Ceramics and the Sea

Ceramic horseshoe crab artist book

Draining blood (flood)

Copper blue (queue)

Cut in half (laugh)

Assembly line (mine)

Six hundred thousand (fend)

Blood donors (loaners)

A third depleted (meted)

But not dead (ahead)

Spawning wild (piled)

New moon light (night)

Mounting milt (silt)

Whetted sand (land)

Ancient ones (suns)

Helmet head (led)

Bookish gills (fill)

Telson tail (hale)

Will remain (wane)

In the sea (plea)

Following paths (maths)

Wandering free (eternity)

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.

Horseshoe crab built from a slab

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.

Small snack bowls
Haiku on the outside of the whale eye bowl
Hand formed dinner plates with painted animals and carved kelp
Smaller bowls for sauces

Let the Obsession with Earth and Water Continue

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.

Cephalopods painted in black underglaze

Tiny stingray brush rests

Dreaming of the Ocean

In the Midwest. I have been working on a stingray platter, trying to perfect the process. Below is the first one, which I’m quite happy with, but the top layer of the head came off in the bisque firing process. I had to rejoin the pieces with glaze and you can still see the cracks. I’m thinking of filling the cracks with epoxy and attaching gold to highIight them, like the Japanese Kintsugi technique. On my second try the head blew up into tiny pieces in the kiln, so I’m now on my ‘third try is a charm’, as my mother would say.

Mum told me that her happy place is Craigville Beach on Cape Cod. In her mind, she walks down to the end of the beach, lies down in the sand and listens to the waves. She is now 90, and it’s unlikely that she will walk the beach again, but thankfully she has her happy memories and this one gives her peace.

Tea bowls – urchin, crab, octopus, jellies.

The Humpback Whale tray  is in the green ware stage, awaiting bisque firing. Sometimes I think all is going well and what could possibly go wrong, but then it does. I’m crossing my fingers on this one!


The Plankton book (remember Tinkaminks?) is finished, and I made a drop spine box with a raised circle in the center to keep the key chain from shifting around. I printed the title on my old Vandercook press that now resides in Ben Blount’s new studio. He has generously let me use it when needed. This one is on its way to Vamp and Tramp Booksellers at this very moment.

 

The wide array of forms in the sea are endlessly inspiring. I feel I could keep going forever – and I will continue to dream of living on the coast once again. The lake is beautiful, but as I’ve said before, it’s a poor substitute for the ocean! 

Cephalopod

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. 

Octopus Obsession

I spent yesterday drawing more octopus and today I finally used a large sheet of D’Arches 140 lb cold press watercolor paper. It has been a while since I’ve used anything besides handmade paper, and I forgot how well a nice sized paper takes watercolor. After all the sketches, I was very happy with the final results. I’m hoping to make one more large drawing today – thanks to the Whiteley Center and Friday Harbor Labs!

Almost finished


I was given the opportunity to feed one of the octopuses tonight. Silence is a bit moodier than Enzyme and he usually hides and changes color a lot when I watch him. Tonight, after some coaxing, he grabbed the crab from my hand, latched onto me, and started pulling and exploring. It was so amazing and a bit unsettling. He is very strong and I had to tug a bit to get him to release my hand. I’m going to be very sad to leave these octopuses after tomorrow.

Arkham at FHL

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!

Former scientific study specimens – now dinner

Friday Harbor Labs, San Juan Island, WA

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.


Octopuses become very active in the evening

Suckers with ruffled edges

Always peeking

First drawing