Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Tile Project that Wouldn't Die - LIVES!

After 5 months, many trips to the tile supplier, the enevitable expansion of the project from: "I'll finish the tile in the shower; you lay a new floor and bath surround", A new (unforseen) tub,new (unforseen) faucet set, new tub/wall/floor modification to WE ARE FINISHED!!!

I had the shower stall (And STALL is the operative word here) to this point when my trials at making tiles had come to a stopping point. In the meantime, the tile manufacturer changed glaze lots for the field (blue) tile which really put me in a quandry. The color was close......but not a perfect match. I had enough tile to fill in around the original design, but not enough for a different design.

I had made and fired 4 different trials at inserting a flowing design across three walls. Each time, I would be unhappy with the results. I finally decided to put in a band of fish and was stuck with buying the similar color tile for the rest of it. I figured I could break the two color areas apart and no one would see the difference. I worked. The upper tile near the windows is lighter; the lower a tad darker. You never see it.

In Progress:

By the time the windows are surrounded, the shower door installed on the outside, the eye just assumes that the difference is the light.

This is the tub before:

And after:

The tub surround and floor tiles are the same. The faucets are from Kohler--sort of a hybrid tub filler and handle arrangement, but I just fell in love with the handles. The big tub filler brings the water level up from 0 to drowning in about 20 seconds.

We even added a little barrier/seat between the tub and shower with a niche for flowers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Antique Arab Teapot

The Story:

We lived in Bahrain for nearly 2 years. That was 30 years ago.
Living in Bahrain was very different. It was not easy. It was incredibly interesting.

I couldn't just write a check and pay my electric bill; I had to go to the money changer's shop to change dollars into dinars, drive to the electric power office in downtown Manama, the capital city, present my bill and pay in cash.

I shopped in three different stores to accumulate our groceries. They were small shops with limited inventories, so to fill out our entire list of food and sundries, it took many small trips here and there.

There were streets of nothing but golden jewelry, whole streets of nothing but fabric, a street of nothing but shops that did custom sewing, a covered suq (pronounced sook) or shopping street filled with Western goods like watches, hardware and junk shops.

Many times I passed a closet-sized shop stacked from floor to ceiling with ancient "Arab chests" or "Bombay Chests" heavy, solid wood brass trimmed trunks of indeterminable age used to store clothing in homes, goods on dhows (old sailing ships the are still used to carry cargo, or for fishing).

Some chests had secret compartments and hidden drawers. No one seemed to know where they came from. Originally they were painted a vermilion red, but because there was a rumor that Westerners didn't like the color, they were usually wire-brushed until the paint was taken off. I had one friend that managed to buy one before this happened.

A crusty old man sat in the middle of this shop smoking a water-pipe and gossiping with his friends. I would wave at him and pause to see what new booty he had stacked into this little space. Somehow, he was able to find intriguing and unusual things. Although a great many people in Bahrain speak English, he spoke only Arabic.

I always admired this teapot. It was perched high up on a shelf and you could only see it if you stepped into the stall. I always admired it because of the unique shape and was pretty sure it was quite old. The first time I asked what the price was, he asked a fortune for it. "Ha," I thought, "I'll not fall for that. I'm not going to cough up that kind of money like the oil company wives who just fork over the cash." (That was a real handicap to bargaining like the Navy wives had to do. Sets a bad precedent.)

Every time I was in town on some errand, I would cruise by this junk shop and check it out. Occasionally, I would ask about the pot and, using a notepad, write down a figure which the old codger would line out and write a higher price on the page. I would shake my head and wave goodbye.

Finally, finally as we ended our tour there, I stopped by his stall and pantomimed to my old competitor that I would be leaving soon. I wrote down a figure. He answered with another, higher one. I raised my bid. He lowered his price, but still we were pretty far apart.

I scowled (what a faker I was!) He began to show just a hint of a smile. I inched up my offer; he inched down his price. I slashed the air diagonally; stuck my index finger in the air and wrote down My Absolute Final Offer, underline, underline!! He studied it thoughtfully. He stood up and climbed to the top shelf. I expected to be tantalized into offering more. He turned one palm up and slapped his other hand down on top of it, smiled and, saying something I didn't understand, held his hand out to receive the cash.

And I went triumphantly home with teapot.

I have never polished it, only wiped the dust off . The thing is very top heavy. The hollow lid is filled with rattly gravel. The spout has an attached lid too. I guess if you're going to set something down in the sand, and it's filled with liquid, made of metal that will cool if the wind is blowing, you want it to sit there with it's lid down and not go anywhere. I still don't know where it came from originally--I've never seen another.

I also love the "earrings".

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sauce bottles

The Inspiration:

A water or wine bottle, designed to be either carried or strapped to a saddle, a waist or shoulder strap.

These vessels can be found in museums. Variations can be found in displays from the Orient to the New World.

This beauty came up on eBay a few years ago.

I saw this one at the Corcoran Museum in Washington D.C. some years ago.

It is engraved rock crystal with gold or vermiel fittings and was part of a special show from the collections of the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.

(Photo taken from a post card.)

A modification of the form can be used to serve sauce, syrup or sake.

It's intriguing how different the same form looks when the surface treatment is changed.

Add Image

All the above were made by handbuilding.

I cut out a rather free-form bottom first, roll out a long slab of clay, then mold it around the base until I get a free-form shape. I attach the bottom to the walls--this is easy since the top of the form is very open at this point.

If I were to texture the outer walls, I would impress them first and then handle very carefully to keep the design crisp. So far, I haven't added a surface treatment after the form is 'set' except for glaze variations.

I coax out the spout walls and either let the whole thing stand on it's own or put a cylindrical form inside to keep the shape. While that is stiffening up a bit, I hand shape the spouts. Then, I rest them into U-shaped cuts at the sides and attach them, adusting the angles as I go and trimming off excess clay. I smooth all the inside areas for a good flow of liquid, then begin to shape the closure at the top.

The form lends itself well to variations and manipulation of the shape.

I'm sure I'll continue to explore this idea more--the addition of a removable lid could be added as well as modifying it to make a divided vessel for oil and vinegar; creating handle designs; etc.--lots of possibilities.

"Black Nose"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Cathedral", a story of Mexico

When I was a sophomore in college, I was awarded a scholarship to study for a summer session in Guanajuato, Mexico. (The big, white building in the lower photo is the university ) I
was majoring in art and Spanish and my Spanish professor had established a scholarship in honor of his identical twin brother, an artist, who had died at a young age.

The university ran an arts program during the summer, but normally during the rest of the time, it was an engineering school; mainly mining engineering. Most of the silver mines in Mexico are located in the mountains that surround the town of Guanajuato. **

**The Valenciana mine is famous for it's enormous lode of silver ore and was at one time one of the deepest mines in the world. In the 1700s this mine and others in the adjoining mountains produced 70% of all the silver in the world. There is still untold tons of silver remaining, but it accidentally became flooded and was closed for many years. It has since reopened and is mined today. But, when I visited the whole area was in ruins. A rock thrown from the top opening took a very long time to hit water. And in the process, the friction of air upon the velocity of the rock created an increasingly gathering "whoosh" that became a roar as speed and echo worked together.

Anyway, with two whole year's worth of Spanish language study, I was enrolled in art classes and was living with the family of the ex-mayor of Guanajuato, so I was also "living " in Spanish day-to-day.

I took a weaving class in a weaving factory. The loom I was given was a huge timber structure I had to climb into to work. They had to adjust the treadles for my feet to reach them. My project was a poncho of white, black and blue wool.

I took pottery in another factory that made utility pots and tourist pieces. They had kick wheels and fired using a wood-fired kiln. I made small pots of earthenware that were "mas delicado" (very delicate). I learned to make miniature dishes just for fun.

I studied voice in a class of Mexican folk songs and learned traditional Mexican dance. All my classes were conducted in Spanish except painting. That class was presided over by a bristly old German expat painter whose every other word turned the air blue. He stormed into the classroom like a man going to war. He swore at the students; he had temper tantrums; he criticized mercilessly. He left me alone--he told me I could paint. I was flattered out of my mind. I spent the whole session working on the painting above. It was the view we saw from the top floor of the university.

On my return to regular collage, I exhibited the Cathedral painting at the school gallery and at the local art museum. I've moved it with me to whatever place we have moved. Sometimes, it stayed in a closet because it didn't fit or there was no room on the wall. I have a particular place in the house in Tucson where I know it will look good. Yes, the painting has flaws. There are places I would have treated differently if I were to paint it today. But I still love it anyway.

This second painting is a variation in watercolor. (Which my sister promptly named "Pope with a Lollipop".)

It is an interpretation of the cathedral in San Miguel de Allende, shown with light illumination. It is a technique I experimented with and may try the same idea on a pot.

A lot of times with watercolor, a white or light area is blocked out and reserved by painting frisket over the area and then the darker washes or background painting is done first. The frisket is removed to bring the white into the picture or to go back and paint details into the white. It protects the white/light areas in pristine condition and is removed by rolling it off the surface.

With this treatment, I painted this laying in the white areas with rubber cement, then painted the entire building area with light yellow. Then, I blocked off the light yellow with rubber cement and painted an orange-yellow over the area. I worked out from light to dark by blocking off each color and painting in darker areas. At the end of the process, the whole picture appeared to be a total mess, but peeling off all those areas of rubber cement revealed the beautiful, bright picture underneath. I overpainted the grass, fence and trees after the rubber cement was all peeled off. The trick is, you have to have the whole picture in your mind before you start.

So, why wouldn't this work using wax on a pot and block out the light areas, then glaze, block and then glaze? Firing would take all the resist off. I would suppose care must be taken to avoid thick build-up of glaze, but the whole theory may be worth a try. A carefully planned design executed on a flat surface might have it's possibilities.........