Saturday, 9 March 2013

old friends

Yesterday, I glanced at the shelf above my comfy armchair and looked upon a sculpt I made a few years ago.
And I thought I would share a little about how it kick-started me on my journey back to an old friend… clay.
So, I dusted it off and quickly took a couple of photos.

I will meander in this long post, so I apologise in advance :)

Made from polymer clay - haha, I can hear the pottery purists groan from afar and click away - Oldai (old guy) was my first dabble with sculpting since I was in high school, oh-so-many years ago.
Waaay back then, we used potter’s clay in class, not polymer clay.

After so many years spent painting, I felt a strong desire to change mediums.
To make with my hands. To sculpt. To feel.

As we were renting a house at the time with very limited space, no shed or carport/garage, I needed to work with a “clean” medium without fear of damaging the landlord’s carpet.
So, when I came across polymer clay, I thought I’d give it a try. For me, it was a great re-introduction to working 3D.

I quite liked the malleable elasticity of polymer clay and how easy it was to create very fine details on a small scale.
Although it is different to earth clay, it definitely has its benefits - especially for decorating, adorning and costuming a finished piece.

I find it interesting, what comes through the maker’s hands. When opening up and giving oneself to whatever lies within.

When I had finished him, while he was still unpainted and unadorned, my boys were astonished at how much he resembled one of our dearest friends.
It was certainly not intentional on my part, but the likeness between our friend and this sculpt was unmistakeable... minus the exaggerated features and zombie eyes of course :)

Once I gave my old guy flowing locks and beard of silver, the resemblance vanished.
But, he’s still in there.

This made me question the experiences and connections, past and present, that we have with people, animals, the environment around us - even ourselves. How much they influence us and translate into our chosen medium. Consciously or otherwise.

Was I missing our dear friends, who we’d moved thousands of miles and ten years away from, so much that they were ever-present in my subconscious? And, did what I sculpt reflect the memories of those dear to me?
Very possibly, yes.

So, what influences an artist?

Does “life imitate art”? For surely the artist imitates so many aspects of life itself.

Art is subjective. And we gravitate to what “speaks” to us regardless of whether others feel the same way.
This is not only in regards to the whole spectrum of visual art, but also literary and performing arts.
An artist, through their chosen medium, shares with an observer what lies within them. Their experiences. Their memories. Their dreams. Their emotions.
Art which can be beautiful, inspirational, heart-rending, humorous, repulsive, shocking, terrifying.
This is so trusting. So vulnerable.

What fans the flames in the creator can stoke the fire within the observer, stirring latent emotions. Igniting passionate responses.
I’m sure we’ve all seen it happen to others, and felt it deep within ourselves.

I’ve cried at certain pieces of music, images on a canvas, a poignant photograph or whilst reading a book. So suddenly that it takes my breath away.
I was young when I first heard Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor. My heart swelled. My eyes filled.
From somewhere. Out of nowhere. It reduced me to tears.
It does still.

This also led me to thinking of the spiritual heritage which lies within us all. And the artists who are able to tap into the sacred well and bring forth almost shamanic images.
They bridge the gap between this visible world and the invisible spirit world.
Across time and space. They are tellers of tales. Cultural custodians.
Their art is tribal, primal, ancient. Yet, for some, it can be oddly familiar. Like a genetic memory.

Someone whose work I admire, and spurs me to thinking of this very thing, is the talented Charlene Doiron Reinhart.
Through her art, Charlene explores her ancestral connections, with beautiful results.
Often, found objects combine cleverly with her sculptures and take on a life - so often it seems, a past life - of their own.

I am very drawn to mixed media. That which is textural. Tactile. Using items, discarded or long forgotten. Both man-made and natural.

What speaks to you, dear reader? What tugs at the old woven fibres of recognition deep within you?

And now for something completely different (thank you Monty Python), here’s a not so stirring, creepy image for you...

After years of finding it difficult to draw/paint human hands, I decided to experiment and see how I went forming troublesome prehensile extremities.
Also made from polymer clay, these remain part of a long unfinished, dust gathering project – a goblin queen upon her evil throne.
Not too bad for a first attempt. But still creepy though, haha!

I have much to thank polymer clay for - fueling the fire within and giving me the enthusiasm to explore.

When we bought our current home, I found I had room to safely store dusty (and often messy) clay supplies and, not long after, house a kiln.
Time was right to get re-acquainted with my first love - alive, raw, earthy, moist, mineral-rich clay.

It got under my skin, my nails and in my hair and, it hooked me and held me.

It feels - it is - sensual.

Yet, it can be fickle, and unforgiving. A journey into clay is a rocky road paved with challenges and cemented with tears.
There are no definites. No guarantees. A fiery, yet gratifying partnership.
It’s an exploration of ones self. It’s intimate.

And, adding the often unpredictable element (pun intended) of a kiln, so necessary to making the clay durable and then decorative, is another variable that is almost a science in itself.
But despite its challenges, for me, clay is worth it.
So worth it.

As I looked at that first lump of clay on my table before me, I had no idea what I wanted to make. Vastly different to polymer clay in every way. I was besotted with the sensation of it.
As I held, smoothed, moulded it, a lithesome lizard grew from my hands. Before long, his head and deliciously curved body and tail, then legs, were conceived.
This lizard almost sculpted itself, sinuously coming alive in my hands.

Unlike polymer clay, I soon found that (potter’s) clay dries very quickly – especially when forming small appendages. And, as this clay was a “cocktail blend”, it had a lot of grog/grit – not ideal for finer detail.

I wasn't at all happy with his wee toes, they continued to crack the more I tried to shape them. I decided enough was enough. It was time to affix him with clay slip to the “bowl” I had made for him to sit in. Wait for him to dry and into first firing - bisque.

Followed soon after by the second firing - glaze.

I was very pleased with the reptilian green-brown glaze on his body. But, as for the glazes on the bowl, hmmm, not so much. Still, it looks as if he’s emerging from the murky blue-green primordial soup.

Now he sits in his algae tinged pool near the front door, and every so often, invites me to run my fingers over his curves. A pleasing form to feel.

This androgynous creature with a rather haughty countenance seemed, once again, almost familiar. As if I knew them from sometime long, long ago. Another place. Another time.
A tribal elder? An “old one”? Ancestor?

I now think I should have given him/her defined shoulders and formed a large crow to sit upon them. Seems fitting somehow. 
Once bisque fired, I wondered how to approach glazing. I decided not to. Partly because I felt a glossy glaze just didn’t seem right and partly because I quite liked the matte bisque-white. I thought about a muted wash of oxides, and may still apply some for a more antiqued look. 

For now though, he/she stands, surveying me from a lofty position in my studio. Watching without looking. Assessing without judging. A sentinel.

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the character of the jester.
They’re often depicted in kings’ courts as happy and carefree. But I think the medieval jester was a sad figure.
A colourfully garbed “fool” whose antics belied a troubled soul.
They walked a political fine line between the luxury of free speech at court and falling from grace due to social faux pas.
Most of them were little more than performing servants. Though, I do imagine them having the last laugh at the so-called nobles' expense, with many a dig going over their crowned heads :)

My jester appeared very quickly, as if needing to be brought forth. He was originally intended to be glazed in bright carnival colours, and have little jingly bells attached to the ends of his hat. But, like the sentinel, I think I favoured him quietly uncoloured… so unlike a jester.
And, I’d given him a touch of pensive melancholia I think. World weary and worn around the eyes. The hint of a jaded smile, not the brash grin so required in public.
Caught in a moment of quiet contemplation.

I enjoy sculpting. The melding, the smoothing, the bringing alive. And would love to explore it further.
I want to see what lies beneath my consciousness. Is something ancestral calling? Waiting?
Or, will I draw a blank? Will my muse hide and stay hidden in a fog of memory?

I won’t know until I venture into the unknown with an invitingly bland block of clay.
The blank canvas. The empty page. The spotlit stage.

In an increasingly digital age, I don’t ever want to lose the experience of indulging my sense of touch.
Clay gives so much tactile joy and, at the risk of sounding cheesy with that old chestnut, it nourishes the soul.

It truly does.


  1. I'm so thrilled to see your early sculptural pieces...they are wonderful!

    1. Thanks Barb. Clay is so addictive isn't it?

  2. i hardly know where to begin. what to say.
    this post is a tour de force. of insight. and the very soul of an artist.
    i think you have told here what those of us only guess at ~ that which is the inner force in people who speak to us with their hands. it comes through you. there is someone in you whom is not even vicki. or whom is maybe wholly vicki.
    i had to read it all more than once! and i will read it again.
    and the pieces are simply amazing. the expressions. i have also found the jester to be so sad. humiliating in a way.
    and you have captured him perfectly. and you have somehow given him the real 'last laugh' at the foolish king. and i'm glad you didn't color him. he deserves the purity of the clay in its own state. so strong!
    i am simply blown away gypsy girl. my god. what you can do. how do you ever leave the studio!
    gypsy girl.
    that is what you are. i think that is what is coming forth from this clay! wow. depth and wisdom and an other worldliness and the ages of the ancients. yes. gypsy.
    and it is a compliment.
    thank you for sharing this with us!
    love, xo

    1. Aww Tam, you make me blush. I'm just happy to share my humble insights.
      I love what I do and am very fortunate that I have the opportunity to be able to do so.
      Glad you enjoyed :)

      Have a wonderful weekend in your sweet wee nest far across the sea.
      Hugs xx

  3. I am in awe. I am not (to my sorrow) a creator. What I am is an appreciator - and how I appreciate the pieces you have shown us in this post. The jester (and the more modern clown) I have always seen as a tragic figure, and you caught that beautifully.
    And I love the lizard. As I do the flesh and blood ones that you have captured so well. Thank you so much for this beautiful, inspiring post.

    1. Thank you for your valued appreciation EC.

      You know, if we lived closer to each other, I bet I could get you creating.
      There's a little bit of artist in all of us - they just need to be coaxed out :)

      Hope you have a lovely Sunday. Warm wishes to you and SP.

  4. Hi Vicki
    What amazing works. The hands especially are fantastic. Thank you for finding my blog even if by accident and for commenting.

    1. Hi Jackie,
      and thank you for commenting here :)

      Looking forward to reading future posts on your blog. Your beautiful work is a textural delight and a feast for the eyes.

      Hugs to wee Hetty.

  5. LOVED hearing/seeing this clay story of your life, Vicki! You work is so ALIVE...there is such aliveness and vibrancy! It's inspiring to see. Your glaze colors just sing! I play a bit with polymer clays, and I love them. I love tactile, sensual things and like to include lots of those in my creative work and practice. :o) Just now surfacing after 2 weeks+ I've been down with flu & migraines--slowly mending. Fist chance I've had to post and visit friends. So great to catch up with you. Happy Weekend ((HUGS))

    1. Thank you for your sweet comments Tracy. Yes, your artwork is textural and beautiful - I look forward to seeing more :)

      So sorry that you've been unwell for so long. I hope that you are now on the way to feeling much better as the first flushes of Spring promises renewed and revived energies. Take good care of yourself.

      Hugs xx

  6. hello there!
    just visiting that amazing jester again. LOL. somehow he reminds me of somebody I used to work with. uncanny resemblance. you have made him so lifelike.
    and . . .
    speaking of old friends ~
    I could sure use a picture of my beloved blue boy jack. I hope he's still well! his grin is like sunlight and rain to me! very necessary! but I also know how busy you are. so I would understand. he is such a sweetheart. jack is. love! xo. clear across that sea to you and your three. have a wonderful weekend.

    1. Hi Tam,
      sorry for the late reply - been prepping for market tomorrow.

      Thank you for your lovely comment. I wonder if the person you used to work with had an air of melancholy about him as well?
      As for wee Jack, I will have some photos of him in upcoming posts - promise :)

      Hugs to you across the deep wide blue xx

  7. I found it! I found it!

    (I don't know what I was thinking of with the whole "Uncle" thing. Am I getting two conversations mixed up in my head? It's been known to happen).

    Forgive me in advance for swearing, but your work is really, truly roolly fucking awesome.

    I LOVE IT! Every single piece here. So the lizard - was that your first ever attempt at glazing? Glazing scares me. There are so many variables and things to learn that it's just too much for me at this point in the game. When I finally end up glazing something I've made, I hope it ends up looking as cool as this lizard does.

    1. Haha! I knew you'd find it before I got the chance to send you the link :)
      I really didn't know what the results would be after glazing the lizard, but, the piece didn't turn out too bad after all.

      I long to get back to sculpting and indulge myself, in between full-on market making. I'll get there one day. Perhaps 2014 is the year for that. I hope so.
      Thanks so much for finding and commenting on this post Sue xx.


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