While the Art Institute of Chicago has been closed due to Covid-19, I have been working from home. This is challenging for me as I work primarily with the collection of Prints and Drawings and I don’t have access to the collection at home. As with most people working from home, I have been to many zoom meetings and taken advantage of many webinars. I’ve also had a few box making projects and created several box making tutorials on YouTube. But this time has also given me many free hours to make art.
As seen in previous posts, I began making a Covid Journal very early in my Stay at Home period. It was an immediate way for me to respond to all that was happening around me and a great outlet for my thoughts and observations. During this time, the clay studio that I work in was closed as a non-essential business, so I wasn’t able to work in clay. This practice of digging in the mud and experimenting is something that feeds the rest of my creativity. I feel it keeps me connected to making, but I don’t usually think of this work as art. These are functional pieces and I often make what I want in my own kitchen. That being said, working in clay keeps my hands busy and my creative mind engaged, often leading to bigger projects.
I hadn’t worked in clay for many weeks, when Joanna Kramer offered online classes at Ware with contactless pick up of materials at her studio. I have often envied her use of a rich dark clay, Standard Clay #266, so I signed on and began hand building at home.
This woven tray was the first piece I made during her class and I continued working on my own afterwards. I love the way the white glaze breaks on the texture and shows the detail nicely.
I bought underglaze colors that can be applied to greenware, before bisque firing, and began making butterflies and moths. I was inspired by a wooden tool I bought in India years before. It looks like the body of a butterfly so I pressed it into the clay to form the center of the Monarch. It felt good to make something colorful, and purely beautiful. The first two trays are quite large.
The next two are brush or chopstick rests and I love the small size. I plan to make many more moth and butterfly varieties.
Sometimes you just have to make what you have to make and this sperm whale butter dish happened. I approach ceramics from the perspective of a printmaker and I love the sgraffito effect. It is similar to carving print blocks and I think the contrast between the dark clay and the white underglaze is beautiful. Although the Pot Shop in Evanston has re-opened, I hope to continue building some pieces from home using this beautiful clay!
I have been experimenting with making horseshoe crabs with clay. The first one (above) was sculpted from a solid block and hollowed out underneath. The top was a bit thick and it exploded during bisque firing so I threw it out. Later, after sitting in the trash box for a week, I decided to reassemble and glaze it. If it didn’t come out well it would at least be a good glaze test piece, and actually I was quite happy with it. The cracks and losses look like the shells found on a beach and give it a nice texture, so I decided to go ahead and add the paper gills and text. In the meantime, while I thought this was a total failure, I decided to make a new one out of a slab of clay (below). I sculpted it as it was draped over a plaster form and then carved the underside in low relief. Although, not as sculptural as the first, it worked out well and I was quite pleased with both glazes.
I have also been making bowls and plates with paintings of sea life. I begin with a thin coat of glossy white glaze with some of the brownstone clay showing through and then paint with black underglaze. I thin the underglaze to look like an ink wash painting. Once fired, it sinks into the white glaze and becomes glossy.
I continue to create ocean and sealife from earth, and I’m finally beginning to feel some satisfaction. The whale is my favorite by far, and on my third try I finally have a large stingray tray. I’ll have to sell it before I break the tail! It was a challenge to get all these pieces home on the el train. I had visions of lurching trains and stingray tail stabbings.
I use this tray to hold tomatoes on my kitchen window sill
The tray bottom is a more opaque white because I used porcelain slip under the white glaze.
I have 119 Tinkamink prints and drawings so far and it looks like nothing!
Tinkaminks – so named by Ashwin, conceived at Friday Harbour Labs where they had these great paper key chains, and solidified by a fantastic book on Plankton. This is going to be an installation of perhaps a thousand keychain organisms. Today was all about printing Cephalopods, jellyfish, dinoflagellates and acantharians. Plankton contains plants and animals, from single cellular to embryonic and juvenile life forms. It is endlessly fascinating! Today I began printing some Tinkaminks using the most rudimentary printing techniques; carved rubber stamps and stamp pads. Who needs a Vandercook anyway?
Hand drawn Tinkaminks. It could take a while to get to 1000!
Below is the finished drawing, with watercolor, of the octopus at Friday Harbor Labs. His name is Enzyme.The next drawing is a work in progress, a Prismacolor drawing of the octopus named Silence. I was feeling a bit frustrated with it on my last day in Friday Harbor, but now that I am going back to it, I think it’s okay. So I’ll keep plugging away at it.
Inspiration for my next project is below. It’s going to be an installation piece and I’ll give a hint – Plankton. I’m quite excited about it, so much so, that I couldn’t fall asleep the other night, but had to get up and order supplies at 1 a.m.
Meet Arkham, he is a bit larger than the other three octopuses at Friday Harbor Labs and he is a bit bristly. He is the main man in the study being done in Gire Labs, where they are studying navigation and sensing. Because he is a bit darker and moodier, he is more reclusive, but when I manage to take a photo he is quite dramatic. He uses something called papillae in his skin to make the dramatic horn-like bumps.
While here, I have also been given a studio. Ashwin and I spent hours in the studio yesterday, where I draw and he writes in his journal. I knew I would want to do some sketching here, but somehow ‘a place of ones own’ makes all the difference. Now I may want to buy some big paper and go larger! I can’t wait to get back to the studio again today, it’s bright and airy and smells of fresh wood.
In between sketching sessions we go down to the water to scavenge for treasures, the shore is full of driftwood that we take up to the studio. I know I want to draw octopus, but I think I could also get swept into drawing pieces of driftwood, or printing the grain. I’ll just have to come back again for round 2!
How do I love thee, let me count the ways.
On my first night I held a small crab in my fingers and fed it to an octopus – Enzyme aka Slimey (Ashwin’s name for him). He lunged at my hand and wrapped his arms around, I could feel his suckers attached to my skin. It was love at first sight. I am at Friday Harbor Labs where my husband Venkatesh is collaborating with a colleague from University of Washington, studying the way octopuses move and track. In three days I have learned more about Octopuses than I have in my life. They are fascinating to watch and yesterday I went to the lab to draw and take photos. They move so much in the evening, it was hard to sketch, but I took 145 photos! I’m just a little obsessed.
Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I have been drawing octopuses for a little while, mainly from National Geographic photos. But there is nothing quite like drawing an octopus you are familiar with, from your own photos. I feel that Friday Harbor Labs is full of interesting people doing cool things. It’s such an inspiring environment and I feel very lucky to be here.
As it has been almost a year to the date since I posted anything, I thought it might be time to end this blog. But after looking at it again I realize that I still enjoy it. So just a small post for now, of some drawings I’ve done this year and one I finished today