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...