I'm currently in Quito, Ecuador, gearing up to head to the South of the country with a group of eight University of Idaho students. We're going to be chasing Andean Bears and 'Coronchos' (Cloud Forest sucker fish) for the next month.
Before I start diving into the Ecology and Conservation of Ecuador (and its relation to the designs on some of my pots) I wanted to post a photo diary documenting the creation of a Japanese-style Lantern.
Lanterns are one of several objects (including fountains, planters, and drums) that fall easily into the 'functional Raku' category. They're quite elaborate... and fun (or devilishly frustrating) to make.
One of the challenges is that traditional lanterns are stone... and therefore pretty much bomb-proof. If you're making one on the wheel, you need to recreate the monolithic out of a nested set of silica soap bubbles.
You also need to decide whether to slavishly adhere to the traditional forms or take a modern slant. I've done both.
Recently, though, I've been intrigued by this lantern (from the Washington arboretum). It's an interesting combination of the traditional (upper vessel and roof) and the modern (the 'doughnut' at the base).
I didn't want to slavishly copy this design, though, so I went through a sketch frenzy.
Eventually, I decided that I wanted a fatter base and a reduced upper section. Something akin to the design on the right.(In part, I love the way that the main basal section evokes the 'Holey Stones' found a range of mythologies... I wrote about this some time ago
).It's amazingly fun to throw 'doughnuts' on the wheel. You need to center and expand a thread of clay, furrow the middle, and then raise two walls. These are then pushed over and joined.I've used these 'doughnut' forms for handles, spouts, legs... the have a nice visual weight, while also conveying a strong organic sensibility.On this project, I used these guys for the main body, the legs, and the handle at the very apex of the roof section.
For some of my previous lanterns, I've build the top section (the 'roof' or 'hood') from a thrown bowl. These top pieces are traditionally solid, however (rather than bowl shaped).
As a consequence, I decided to throw a 'bowl' and a separate platter-shaped base, and join the two elements.
Here's a total breakdown of the elements that went into this project....
#1) Upper 'roof' form
#2) Handle for the apex
#3) Lantern base (the lantern sits on this)
#4) Main body
#6) Top plate to complete the main body
#7) Basal plate for the lantern base
#8) Lantern vessel
#9) Basal plate for the 'roof'
Obviously, that's a large number of sections to compile. It's like an organic, muddy puzzle. Lots of playing with calipers (and even a plumb line).
You slap the sections together using slurry and a little magic mud
. (Lakeside Pottery has a good recipe for this stuff... lowers the melting temperature of clay and helps the bonding process).
I cut and assembled things in three sections... the base (legs, main body, lantern base), the main lantern body, and the hood (plus handle).
There's something kind of barbaric about taking a box-cutter to a beautiful circular form fresh off the wheel.
Getting the base section level required a lot of delicate shaving of the legs, and some careful use of a carpenters level.
Here are the final assemblages. You'll note that I cut a Pacific Cod design into the base... there's also some wave-inspired scroll work on the top of the hood.
I'm modestly pleased with the final result... although in retrospect, I might have strengthened the lantern component (in relation to the hood and the base).
The acid test, of course, will come when the time arrives to Raku-fire this sucker. Thermal shock and complex forms don't always mix... that basal section may fracture like bottle of Jack Daniels at a Skynard concert.
That, however, is another day!
I've been on a lantern binge lately. This one (not finished- obviously) was quite the multi-step project. I'll post some notes on the process later, but for now, I'm interested in what people think about the form...
Just a few Images of fountains, and an associated video clip.
The fountain in the picture above is about 18 inches in height. There's a pump nested in the base pedestal- flow rate is adjustable.
The top vessel fascinates me. Exactly the same glaze on both sides... but differing levels of reduction. Raku is so unpredictable!
This is an alternate design (basal bowl rather than a pedestal). I have several alternate upper pieces for this model- see images below. The design above is a brook trout. The pieces below feature a Giant Pacific Octopus and the (highly endangered) Pacific Cod.
For both fountain designs, I've integrated a planter into the rim of the base vessel. The idea is to plant some trailing foliage in the planter. If water levels are maintained, the planter will then be self watering.
I haven't installed plants in these specific pieces, but here's a fountain that we currently have in the front room of our house. The foliage is wooly thyme- an herb that seems to be pretty resilient in the face of variable water levels. Looks nice too... and you can even dust a bit on your pumpkin gnocchi if you feel the urge.
Finally- here's some video. I recorded this on my ipod, so the sound quality's not ideal... but you get the idea.
I’ve definitely appreciated the people who’ve interacted with this website and blog, and I’d like to inspire a bit more of it if I can. Art is ultimately about communication after all… and it can sometimes feel like isolated labor.
With this in mind, I’m going to inaugurate a quarterly contest.
Four times a year, I’ll solicit a guest entry for my blog. In return, the entry I like the most will get posted, and the submitting person will get a piece of my high-fire work (postage paid- heck… I’ll even mail outside of the U.S. for the right entry).
For the first contest, I’m asking for an entry discussing a threatened or endangered wild creature.
Endangered species have been a recurrent theme in my work (comes of working for a Wildlife department in a western university).
The contest is also loosely based on an ongoing project I’m working on titled ‘Last Chance to See’, based on Douglas Adams’ book of the same name.
1) There’s no hard word limit… but I haven’t posted anything much longer than 1000 words. The entry can be shorter.
2) The entry should be essay-style. It should introduce a specific organism (anything from seaweed to chimpanzee is fine) that is threatened with extinction (I guess this could include almost any living thing on the planet… but starlings or Kentucky bluegrass probably don’t qualify).
2) The entry should describe why this organism is meaningful to the writer. I’m very interested in reference to science, myth, culture, etc. My entry on elephants
can serve as an example.
3) You can include images if you like… but I’m happy to illustrate your entry.
4) You can send me an attachment at firstname.lastname@example.org
, or you can post text into my commissions and contacts page
The contest will run until the end of June (overlapping my annual work stint in Ecuador).
I’ll post the entry that I like the most (assuming I get any!) in July. I’m happy to credit the author in any manner that they wish (links back to their website, etc.).
I’ll also work the organism from the entry into a new surface design for a raku piece.
The winner can choose one of these recent examples of my hi-fire work. Just for the record (because people always ask) these items are dishwasher, microwave, and food safe.
Heck- if Indiana Jones had had one of these, he wouldn't have needed that *&%( refrigerator.
First option is a 'steeper' mug. In addition to the lid, this piece features a perforated insert for holding loose-leaf tea.
There's a carved design on the flank inspired by the coast ranges of Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska (with a little bit of Ireland thrown in)
The alternate option was inspired by a friend who came over a month ago. I was giving away a few of my uglier, 'failed' pieces. He took a jar, saying that it would be perfect for 'sippin' whiskey'. He then informed me that I 'outta make a few whiskey flasks'.Idaho- you've got to love it.Here's the result. Not sure if I'll make more of these... but it was fun.The design is my 'stock' grayling carving.
There's a tube running through the upper center of the body- potential attachment point for a strap.
You could evoke all the Minnesota frat boys I remember from the ski hills near Minneapolis, wobbling down the hills with their canteens full of nameless rot-gut.Anyhow- good luck, and I hope I hear from a few of you.
Fish of the Month: Lingcod- Ophiodon elongates
A pragmatist might ask why I’m adding a ‘fish of the month’ feature to a pottery blog.
Well- I can’t claim to be quite the piscophile that some of my friends are (I’ve got a pal who once kissed a sturgeon’s sucker-mouth on a dare).
However, fish are one of the most variegated, multi-hued and multi-formed expressions of ‘beauty’ in creation. The same process of evolution that yielded the austere grace of a king salmon also gifts us with the Hieronymus Bosch absurdity that is the blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus).
Secondly, fish symbolize wild places in all of their resiliency and terrible fragility. From the Asian silver carp
, tearing a swathe of ecological destruction along the backbone of the Mississippi, to the desert pupfish, hanging on by a thread in a puddle of hot water, fish mirror the health of the ecosystems that support us.
Fish have always been a source of mystery to us. They inhabit a cryptic, hidden world, only marginally opened to us with the advent of aquaria and SCUBA.
Finally, fish bloody fun to draw. I love rendering them on my pots. My basic drawing of an arctic grayling
is a staple of my work… but many of my favorite ceramic vessels from the past year are laced with other denizens of the seven seas.
Anyhow, I’m going to start with one of my favorites.
Back when I was 18, I worked an abortive two-day stint as a deckhand on a Sitka long-liner. I’ve never spent more time retching… it was my only serious bout with motion sickness, and I dearly hope that I never repeat the experience.
For those who’ve never fished the open ocean, the twin arms of a trolling boat drag long cables over the benthos, with nylon leaders clipped to the cables at intervals. When a fish hits a lure, you winch the cable back into the boat. There’s a high level of uncertainty- the leader could be dragging a halibut (back-breaking work with a gaff) a dogfish (break out the Kevlar gloves) or a squirting mess of shredded jellyfish.
However, nothing rears out of the deep with quite the impact of a lingcod. The things are enormous (we caught a six footer during the summer of ’90). They also have a howling, snaggle-hungry stare that makes a person very, very glad not to be a pollock.
They’re not quite the big-ticket item that salmon are, but people do eat them with gusto… to the point where stocks were severely hammered in the mid ‘90s. Things have improved since Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries implemented strict catch limits post-1999.
They’re ferocious gluttons. Interestingly, it’s the males that guard the egg clutches (all 500,000 eggs in some instances). These papas are faithful for up to 10 weeks, and have mauled divers on a couple of occasions.
They’re a wandering fish- females have been known to cover 500+ kilometers in a season. (Males stick closer to home… must be linked to the maternal instinct).
Apart from their googly-eyed, cantankerous personality, however, one of the things that delight me about lings is their coloration. My best compadre and canoeing partner Matt joined me on a British Columbia kayaking trip a few years back. We caught a number of lings, and several (about one out of three) were a vibrant, shimmering turquoise. They seemed to glow as you lifted them out of the water.
This photo (left) from Kawika Chetron’s coldwater images
is a good example.
Honestly, the ones that we caught were too beautiful to eat, and we set them all free. Apparently, though, the color runs beneath the skin. In fact, some people have shied away from eating lings- scared off by the neon green flesh (although- apparently- the flesh turns white once it’s cooked).
I work in a wildlife department at the University of Idaho. None of my fisheries colleagues have been able to steer me to a conclusive reason for the turquoise flesh. Apparently, it’s correlated to a diet laced with crustaceans… but the jade lings often live side by side with red and brown color variants…with no clear reason why.
Anyhow, for those lucky enough to live in the cedar-riven, rain-blest expanses of the Northern Pacific Coast, I hope you have a chance to stare into the vast eyes of one of these frog faces.
I love to draw them, and I love to work them into my pottery… but most importantly, I love to think of them whispering beneath those cruel, azure tidal reaches off the West Coast.
What do green sea turtle eggs and shark fin have in common? The same thing as black bear gall bladder and tiger penis bone, if that’s any help…
Oh… all of these items are connected to really, really cool wild animals, which are getting systematically rendered down into ‘supplements’ that randy old goats sprinkle on their drinks.
I’ve been pondering this in light of continuing work on my ‘Last chance to See’
project. Another artist and I recently got the provisional green light to host this project at the Pritchard Art Gallery
in Moscow… although not until 2014.
This is a good thing- Raku is a spastic process at times. I’ve had a few pieces explode in the kiln lately. This is an added challenge- as in some mega-sized conga drums I’ve been building of late.
Congas hail from North Africa… as does one of the animals featured in Douglas Adams’ book
is the Northern White Rhino, Ceratotherium simum
. These slow-rolling mountains of bleary eyed innocence have a reputation for bulldozering women, trees, houses and villages. In truth, C, simum
is mostly aggressive towards other Rhinos. The brave (or foolish) could theoretically walk to within a couple meters of a calm bull rhino’s horn and live to tell the tale.
Of course, most of the interactions between humans and rhinos these days seem to be flowing from the stubby maw of an AK47. There’s been a sickening increase in rhino poaching of late. In South Africa in 2000, poachers killed seven Rhinos. In 2011, the ‘cull’ was 448
. See Stop Rhino Poaching
for some additional, region-specific stats.
(Note- I considered linking a couple of pictures here… but it’s honestly hard for me to look at these images. Google ‘rhino poaching’ and you’ll get more than you can stomach).
I could discuss the tragedy of the commons and the burgeoning Chinese middle class (both of which are implicated in the recent accelerated poaching). Rhino horn is now touted as a cure for everything from arthritis to cancer
… the tragic rarity of the species accentuating its cachet on the black market.
However, we’re really talking about the fact that rhinoceros horns are pert and erect (and admirably large) and people have a tendency to… err… ‘project’ mystical power onto such things.
I recently logged an entry where I rhapsodized about my bouzouki… talking about animism and the possibility that love can infuse inanimate objects with something like a soul. I admit to a certain sentimental-mystical gumbo in my fiber… but I try retreat to critical thinking every once in awhile.
The cynic might see this type of projection as similar to ‘the pathetic fallacy’- the tendency to ascribe emotion or intent to the inanimate. ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’. (‘Pathetic’ in this case drawn from the same Latin roots as ‘pathos’ – and thus related to empathy)-
(Note- the image above is the work of an artist named Margot Cormier Splanea
who I just discovered. Wildly inventive stuff with a biting edge… evokes Ray Troll a little bit).
There’s not really a specific term that I know of for the tendency to imbue objects with magic properties based on their shape, however. (I ran up a flag with a couple of philosopher/writer friends on this one). I’m provisionally calling it the ‘SUE’ fallacy (derived from ‘sugentem umbra essentia’
Anyhow, it’s clear that there’s an extraordinary amount of desperate ‘love’ (of a sort) hurled at anything that evokes a phallus (or part of one). Even Viagra has failed to put a crimp in this trend. Yes- turtle eggs evoke certain paired, roly-poly objects. Does it follow that the thousands of Central Americans who knock them back with beer are seeing a clinical increase in their functionality?
The advertisement- by the way- is from a Mexican add campaign. It reads:My man doesn't need turtle eggs. Because he knows that they won't make him more viral. Etc.As noted in the New York Times
, there's something a bit off-putting about using gender stereotypes to avert environmental Tom-foolery. To quote from John Sayles wonderful film 'Lone Star'... "Yeah, it's always heartwarming
to see a prejudice
defeated by a deeper prejudice"
In the case of Rhino horn, we’re basically talking about a wildly over-grown toenail. You could presumably mirror any clinical effects by pulling a Howard Hughes and rendering your weekly clippings into a shake.
Mind you, fingernails are entirely composed of beta-keratin… so they’re nutritionally useless. Rhino horn does have a calcium core
… so quaffing chang laced with rhino horn could give you an energy boost. If you were calcium deficient to begin with…
Anyhow, I’m not sure if I can indulge my lean towards animism where my bouzouki is concerned… and climb back on my science pedestal when it comes to rhino horn huffing capitalists in Vietnam.
In the meantime, however, it’s a pretty serious indictment on the human race if a gentle giant like Ceratotherium simum fades to black because of our obsession with beloved, ever-troublesome wing-wangs.
Well- I had a couple minor disasters emerge from the kiln. One fountain base oozed all over the shelf, It reminded me of some of my step-son's ill-advised experiments with banana slugs on Vancouver Island in '03. Another base (like the chalice base from the last entry
) splintered. Big, gaping crack of doom just waiting for Smeagol. Still- I can't complain too much, given the overall levels of success over the past couple weeks. Without too much commentary, here's the current batch.
All of these guys are riffs off my original prototype from about a month back. Although it's the best basic design I've produced, the one thing I'd like to work toward in the future is a bit more asymmetry. Nature is not a symmetrical thing. Rivers wander and purl off into odd little crooks and kinks.
I've got some ideas for designs that should be a bit less tight-laced... but that's something for another day.
In the meantime, the planters continue to propagate. Here are some examples...
This little guy (about five inches in diameter at the rim) is more representational (less abstract) than some of my designs. I tend to like designs that are pared down and exaggerated.
This- of course- is an example of the basic grayling design that I like to endlessly tweak. I was selling at our local farmer's market this weekend, and a vender who was selling North African food observed that the eyes 'looked Egyptian'. Certainly, they don't look like a biologists take on a fish eye.
I should know- I dissected a ton of the things while teaching comparative vertebrate anatomy at WSU this past fall.
This, of course, is a flip back to the representational. Ling cod
) are the most gloriously google-eyed, needle toothed little cutie-pies you're ever going to see outside of Sesame Street. They slither up from the depths looking like a snake hitched a ride on a frog's bum.
I've never managed to get a good photo, unfortunately- my best mate Matt and his big rack of rockfish is the closest I've come. Check the late, great Kawika Chetron's
website for a good image.
I have caught a few of these, but always let them go. They're too bloody cool
to eat.Actually, I almost feel that way about all fish. From here on, just images, no chatter.
OK- I lied again. I need to comment on this planter- which is reduced to the hilt... but still has that nice little streak of oxidized turquoise underneath the Mahi-mahi's belly. The whims of raku strike again.
Bit of an epic Raku session yesterday! Hard to beat the volcanic throb of a hot kiln under Idaho skies in spring.
As I've lightly alluded to in the past
, I'm working on a project based off Douglas Adams' 'Last Chance to See'
a series of musical instruments with endangered species motifs. The first iteration involves a replication of a Maori gourd instrument called a Hue Puruhau
. I shared some early designs
and images of wheel work
in a couple of earlier entries.
Here's the first version. This piece was fired a couple of weeks ago. As you can see, I modified the early bottle shape, shortening the neck, and altering the surface (with a blunt piece of wood) to make it look more 'gourd-like'.
I'm not 100% thrilled with this effort. I think that the design is out of proportion to the piece. Also- it's supposed to be a musical instrument, played like a bottle or flute, and I can't get a tone out that out-sweetens the moan of a prion-riddled cow. I can't claim to be an expert on flute making, but I know something about embouchure from my dabblings in Irish music, and this thing doesn't have it.
Here's design number two, hot out of the kiln as of 8:45 last night...
I like this one a lot more.
Apart from the tasty crackle pattern (good crackle makes Raku artists salivate) I think that the piece is more proportionally balanced. It also plays. A Hue Puruhau is supposed to yield a low, almost conch-like note- a sound that could sooth the angry seas.
I might have to test this one on the local Arboretum pond first, but at least it's functional.
Anyhow, I'm curious as to what people think- just visually- about the two pieces
(And... I defy any of you- at the very least if you're not Maori- to take a self-portrait blowing on a Hue Puruhau without looking like a complete ding-dong).
In addition to kakapo gourds, I also fired a couple drum bases and planters. Here are some images...
I've learned a couple important lessons about Raku over the past year.
For one- the clays sold as 'Raku clays' (all of which feature added grit 'for strength') are very frustrating to carve. My carving tool tends to grab as it moves over the clay, catching on the grog. You get jerky, irregular lines... and representational forms are particularly hard to transcribe.
This is all a roundabout way to say that the nymph on this planter looked a LOT better in my sketchbook.
I should not that I don't blithely put random naked gals on my stuff- there's a whole mythology-based story behind this design. Yup. Sure.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I've been riffing off a beautiful illustrated book called '365 fish
' (imaginative title, that). This fellow is known- in polite company- as a 'Bombay Duck'. Harpadon nehereus- # 139 on this list.
Glows in the dark, and is consumed with great relish on the streets of Maharashtra, India.
I culled a few ideas from the same book in designing these drums. Eventually (after I get back from Ecuador in June) I'll slap a drum head on these guys and post a few pictures.
On the right, we have the noble Zeus faber, also known as a 'John Dory'. These are spurned by fishermen because of the massive head and gratuitous spines, but Catholics honor them as 'Saint Peter's Fish'. There's a golden, coin-like marking on the flank of the fish... apparently, Peter, pulled this coin from the fish's mouth.
One the left, we have the equally amazing Regalecus glense- literally translates out as 'King of Herrings'. Number 178. Specimens have been captured that exceeded 11 meters in length (they're registered with Guinness as the 'world's longest fish').
It's hypothesized that legends of sea serpents may have originated with sightings of R. glense. While I defy such unimaginative thinking (I want my Kracken, dang it) I have to admit that that's a pretty snaky-looking fish...
Finally, one of the lovely things about Raku is the social aspect. There's something very joyful about sharing a bout of pyromaniac bliss with a group of friends. I always feel like I've been cast back to the dawn of Stonehenge.
Celeste (pictured at left) was a student in my fall Conservation Biology class, and a fine sculptor. She's got a particular affinity for wild ungulates- note the pronghorn in the photo, pre-fire.
Anyhow, Celeste came over with her friend Carrie, and ran three animal busts through my kiln.
I was a bit worried- these were fairly delicate little creations, and sculpture often lacks the resistance to thermal shock that you can get with wheel-thrown pottery. Also, Celeste wasn't familiar with my glazes, and had to slap some stuff on at the eleventh hour.
This was the first piece we fired. Celeste says that it was a gemsbok. I have to believe her, since she's WAY more representational in her work than I am. (Plus, she's a full-fledged biology graduate as of this week).The piece was formed from a high-iron red clay. I've never used that type of clay in Raku, and had NO idea as to which of my glazes would work. In the end, she went with a turquoise crackle that I bogarted from Jeff Guin and his groovy 'Clean Mud' blog.I've got to say- the glaze came out looking stunning
- both the texture and appearance of a mid-life bronze patina. I may have to Raku fire high-iron clay more often.
The pronghorn also turned out- not only interesting- but also beautiful.
Anyhow, I'm taking eight students to Ecuador on Monday- starting in on several months of research in the High Andes, so I'm about to go through force wheel withdrawal. Oh well. If there's anything on the same level of fun as Raku, it's chasing mountain tapirs in the Páramo.