success.

After quite a few trials and errors on my extra large Rock Candy pieces, I’m pleased to report that I ~finally~ had a kiln load of successes! Phew!

This stage of the creative process is always the most exciting; the challenge figuring it all out, the emotional rollercoaster of cracking the kiln lid to see if there is success, the frustration of figuring one part out while another part becomes the problem, it’s all the best. Now, I feel like I can go into production mode and start cranking out some big pieces, feeling confidant that when I open the kiln I’ll have what I’m expecting. This stage is also exciting because now I get to really start to play with color and I’m looking forward to getting these into a garden space soon!

Turquoise piece is 20″x 12″x 13″, Blue is 20″x 15″x 12″ and the green is 10″x7″x6″

little by little

piti piti, zwazo fè nich | little by little the bird builds its nest – Haitian Proverb

I learned this proverb when I was working in Haiti years ago and it definitely applies to my studio practice these days…

Since the ash has stopped falling from the skies here, I decided to start working with embedding my ceramic pieces in resin. It’s been an exciting but very slow process to get some actual results. I’m working with a new-to-me resin product that is non-toxic, which is great and it’s also easy to work with, and is supposed to be extremely resistant to yellowing with age. The only drawback is that I can only pour an 1/8th of an inch layer at a time and I need 5 hours between pours, so it is a very, very slow process to pour pieces that are over an inch thick, but even with that, I think that these results will be worth it.

My husband Nate built me (yet another!) contraption that I can use to modify for different size circles and so far it seems to be working great. Since this is still in the R&D stages and this resin product isn’t the cheapest, I decided to make only one piece to start. I poured a solid base layer to start, let it cure and then started layering in a few ceramic parts and have continued doing that for nine individual pours so far. I love how clear the product is and how these pieces really seem like they are floating in the resin. They also leave shadows when the light is strong, which adds to the sense of depth. So little by little I’m building these out but very excited to see how they finally finish up when I remove them from the mold!

one step forward…

Since all of California seems to be on fire including many of our favorite camping hiking spots, we’ve been spending A LOT more time in the studio these days. And I’m so grateful to have this space to work in when everything else is closed up.

I’ve been focused on two (sort of three) separate projects. One is building my Rock Candy Series really big. If you’ve been following along on my posts, you already know that this has been a challenge. I’ve been getting a ton of cracks along the seams and haven’t been able to figure out why. But, the good news is that I’m making progress and getting one step closer to figuring these out.

Below is a photo of three pieces hanging on the wall of my studio. The two larger ones are about 2 feet across to give a sense of scale. The dark blue one is the only one that is actually successful with only one small crack in the bottom. The other two are covered in cracks, but I’ve realized the difference between how I built each of them and I’m understanding where the problems lie.

Of course the latest one to come out of the kiln had no cracks, but apparently had an air bubble in one wall, so that wall exploded during the bisque firing. That was disappointing to say the least but, I’m committed to seeing these challenges through to be able to make these pieces in mass. So stay tuned on this…

The other project I’ve been working on is creating my Bone Series | Medusa pieces. It’s quite the dichotomy to go from making these huge heavy stoneware rock forms to super thin and fragile porcelain pieces. It feels good to have success in making these and is a good reminder that it took me a few years and a few residencies of focused time to be able to make them. I love how delicate and whimsical they are, especially when they bounce slightly as they balance on the wire tips. I’m hoping to make a large amount of these pieces and have them up in my online shop soon.

The third project I technically haven’t started yet is embedding my flat porcelain pieces in resin. I consulted resin artists, I bought all my materials and was ready to start and then the ash started falling from the sky. We had so much debris in the air here that it didn’t seem like a good idea to start pouring resin and risk getting little bits stuck in it. But now we’re on our second day of blue skies and I’m hoping to start a pour in the next few days. Very excited about the potential with these pieces.

Video: How to make your own kiln stilts

I’ve shared how I make my own kiln stilts before but I decided to put together a little step-by-step video for the Ceramic Arts Networks Clayflicks series and also share it with you here. If you make ceramic art and you glaze your pieces entirely, making your own stilts is an easy and cheap way to support them in the kiln. I purchase my stilt pins and all the nichrome wire I use from National Art Craft (direct links are below)

Remember! Be sure to test your clay first and don’t use any other type of wire to make these!

Direct link to purchase nichrome wire stilt pins:
https://www.nationalartcraft.com/subcategory.asp?gid=10&cid=172&scid=1539

To view videos from the Ceramic Arts Network visit:
https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/magazines-subscriptions/clayflicks/

Enjoy and comment below if you still have questions!

Work from Taiwan is (finally!) up!

bone series | yingge ceramic museum residency | objects | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture

I finally got a webpage up showcasing a selection of the work I made while I was at my 3 month long residency in Taiwan. Yay!

These pieces are at CC Gallery in New Taipei City and available for sale. Four others were selected by the Yingge Ceramics Museum for their permanent collection. To check out these porcelain pieces from my Bone Series | Medusas, click here!

life in the studio these days…

As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough, wildfires have been raging just miles from my studio space and even closer to friends, fellow artists and families homes here in Santa Cruz. Ash and burnt leaves have fallen from the smoke darkened sky for days, while we cross our fingers and send positive vibes into the universe that this ends without anymore destruction.

So, time in the studio these days has been split between packing up our just-in-case boxes, incessantly refreshing the fire map, making a plan if we need to evacuate and also bouncing between a few different clay project experiments because you can’t just stare at the fire map all day.

Since my last post about being challenged with building big rock candy pieces, I took what I learned and rebuilt three large rock candy forms that are slowly drying and ~thus far~ not showing any signs of hairline cracks. Only time (and a kiln firing) will tell if they’re meant to survive, but it will be awhile before they are dry enough to be bisque fired. In the meantime, I’ve been working in the completely opposite direction on some small porcelain pieces.

Last October when I started my residency in Taiwan, I really got a handle on making extremely thin porcelain pieces from my Bone Series. I also experimented with embedding them in resin. This process was visually successful but I still struggled with the learning curve of what this medium would and wouldn’t do. I shipped home these experiments from Taiwan and they’ve been sitting on my studio table for months staring at me. I reached out to resin artist Sasha Sykes in Ireland for some advice and was so grateful for her willingness to answer all my questions about resin. She gave the confidence to proceed, so I finally bit the bullet and ordered up some resin, casting materials and started making some porcelain parts to embed. The tedious layering process will begin soon.

Simultaneously, I’m also working on a commission of custom Umbel Series flowers for a clients backyard. These have been super fun to play with new forms and a different color palette than my norm. Hopefully they will be finished up soon and installed sometime in the near future.

While I keep myself distracted from the crazy status of the world with this menagerie of projects, I’m also mindful of how grateful I am for all that I have while some have lost so much this year. Thank you to the fire personnel who are out there battling these wildfires day after day. Stay safe.

sometimes a teacher, always a student

Whenever I take on a new challenge in clay, I’m always humbled by what I don’t know…

After a month long trip through Baja, we returned to California and to two large pieces from my Rock Candy Series that were anxiously awaiting me in the studio. They’d been drying on the shelf the whole time we were gone, so I knew I could get them into a bisque kiln right away- which I did. It was great to just jump right back into the making process without hesitation.

But then they came out of the bisque with the same hairline cracks on the seams that I’d been getting on some of the medium size pieces. I know that they will only get worse in the glaze firing, but I couldn’t help myself and decided to try it out anyways. So I glazed them up and reloaded the kiln with my fingers crossed that the kiln gods just might take pity on me.

Well, the results were worse than I imagined or rather the worst I had ever seen come through my kiln. Ever. The pieces literally fell apart, collapsing, causing huge stress cracks and ultimately made me feel like a complete amateur in clay. How could these tiny hairline crack cause this much damage? And how is it possible that I’ve been working with clay nearly my whole life and I can’t get a few simple large shapes to survive?!?

Maybe I shouldn’t build big, maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, and maybe I’m not good at this. Doubt sneaks in easily in a clay studio where the ongoing mantra is always “this is ceramics, there are no guarantees”. Luckily, my pity party of self doubt didn’t last and the problem solver in me won the mental gameplay. I started looking for solutions.

I asked fellow artists and clay experts for help and now, with their help, I feel like I’ve got ideas of how to be successful at this new challenge. I’ve been a teacher of clay for over twenty years, but I will be a student of clay for a lifetime and I’m so lucky to have a community of experienced fellow clay peeps to keep learning from.

So stay tuned with your fingers crossed for me on this journey because now I’m determined to make these babies come to fruition!