2-inch pipe and an air compressor to create an atomizer to blow the mixture in. I pile a cupful of soda/salt mixture into one end of the pipe and aim the other end through the salt port. Then inserting the air nozzle just kiln side of the soda, I use the air to draw (suck) the mixture into its stream and onto the flames. As the pile of soda gets pulled into the kiln, I move the nozzle slowly back to and just above the leading edge of the soda.
When salt firing, I use 14-18 pounds of salt per firing. I use a 5-foot length of 3-inch diameter bamboo split in half or a 5-foot aluminum channel for introducing the salt into the firebox. If I use bamboo I harvest it green and keep it wet in a large garbage can filled with water before and between saltings, so it will not catch fire. I spread out a cup or two of wet Hawaiian rock salt (smaller than the mainland variety) on one end of the bamboo or aluminum, insert it into the firebox thru 9 x 9 inch salting ports, and turn it over quickly to deposit the salt into the flames.
I always wear a respirator with vapor filters when I'm near the kiln during the salting phase of the firing. My respirator has changeable filters that can be switched from fine particle protection for clay and glaze dust to vapor filtering action for salting.
Written by Jennifer Owen
About the Author
Jennifer Owen is Associate Professor of Art at University of Hawaii Maui College, where she has taught since 1995. Owen fires herwork in a 14-cubic foot salt/soda kiln at her home studio in Haiku Maui.
Images courtesy of the author.