Otherwise known as the three planters to emerge from my kiln this month.
I've had a number of frustrating failures recently- forms that crack in the kiln, colors that I don't like, blah blah. I guess things are going to frustrate you if you're pushing at boundaries.
Fortunately, I stick a planter or two into the kiln to keep the productivity at a respectable level. Here are a couple of recent pieces.
(All of these, incidentally, are up for sale on my Inventory Page. Winter is coming... and so is Christmas).
I'm still chasing after the perfect 'Great White Shark Chasing a Sea Lion' design. You'll probably never see a 'white pointer' with that much turquoise on his hide (mariners used to call them 'Ghost Sharks'). The crackle turned out lovely though... one of the most unpredictable and satisfying elements in the Raku process.
This iteration of a weedy sea dragon pleases me more than some of my earlier efforts
. I love that background glaze (turquoise crackle). Always textured, always complex. In this case, it's easy to imagine it as light spackled through a seagrass bed.
And- here you have wolverine (sans adamantium!) chasing the moon. It's a fortunate thing that Gulo gulo can travel distances measured in the hundreds of kilometers... he might actually have a chance of catching that thing!
Wolverines are hard to render... the form (intermediate between a bear and a fisher) is hard to capture.
I'm cranking through a number of simultaneous projects at the moment- here's one example.
I had a collector contact me recently- wanting to commission a couple of mugs. Pretty cool project- he had specific requirements for size, handle style, etc. I like working within constraints.
The interesting thing was that he specifically wanted a Raku surface- he'd seen one of my planters and liked the surface.
Copyright Christian Kaden 2013
There's an issue with Raku, however... it's not 'food safe' by most traditional measures. Raku leaks. It leaches mineral oxides (copper carbonate in the case of my glazes).
This is not a desirable thing. To quote 'Mastering Cone 6 glazes' (an excellent glaze formulation guide) 'we are not in the food supplement business'.
Mineral leaching would be particularly problematic for work glazed with legitimately toxic materials (i.e. barium, or- heaven forbid- lead). Fortunately, none of my glazes are dependent on nasties like these. I wouldn't want to evoke the Roman empire and their collective lead-driven dementia.
The Japanese have used Raku ware for the tea ceremony for hundreds of years... mainly in a ceremonial setting.
'Ceremonial' is probably the key... I don't think you'd want to use Raku-ware for your daily table, but occasional use (assuming benign ingredients) should be fine.
The client wanted carvings of marine mammals (seals, sea lions) with a blue-green background, and prominent use of red.
Here's the first result- Stellar Sea Lion carving. I used a commercial glaze (Duncan Envision, cranberry) on the interior.
I've been realizing, of late, that there's something to be said for predictable color and texture. I love the volatility and variability of my raku glazes... but there's also merit to slapping on a glaze that you know is going to be a rich red, irrespective of conditions in the kiln.
I was a bit worried that the uniform red would clash with the effect of the variegated, complex surface on the main body of the mug (a turquoise crackle glaze from Gary Ferguson).
I think it turned out OK. I can see some careful, profound expansions of my glaze palette on the horizon.
Here's the other piece- this one with a carving of a harbor seal.
I have four more of these guys that I still need to Raku fire. I hope they come out this interesting.
...Cuz nothing says 'Nativity' like the Heat Miser and Cold Miser with a Saki cup.
I’ve been cranking out some new projects of late… and thus have fallen off the Blogging Express a little.
However, a friend recently reminded me that the Yuletide season is approaching, and that I’d better overcome my counter-commercial instincts and promote myself a bit.
If you’re interested in a custom-made piece of my work, you should contact me soon. You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the contact form on this site
. Basically- for work to be ready by Chrismas, I need to do my clay work by about the December 10.
I do, in point of fact, offer some pretty unique options for the generous of heart… especially if you’re into ceramics. Here are a few highlights.
Artwork is a fine thing… but so much of it is passive… hanging lifeless on your wall, or crouching on a pedestal. Planters are a way to add a beautiful centerpiece to your home… while hosting a piece of the great outdoors at the same time.
All of my planters are Raku-fired, with mosaic style designs. I love working on commission, however. My designs typically emphasize wildlife, marine, or mythological elements… but I’m happy to work with your vision. Prices vary by size, ranging from $80 for a smaller planter to $120 for a larger, floor-sized model.
Mugs! Plates! Casseroles! See my gallery page
for ideas- I make to commission. Plates and platters are decorated with slip-trailed designs (see above), while I carve designs into other pieces. Prices range from $30 (mug with no lid) to $80 (kettle).
I’ve been focusing on hanging lanterns recently. These are modeled on turn-of-the-century carriage lanterns, with Japanese accents. Many are ‘illuminated’ with images of bioluminescent creatures
(lantern fish, fireflies, etc.).
You’d probably want to involve your potential recipient in the design phase for one of these… but they’re unique, functional, and suffused with an inner glow.
Lanterns are a bit more intricate to make (multiple thrown elements, wiring, etc.), and sell in the $180-$250 range (depending on the size and level of detail in the design). Drums
For the right musician friend, an art drum (with your choice of design) could be perfect. I’ve been concentrating on conga-style drums of late, but I also make alternate models (tablas, djembes, doumbeks, etc.).
All of my drums are fully functional (sort of like Data from Star Trek the Next Generation... nyuk nyuk) - you can play your heart out. The tone is typically more staccato and ‘barking’ than a similar wooden drum… but there’s a lovely musical tone that’s unique to the ceramic material.
Drums sell in the $150-$250 range (size and form dependent)
Something for the water nymphs and gods in your life. All of my water features are designed with a high-fire (waterproof) base, and an upper raku vessel (from which the water cascades). There are a wide variety of styles I work with- see my gallery page or contact me for more information.
Fountains are among my more elaborate creations, and sell for $250-$400 (size and design dependent). Hardware and pump included.
So- get in touch
if you’ve got a unique person who deserves a unique piece of functional artwork- especially if you (or your friend) is enamored of mountains, sharks, waves, light through coastal cloudscapes, selkies, ents, gnarled trees by riversides, or anything else wet, wild, or wooly.
Not much to say here... just a few wall tiles for a kitchen project in ye olde casa del amor...
My output has been a bit crimped of late- mostly because I've been grappling with some experimental work.
I've been frustrated of late with high failure rates in my Raku firing. Raku is- of course, a process laden with thermal shock and awe. Pieces do break. I've walked away from the kiln cursing like a sailor on more than one occasion.
However, I've been firing some fairly complex forms lately (lanterns, fountain components, etc.)... and the shatter rate has approached 50%.
As one example, I've been testing a fountain component with a design like a mill wheel (see drawing to left, and photo below). Two goals... get a little closer to a full 'babbling brook' soundscape (hard to achieve in a small fountain)... and make the piece a bit more visually interesting.
The problem- this particular form doesn't cool at a uniform rate. I've taken these out of the kiln, and the edges cool practically to the touch point, while the interior glows like Smaug's lair.
To date, I've fired six of these. The results have been utterly consistent.
I could, of course, repair these with epoxy... and since they're sculptural objects, repair doesn't have the stigma that it would if I were making teapots or other functional wares.
However, many of these have shattered with chunks lost in the kiln (see repair job below)... and I certainly can't sell water features with gaping cracks in the form.
I've also seen cracking and shattering in large tiles, some of my conga drums, and almost anything tall. In short, I think I'm pushing at the limits of what Raku can reliably do.
So- I spent the past month experimenting with sagger firing. A sagger is a closed vessel that creates it's own atmosphere. You can fill them with combustible materials. The 'real' sagger experts often fill their saggers with everything from fertilizer to copper wire, all of which leaves a scrim of wildly unpredictable color on the surface.
My main goals in trying sagger firing were 1) to obtain Raku-like glaze results in a 'gentler' atmosphere, and 2) to 'smoke' my pottery without doing a post-fire reduction step. In particular, I needed the lines on my carvings to blacken.
Here's the first piece I tried to fire- a miniscule test pot. As you can see, the lines did not blacken. I wasn't very optimistic about this (as I thought the upper, 1900 degree temperatures might burn off the carbon). However, this particular sagger cracked in the kiln.
It's worth noting that my Raky glazes came out looking nothing like they usually do. The grey glaze- usually white crackle. The coppery-looking glaze on the base- usually turquoise.
There's manifestly a heavy reduction atmosphere in the kiln... and my standard glazes are way off the reservation.
So- I decided to try some commercial glazes, and a more 'robust' sagger. These glazes are generally formulated for fairly uniform results across a range of atmospheric condition (although I could not- for the life of me- get the specifics from the source companies).
Here are the results. Note the white, carved lines (no smoking to any appreciable degree). Note, as well, that the glaze on the lower part of the pot on the right was supposed to be a brilliant yellow.
So- I don't think I'll be doing any sagger firing as a Raku surrogate.
The work is starting to pile up in my studio... I'll have a boatload of work to bisque-fire before too long here. Fortunately, my kiln is big enough fire an a full set of space shuttle tile... so I'm good to go.
At the moment, I'm working on a few art plates. Most of my work is functional, but there are some sporadic juried shows that restrict themselves to work that can be hung on a wall. Thus- plates- such as the study in puffer fish above.
There's an upcoming show with a focus on 'Forsaken Nature' that I'm considering applying to. The platter above is one idea I've been kicking about- sort of a 'lowland gorilla and the burning plain' design.Meanwhile, I'm re-doing a drum with a centaur design. This design was based off a contest I ran at the end of the summer.
Unfortunately, the first drum that I made with this design suffered a rude fate. Kids- don't put your greenware down on the floor when you're working- even for a minute. I must have kicked that drum five feet through the air.
Here's the revised drum. Predictably enough, I'm pining for the original... but hopefully, this melancholy will pass.
This piece is currently part of an exhibition at Cape Fear Studios in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Check it out- they have some amazing ceramic work on display.(You have to scroll down-page a bit to see the finalists)
Nellie Allen Smith Competition
Natural selection is a wonderful thing.
Take a couple of specific habits (suction feeding on micro-crustaceans, hiding in beds of seaweed) and somehow evolutionary pressure yields a spiny-yet-delicate, sylvan-looking horse with leaves sprouting out of its epidermis.
Bow before our equine uber-Mom- the weedy sea dragon.
In point of fact, it’s a bit of a cop-out to cite evolutionary pressure to explain the way these things look and behave. Sure, they sip copepods as if they were drinking bubble tea… thus the elongated snout. Sure, they’re weak swimmers, and dodge predators by curling up in the marine foliage.
But do these factors really explain how this splendid, otherworldly-and-yet-familiar shape emerged from the Darwinian scrum? It’s essentially a circular argument.
Of course, the really splendid thing about these creatures- like pipefish and seahorses- is the whole male pregnancy miracle (or debacle, depending on how fierce you are about your Y chromosome).
I used to think that male brooding in sea dragons and their relatives was a simple matter of tending the fledglings. Not so. Once a male has received the eggs from a female, he provides the blood supply, oxygen, and nutrients. There might as well be an umbilical cord. Other than a technicality about which gametes are traded, the male IS the mother in all ways that matter.
(Sherri Tepper uses a similar system as the anchor of her sci-Fi book ‘Six Moon Dance’
… except that she envisions interstellar, Sea-Dragon-esque, solar-wind riding behemoths. All wrapped up in a gender-bending, eco-punk mind-bender of a novel. Awesome, weird book... but I digress)
So why did these traits evolve?
First- male pregnancy appears to have evolved in multiple evolutionary lineages- see this fascinating article from researchers at Texas A & M
(and clear all the noise about Johnny Manziel out of your head while you’re at it).
Secondly- male pregnancy in some of these species scuttles all the conventional rules about sexual selection. Females compete for males, and develop all the secondary characteristics (bright ornamentation, elaborate fins, etc.). Seahorses are an exception… the puritans of the sea, draping themselves in buff coloration and strict monogamy.
However, this doesn’t touch on the question of ‘why’, and nothing I’ve read really does. Anyone have a mechanism in mind? I’d love to hear about it.
In the meantime, as a follow-up to my quarterly contest, I etched a couple of weedy sea-dragons onto a pair of conga drums. Results? One fractured in the raku fire, the other came out considerably more ‘red’ than I’d planned.
You can thump on this thing just fine, though- its sound it sharp and barking like an Indian Tabla.
I should try to throw a didgeridoo on the wheel (now there’s a challenge) and put a sea dragon on the flank. The geography would match then.
I've been a bit delinquent in updating this site. This stems, in part, from the beginning of the Semester, and the resumption of my 'other' job as a part time professor. Program assessment! Yay!
At the same time, I've been experimenting with some ideas... and experiencing some mixed success. The sort of results that tantalize and frustrate at the same time.
For instance- a client asked me to make a set of tiles for a table top. After a lengthy consult process, we came up with a 'dolphins in the moonlight design'.
I fired these suckers yesterday. Two things annoying things occurred. First- two of the tiles cracked in two during the reduction process. I was concerned about this- these things are big (12 by 18 inches for the larger tile)... and larger, flat forms often do...poorly...in the face of thermal shock.
Secondly- the base color came out as more-or-less aquamarine (with some copper flashing)... and pretty close to turquoise. The client explicitly told me that she did not want turquoise.
I can't re-fire... too much cracking already. I'll have to see what the client thinks... and we may need to re-design the project for smaller tiles.
Still- it was a fun and educational exercise.
The images on my pottery are heavily influenced by kayaking, canoeing, and my work as a wildlife biology. I'm also a sucker for mythology, however. A childhood spent devouring Tolkien and Lewis will do that to a kid.
Long-term, I'm interested in exploring some of my thoughts about natural resource conservation... and doing it through the lens of mythological imagery.
To do this, however, I'm going to have to push myself a bit when it comes to representing the human form. I've always been more drawn (no pun intended) to the inhuman and the animate in the inanimate. There's less room for error with representations of Homo sapiens, however. We're utterly unforgiving when the nuances of shape and expression are a bit off... sucked down into the 'uncanny valley' we are.
This all makes the recent suggestion that I draw some centaurs (see my recent pottery giveaway contest) an interesting one.
Classically, centaurs were creatures caught at the sharp edge between the bestial and the spiritual. In literature, you have your 'noble' centaurs (the stargazers and warrior poets of C.S. Lewis's books and Hercules's mentor Chiron)... while on the other hand, you have the rampaging frat boy centaurs that Theseus subdued on behalf of the Lapiths.
In either case, it seems to me that there's a certain standard you need to rise to in depicting a creature with some 3000 years of western art and literature at its back.
I drew a female centaur (although these are comparatively rare in classic literature... especially before the time of Ovid) since the contest participant gave me a female image to start from.
Here's the best sketch out of the current batch (see below). As with most of my designs, I'm trying to rely on limited, hard lines, hopefully conveying a dynamic feel at the same time.
Because of this, the face is particularly hard. Ideally, it seems to me that centaurs should articulate a sense of tension... wisdom and violence co-mingled, beauty and possibly a touch of brutishness. Not the sort of nuance that can be easily whipped out with three strokes of a carving tool.
The final challenge- with the sort of 'mosaic-style' surface carving that I do- is to translate the drawing to the leather-hard surface of a pot. A centaur- with thundering hooves no doubt- seems a good subject for a drum. So- I whipped out a conga and re-did the drawing as a surface decoration.
On the whole, I'm not displeased... although it's interesting how the carved lines subtly increase the androgyny of the centaur. It wasn't my intention to give her an Adam's apple!
In addition, I goofed a bit on the bow. That thing looks way too much like a long-bow... not like the sort of thing Genghis and the boys would have been toting out on the steppes.
In fact, the bow in the carving looks better suited for ventilating French knights in the Agincourte mud. Still... if anyone would be able to wield a long-bow in motion, it would have to be a centaur.
I'll post further images when I fire and put a head on the thing.