It was a very quiet class this week with just 3 of us but we had a pretty fun time with stencilling.
I did my popular “Birch Platter” demonstration.
I have posted this before but in case you haven’t seen it and don’t want to endlessly scroll backwards through this blog, I will post a quickie verion and also a photo of the ugliest “birch platter” I have ever seen.
The birch platter has the virtue of of having three layers of color with only two layers of slip.
I make a drop platter of stoneware (with iron) and immediately cover it with white slip so that the surfaces have plenty of time to bond. When that slip is not sticky to the touch, I tear newspaper into narrowish strips. You want to tear the strips, not cut them- they stick down better.These I spritz down with water and also the surface of the tray so that the newspaper adheres.
Next, paint another darker color over it- blue for example. Remember to paint in the same direction that the strips run or you will peel up the strips with your brush.
After the (blue) slip is no longer runny, you can pull up the strips.
Now you have a cool striped plate. You could stop there but I like to go in and make birch markings.
Here is a photo of real trees just to remind everyone.
I had a lot of fun this time because I decided the “devil’s hoofprints” (as one student told me) look like eyes and I put lots of faces in my trees for people to find.
My students seemed to really like this stencil idea and each went with it in their own direction and did a great job:
Jennifer went vertical- on mugs:
Richard did a bowl- and stenciled over slipped circles:
Kelly went non-representational with this pattern:
I also tried another thing- something I haven’t done before.
Because I suck at slip-trailing, I thought if I did it onto a plaster mold I might have more control- so I drizzled and painted on a vine. and then laid a slab over it and pressed it down with a brayer. when I pulled it off, the vine was inlaid into the clay but the leaves decided to stay on the plaster mold.
and here is the dish:
I would not call it a success but I think that anything that was a bit raised- that had any thickness to it, successfully inlaid. Possibly next time, I would spritz it before laying the slab on to facilitate bonding.
Lastly, I promised you a photo of the ugliest birch platter ever. A friend has this- I think it looks like a tree that maybe could be related to a birch caught smallpox or maybe just the victim of a tree surgery gone horribly awry.
Yes, more on branches! Are you sick of branches yet?
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.– Francis Bacon
I love this quote because it so perfectly expresses that which was instinctive for me when looking at various trees.
I look at trees wherever I go.
I notice them and their shapes and outlines against the sky, as shadows on buildings, silhouetted by the sun. The best trees are at the cemetery (along Clark Avenue). They are all deliciously creepy and twisted just as you’d expect trees in a graveyard to look.
Why? And by “best “ I mean the most gnarled; they have that strangeness of proportion Bacon is talking about. Those are the ones that look best to me ; look best on my pots, are the most interesting and pleasing to the eye.
I have favorite varieties; Catalpa:
(and note how all last year’s vertical hanging seed pods make such a wonderful contrast to the curves and snaky turns of the branches)
Honey Locust, (almost everything ends up pointing upwards by the time you get to the tip of the branches even if there are lots of detours along the way- this isn’t even the best example)
and Hawthorne (crab apple)
I’m not sure what this tree below is but it is one of the most stunningly perfect trees I’ve every seen. It’s possible it was trimmed but I just love all the writhing the branches do before they all agree reign it in and to end together in that lovely curve. This is the kind of tree I want on my pots!
– these are the most interesting and gnarled and therefore inspiring trees.
Okay, so why is gnarling pleasing? I think there’s something about the way the branches head off in some completely unpredictable direction only to come arc-ing back for a very balanced composition. There are more curves (which I always find more pleasing) and an innate balance that could possibly be based on the physics of how the tree must grow to stay upright.
In language, storytelling that is, we often find the unpredictable quite funny or exciting. I think the same goes for visual unpredictability.
I dislike Ash trees – they are boring and ugly and I would be embarrassed to put one on a pot- note how they branch symmetrically that is, the branches come out directly across from each other instead of alternating up the main branch. It kills the movement and life in the form.
Here is another very straighforward predictable tree although I think this is a Maple.
You can see why- nothing happening here- it’s all balanced and pretty straightforward with straight branches staying on course and ending up exactly where they meant to be. Hmmm, I’m starting to see parallels with life here!
Perhaps I need to do something wildly unpredictable.
Anyhow, many Maples leave me indifferent unless it’s autumn.
What’s exciting for me is that now that I am keeping this blog, I am beginning to look around me with new eyes. I write about my urban environment, and the animals in it, then I look at how trees are … constrained by the environment and also how they appear differently than they would in nature.
First of all, we trim trees to keep them away from our houses or power lines which alters them or conversely, they often stand alone in parks and are able spread symmetrically; forming a “perfect tree” as opposed to in a woods where they have to grow to accommodate the other trees.
We also plant them, choose the variety, stunt them, water them, and generally affect their growth. They are by definition “artifacts” along with the rest of our environment. How bizarre to be living in an almost completely artificial environment.
And my pots are all about that believe it or not.
Shadows and reflections
Here in the city, tree shadows are cast onto unnaturally flat surfaces like roads and buildings. I have to say I find it lovely.
In nature, this only happens on the rare bare cliff
andon snowy fields, common only existing in pastoral settings, which are also man-made.
Here’s one distoted and reflected in a stream; also pleasing for it’s perversion of the form of the tree.
Why all this excitement about tree shadows and reflections? Well, a tree is three dimensional. Branches stick out every which way- it’s hard to draw them true-to-life in 2-D without making them look fake or wrong- unbalanced somehow- branches that are actually sticking out of the back or front, look oddly out of place when I try to draw them flat. But the shadows and reflections flatten them out nicely.
My pots look a bit like trees have cast their shadows upon them.