I created this stop-motion animation as part of my series of miniature sculpted figures in 2011. It has a feel of the introduction of the old children’s show, Bagpuss, but with slight sinister overtones.
‘The head’ has been a nightmare from beginning to end. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong with ‘the head’.
I made version 01 of the head from air dry clay…but the clay was so wet that it just collapsed on me looking rather Wicked Witch of the West “I’m meeeelting”
So, I let him dry out for a bit, stuffed him with newspapers and fixed the melted mess – below is the next stage images.
After a lot more work I refined the face further down – an artist friend commented that he looked like he was modelled on “a young Ian Paisley”, which he wasn’t, but I could see the resemblance! At this point I was pretty happy with the head. All I needed to do was take the newspaper stuffed inside his head out and construct a neck and shoulders for him…
But….as soon as I tried to take the newspaper out, his whole lower jaw literally shattered into dust, leaving only the top part of his head. Someone on my facebook page commented that it looked okay like this and perhaps to leave the head like this and I agreed, despite my bitter disappointment that after all my hard work on this piece that I was stymied in getting it to look exactly how I wanted.
However, the art gods had something else in mind. No sooner than I’d come to terms with having a jawless head, someone gesticulated too closely to it and it too landed on the floor and shattered into a million pieces….the only bit recognisable was the nose. The rest was grey dust – this was because I used an air dry clay with no kind of fibres to help bond the clay particles together and give it any kind of strength. Lesson learned to never, ever use that clay ever again – unless of course I want the end result to turn to a cloud of dust.
Undeterred but with a heavy, heavy heart I resumed work and began a whole new piece, this time from terracotta clay. I preferred the expression on clay head #1, to head #2, but time was against me, as I wanted to get this piece completed and fired in a kiln so that I could then paint it and have it ready in time for an exhibition.
The head below is head #2 and is pictured resting on two briquettes to allow air to circulate inside the hollow form to help it dry out fully (briquettes being compressed peat that you burn in an open fire)
Unfortunately…days after the above photo was taken, I went to lift the piece and move it and it cracked across the shoulder and then further stalagmites broke off…At that stage I cried. I have never, ever had such difficulty with any piece, even taking into account the fact that using clay on a larger piece like this is something I’m relatively new at. But, I was determined to have the piece I wanted and exhibit it as planned no matter what. Not after all the hard work I’d put into rescuing this piece from a number of disasters already.
I researched and I asked advice about broken unfired clay and was told to try misting the broken areas with water and then adding slip, allowing to dry and (hopefully) bond together again and then fire in the kiln. I did this, but then the person who said they’d fire the piece for me said they now couldn’t. At this point I just gave up on the whole idea of ever being able to finish the piece completely.
However, in the end I decided, sod it, I’ll paint the unfired piece as is and at least exhibit it. And I’m now glad I didn’t leave the piece at home unshown and broken.
Today I installed him in the exhibition. Below is the finished piece, painted using acrylic paint and varnish and surrounded by real stones in order to embed him further into a more natural setting.
Now that the piece is painted it looks exactly like what I had in mind – that it was formed from centuries of dripping, mineral-saturated water – the piece is based on the Marble Arch Caves in Northern Ireland – made specifically for the Response to Beauty exhibition which is on tomorrow (27th Nov 2014)
Of course…because he’s made from un-fired clay – which cracked again en route to the exhibition space, I have to make a decision what to do with this piece. I’m not sure if I can repair him without him cracking again, and am also unsure about whether firing a painted piece is good for the interior of a kiln or environmentally friendly.
At the end of this whole process I think I’ll take a silicone mould of the head and then cast him in some kind of durable material. I think too, that what all this has taught me is that perhaps making a clay sculpture and then taking a cast from it is perhaps the working method I should follow from now on, rather than trying to create ceramic sculptures that are to be fired.