the end of the Rock Candy road

Going big with the Rock Candy Series was a challenge, there was a lot of frustration, a lot of broken pieces and a lot of learning. Sometimes as an artist, you just need to take on the challenge and ‘make the thing’ even if you don’t know where it’s going to lead. Eventually, over the course of this year, I was able to make a whole pile of successful extra large rocks. But now what?

I stared at this pile in my studio for a few weeks, and it kind of stared back at me. I thought that I would be inspired to make more, create different combinations of colors and play with compositions, but I wasn’t. Sometimes, ideas lead to the end of a road and that’s ok. I’m really glad that I challenged myself with going big, I really glad that I was successful, and I’m really glad that all of the final pieces I made have already found a happy home. And as anti-climatic as it feels, I’m really glad to be moving onto other things that inspire me more.

Video: break it down

If you’ve followed along over the past year while I attempted to make some extra large Rock Candy pieces, you’ll know that it was a challenge, but eventually I succeeded. I was able to make a selection of pieces that had no cracks or flaws, but there was a whole pile of pieces that didn’t make the cut. They’ve hung around the studio for long enough now, so it was time to get rid of them. So what do I do with all the unsuccessful pieces?

I hate garbage, I am always looking for a way to reuse, upcycle, repurpose or recycle everything and fired clay is no exception. While it could just go into the general landfill, I discovered that many refuse sites will accept ceramics in a separate pile where you would also put toilets, sinks and tiles. They grind up all the ceramics material and use it as an aggregate for compacting roads around the site or elsewhere. So if you have a bunch of broken ceramics from your studio be sure to check out if your local refuse center will separate it for use and you’ll give your not-so-great experiments another life.

Back in the Saddle…

I am officially back in my studio full-time after a year mixed with travel, making art in the middle of nowhere, and dealing with insane fires, politics and pandemics. It’s been quite a ride, but it is good to be back feeling hopeful so I’m hitting the ground running!

I will admit that ‘the dirt’ has lagged along this year without very much intriguing content so thank you for sticking with me! Now that my hands are back in the clay on a daily basis and the kilns are firing up, I will have a lot more to share with you. I’m hoping to create more short videos of behind-the-scenes in the studio, step-by-steps and sharing where my inspiration comes from. I will also be featuring some artists that I’ve met in my travels over the past few years who inspire me and who are also inspired by nature to create their works. I hope that you enjoy meeting them in some upcoming posts!

All the details about new works, upcoming shows and opportunities to buy new art will be coming soon… ’cause I’m baaaack!

mini-studio in el desierto

Since we’ve had a driveway and small camping area cleared on our property, the first thing I did was buy a table and set up my mini-studio under the shade of a Torote tree. It’s been a little bit of a challenge to deal with the intense sun and some wind but I’ve figured out a system that seems to be working. I’m continuing to work on my smaller Bone Series Medusa and Urchin forms while I’m here and will be able to fire them in a friends kiln before I make the journey north again. I’m hoping to have a large batch of these to show and get up in the online shop next year.

In the meantime, I’m definitely finding inspiration here in the desert and the beaches. I’ve been finding and collecting all sorts of bits of bone and wood that inspire but my latest prize possession is this pelican skull below. The center photo is a close up of the fibrous structure of the beak connecting to the skull, I love how fragile and also how strong it is. I also love how translucent the bone is, so reminiscent of working in thin pieces of porcelain.

virtual open studios success!

I just wanted to take a moment to THANK ALL OF YOU who participated in my Virtual Open Studios Sale this year! I was overwhelmed with the response and so happy to see lots of new art find happy homes! Hopefully we will be able to see each other in person, sipping wine, hugging hellos and chatting art talk next year, but until then, stay safe and healthy everyone!

And just to keep you all posted on my whereabouts and shenanigans…

virtual open studios success | the dirt | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture

I’ll be spending the rest of the year working on our property in Baja Mexico and enjoying leaving a cold, wet winter behind me. I’ll be setting up a little make-shift studio space there too so I’m sure to stay creative and busy. I’ve also set up the studio to be ready for my return with lots of new work from the large Rock Candy pieces drying and awaiting a ride through the bisque firing. And I’ll also be continuing working on my porcelain pieces embedded in resin, I’m looking forward to getting some of these pieces finished and up in the shop for 2021.

virtual open studios success | the dirt | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture

Thanks again for continuing to support independent artists!

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.

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!