Portrait Houses & Clay Trials

Hi everyone!

I finished it!  It took a very, very long time.

I’m talking, of course, about my entry for The Art of Mentoring exhibit that opens Friday, Sept 3rd at the Bloomington Theatre and Art Center.  I finished my house on Monday; it’s due tomorrow.  Cutting it fairly fine.

As you can see from my fingers, it’s not very big: 3 1/2 in wide by 2 1/2 in high.  It’s made out of Premo brand polymer clay and was nothing but trouble!

Truly.  It is my 49th clay house and definitely the hardest to complete.  I couldn’t understand it.  My process of creating these things has gotten comparatively easier with each house.  That’s the way it should work.  You learn, you adjust and adapt and gain competency.  You move forward.  Or so I thought.

No. 48, above, was difficult, but I expected it to be as I had changed the format significantly so that it closely resembled Carl and Stephanie’s house (my brother and Star-sister*).  It was a breakthrough piece for me and while I cussed quite a bit over it, I felt it was worth all the effort.

*(You may have a Star-sister in your life.  Look for someone you realize is so much more than the role they’re assigned.  “Sister-in-law,” in this case, just doesn’t cover our friendship adequately.)

This is what Carl and Stephanie’s house looks like in reality.  I’ve created a “portrait” of it, using my chosen medium, polymer clay.  I’m very happy with this one, though as the creator, I know what I would do differently the next time.  Still, I expected the next house to be somewhat less problematic and was looking forward to fine-tuning my techniques.  Hah!

I knew I was in trouble when pieces of the trim fell off the house after I baked it.  I’ve never had that happen before.  It also resisted my efforts to detail it.  It chipped or broke completely instead of having the rubbery resiliency I’ve come to expect (and love) with this clay.  I cussed more.

This is the house right after baking.  I baked an extra door, because neither doorway was standard, so I wanted one for experimentation.  If you look closely at the finished house and this one, you’ll see that the flowers aren’t in the same positions.  They fell off indiscriminately as I held each section.  The roof also broke (really frustrating) and neither flat piece on the bottom right survived being made into a hinge.

It was this last that gave my mentor a clue as to what was happening.  Layl McDill is co-owner of ClaySquared and a true goddess with clay.  (The first link goes to a great article about her in the MN Women’s Press.)  She’s also my mentor and has been patiently teaching me during many months of clay exploration while providing a wealth of information on the subject.  She suggested using clay I reserved from previous houses to see if it behaved differently.  (I hand mix all of my colors and keep unbaked samples, in case I want to match it later.)  Layl knew I had a brand new oven.  Could that be the reason?

The answer was both “yes” and “no.”  I was able to bake a decent hinge from that reserved clay, but it was only after discovering that my new oven was 100 degrees over the intended temperature after the pre-heat cycle.  If I waited an additional six minutes, the oven reached the desired temperature and I could safely start baking.  (Isn’t that odd?  Wouldn’t that really throw a cake off?  I’m very glad I discovered this before I started my fall baking!)

The other part of the answer was that some of the clay is faulty.  I had begun buying my clay in 16 oz blocks and one of these was just bad.  It doesn’t mix properly, so the chemical reaction that I rely on didn’t happen.  My clay had no resiliency.  It crumbles.

This is the back of my entry piece.  It shows all of the dings and inconsistencies (trim width, especially) that I would normally not accept.  But I needed something to show and I didn’t have time to start from scratch.  I think it came out fairly well, considering everything.  I’m not ashamed of it.  It’s an unruly, homely child, but it’s still my creation and I’m willing to let it represent me, for now.

This post is dedicated to every protegee who’s struggled yet managed to create a piece in time for their final exhibit.  Here’s to dogged determination!

—Chris

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8 Responses to “Portrait Houses & Clay Trials”


  1. 1 Carl August 27, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    We love our house! It turned out so great, it’s on our mantel in a place of honor. Thanks Chris!

  2. 2 Layl August 27, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Way to stick it out and get to the end of a challenging learning experience! Hopefully the next one will be easier. It sure did turn out fabulous. Can’t wait to see it in person!
    Layl

  3. 4 rita kirsch dungey August 30, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Love them – I want to live in one of your houses!
    Rita K.D.

  4. 5 judy fawcett August 31, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    They look perfect! If you hadn’t written about all your struggles none of us would know. It’s amazing to find out all the varibles that can go wrong, ie. the oven temperature, the chemistry of the clay. Yikes! I can’t even imagine working on such small pieces without destroying them. Great persevering!

  5. 7 Ann Viveros September 6, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Love reading your blog! Love your tiny house and can’t wait to see it in person. I met Layl at the fair this weekend. The friend I was with knows her. Small world! Thanks for the dedication at the end of your post. It was a struggle there at the end, but we made it – the show is up! I can’t wait to see it!


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Welcome!

Chris
Minneapolis, Minnesota

I love art and sharing the joy of it with others. I started this blog in order to talk about art, crafts and the process of being an artist and to encourage people to think of themselves as creative. Whether it's choosing our fashions, decorating our homes or planning our gardens, it's all art.

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