Sunday, May 3, 2009

cyanotypes, springtime, success!

May has just arrived and springtime has come to Denmark- very beautiful and long awaited! In the meantime, I have been in a place beyond words, maybe a little submerged.
I find myself surfacing.

After many (many!) days in the studio and hours of testing/experimenting- losing my way and finding it again- I have created some successful work here at Guldagergaard. I am most excited about the cyanotypes I have been printing on porcelain. These are some pieces from a series of bottles (of course bottles) I've been working on.
I am looking forward to developing content and form later, but for now am very happy to get a large amount of technical stuff worked out!

Along with the bottles, I've been making a series of "wall boxes"- kind of like clay canvases and definitely not vessels- using both porcelain and earthenware paperclay, working with different techniques to layer text and imagery. They are also small like the bottles, 5"x7" or so (remember, I will be attempting to take finished work back on the plane with me!)- but I think will be powerful when viewed in series/groupings. These examples are works in progress, subject to more/multiple "manipulations" and firings!

In my head- and in my notes- I know that this work is leading to the creation of large sheets of translucent porcelain which will be printed with both cyanotype and gum bichromate images. A series of wall work that takes advantage of the hard thin quality of the best porcelain. This won't happen here in Denmark because of time and logistics (yes, can you believe I could use more time?!)... but it will happen!

I have been experimenting with making a porcelain slip with bone ash- similar to 18th century bone china- which fires lower than the usual 1280'c of traditional porcealin recipes... another project in the apparently endless list of things to keep me busy and befuddled in the studio!

Also progressing are my printing tests with gum bichromate.... here are some earlier test tiles using the emulsion alone (without pigment). Lacking additional colorant, the chrome (of the potassium dichromate) still creates a greenish/sepia image.

Some weeks back I got seriously frustrated with trying to decipher this printing process, and took steps "backwards" so that I could move forward: at first eliminating pigment from the mix (so I could learn more about how the emulsion functions on its own) and then working on paper, and different "sizing" methods for the paper, (mixes of gelatin, gum arabic, glue and other random things, - while wishing I could get my hands on a chemical like glyoxal here in denmark)! I would later learn that bisque-fired clay needs some kind of base coat to help the emulsion "stick". And I have since figured out how to get gum prints to work using ceramic pigment on glazed ware. Yippee!!!!!!

Wow. I will have daunted you with all these technical notes.
So I leave you with some of the beauty that I have found in this quiet corner of the world....

It is really really placid/pleasant/pastoral (provincial?) here in Skaelskor. So, I am a little scared to return to the din of life in the US.
What if I have forgotten how to be hectic?

very cute thatched roofs on some of the cottages by the shore...
A pair of swans I'd been seeing every evening at dusk on the beach... same time same place every day! I have heard they mate for life, is that true?

Glaenas Strand, on an island not far from here...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A month and Copenhagen

Well... where have I been?

Besides escaping for my end of the day bike rides, I've been squinting impatiently over inconclusive evidence in the studio! (Some blustery yet clear days here have been letting me catch a rare bit of color over the sea at dusk.)

I'm still trying to decipher the mysterious process of printing with gum bichromate. I have had some successful tests, but the results seem ephemeral... hard to repeat and I am still working. So many variables!... how strong to make the potassium dichromate solution, proportion of gum arabic to dichromate, length of exposure on the light table, quality of negative, better results on porcelain or earthenware?, fired to what temperature? how long to develop image in water bath, how hot to fire, how long.... EEK!!!

I finally threw some small bottles the other night, working on the wheel. I was vexed by my printing project and needing to do something easy!!! (The bottles are destined to become small "canvases"- I've altered them so they are square/flat-sided... to facilitate printing with cyanotype on each side after they are bisque fired.)

And then: I took off to Copenhagen on Saturday, realizing I needed to clear my head after 30 days in the studio. Caught a ride with UK ceramist Paul Scott, the author of Ceramics and Print (ironically, I have been using a tattered photocopy of his book for reference and "how to" info... for 2 years!). He was on his way to Sweden, I needed an escape and voila!- a ride and some good conversation/"shop talk" to boot.

My mission was to visit the Statens Museum for Kunst (Art), in central Copenhagen.... a city that despite it's 1.5 million inhabitants is surprisingly tame, manageable- and perhaps even quiet? Very pedestrian and cylclist friendly. (Wish I'd taken a pic of the bike lanes there, which are as wide as curb-side vehicle parking!)

(Outside central station, where I would later depart via train for Skaelskor.)

I spent my time browsing the permanent collection, mostly on the second floor with both contemporary works and historical works dating from 1300-1800. The painter in me was delighted by this opportunity, and it was so refreshing to get away from my own work, the myopic world of my light table, dark room, kilns and chemicals.

I thought about so many things that afternoon at the museum.... why art calls us, moves us, calms and shocks us- and also seems so necessary. Wandering around this city far from home, again the streets and shops lit and labeled in a language I don't comprehend, the sound of inscrutible dialogue all around me: I don't understand.

The museum was what I needed that day.
The universal language of art. I understand.

Monday, March 16, 2009

gum bichromate weekend

It's Monday morning after a quiet weekend in the studio....

The cleaning crew is here- an industrious and efficient danish woman- getting after it with the vacuum. Meaning I better get up. It's 8am.

I spent the last two days (nights?) with my brow furrowed, hunched and squinting over my latest project: a foray into the gum bichromate process, the other "vintage" contact printing technique which I hope to adapt to fired porcelain. (At this point, a rudimentary understanding of alchemy would be fine.)

I should begin by coming to understand the quirks of printing images with gum arabic and potassium dichromate on paper.... instead I have jumped headlong into my testing on both bisqued and glazed ceramic test tiles. Wow, there are so many variables to this process, not to mention it's toxicity- be careful and have patience!! In the end, I am interested in creating work with both visual and conceptual depth, so having multiple "tools" to create layered imagery and text at every stage of the firing process is my goal.

I have to mention that I have an excellent and indispensible companion in my printing adventures: The Book of Alternative Printing Processes by Christopher James, who is somewhat of a guru I think in the world of alt. photo process (fromer harvard proff, and now teaches alt photo workshops internationally). It is a hybird textbook/"bible"/gallery sprinkled with interesting stories from the history of photography. Wow. A great read all by itself, very comprehensive. Yes, I'm gushing- it's that good (and my only help right now).

In contrast to the gum bichromate process, cyanotype is a piece of cake!! Last weeks firing produced interesting results. At right is a test piece fired to relatively low temperature. I do like this rich sienna/orange! (At temps above 2000 degrees F, the cyanotype image burns out completely.) Yes, I lose that lovely prussian blue through firing- and this is the hallmark of cyanotype!- but for now this is the only way I know to create a lasting image on clay with this printing process. At left, more fun with c.type (unfired).

Here is the part of my studio where much furrowing of the brow takes place, and many notes are made..... as well as occasional progress!

Ok, a cultural note.... there is some soft-core "guerilla" political activity here in the sleepy hollow of Skaelskor... here is a cheap paper glue-up that I found on a shop window across from the church!! I definitely had to look twice at this. It's in english for one. And it's just so... crude. Go figure. I am still trying to wrap my mind around the, uh.... artistic vision.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Morning mugs

In the kitchen at Guldi........ (a cupboard view).

I am drinking my coffee and adjusting to another wet day here in Denmark! This week finds me eager to fire a small kiln-load of work so that I can have more bisque-fired test tiles to develop my cyanotype images on, and also to begin some experimenting with (another alternative photo process) gum bichromate. The test tiles have to be fired once, even if only to a low temperature, as these processes use a water development bath... I can't conceive of how this would work on unfired/greenware!

I did end up ordering more cyanotype type chemistry from the States. I'm sure it will take a while to arrive, though. A friend of mine just sent me a care package and it is being held at central post in Copenhagen, until they receive more information about what is inside and how much it's worth. Hopefully a commercial shipment will reach me with fewer problems....

Here is a view of some slipcast pieces I have made, also waiting be fired. It has been great fun (well... mostly) learning to make the plaster molds. Mine are quite ugly but are still casting pretty things!

I have just mixed up a batch of earthenware/paperclay slip, and found this great tool in the glaze room. I don't know what it's called. More importantly, I don't know how I've worked all these years as a potter and not had one!!! (My new favorite tool!) I have basically just added paper fiber to liquid clay, which creates a lighter object once fired, and somewhat different working properties when wet. (I am still figuring this out.)

Another cyanotype test piece and another bike ride mark the end of the day here in Skaelskor. Here is the Danish answer to single track?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

day 13

Spring is coming... these little flowers are poking their heads up out of their winter cover of wet leaves...

Thursday morning here and I have been trying to track down more iron salts for my work with cyanotype.... Geez!!! It's hard to get some of this alternative photo chemistry here in Europe. So far, I have only found some small amounts (for a large sum!) via an Austrian supplier. I wish I'd been able to travel with more materials, but I think I am lucky to have gotten to DK with any supplies at all. Looks like shipping from US might actually be my best bet?

For me, because I can't read Danish and am unfamiliar with the shops and what they carry, even yesterday's search for simple hydrogen peroxide (brintoverilte in Danske) was an adventure...!! Makes me think how easy my life in the States is, how (of course) we take many things for granted.

In addition to cyanotype materials, I am trying to find a place to make transparencies (photocopies on clear acetate).... another convoluted search which remains unresolved
so far, and to find access to Photoshop (which I have to admit, I don't have on this laptop), so I can create my negatives (rather than positives) for contact printing.

Although this facet of my work is a bit frustrating, I realize it's just part of the whole experience and I try to work around these details creatively (rather than against/at odds with?)... and to concentrate on the fact that I am happily engaged in studio projects which are yielding results. My testing of cyanotype on bisque-ware (unglazed work which has been once-fired to fairly low temperature) continues to give me a lot of information. I have much to learn about the chemistry of the cyanotype, but in forging ahead- blithely ignorant?- I will continue to get results and eventually some finished pieces! Yesterday, I found out how copper sulphate can deepen the blue of an image, and that soda ash, applied at just the right time, can bleach out faded highlights.

I am also continuing to make simple molds for slip-casting. Above, modeling a clay "negative" precedes pouring plaster. The first half of the mold is below. I will test the finished product today with the commercial Royal Copenhagen porcelain slip. No idea how this delicate handle will release form the mold??

Ah, the morning is waning and there is studio work to be done... I will be working late this evening, I think.

I am very glad to have gotten my public presentation accomplished last night... you will guess this is not my favorite task!! A slide show and lecture... in English to a room full of Danes!? Good turnout though, and a bottle of local Skaelskor wine presented to me at the end in appreciation!

I'd like to take a break today, if the weather holds, to head out on my (more or less) trusty german two-wheeled adventure companion to explore some dirt trails I found out by the ocean...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Experimental Studio

My eight days here in DK feels like eight weeks.

Is this a good thing?
It's late friday night at Guldigergaard and I am crafting some alone time so I can catch up with myself. Much if this week has been about adjusting to the new people and place and figuring out how things work, where things are- in the house, in the studio, and in the town. Complicated and slow for me at times because I can't read the language! Trying to make sense of studio materials written in Danish for example........

But this week has also been occupied with technical experiments in clay. I've been fortunate to be here in conjuntion with a workshop presented by Karen Harsbo of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. She is an accomplished sculptor who uses clay in unique ways, with perhaps unorthodox materials. This residency is about breaking new ground in my own ceramics, so I really welcomed the opportunity to check out Karen's tricks and techniques! I was most intersted in the work she has done with sand-casting, paper clay, and plaster.

We mixed up a batch of paper clay (toilet paper blunged with Royal Copenhagen casting slip!) and cast some random objects in sand, potato starch, even sugar. Then also added plaster to the casting mix, because this can create a very dense, vitreous material when fired. (Yes.... clay and plaster mixed together and fired.) Here are some small test pieces of Karen's at right.

Less exotic but very useful to me has been learning how to cast an object in plaster using a one, two, or three part mold. This is a very standard method of working for many ceramic artists, but something I never learned. I have been interested in creating contemporary adaptations of cast vintage porcelain tableware, and perhaps also casting those forgetable items we use every day- a disposable plastic cup or spoon for example- treated with gold luster and period decals. Kitsh!!!

Wherever it takes me in the weeks to come, I am honing a new skill.
This thrills me.
Today I made a three part mold of a diminutive Romanian egg cup ("found object" of the day?!). I am not thrilled with the casts (again, using the Royal Copenhagen slip) so far. Thankfully, I have tomorrow. And the next day...

I have bisque-fired some slip-cast sheets of the RC porcelain for testing cyanotype. Afraid I am leading myself down a frustrating path with the C.type on clay, but of course i am going there anyway! In the meantime, here is a test-drive on really crappy brown paper, working out my exposure times.

The image is very unstable because the paper is of such poor quality of course, but still useful for my purpose. And I'm getting negative images because I'm using a positive on acetate for my print...!

Big field trip to Grimmerhus yesterday, the Danish Museum of International Ceramic Art in Middelfart (pronounced something like melfard). Wow. The featured exhibit by Danish artist Lotte Glob was fascinating. LG actually lives in Scotland and the photos she exhibited in conjuntion with her large ceramic pieces were so evocative. Sculptual work which is course and raw, fired with sand and rocks, and glassy blue glaze dripping like water and the powerful seduction of the moors.

Some of Glob's smaller works here. I think the rabbit skulls on the right must be dipped in slip and fired?

The photos of Scotland blew me away and the actual location of the museum, on a bench above the sea, reminded me of people and places from elsewhere in my life, the life I only just stepped out of... near and yet far. I walked the grounds of the museum alone and thought about how easy it is to become unmoored from a sense of self and identity.

Who am I, now that I am here

and you are there...

I sense already that this theme is the undercurrent which will run through the work I create here in Denmark.

I left the exhibit and it's sea-strung locale full of longing.
And ready to make good work.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

day 3

I've been here three full days now at Guldagergaard... it is now early morning on day four as I write. The house sleeps and the wind howls across this flat land by the sea. I've had a good day.

My plan to get on Danish time (lose the jet lag!) has thus far been foiled, but here's what has been successful: setting up in the studio and beginning to work. I spent much of yesterday reading about cyanotype, an early photographic process developed in the 18oo's which creates a Prussian blue print.

I had just started experimenting with this before I left the States, trying to figure out the quirky chemistry behind cyanotype so I could adapt the process to clay. I want to make contact prints directly on porcelain, and I think it will go. Although I do work with images, I am not a photographer and am not schooled in the vocabulary of picture making. But I am learning!

My brief test run at home gave me some clues about where to begin again once I got here.

Today I started at square one, just doing some test runs on paper (because it's cheaper and faster to get the process dialed this way). Working with both the milky grey light of day and the UV light table to make my exposures. (Ah, yes- the latter is a much better choice!!) Even with the light table, the exposure was long, 30-40 minutes I think.
I made some mistakes, but they led me closer to where I need to be, and I ended up with a good result on paper. Yay!!

Beyond work..... did I mention how much adjustment this feels like, all at once? I took a break from everything to bike over to one of the beaches (Kobaek Strand)... a biting head wind out of town to the west, but worth it. The ocean always helps me feel... sorted out. Like all the chaos of new place new people new language (and so much I don't understand!), plus the added bonus of my self-imposed studio agenda... it all just fell away and I could hear myself again.
(Photo here is of the sweet bike which I've just started riding around town and beyond, has wonky rear wheel and no front brake, but cool, huh? )
The sun even came out after I took this photo- Cheers!!!

Friday, February 20, 2009


Yes, but where to begin?

On my second sleepless night here in Skaelskor, Denmark...

I haven't begun working in the studio yet. Since my arrival yesterday afternoon, I've been trying to adjust to the eight hour time difference ( I lost 8 hours somewhere en route from Durango, Colorado to Scandinavia!) and manage this feeling that is more or less like this: oh my god i am here for three months am i crazy.

Think of now. And what needs to happen now.

And catch up with myself. I remember that I have just spent a number of harried days (weeks?) tidying up my life in the States so I could depart. (No easy feat, for anyone!) What is still fresh on my worn out self: the flights from Durango to Denver to Chicago to Copenhagen, followed by rail, bus and foot to the door of this old manor house on a fjord somewhere between the Baltic and the North Sea.

A great relief to arrive at this place that has lived only in my imagination since last September (when I found out about the residency award). I am still overwhelmed by all my impressions! There are three other residents at Guldagergaard right now, so the studio and grounds are rather quiet. The mist of the harbor, and general murk of Denmark, seem to create a hushed silence about everything. Life here happens at a slower pace.

I wandered around the town today on foot, looking for a sense of mooring I think, along with an ATM machine (danes use kroner though the country is part of the EU), and market for food. Struggling with my inability to read Danish (signs are all in Danish of course, no english), and having some comical interactions with the locals as a result! Soon (like, tomorrow) I will learn to ask in Danish, "Do you speak English?", and promptly do my part to debunk the "ugly american" stereotype!

Skaelskor is indeed very quaint.
Two things I love so far: People ride bikes everywhere, in all kinds of weather.
And the bikes are left unlocked all over the place. So much trust. No one steals bikes here and I think that must be a sign that the Danes are doing something right. (More on that later...)

Okay. A third thing I love so far: no big box stores, only small markets in a sensibly-designed, pedestrian and cycle-centic downtown. Skaelskor, with it's 12,000 or so inhabitants is quaint and at once very chic. From small retailers stocking the latest in shoes and fashion accessories, to sophisticated boutique galleries featuring hand-made Danish design (ceramics and glass abound), somehow it's all here, in this sleepy town which rolls up at 7pm.

I am dying to know what these folks do at night.

I, for one, seem destined for late night solo-ing with my strongest attachment: the wifi here in my room beneath the eaves and gables. For now, I will cozy up with some back issues of Ceramics Technical. (Guldagergaard has a library rich in ceramics volumes and art miscellanea- akin to some kind of pornorgraphy if you've got a porcelain fetish!) Give in to the seduction of sleeping with the help of Tylenol PM, even though it makes me feel sluggish and stupid the next day?

It's after 2am now. It's just not ok to sleep til noon again. Wish me luck.