Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Clump of Clay at a Time

From this.....


to this.

When my students are working on a project in class, and they start to grumble that something is taking too long, I explain to them that there is a reason that it is called "artWORK". Often, artists will trudge through tedious tasks to get to the final result. There may be disappointment, boredom, and disasters along the way, but maybe, just maybe....it is accurate to say that the harder we work for something, the sweeter the reward.

I am able to empathize with my students, more than they realize. I am currently working on a project that involves duplicating the same object twenty-six times. I was pleased to finally narrow my focus down to one object that I feel passionate about, and the sketches I rendered seemed like they could work for the final sculpture.

I was off and running.

What I didn't think about was the actual technical component of the sculpting and how I would meet that final goal. I could clearly see in my mind's eye the finished product....I just skipped over, well.....a few, important steps!

Now I find myself with a deadline and a brain that is working overtime all hours of the night (yes, when I should be sleeping) to hash out the finer details. Though at times it can be discouraging (and tiring!) I love that this is partly what being an artist is all about: solving problems in a creative and interesting manner.

It amazes me, this thought, that any piece of artwork, be it a song, painting, or poem, would never have existed, in this particular, exact, manner by anyone other than its creator.

We, as artists, bring something into this world that could never have existed without us.


It's sort of like birthing a child with its own unique set of genes.

So, I have this idea, and I think it is a good one. I haven't seen any other artist render it in such a way (or even close, though admittedly, there is a lot of artwork out there). Having a bit of a problem (obsession?) with perfectionism, but at the same time realizing that things just AREN'T perfect, I am working through the steps with moments of excitement, disappoinment, pride, frustration, relief, and that question that so many often ask themselves when it feels like all has gone awry...."what the hell was I thinking?!"

Each time I begin a new phase of this project, I thoroughly enjoy the process. Honest, I do! But after, say, five of the twenty-six objects are complete in a particular step, I am thinking...."twenty-one more to go.....twenty more to go....nineteen more to go....." You get the picture. Sort of like being stuck in the proverbial purgatory singing "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall."

Hours and hours of work go into each phase, preceeded, of course, by hours and hours of a mind-numbing cerebral workout.

For example, one morning I debated the best way to make twenty-six hollow, rounded shapes all the same. I could travel down, in my mind, a few different paths. I could ....

1) hand form each one, cut them in half, and hollow them out then piece back together (how accurate could this be?)

2) throw them on the wheel (after weighing each piece of clay on a cheap kitchen scale then measuring each one as it is thrown, and trimming them all the next day)

3) make a mold and slip cast (but have never done this before, lacked all materials needed, and knowledge! Plus, it would elimate my favorite reason for working with clay - the meditative sensation of the material in the hands)

or.....

4) create a plaster slump mold (which I have done before, AND, I could get my hands easily on - or so I thought - the necessary materials).

So, Plaster slump mold it was. The local hardware store would have dry plaster for me to mix. They are open on Saturdays. Excellent.

Now all I needed was a round form that was the size of a baseball. Not being the sporty type, per say, I had no baseballs in the house. I emailed a few local people that I thought, since they had dogs, might have a spare tennis ball, perhaps? No luck! Replies came to me "I have a ping pong ball....a raquet ball.....how about calling the gym teacher?"

Keep in mind, I live in a remote area where it is not as simple as driving to the local department store to purchase a tennis or baseball. Desperation. I debated borrowing a wooden croquet ball from my mother-in-laws antique set. Plastic saran wrap would protect it, right?

Panic started to set in. I had a deadline to meet and weekends with uninterrupted chunks of time are precious to me. I didn't want to waste a minute of this one.

After two hours of searching, calling and emailing, I decided to go to the harware store and just "wing-it". And you know what....it worked! I walked in, was greeted with a smile and a "can I help you?" My odd request for a baseball size/shape object from which I could dunk into plaster to make a mold produced, literally, a lightbulb moment! Cal suggested....a lightbulb.

It was the perfect shape/size! But just in case, I picked up a toilet floaty-bobbing-rubber ribbed thingy as back-up. And a few more items.....gloves, metal rings, buckets. Oh, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Eyes wide, scanning the shelves for unique contraptions, wanting to grab at anything and everything.

This is how artists' homes accumulate all kinds of what others deem useless and cluttery junk. We look at the strangest things and think "I can use that....someday."

Anyway, this is where I am at at this point. The mold was made and thirty (yes, more than twenty-six..just in case a few don't survive the firing process) bodies of the object have been formed. After about twenty-five factory-type repetetive hours, the forms are now drying slowly on shelves while my mind is doing another one of those workouts to figure the best way to make the next component, which will be, by far, the most complex part of the whole.

Or so I think.

For now, I'll just take it one clump of clay at a time.

4 comments:

Owl Who Laughs said...

Great detail about the meticulous struggles faced 'in process.' It can be a frustrating journey, or series of journeys.

Kim Hambric said...

What a post! Thanks for taking the time to share that with your readers.

Sometimes those lightbulb moments take a great deal of work to achieve.

Fearless Nester said...

What an interesting project. And so true about art never existing until it's creator makes it. A balloon would have worked too, except you could wrap it with a slab of clay. I keep thinking I'll make a plaster mold one day and your post was good inspiration to do so! Happy firing! ~Lili

SHANNA WHEELOCK said...

thanks, all for commenting.

OWL: yes indeed, it can be....as you know so well!

KIM: Yes, they do. A part of me is like "two hours just to end up with a lightbulb and a bucket of plaster? sheesh!"

LILI: Ah - a balloon. For another project that might work perfectly! A plaster mold is fabulous since its size will stay consistent and you can use it many times over a long period of time. I still have a mold I made about twenty years ago!