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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Never Too Many Owls

Last summer when I went to the NIADA conference, I took a wonderful workshop from Connie Smith on sculpting animal doll heads in stoneware.  For the class, she made a little set of sculpting tools for each of her students.  She made them by whittling bamboo chopsticks, and one of those tools is the most useful sculpting tool I have.  It's like a tiny pointed spoon and I use it to form eyes, among many other things - such as the "tile" roof on my fairy garden house.
On this piece I used it for the smaller feathers you see on the forehead and upper wings.  But what I really need is a variation on that tool.  Instead of pressing in on the feather tips, I need the tool to press into the "v" shaped space between the feathers.  In fact, a variety of sizes would be useful.  So I guess I'd better get out for Chinese food and bring home some chopsticks!
This is supposed to be a druid owl, complete with leafy chaplet and the celtic cross on his chest.  When I started to tackle making the celtic cross I expected it to be really difficult, but it went surprisingly smoothly.
This is no particular species of owl, but is loosely modeled on the burrowing owl which, unfortunately, I don't think is an inhabitant of traditionally celtic lands.
All the details were the most enjoyable part of this piece.  Now I'm contemplating how to glaze him.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

When Your Groundhog's Too Skinny

If I had a real groundhog and she were too skinny, I'd feed her more treats!  But since my groundhog is made of clay, I need a different solution - surgery!
Sculpting tiny animals is easier than sculpting larger ones (this one is about 5" long).  The tiny ones I simply sculpt solid, then when I have the form the way I want it, I cut it in half, usually around the waist, hollow out the halves with a small metal measuring spoon, then put them back together with the "score and slip" method.  After the seam hardens a bit I can finish my sculpting.  The only "hard" part is remembering to put a small hole in the sculpture so that it doesn't explode in the kiln.
But for these larger ones, I make them hollow from the beginning.  The clay is soft and as I pinch and pull the basic shape distorts so easily.
Anyway, once I had the basic shape of this little girl finished, it was clear that she was too thin - and by quite a bit.  So adding clay wasn't really an option as the walls would then be too thick.  So I took my tissue blade and made an incision as you see here.  I pulled her apart until I thought she looked right, then cut a slab that would fit the incision and added it.  I left a rather large hole in the under side so that I could get a tool or a finger inside to smooth the seam, then let her rest and heal for a day.  Poor girl, but she'll be much better in the end.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The FRA Troop is Forming

Here are the cured polymer pieces for the three little Future Raccoons of America troop members.  I've tried to model paws that will have each of the three in different positions.  Two of them will hopefully be holding hands.  But we all know about the best laid plans!
These raccoons will be small, so I'm not sure that my usual method of beginning with a stuffed felt body will work.  I have an alternative - wrapping a wire armature with wool yarn - and that's probably how I'll start.  But first, I have to paint them.  So, time to get out the paints and brushes...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rocky is Fully Furred

Rocky has all his/her fur now.  And also, after trying out many ideas in my mind, I've decided what he/she will be doing.  Rocky will actually be a she, so I'll have to think of a new name for her.

She is the leader of Troop 682 of FRA, Future Raccoons of America.  She will have three little troop members.

The costumes will be minimal - perhaps a scarf and badge sash for the little ones and a jumper uniform and scarf for the fearless leader.

"Raquel and the Rockettes" perhaps.

Her fur is needle felted and I must say that it goes really well over the stuffed wool felt base.

So now it's time to turn my attention to the Rockettes.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Fairy House in Situ

The Fairy House is now finished and in place in its own little fairy garden.
To finish the house, I glazed the roof and birds with Mayco stoneware glaze, using Black Walnut for the birds and Green Tea for the roof.  This was my first glazing experience with stoneware, and I was very happy with the results. I especially like the Black Walnut.   Oh, I also glazed the roof of the little lantern which is sitting on the stone to the right of the house.
For the windows, I rough-cut pieces from a broken pressed glass plate and glued them in place.  They look very pretty, especially when I put a battery operated tea light inside the house (the roof comes off).  The door is a little piece of well weathered wood from an old garden stake.  The door handle is a faceted crystal bead, and for the hinge I used a small strip of artist canvas which I glued on the inside to both the door and the door frame.  I used E6000 glue.
The garden is in a planter box I made from cedar fence boards.  It's 24" x 14" and two boards deep on the right end and 3 extra inches deep on the left end, allowing for the little hillside.  That's a parma violet planted on the hill.  I transplanted a tiny bit of baby tears, a teensy violet, and a bit of moss from my garden.  But it was hard to find anything to transplant with the terrible drought we're having here in California this past year.
I ordered a half flat of elfin thyme for covering most of the ground.  A friend is giving me a little start of Japanese maple.  So there's more planting to do, then waiting while the plants take hold.  A fairy primrose might be nice, but possibly too big.
I'm planning to make a gazing ball from a marble and a stoneware base.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Epona Pendant

My Epona pendant is done!  I'm happy with everything except the color of the leather cord.  It's supposed to be pearl but it looks more gray.  This cord is braided Nappa leather which is beautifully soft and supple while being genuine leather.  Unfortunately, I can't find it in white or off-white, either of which would have been much better.  Dark Brown would also be an option, but I'm out of it and wanted to get this piece finished.

I've seen a product called Eco Leather in various Etsy shops.  It's a faux leather which, in my mind, has both good and bad points.  The bad is that it looks sooooo even that its "fauxness" may be a bit too obvious.  But I haven't seen it in person yet, so that may turn out not to be a problem.  On the plus side, I just don't like to use animal products in my artwork.  Somehow, it just doesn't feel right when I profess to be so fond of them.

I guess the thing to do is order a bit of the Eco leather and see what I think.  I've been justifying the real leather on the grounds that if I want to set higher prices on my pieces the materials should be good quality.  One the other hand, there is a selling point to anything "eco."  So stay tuned!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Those Darn Pesky Threads!

I was itching to get a needle and thread in my hands again, so I started another bead embroidery pendant necklace.  This is another one of the mustangs that I made from polymer clay a few years ago.  Since she's white, I've decided to name this piece "Epona" after the Celtic white mare goddess.
The shape in the lower left is meant to reseble a Celtic knot - just resemble, though, as one would be too complicated to embroider this small.  As I look at it now, it also suggests a trillium to me, a beautiful three-petal white wild flower that I remember from my childhood ramblings in the northeast Ohio woods.
I think the large stone may be Ocean jasper, but I'm not sure.  The smaller three stones are beautiful faceted rose cut smoky quartz which I bought on Etsy at a wonderful shop named Tiger Bead Store, which you can visit at
I say "pesky darn threads" because when I was looking at my enlarged photo I saw a thread wrapped around the pony's nose!  Apparently as I was sewing the beads on the backing behind her head the thread looped around her hose and I didn't notice it.  Now I'll have to cut the thread, tie the ends together if I possibly can (they may be too short) and put a dab of glue on the knot.  The beads can't come off because after I sew a row, sewing each bead onto the backing, I run the thread back through all the beads in the line so each bead has two separate threads.  But it could get messy if the thread ends worked loose somehow.  Fortunately, the correction won't show.
Back to beading tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A House For My Fairy Garden

My sister bought me a beautiful Parma violet, which is an outdoor sweet violet with a spreading growth pattern.  I imagined it as a centerpiece for a fairy garden and so was inspired to make a little fairy garden house - for the fairies who would soon be in residence, of course!
At first, I wanted to make it of small stones and mortar.  But I soon realized that I had absolutely no idea how to go about that - although I may try it at some future time - so decided on stoneware instead.  I am limited by the size of my tiny kiln, so my fairy house is tiny also, just 6" tall at the peak of the roof.
Here it is drying.  So far in my stoneware ventures I have resisted glazing.  And I wasn't going to glaze this either.  It would, in fact, be nice if moss would grow on it.  But now I'm thinking that a glazed roof might be a good idea to simulate tile.  So I have a couple of colors of mid-range glazes on order.  While I'm waiting for them to arrive, I'll be able to do the bisque firing.
I'm planning to venture into glazing carefully.  I'm making little clay chips to use for glaze samples.  Hopefully, I'll be able to avoid a disaster that way. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rocky's Construction Begins


I'm nearly done with the armature now.  The only remaining step is to wrap the leg wires with strips of felt to accept the needle felting.

When I started to make the pattern for the body, what I had envisioned in the Secret Plan seemed overly complicated, so I simplified it to what you see here, and I think it's a big improvement.  The most important part is that there are no side seams.  The body is a tube that closes in the front and, along the top edge, attaches to the shoulder piece.  This gives a relatively flat area for the arms to attach to.

To attach the arms, I used the cotter pins that I built into the arms.  I glued a nylon washer on the inside of the body, cut a hole through the fabric at the center of the washer, and attached the cotter pin through that hole.  The cotter pins that I used were too big.  They were 1/8" in diameter, and so very hard to bend.  Also, the bent ends of the cotter pins hang up against the stuffing, so the arms don't move freely like I wanted them to.  I have an alternative in mind which would involve 1mm elastic plastic cording - like for stretchy beaded bracelets - and some attachment parts that I would make from polymer clay.  So the next time I make one of these little figures I'll try that approach.

As I look at the photo I see that the tail is too long and too thick at the tip.  So I'll have to correct that, which won't be difficult to do.  I'll just remove the stitching along the lower third or so of the tail, remove some of the stuffing, trim the tail wire, trim the fabric, then re-sew, re-stuff, and re-close.


And While I'm At It...

While I had the clay out, it seemed like a good opportunity to sculpt some little animals.  These two rabbits will be for the lids of pine needle baskets.  I'll sew through the holes in the bases to attach the bundles of pine needles for the inner round.

I made the one on the right first which you can tell because it's the color of the drier clay (speckled brown stoneware, by the way).  My original thought for the little rabbit laying down was that it would be the center of the base of the basket and you would see it when you took the lid off.  I may or may not use it that way.  It sort of seems a shame to hide it inside. 

So, just in case, I made two plainer pieces the same size which I can use for bases if I prefer.  They're oval slabs, the same size as the bases of these two, with relief crescent moons and stamped lettering that says "intuition, navigating change," which refers to the symbolic meaning that the Celtic tradition associates with rabbits or hares.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

In Memory of Sadie

My friend, Cindy, runs a cat shelter here in Northern California - Fat Kitty City,  Someone gave her a donation in memory of her beloved cat, Sadie, and Cindy asked me to paint a memorial stone.  I'm ashamed to say that it took me a whole lot longer to get around to it than it should have, but, finally, here she is.
I've done about half a dozen portraits of pets who have passed away and it's always a demanding, but rewarding task.  I never knew the animal, so I'm working from a single photograph, and often it's not a photo that's ideal for painting from.  And on top of that, I know how important the likeness will be to the bereaved.  Yet I'm always aware, as I paint, of how very much this creature was loved and how lucky both she and her people were.
This painting of Sadie is on a piece of slate because it will be outdoors.  After cleaning the slate, I coated it with Liquitex Clear Gesso, then painted with acrylics.  I will seal it with exterior epoxy spray.
Rest in peace, little Sadie.