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!
Every year my husband gives me cash to spend a weekend in a local hotel to make art. Two whole days and nights to myself, to be able to follow my thoughts without interruption and be creative. This year, I spent my time drawing coyotes. I thought about working on another project as well, but I just kept drawing coyotes. I have a vision of hanging them all in a small gallery as if surrounded by a pack.
Since moving to our current home in Evanston, the coyotes in the area have flourished. We used to hear them howl occasionally at night – now we often hear a whole pack yipping and barking, especially when the sirens wail at the firehouse. I love waking up to this sound in the wee hours of the morning. My son and I see them on the golf course, looking lush and happy, feasting on the local rabbits and rodents. People often complain about them on social media (protect your little dogs!) but I feel it’s a good sign that predators have returned and are thriving.
This project is far from done. I plan to do something more with the drawings and add text. I also want to make large ceramic discs (or plates?) with more coyote drawings on them. They will be smaller than the life-size drawings, so perhaps they will form a cluster off in the distance.
I have to say, I hate drawing fur. I usually prefer to draw sea life or birds, the textures and forms are so much more interesting, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do! This is one project I just have to do to get it out of my head.
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.