Start to Finish

The Making Process [written 2011, still relevant]

the best way to see the process is to follow along on instagram. hey man, social media has some benefits. with the words, i’ve tried to summarize the whole ordeal. honestly it looks like notes to 86-year-old forgetful me.

Monty (in progress2) 900×300
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Monty (in progress1)
The Clay

I use a pure white high-fire porcelain made with English kaolin. I mix the clay in small 20 lb. batches, starting with a wet, pudding-like slurry that is poured onto plaster bats and later wedged. mixing a small quantity allows the clay to remain as clean as possible. the amount of clay is, by pottery standards, minuscule. my clay body is formulated to fire dense with as little warping as possible — it’s always a balance. here’s the recipe.

The Piece

to start, I have a loose idea of a form.  slender, squat, full, deflated, compact, pregnant, concealed, elongated….  I throw 5 or 6 parts, play around, and eventually assemble 2 or 3 of them.  as I push this form around more words will come to mind.   wrapped, squeezed, pinched, soft, snug, loose, erotic, quiet, busy, familiar, bizarre, unexpected.  what influences these words — mood, state of mind, a glimpse? — isn’t important to me.  they happen.

as the piece gets mapped out (i.e., which layers go where) I begin to incorporate textures, motifs.  within a week or so, I know what the finished piece will look like.  my sketchbook remains empty.  the next several weeks are spent carving and refining this surface, eventually using a small brush (#2 filbert) as a smoothing tool.  the clay remains leatherhard.  it is spritzed constantly.

I wrap up the “finished” piece for a month, maybe more.   it’s important the clay dries evenly.  I covet this stage, wishing it was on display now.   leatherhard porcelain is the shit; the color, the sheen, the softness…. later stages are all about trying to regain the life and energy of the leatherhard stage.   it’s rare to capture.

The Fire

at bone dry, the smooth layers are gently sanded (with my fingers) to eliminate evidence of the process. the bisque firing goes slow, roughly 2-3 days.  no rush.  once cool, the piece is sprayed with a subtle wash — sometimes a terra sig, sometimes a watered down oxide — then fired in a gas kiln to cone 9 or 10.   if reduced properly, the raw porcelain will be polished to a high-gloss finish. I spray a salt solution into the kiln.  small amounts, for surface variation.  like a cupful.  the kiln is small.

depending on the piece, it will be re-fired 2-5 times at lower temperatures with stains or lustres, trying to achieve a surface that compliments the form.  I try to be subtle, unless subtle isn’t working.

The Sandpaper

fired porcelain can be polished.  it’s nice.  start with dense, reduced porcelain, add 220 grit sandpaper (working up to 1500), mix in elbow grease, and you can make unglazed porcelain shine. it feels better than glass, but it will callous my thumb.

The Additions

I like hair.  depending on context, it is both commonplace and distasteful.  I use hair in my work for this reason.  it is my own hair.  [sometimes it’s not — Todd Leech gave me some of his once].  eyebrow hairs have the perfect length and taper.  this process too, is slow; plucking, gluing, and inserting — one by one — into fired ‘follicles’.  painful, but the result is nicely unsettling.   I don’t do it to impress my friends.

the small “pegs” are stainless steel bearings–referencing a button in the tuft of a sofa.  Meagan worked part-time at Blair’s Upholstery for several years.  a mysterious coincidence.  occasionally I fill an orifice with soft fleshy rubber.  people are told not to touch, but they do anyway.  pervs.

The End

start to finish, the process takes longer than i’d like.  8 weeks?  10 weeks?  more.  i’m a father now.  I have a real baby.  my work happens at a more unusual pace.  working slowly poses problems:  it’s tough to maintain the early energy of a piece; big ideas are slow to evolve; the temptation to make each piece a masterpiece is unhealthy.  for an artist hoping to make a name, the novel ‘obsessive quality’ has become a true and tall hurdle.  I recognize, however, that each piece informs the next one. plus, it feels right, working this way.