Archive for the ‘Artist’s Thoughts’ Category

Unique Mix of Blog and Ceramic Musical Instruments


Springfield High Functional Ceramics BlogThe number of blogs about ceramic musical instruments isn’t likely to make anyone’s Top 10 list of popularly read blogs on the internet, however, there are creative educators who are connecting the dots. One such blog involves Ms. B’s functional ceramics class at Springfield High School in Springfield, PA. I commend Ms. B. and her class for exploring the world of ceramic musical instruments and for using a blog to express ideas and responses to the online questions. I would guess that some of her students view the assignments as just one more thing they have to do, but what they may not realize is the value of writing, sharing, and community building that an online presence offers. Kudos to Ms. B and the several blogs she uses with her ceramics classes! Nicely done!!

Sculpture in Music?


Ocarina - Clay Musical InstrumentDeb and I have both laughed at the influence that “Davey Jones” from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest may have had on this particular piece.  I had mentioned something about the remarkable make-up job and the animation of Davey’s tentacles while watching the movie just recently.  I can accept that there may have been a seed planted, but I’d really like to think that this particular clay musical instrument, an ocarina, is an exploration of sculpture.

So many traditional brass instruments are remarkable works of functional, sculptural art and for the most part are admired only as a delivery system for music, and not as works of art that stand on their own merit.  Flutes and tone sculptures from numerous ancient civilizations are highly decorated, well formed works of art that are celebrated in museums across the globe.  Somewhere along the industrial revolution time line, we lost the celebration of the artist-craftsman-instrument-maker and the products of their hands. This Oca-regal is simply an effort to add attention to the sculptural qualities of a simple, ceramic flute.  This is a variation on a theme from my previous projects, but I am thinking this direction may have some merit for instruments that are intentionally made to be displayed rather than locked up in an instrument case.

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Clay Students Raising Money


I think it is a pretty cool idea when clay artists band together to raise funds in a learning community context. Matt Chenoweth posted a story recently about the 1st Annual Ceramics Guild ChiliFest where several Indiana State University clay artists contributed bowls and a cooperating restaurant furnished the chili. Customers pay a little more than they are accustomed for chili but walk away smiling because they also hold a unique, hand crafted bowl that probably would have cost them more if they had discovered it at a craft fair. The student organization walks away with much needed funds for their project, and the restaurant is generally thrilled to have offered their customers something beyond the day-to-day menu without a large capital outlay. Happy customers, happy restaurant, happy students…as I said at the beginning, pretty cool idea! The old learning community guy in me would tell you that the common focus of the student group to raise project money by exercising a reflective, skill process (from mud to a finished, sold product) is a pattern that will be life-long, valuable memory.

I’m not completely certain where the bowl-a-thon fund raising concept originated, but credit to Empty Bowls is a must mention. Salute to all!

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From Mud to Music


From Mud to Music by Barry HallBarry Hall’s book, From Mud to Music, was given to me as a birthday present just about three years ago. After three years, I still refer to the book for information and inspiration. Last year I reviewed the book for and stand by my recommendation and commentary.  I am also thinking that there is something more that is worthy of exploration…

I would like to believe that there are many others who can describe their personal musical journeys as something that began in elementary school and progressed in some manner as an instrumentalist in high school or college and/or beyond.  Living in a home with a musical genius father, I was fortunate to be exposed to all sorts of instruments and the constant repairs and constructions that go into keeping a band/orchestra functioning.  I have my doubts that many students appreciate the history of their instruments, much less the skills involved in transforming raw materials into something that allows musicians to play together collectively/harmoniously.

Enter the book, from Mud to Music. Even if it is on a primitive scale, exposing a student to the complete process of taking a lump of clay and transforming it into a playable instrument is something that I believe would be fascinating and self-gratifying.  After reading of historical instrument constructions that are thousands of years old, I found it humbling to think that less technical/advanced/pre-industrial revolution artists worked with very similar raw materials to those available today and successfully constructed playable devices…artistic works  that actually play, beautifully. Amazing.  I have asked myself several times, “What would a semester-long course look like that engages students in a cross-curricula study of  ancient ceramic instrument history, clay instrument construction, musical composition, and perhaps musical performance?”   With complete respect for Mr. Hall’s book, the working title for my concept/course is From Clay to Concert…part historical research, part clay construction/experimentation, part musical composition, and part performance.  I may just be spit valve full, but with the right students this could be an awesome class.  If  this is ever going to materialize, it is time for Mud to Music inspiration to move from paper to proposal.

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Art Show Show Thoughts


I will be showing ceramic musical instruments in a public show next February and March and that is pretty exciting. Other than a few craft shows and private sales, this really qualifies as my first exhibit…and that makes me a little nervous.  There are several pieces that are show ready now, but I’d like to do something that specifically addresses the theme: Invention and Creativity.

Conceptually, here is where I’m going: Imagine a small ensemble, perhaps 3 or 4 musicians playing  what appears to be a family of instruments…and not necessarily the traditional families of woodwinds, brass, percussion, etc. The ‘family’ simply looks like they need to be played as an ensemble.  The key instrument would be an ocarina and key, in this definition, means that the ocarina would be the determining factor as to what musical key the ensemble plays. The second instrument would be a lamellophone, constructed from mixed media (clay and steel), and tunable to the fixed key of the ocarina. The remaining instruments would be more traditional, but whimsically formed, percussion instruments…probably drums and rattles, all constructed from clay. OK, so now the foundation for a display is set. What would make this more creative and inventive, but an original composition?

So here is the plan: design the instruments (probably a few variations of each), construct and fire the ceramics involved, complete the assemblies with whatever media is needed, determine the range of sounds (essentially the musical palette), compose some music to match the limits of the instruments, record music, master the music for a digital playback device, procure or build a display system that includes playback capabilities…and then wonder, sleeplessly for night-on-end before the show, if anyone would have a clue as to what was involved in the process I just described?  Ha!

The answers matter little at this point.  I have just enough time to pull this off and make a decision as to whether this would make the show or not… I just think it would be sufficiently unique, that it would bring smiles to faces and an element of fun for the Invention and Creativity theme. The pressure is off as long as I keep this a secret, right?   Oh. Wait!

Inspiration and image by Barry Hall and Burnt Earth Ensembles Terra Cotta album.

Sketchbook…Don’t let the paper get in the way


Those of you who know me understand that just about any scrap of paper that happens to be laying  around is subject to becoming a canvas for some sort of sketch.  I find sketches everywhere…particularly in margins of notes from meetings that I attend (no offense to those who are running meetings, but I don’t take that many notes, it just appears that way).  For the next few months, however, all that sketching energy is focused on just two sketchbooks, one for The Sketchbook Project and one for my clay class.  There are some differences that I am discovering.

Clay Class SketchbookMy clay class sketchbook is filling up with project ideas faster than I can wedge clay to even get started.  They may be some of my best technical sketches…often looking like details from a set of architectural drawings (imagine that).  I have to show great restraint from tackling a project from my sketches because most have little application to the pieces required to satisfy the syllabus. I also know that only one other person must view this sketchbook and that the instructor’s view is more of a formality than a critical view of the contents.  Still, this one is filling up and energizing the suppressed, wheel-addicted potter within…and new projects are emerging from the clay in spite of the syllabus.

On the other hand, The Sketchbook Project seems to be stalled in concerns over the very paper that is bound between its Moleskin covers.  The paper provided does not play nice with watercolor or ink wash and I haven’t forced myself to replace it with something that will.  Now remember, that ANY paper laying around has been sufficient in the past…and now this odd circumstance (my stubbornness to use watercolor pencil)  is producing a backlog of sketches relegated to tracing paper, begging for a place to land.  But here is the kicker…this project will be viewed by the general public on a nationwide tour and I think that actually scares me a little.  My original objective for participating in The Sketchbook Project was to use the visual stimuli to overcome inertia from novel writing.  Now, the inertia of novel writing collides with the inertia of a silly paper quality conundrum, that is stalled due to some irrational fear that someone might actually see that drawings that are intended to release creative energy…whoa boy, is that ever messed up!

I recommend the sketchbook process to anyone who works through creative processes that are heavy on the visual and analytical. There are personal reflection qualities in the process that would make Peter Senge proud…my thoughts above, for instance.  Whatever delivery system you choose, however, just don’t let the paper get in the way.

To ‘Turn’ or to ‘Throw’


The choice of terms for potters is probably just semantics.  Whether a pot is thrown or turned implies a mechanical pottery wheel of some description either way.  What appears to be a trend is that crafts people tend to throw pots and artists prefer to turn clay.  There may be something in the marketing world that subliminally tells us that turned ceramics are somehow more valuable than thrown ceramics.

The expression, wheel thrown,  makes a lot of sense to me considering the mechanics of the device and the physics (centrifugal force) of the clay spinning on the wheel head.  On the other hand, turned pieces bring images of a craftsman working at a lathe…where pieces seem to emerge from within a solid block of wood. There are some economics to the word turned that I like as well.  Calling something ‘wheel turned’ seems redundant…and turned could easily concatenate what happens on the pottery wheel with what often happens on a banding wheel during construction and decoration.

Six Inch Tall MugsTo fan the flames of the artist-craftsman feud, perhaps turned requires verbalization with the head kicked back slightly, the nose pointed skyward, and the word sung as if it is a very long, one syllable word.

All that being said, I’m turning mugs this week.  For the most part they will become test pieces for glaze experiments and exercises to help me improve my throwing skills.