Friday, September 26, 2014

Inspiring students..

Back view of Galerie Friesleben - the house is huge - photos are deceiving!

Traveling abroad to teach is a wake-up call in the very best way:  to really find out that one's basement cave studio is not the whole world.  To enjoy the experience of meeting other wonderful artist students and see what they get from what you show.  To watch in awe as someone catches hold of something you taught and runs with it - and then influences the whole class - amazing!

View from my balcony

To make friends and watch other friendships blossom, and to find that a group who have been in touch only virtually are now meeting for the first time time in the flesh - in your class - all incredible! And all in such a gorgeous natural setting.

my first view of the Alps from the Autobahn

The clouds are always changing and dramatic around the mountains

Storm over the lake while ferrying to see King Ludwig's reproduction of Versailles on the island!

Two workshops and 36 students later....teaching at Galerie Friesleben was such a big experience for me that it's taken me this long (5 weeks) to process it and write about it - and of course, school started (enough said..).  The workshop space is fantastic and the the gallery has to be seen to be truly appreciated, and it is wonderful to be living and teaching in the same building! My apartment was wonderful - thanks Ariane and Reinhart!

I had decided when I started teaching to just pass on technique and not to concentrate on making particular finished objects.  I feel strongly that this open ended approach better encourages people to integrate what they are learning in class with their own skills, and decide what part(s) of the information are useful to them.  This worked well, I think.  I would look over in amazement at the ideas and objects sprouting up all over the class.  And this is of course why I titled this post 'Inspiring students' - they gave me great inspiration ( and joy) and I hope I was able to do the same for them.

before the first workshop - can you see - the tables are tidy!

The first day of each workshop was more technical - just mastering the idea of hollow forms.  We worked through problems and then to make it more interesting we moved on to adding colour in the afternoon.

love this photo - what is Monica looking at on Evelyn's desk?

lots of ways to add colour!  Oh, the supplies people brought!

Some interesting hollow work started to emerge...people just needed to practice and then had the next day to investigate other surfaces and more color on new beads/forms.  And to make friends, of course...

a wee bottle...

hollow box beads

Oh, we had fun...

Breakfast in the cafe (see the gallery behind), site of the fabulous cappuccino machine! I confess, I am a coffee addict....

All too soon, it was over...the end of the second workshop coincided with the arrival of thousands of young people to the town of Uebersee for a music festival.  A muddy business, as it rained on and off for most of's the programme!

I also want to thank the most generous suppliers who made my workshop a delight - Huge thanks to Polyform and Iris Weiss, who sent the clay I ordered to Germany and heroically managed to get a special order of their new clay Souffle sent out later as well!  The Souffle is a delight for hollow work ( and other things) and you can read my review of it here.

Also, great thanks to Viva Decor for supplying surface colorants for the workshop, and also to FimoStaedtler for supplying samples of their new professional series clay for goody bags.  All these donations were greatly appreciated by the class.

And finally, a huge thank you to Bernadette Ward and the PanPastel folks!  The pastels you sent were a big hit in Europe in the polymer community!  It was amazing to see how far your colours go - still plenty more for my next workshop, where I will continue to spread the word.  Now with new your Pearlescent line, as well....more to come on that!

some pods in progress...

demo hollows from my class

Actually, the final phrase is 'Thank you, Ariane!'  Because she contacted me out of the blue and made all this happen.  It felt like a huge ripe peach that just fell in my lap and I was so excited to do it and meet all these wonderful people ( you really can stay in your basement studio too long, you know...) and pass on some things I've learned.  I hope to go back sometime...

At least to eat another peach.....strangest shaped peaches I've ever seen!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Birks lead me on....

I've been in Germany since last Monday sleep on the plane - much too excited!  As you can see, I bought a new pair of Birkenstocks in honour of going to Germany, and they are leading me home.

Apparently, I had nothing better to do than to take pictures of my feet at the airport:  Perhaps one way to calm the pre-flight nerves, which were made instantly worse when the Air Canada staff told me to step aside from the boarding line-up...what now?

They tell me I can't get on the plane because my passport expires in three months and that the Canadian government requires that your passport expiry date be be 3 months beyond your return date.  I return August 16 - my passport expires Nov. 14!   Caution, all you would-be travellers....

I say that I have to be there, that people are expecting me.  I say that I have a return flight booked with their airline and I won't be staying in Germany.  Tense minutes pass while the supervisor calls some unspecified superior to try to get permission for me to board - they call last boarding call for my flight, and my heart is sinking....

Finally the supervisor gets the go-ahead and tells me to run for the flight and waggles a cautionary finger at me to renew my passport the moment I get home.  Fancy that, my international teaching career almost ended before it even started!

Of course, I made it - and here we rounded a corner and I got my first view of the Alps in 35 years!  Ubersee is about 130 kms from Munich.  And you take the AutoBahn to Salzburg...

....and get off at Ubersee, which borders a very large lake called Chiemsee - or sometimes the Bavarian Sea.

And it is all so lovely, and different to my usual view, of course...and I have been made to feel so welcome!  Galerie Friesleben and its inhabitants are wonderful - many meals, and glasses of wine and capuccinos have been consumed while getting the gallery ready for its first workshops and official opening.  

On Tuesday, I went sightseeing on the islands in the lake with a lovely woman who lives in the village and knows tons about the area.  I fell in love with a tiny cemetery outside a very old church beside the monastery on the island - much history here, and the graves so beautifully tended and so individually marked!

closeups of the stone pattern

an architect's grave, apparently...

It rained hard coming back from the islands, but some of the mountains remained in the sun.

And back to Ubersee and Galerie Friesleben utterly exhausted to my wonderful little apartment (supplied with lovely food, thanks Ariane!) and this view,  where the clouds around the mountains seem to change hourly!

My first workshop starts tomorrow at 9 am and I had a chance to have dinner with the 18 participants tonight.  I sat with the Russian group of 6 tonight, but I am certain that tomorrow by noon, I will know all of the group much better - another  group form the Netherlands, some from  Germany!

Can't wait!  

Hard not to sound like a travel brochure - but it really is spectacular here!  It was fun to go to the supermarket too (yesterday) and spend minutes puzzling out the ingredients with my high school German!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sculpey Souffle: a review

I've been working on and off with Souffle (the brand new clay from Polyform) this last month, which was very kindly provided for me by Polyform.  I was really excited when the 22 colours arrived as I had spoken briefly with Ginger Davis Allman from the Blue Bottle Tree about it - and subsequently read her review post - and suspected from what she told me that it might offer some huge advantages for the kind of work that I do.
I'll just say before I start that I'm so glad that Ginger reviewed all the possibilities in her comprehensive report, because I (selfishly) am only going to concentrate on the qualities in the clay that relate to my work - I don't cane, I only mix colours when it suits me, nor do I polish work till it gleams - so those perhaps challenging qualities of Souffle don't bother me.
When I opened it up, I was entranced at how easily it conditions in my hands as I do have some arthritis in some joints (legacy of 18 years of glass blowing).  I don't enjoy having to fight with clay to get it into the condition I want that works for my techniques.  Having said that, I do often associate clays that are easy to condition with less than optimal strength and flexibility after curing.  Not so in this case - and more on that later!
I quickly made a hollow bracelet and a large round hollow I told Polyform, I got very excited because it was so easy to manipulate into hollow forms because of its unique way of stretching. (My heart started to race....lord, I really am a material junkie!)  I haven't encountered a clay quite like it before!  It is possible to make very thin forms with this clay that are quite unbelievably strong and flexible, and as Ginger had noticed, very easy to colour after curing.  This simplifies several ideas I've been working on for a while, and makes my regular work substantially easier.
                IMG_0912                       IMG_0923
I've included some photos of some things I've made with Souffle - all hollow - so you can see.  There is, of course, a learning curve with hollow work, but I'm fairly experienced with it by now...
The bracelets are unbelievably flexible.  They are tight on over my hand and have to be eased on gradually.  Souffle allows this very readily with its strength and movement.  A personal one of my got  dropped in a parking lot and got driven over by a car (I was so upset with myself).  But when I looked at it, it was only cracked in a couple of places and I was able to repair it with some clay of the same colour. It was hollow, got squished and cracked, and bounced back!
                           IMG_0913           IMG_0916
Since I mostly work with a white base, at first I was a bit disappointed to have all those colours and only one white brick.  But to my surprise, I have enjoyed working with these 'fashion' colours as I go on to alter them anyway.  Lots of fun to work with a base other than white, and to break the strangle hold of one's habits once in while.   Many of the colours are quite luminous under paint and distressing - I do just love that Robin's egg shade!  Even the bright pinks and maroony reds were fun to work with - gotta love a challenge!  To be honest, I started with the pink for testing because I thought I would hate all those shades. but when distressed and other wise altered, they were quite lovely….
Just one thing I noticed in curing - be careful in curing times with Souffle, especially when you have a piece buried or half buried.  I cure most pieces for 45 minutes and the one time I disobeyed that rule the piece cracked.  But I do think it bears further investigation as I think the curing was uneven due to being  buried ( and therefore making uneven temperature gradients in the curing piece).  If you do bury your piece while curing, I recommend that you gently uncover it once it has had 15 minutes to semi cure into place.  Be very cautious, it's fragile at that stage.....
Also re curing - I left one of my bracelets in the oven overnight by accident - the loooong cure!  It seems just fine and as flexible as all the others and as Ginger noted in her review - no colour shift!
                          IMG_0929              IMG_0930
Those are the pros for this clay for me - now the cons!
It's summer and this clay does get sticky.  But, I found that if I abandoned my habit of putting the conditioned clay in a plastic bag in my bra (to maintain the clay at body heat) which was my habit to get other clays to work well in most seasons ( but particularly the winter) then things were much better.  Or, I just put the work-in-progress into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes.  I'm pretty certain that this won't be a problem in the winter as the first morning I played with it, the weather was very cool. Also, please bear in mind that I like working with clay that moves a lot and is not stiff at all - some users really hate this and find it difficult.
It is quite floppy when thin, which is not a problem with closed forms like hollow beads, but more of a problem with open forms. (Like the ribbon bracelets photographed in this post...) However, this is very manageable using a combination of freezer (to get it where you need it to be before curing), adjustment after chilling, and then using supports to cure it. ( I bury/support it in a bed of corn starch and baking soda or on polyester fibre - I've even used kleenex nests when I don't have anything else handy!)
I do actually carve work on occasion (areas) and I don't much  like the way Souffle carves.  It is certainly easy, but rubbery - if that makes sense - and the gouge mark is not as clean as it is with harder more dense seeming clays ( remember that Souffle is lighter by 15%) - but this is nit-picking.  The carving process is certainly easy and this observation just reflects my personal taste and what I am used to!  Also, I'm truly not skilled with carving tools.
So that's really it for the negatives.....but remember, every clay has its challenges and I have tried them all. I freely admit that I am not faithful to any one clay!  Before this trial,  I used Premo most of the time and Cernit, Kato and Pardo for special uses.  Also, surprisingly, the Original Sculpey (sort of a dead white, and very cheap in quantity) for some very unique uses!  
So, based on my experience with Souffle, I would view it not as a hobby clay, but as a very unique specialty clay that perhaps needs to find the right user.   You should definitely try it if your work involves any forming by stretching or moving of the clay body.  Or post curing surface painting of any kind, as it has a tooth on the cured surface that is very ready to accept paint.  Also try it if you just want a break from really stiff clays – my hands appreciate it!  It’s a clay that gets working quickly after you handle it, even when you’ve let it rest for a long time…
ME. I am definitely that user.
I really think I could be faithful to Souffle for hollow work!  Great job, Polyform!