A BIG Project

Posted by on May 16, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on A BIG Project

I’m an artist-in-the-schools and have been fortunate enough to be hired by two schools very recently. When a school contacts me, through the annual Cultural Arts Festival in Wake County, NC, for example, I meet with the cultural arts representative and as many other people involved–art and classroom teachers, to hear their wishes. As a former biologist/anthropologist, I like to integrate our clay workshops and residencies with classroom studies, if possible or desired. We made animals and coral reefs at one school– more on that soon.
At another school, three classes of third graders are studying flowers and pollination. The idea was a legacy project (a gift from a grade level that stays with the school). We also wanted to include students from three Special Programs classes, grades pre-K through 5. So the project had to be BIG.
An image came to mind immediately, but I still spent some time researching. For example, bees were to be involved. So I looked up the preferred flowers of bees. In class, we discussed the symbiotic relationship between bees and flowers. What bees like and why–one thing is easy access–the bee has to be able to get in and out of the flower without too much trouble. (My favorite anomaly is the snap dragon, where the bee’s heavy body opens the lower lip of the flower so the insect doesn’t get stuck.)
I came up with sunflowers–they have large faces and lots of parts so each student would have plenty to do. As a bonus, the tall straight stem of the sunflower means we could represent it well as a totem.

Since I like to mull (neurose?) over things, my “well-planned” project evolved as we went along. Hey, as I age and (hopefully) gain wisdom, I am learning to keep my options open. This is art, after all!
Halfway into the project we gave the students the option of giving the flowers human faces. They loved the idea. This necessitated ordering more glazes and, as long as I was doing that, brought up the idea of glazing the flowers colors other than shades of yellow.
Looking at colors available commercially, I made a few suggestions. Then Miss Ruby, the wonderful lady who helps out at the school, was my right hand woman and is now a certified clay artist herself, brought in a greeting card with images in those very colors. That closed the deal.
But I get ahead of myself. Once we got all of the parts made and semi-assembled, I brought almost everything back to my studio. Students made a lot of extra parts, including petals and bees, so I’d have options when I got everything to the studio.
It took two van loads! Needless to say, every horizontal space in my studio was crammed–including tables, the slab roller and the space under the tables.
Right now, everything is assembled, I have a few cleared out spaces in my studio, and flower parts are drying in preparation for the kiln. Here are some photos:

One of three big, happy flowers, adorned with friendly bees. Third grade students made the petals, face parts and bees. They also added texture. I tried to share the wealth of work among as many students as possible–one student made an upper eyelid, another a lower, one a left nostril, another a right–you get the idea. They got a pretty advanced lesson in sculpting a portrait!
Special Programs students made any lady bugs you see on the flower faces and stems (see next post). I rolled out the slab for the face and put the pieces together.

Another big flower. Pretty cool, huh? I’ll have to go back and measure them, but off the top of my head, they are probably 15-18 inches in diameter.
Once they were firm enough to handle, I flipped them over and added a hollow clay tube and internal supports. The hollow clay pipe will house a metal pole when the flowers are installed. The flowers had to dry a bit more inside, then I scored and added slip to areas to which the back would be attached:
This process involved keeping some parts wet by spraying and covering them, while letting other parts dry out. Timing is everything!
Below is the back of a flower, documenting the class, date, and names of the artists. I also added the names of the teachers of the Special Programs classes. I plan to write something up with the names of all of the students and adults involved, for the school’s use. There just wasn’t enough room on the back of the flowers for all of the names!
Wet paper towels around the flower back are keeping the backs of the petals from drying out too fast. The hole in the back of the flower will allow us to secure the flower head to internal metal supports.
Once this side firmed up a bit, I flipped the flower back so it was face up, touched up things and added the rest of the petals.
To be continued…..

A BIG Project

Posted by on May 16, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on A BIG Project

I’m an artist-in-the-schools and have been fortunate enough to be hired by two schools very recently. At one shcool, we made animals and coral reefs. More n that soon. At another school, third graders are studying flowers and pollination. Here are a few photos from our project.

A BIG Project

Posted by on May 16, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on A BIG Project

I’m an artist-in-the-schools and have been fortunate enough to be hired by two schoools very recently. At one shcool, we made animals and coral reefs. More n that soon. At another school, third graders are studying flowers and pollination. Here are a few photos from our project.

Time to Make the Donuts!

Posted by on Apr 8, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on Time to Make the Donuts!

I love that expression–when I feel hesitant or have a little trouble getting started, it serves as a gentle reminder to just get started and your Muse will find you.

Just found out I’m one of eight 3-D artists accepted by Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh, NC for a future exhibit. Thank you, VAE!!!

I have been working with 5th graders at a school in Raleigh lately, catching up on stuff and making some items for garden shows. I’ve got 5 more days with this school between now and the end of April. Also will be working with students at another school for 10 days in April and May, so things are hopping. Have not made as much progress on my bigger sculptures as I’d like, but I’m not complaining!!!

However, I am itching to finish the two shoulder cats–they are dry or almost dry, ready for a coat of underglaze. And to finish a third sculpture–that piece was quite daunting and has had a few surgeries. But now I am happy with it and very excited at the prospect of finishing it soon.

So no resistance, but this feedback from VAE is a reminder that it is time to make time to make the donuts–some very big donuts.

Second Guessing

Posted by on Mar 30, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on Second Guessing

Luann Udell quotes….There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. …

No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

from The Life and Work of Martha Graham

So if we going to have seconds anything, let it be:


aother ride on the merry-go-round (haven’t done that in a while –need to–it’s fun, brings back a host of childhood memories and embarrasses my husband.)

Any other sugestions?

Lurkers, feel free to e-mail me at cbiles@triad.rr.com

Irene and Sassy

Posted by on Mar 30, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on Irene and Sassy

I found this in anthter blog post and it also works here–

Andy Warhol observed, “You can never predict what little things in the way somebody looks or talks or acts will set off peculiar emotional reactions in other people.”

This piece has taken an age to create and has evolved. Like its subject, it has undrergone many surgeries.

As it has metamorphed, iwas araid I would find the subject upsetting, having recently lost a father and mother-in-law and medical tests that required follow-up or observation. (I’m a very bad patient, with a background in pathology and vivid imagination.)

As a former scientist, I spend a lot of time reseraching–srching the Internet forimages, looking at Facebook sites of Friends of Friends, and Fiending them myself. I;ve met some pretyy amazing people this way.

But it has given me peace. And joy, and inspiration.

Irene for the goddess of Serenity
Sassy–no explanation needed

Seeking the Holy Gra-yish Blue

Posted by on Mar 23, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on Seeking the Holy Gra-yish Blue

So much goes on behind the scenes.
Since I spend a lot of time sculpting a piece, I want complete control over the colors–no “glaze surprises” (there is no such thing–too many variables–application, kiln atmosphere, but we can always hope!). As a fellow clay artist said, “When you open the kiln, it’s either Christmas… or Halloween.”
Now, I am trying to be more spontaneous, and do like surprises. Even get some “happy surprises” when I open the kiln. But sometimes it’s Halloween. Happens to everyone in this business.
I also want consistency.
The answer is to use commercial underglazes, after testing them on small slabs of clay–test tiles. Since clay is made of a mixture of of products from the earth, there is some variation in the composition of different batches of clay. For example, the latest batches have talc that is very different from that of earlier batches. In fact, the wet clay is a different color and consistency. It still fires up white and so far works well with my glazes and underglazes. But I’ll be running lots of test tiles with this new clay.
And, as when you paint a small area on the wall only to discover a color looks different in context or when the whole wall is painted, so it goes with some of the underglazes. For example, people can have very bright blue eyes. BUT, when I used what I thought would be good colors for blue eyes, I got scary looking people with laser beam eyes. Yikes! They just followed you around the room. Same with skin tones–some people looked quite jaundiced.
In future work, I might want these effects, but that hasn’t been the case so far.
Also I have found that the color can change slightly if it was applied before the first firing (on greenware) vs. after (bisque) , or refired. (Some of these pieces get fired three or four times.) That’s OK for a shirt, but can be disturbing for skin tones, eye colors, and even animal coat colors. So, I have been seeking blues that have a touch of lavender or grey in them. And I keep a lot of records, including when the underglaze was applied and batch number.
After many test tiles to find good colors for skin tones, blue eyes, and cat colors, I ordered more underglazes yesterday. Unfortunately, the choices are limited. Many of the colors I worked with years ago are no longer made–companies are much more safety conscious and now (a good thing!) and some of the chemicals in glazes and underglazes were not safe. And some promising colors that I recently tested, so thought were available, were not in stock. The supplier thinks they may have recently been discontinued
Needless to say, the quest continues…

Newest work–Shoulder Cats!!!

Posted by on Mar 22, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on Newest work–Shoulder Cats!!!

Not sure where this idea came from–although my work is getting more serious, I can’t resist the temptation for a little whimsy or the unexpected. Also, we had a sweet little kitty named Puddles who, at 5 pounds, would climb up my leg, etc. and get to my shoulder. There she would ride around while I continued with daily activities.
Shoulder Cat 1 (soon to be renamed), bone dry.

Shoulder Cat 2 (also soon to be renamed), leather hard.

These have been a long time coming–so much has been going on–all good:
Applying for shows. Getting in to shows. Lots of teaching in the schools. In fact, I am just returning from the Post Office–mailed my application for teaching for two more years. That was a lot of work–included a 10 minute video of me in the classroom. Lots of editing as we recorded parts of three classes. I was glad for that–in one class, someone bumped the camera, so it was moved for much of the time. Don’t you hate when that happens???
I use a Macintosh, so got a few lessons in iMovie and iDVD to get the final version of the video. Big, steep learning curve (for me) there.
For the application, we also had to include images of our work and examples of the educational materials we would provide for workshops (one-hour visit with each class) or residencies (multiple visits with each class).
Lots of stuff. But now I’ve been doing this for a while and am pleased with my portfolio. I’ve even got a nice slide show of students’ work. But it took a while to create all this stuff in the first place. And to get it all together for things like these applications, since I like to add as much new stuff as I can each time.
Anyway, the two new scultpures are now drying. (A third–not a shoulder cat–is on the way.) You will find more more images of these Shoulder Cat pieces on my Facebook Fan Page:
then search Out of the Fire Clay Sculpture. I’ll put a link here, but the url seems to change a lot–perhaps someone can enlighten me:
As with so much of my work, a lot of research is involved. I’ve found many images on the Internet. I even check out Friends of Friends’ Facebook pages, and have written to theses folks to add to my collection of Shoulder Cat images.
And, I include this for your viewing pleasure, though I don’t think I care to make a sculpture this extensive!

Facebook Fan Page Revisited

Posted by on Mar 22, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on Facebook Fan Page Revisited

I am slowly joining getting a handle on social networking.

As I said in an earlier post, I love Facebook Fan Page–I get swept away navigating all over the place in Facebook, and Twitter is too brief for me (but give me time on that one). Have Linked-in page, but haven’t done much with that yet. Gotta spend time in the studio!
If you check out the Facebook Fan Page, you can see photos of my work in one place, rather than having to scroll around, as you do in this blog.
Anyway, since I am still not sure how to list the Fan Page address (the url seems to be different every time I check it), if you go to
and search
Out of the Fire Clay Sculpture
you will find me.
I also have a personal Facebook page–lots of posts from friends about art and animals.

Artist Statement

Posted by on Feb 22, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on Artist Statement

I keep tweaking my artist statement–always feel it’s too simplistic. Anyway, here goes with the statement for the North Carolina Artists Exhibition. Feel free to comment. Be gentle–you know how sensitive we AR-TISTES are.


My art, influenced by an educational background in biology and anthropology, reflects my interest in the interdependence between humans and other creatures with which we share the planet. Inspiration comes from a desire to understand the world from a non-human point of view. This, along with many years of experience working with animals large and small, has enabled me to interpret nuances of behavior, subtle but evident if we take time to learn these languages.

With patience and mutual trust, humans and animals can develop a bond where both parties communicate on an intuitive, or even spiritual, level. Although technology enables people (who have access) to exchange information frequently and instantly, there is still a fundamental human need for direct connection with another living creature. For many, this is provided by the companion animal who lives in the present, accepts us at face value, finds joy in simple pleasures, and offers unconditional love.

When creating a sculpture, I use coil, slab, additive and subtractive techniques. With a science background, my process is to research the subject in depth and incorporate a great deal of realism and detail. At some point my artist side reminds me to lighten up and play. This often manifests as a bit of whimsy or the unexpected—in the cases of “Caroline and Grace” and “Max and Gizmo,” the number on dogs’ tags is my name in numeric code:

2 9 12 5 19