Sunday, March 22, 2009


My sister, my mother and I went out for a ladies night out this week to enjoy some delicious Thai food. Jen (my sister) was talking about how she's interested in trying out some creative things, specifically painting and asked me the simple question: "Where do you find your inspiration?".

I was stumped.

I had no idea how to answer that question. Inspiration, for me, is just something that's there. I've never really given it much thought, I mean really thought about it. I get asked this question at shows every once in a while, and I usually respond with simple answers: "Oh, from everything around me!" (Pretty non-committal, really...) But I sincerely wanted to help my sister get started on her creative endeavours.

Later on in the conversation, my sister related a story from her work (she's in early childhood education). She had a class of kids make pepper prints. For anyone who doesn't remember what these are, it involves cutting a pepper in half, dipping it in tempra paints, and stamping it all over a piece of paper. Voila! Pepper prints. One little boy noticed as he was pepper printing, that the paint pulled away from the paper and left little raised spikes if he lifted the pepper away slowly and straight up. He then proceeded to carry on with this 3-D painting all over his page, covering it in tempra mountains and spikes. Jen went on to talk about how children are free from a lot of baggage at that early time in their lives. They have no idea what a 'pepper print' is supposed to look like, what's right or wrong when it comes to pepper prints. And she related how when the parents got involved, it inevitably turned into something to the extent of "oh no dear, that's not how you do it, this is how you do it..."

Dinner continued, dessert followed (mmmmmm, sticky rice with mango....) and we came back to the studio for a quick felting lesson for my sister. The night ended, all was well. But that question never left me. I asked Dan (my partner, also an artist): "Where do you find inspiration?" His response was pretty much the same as mine: "I don't know, it's just kinda there." So where IS there? And that's when it hit me. The pepper print. When that little boy pulled that pepper away from the paper and for the first time noticed the spikes of paint, that's where inspiration is. It's in those spaces where we have no inhibitions, where we have no expectations, where we are seeing things as if for the first time, noticing the details that otherwise get buried in our busy lives. It's in that corner of our minds where we don't know what it means to fail or succeed.

I think people pick up baggage as we pass through our lives. We are told by media what to wear, how to cut our hair, how to decorate our homes. We are taught in english class how to write an essay, in home ec how to cook simple foods. We are told how our lives ought to be. Grow up, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, retire, the end. Some people never quite fit into those preconcieved notions, and manage to eek out an existance that works for them. Others manage to follow those expectations and seemingly make it to the end unscathed. But are they? We get so pressed into the ideas of how to live our lives that we don't really seem to live them. We can miss out on all kinds of experiences and discoveries because we stop looking for them. Our own creativity get stifled as we gain the notions of how hair should be cut, of how an essay should be structured. If we want to be inspired, we need to let go of all of those preconcieved notions. As would be said in Buddhism, we need to see with beginner's mind. Go for a walk and listen to the sounds, see the colours, feel the textures. We are surrounded by inspiration every day, everywhere we go, whether it's in a cubicle at the office (patterns in the carpet/ceiling/from the walls of the cubicles, your coworkers tie) or we're on a nature walk surrounded by beautiful plants, trickling waterfalls abd subgubg birds.

For me, I am inspired by the colours I see in the clothes that people wear. At one of my Christmas shows, a woman walked into my booth and immediately caught my eye. She was wearing a burgandy coat and had on a hand-knit, gray scarf. The colours really struck me and I'm working on some projects that incorporate those tones. Inspiration for forms comes out of the process of making the work. Paying attention to how the clay feels during its different stages of production, pushing it, moving it, seeing how far I can take it. The act of it spinning on the wheel creates rhythms for me to play with, exaggerate, interrupt. I did a lot of sewing in high school and I like to play, transposing those techniques onto clay. Books I have read on mathematics (yup, total nerd here...) got me thinking about how to divide up space, proportions, and balance.

I sincerely wish the best for my sister on her creative journeys. And I'm greatful that I was given the opportunity to explore this topic. I'll definitely remind myself of my beginner's mind, and be on the look out for new sources of inspiration around me.

And I'm curious to hear about the source of inspiration for others...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

More felt, more glaze tests, more frustrations...

Okay. So this has been a rather long and somewhat frustrating week. I managed to get a glaze firing in, along with some of those tests that I am working on. You'll recall from my last post, the problems I was having with my glaze running too much

I mixed up a couple more tests. Both tests are an altered version of the original matte glaze recipe, G1214Z from Digitalfire. I changed the glaze with my Insight Glaze Calculation Program to allow for a 5% increase in Silica. I thought I'd start with this alteration in my tests because it would help to stiffen the glaze and keep if from running, by slightly bumping up its firing temperature. I'm not very happy with the results. The tile on the left has no opacifier, the tile on the right does. You'll notice that I managed to correct the problem of the glaze running too much, but I think I prefer the matter surface of the original glaze recipe. So back to the testing... I think the next round, I'll work on the levels of EPK. If I increase the EPK and the silica at the same time, I may be able to both fix the running, and push the surface more matte. If I simply remove the extra silica and increase the alumina (EPK), then I'll make the glaze more matte than the original, which I don't think is what I want to do. I have to be careful adding too much more EPK, because that can cause the glaze to crawl. Here's an article about this glaze recipe, for further reading.

Back to my felting, I've started decorating some of the tiles I was working on last week:

The small piece on the right is a test piece I tried. The red stripe was wet-felted in place. This creates a very soft and fuzzy line. For the tile on the left, the red lines were added by needle felting. The two colours of wool do not blend the same and the red is much crisper. Personally, I'm leaning towards the look on the right. So I guess I'm testing more of this as well. (I see lots of testing in my future...)

I found some craftspeople online who are willing to answer my questions about felting so now I've got some brains to pick. The RagingWool has offered to help me (I know! Great name!) and so has LaLaFelt who has some amazing roving in stock!

So I'm off for another week of testing: glazes and felting. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I've been hard at work trying a bunch of new glaze recipes for a line of work I'm going to call 'Feltware'.

After trying several cone 6 matte glaze recipes, I've decided to narrow it down to this one that I got off of the Digitalfire website

I'm loving the glaze. It mixes well and goes on very easily. It also has great colour response. I'm currently looking for a dark, slate gray. My first tests gave me this:

The surface is incredible! There is so much depth to the color, it's fantastic! HOWEVER, see those runs? The next few tests made a mess of my kiln shelf. NOT GOOD.

Soooooooo, a few more tests:

The first picture, confusingly marked '2', is the above mentioned glaze recipe with twice the colorants as the original test piece. I was hoping that if the glaze was darker, I could apply it thinner and get the effect I was looking for. Aparently, I was wrong. (surprise, surprise!) The glaze has a distinctly green tinge to it. The second picture is that original recipe, from the first test above. I wanted to see if I could repeat the results. The answer is sort of. Oh boy. More testing in my future...

As you can see, I still have the problem of the running, and in defense of the glaze, I AM overfiring it by about a cone.

Soooo, back to the testing. I can increase the alumina in the glaze to help with the running but that will also make the glaze more matte, which is not what I want. If I want to keep the current matteness then I could increase the silica along with the alumina which would also raise the firing temp a bit, which would probably help me out anyways, so that's most likely the route I'll go.

As for the feltware, it's coming.
I'm really enjoying felting. I've been working on a series of tiles:

This roving I bought at Romni Wools in Toronto.

This particular colour, eggplant, came in a bag with red and black roving. I LOVE this color. And ordered more along with some complimentary colors from A Childs Dream

These tiles will look very different by the time I'm done with them. I'll just have to be patient and check the mail.