Saturday, July 4, 2020

Monsters Under Plastic

Right, the headless, armless pumpkin guy. Left, the guy who needs arms and hands!
It's been a little difficult to adjust to having such a full schedule. I work full time, have an occasional side job doing transcription, and I have monsters to make on the weekends! (So much for anyone who says I'm lazy!) Plus, there are the glamorous tasks of poop patrol and laundry! (I still wash my sheets on Sundays and the towels on Thursdays, as I always have.) And I take over cooking duties from time to time so my dad gets a break from cooking.

Because clay needs to dry to a certain point before I can assemble it into something, that often means I have to keep the incomplete pieces covered with plastic until I can get back to them. I check them every day even though they're covered, to make sure they're not drying out because I missed covering one spot or another. 

Today, I'll get to selecting a head for one of my pumpkin people. I threw three of them before work the other morning so I could see which one looked best. I threw a set of arms, too. I hope to get the whole thing put together today, as well as putting arms and hands on the other piece.
It's great seeing how many pieces I've made! All the smiles make me happy!
I'm toying with some other ideas, of course. I wish I had time for them all! I have other, unfinished, projects I need to get back to, as well. It's been a real blessing to only be listening to my interior prodding to make new things! Some ideas work out better than others, of course, but I keep moving forward and developing more!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Little Color

I added a little color to the carved parts of the new sugar skull jack-o'-lanterns I made. The next step was to wait for everything to dry and scrape off any of the overflow so the lines could look crisp. Afterwards, I touched up the spots where the white underglaze was too thin or missing, and now these guys are drying with the rest of the jacks I've made so far.

I'm really looking forward to the studio opening so I can get everything fired, but man! I am nervous about getting them all there without breaking anything! Dry clay is so fragile, and can beak or crumble far too easily, making transport a nervous endeavor. The pumpkin people, in particular, are going to make me sweat, because their little fingers are at the biggest risk for breakage.

Crossing my fingers! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Progress and Experimentation

The Pumpkin Person on the left is intended to go into the Raku kiln.
I was busy making Hallowe'en over the weekend. Big surprise, huh? ;) But since L.A. is still mostly closed down because of the virus (and I'm having one of those moments where I need to be away from people for a little, anyway), I might as well put my time to good use!

As you saw in my last post, I've been making some pumpkin people to add to the usual collection of jack-o'-lanterns. I made a couple this weekend with the intention of putting them through the Raku treatment, to see if they'll survive the thermal shock of the process. If they do and the results are acceptable, I'll make some more! 
I'd been thinking about how to make my jacks a little more fun and had an idea in my sleep the other day to make them sugar skulls. You can see I've etched some patterns into the jack below. I laid down the first layers of white underglaze on the one above and below, and I'm going to be inlaying some color into the carving. Again, it's an experiment to see how they turn out!
And I laid some color down on this little guy, who's ready to be fired once the studio opens up again. When that's done, I'm going to be putting clear glaze over the top so it has a nice gloss.
I have to say, I like his little bat buttons!

The next step after that is the one that I like least, as an artist, which is pricing my items. Since it's more expensive for me to fire at the studio and Etsy is taking a chunk out of my bottom line for shipping and their cut, I need to look at the cost of making my creations before I put them online. Clay, glazes, propane for the Raku kiln, shipping boxes and filler, not to mention my time! It all adds up!

I'm hoping to have an open house in mid-September, since pretty much all shows have cancelled due to Covid-19, but it remains to be seen. If it's not safe, I'll just be selling online this year. C'est la vie, right?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

More Pumpkin People? Yes, Please!

I've been working on these little pumpkin people to add to my jack-o'-lantern army. I'll be playing around with designs moving forward, including glaze patterns. But these are a good start and I made them so you can drop in a candle, just like my other jacks.
Of course, I made a couple of jack-o'-lanterns, too.
They've really been talking to me this season, telling me what they want their faces to be! And I don't know why, but the one on the right reminds me a little of the Mayor of Halloween Town!
Below is one of the witch hat pumpkin people, without his hat.
And I just love this last little guy! Goofy and trying so hard to be spooky!

Have I mentioned that I can't wait for the studio to open so I can fire them?

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Army Grows

On the left side, jacks for Raku. On the right, low fire for traditional, colored glazes.
The studio is supposed to open sometime in the next month or so. I'm going to see how much I can pile into their kiln!
I love having these racks for drying! They're perfect!
Here are a few jack-o'-lanterns drying slowly in the shade before getting moved to the rack you saw pictured above. If they dry a little slower, there's less chance of cracking.
Even my dad seems impressed with how the amount of Hallowe'en things has been growing! I only wish I had more time, but that will come!

Friday, June 12, 2020

Fragments of My Father

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B089VM4R3J?pf_rd_r=DK4TDHMM7C3YTJFDSH37&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee
I'm taking a little side trip today to shamelessly plug my dad's new book about his relationship with his father, one of the premier chefs of his day: Fragments of My Father: Reflections on an Unfulfilled Relationship.

Before the great Anthony Bourdain was a twinkle in his father's eye, my grandfather, great-grandfather, and great uncle were creating culinary delights in Europe.

From the book description:
"Fragments of My Father" tells the story of the life of one of the 20th Century's foremost chefs, Charles Finance, as told by his son. Beginning his career as an apprentice cook at the age of 16, Charles soon acquired a depth of knowledge of the art of French Cuisine that he applied in many of Switzerland's most renowned hotels. His personal journal relates the many struggles of his early career, of his seasonal wanderings, his romance with his future wife, and of the behind-the-scenes life of a young cook. He soon rose in prominence in the Swiss culinary world and became professor of culinary arts at the Swiss School of Hotel Trades. While serving in the Swiss Army during World War II, he writes to his young wife of the trials of Army life. The life of a cook was always uncertain in those days, and in his letters Charles gives testimony to the difficult periods in his life when management of various establishments treated him shabbily. His dream was to come to the United Sates to make his own way. He eventually succeeds, but at the cost of his marriage. Now a top Executive Chef, he oversees kitchen operations in several major U.S. hotels and leads teams of American cooks to international competitions, where his leadership earns the Americans numerous 1st-place medals. After he retired in Ft. Worth, TX, , Charles devoted much of his time to breeding orchids and to being a judge at a variety of cooking competitions. He lived an extraordinary life during which he made extraordinary contributions to the culinary profession over the span of nearly half a century.
This is an engaging insight into another time and another country, and it's the story of how my dad's side of the family came to this country. You can get the Kindle edition here, and it's only $4.95. If you're looking for something different to read in quarantine, this might be something you'll enjoy!

My dad also wrote a book about my Grandmother, which should be coming out on Kindle in a few weeks. He's started to gather notes and photos for his own biography, too! I'm pretty proud of him!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

A Couple Of Jacks...

For me, these little guys lend a little sense of normalcy, a little sense of rhythm of the year. I was always making new critters for my shows this time of year, and even though I can't fire them right now, it's comforting to have my hands in clay and to be able to make things which I know will make others happy.
It's humbling to know that some folks will bring these guys out yearly, like they do their Christmas decorations, and like Christmas decorations, be delighted when they come out of their box.
 And maybe, just maybe, the kids will grow up with fond memories of these faces. The faces they grew up with. The faces they associate with Hallowe'en, laughter, costumes and candy.
Knowing I made someone's Halloween memorable, makes me happy. I think that we need all the "happy" we can get, these days, don't you?
Fresh on the wheel. Shaping, trimming and carving, still to go!
I'm really grateful I had the time to develop these skills. That I had teachers who nurtured my talent. No one is truly a self-made person. Someone always invests in you, first, and brings you along. I am so very lucky I've had that in my life!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Grace

Grace is now almost a year and a half old. I never cease to be astonished at how fast puppies grow!
I mean, look how tiny she was next to Sam! Now I have a seventy-five pound puppy who still has almost a year more of growing and filling out to do.

She couldn't be more different from my beloved Sam. (We all miss him dearly, still.) Where he was chill, she's over-the-top high energy. Where he deeply desired to please you, she didn't care a whole lot, although that's changing as she gets a little more mature.

Thank goodness for doggy daycare! She gets to play with other high-energy dogs and gets to do activities she doesn't have, here at the house. I always check in with the daycare lady to see what she did during the day, and I get a full report. The other day when I picked her up, I was told that Grace's first time in the pool went really well. Too well, in fact. Apparently they had a hard time getting her out of the pool!

Jeez, I miss having a lake nearby. Getting her to swim would wear off a lot of energy and is so good for her!

It's interesting to see the different things they decide to do on their own, too. She taught herself to fetch my dad's morning paper, and she mostly gives it to me instead of running out the back door with it, anymore. She's also such a good girl with her treats!
I'm very fortunate in that I was able to take both her and Sam to work every day, and now, of course, I just take her. We have a couple of other businesses in our building, and she comes out to visit the other people from time to time. 

She's a terrible bed hog, but she is a comfort to have in bed at night. I've just learned to get ahold of the sheets before she gets into bed so I actually have them covering me!

I miss Sam every day. He was truly an exceptional boy! And while Grace does have big paws to fill, I'm more able to see her for her, and not compare her so much to him. I use similar training with her, but now I'm learning to adapt them for her specific needs. Developing a relationship with her is getting to be fun, instead of a constant challenge.

I'm interested to see who she's going to be in the coming years!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Writing Through the Pain

Pic via The List Love
Horror fans will remember when we almost lost one of our icons, Stephen King.

It was June of 1999, and as King was taking a late-afternoon walk, he was hit by a Dodge van and very narrowly escaped being killed instantly. It was one of those, "Yeah, what happened was horrible, but you could have been killed instantly if not just one, but several things had happened just a hair differently!"

I'm writing about this now, because I get notifications from The New Yorker sent to my email. From time to time, they send out links to older writings, like the article King wrote, On Impact

He wrote about his experience of the accident and the grueling and soul-shaking work of learning not only to walk again, but learning to write again. Typical of his writing style, it's equal parts real-life horror and humor. I think one of the funnier observations he made was that, after Bryan Smith, the man who hit him, tells the cops that he and his dog were driving to the store for "Marzes bars." 

King says, "When I hear this detail some weeks later, it occurs to me that I have nearly been killed by a character out of one of my own novels. It’s almost funny."

You can read the article for all of the details, but what really struck me was the last paragraph, specifically, the last sentence: 
"Writing did not save my life, but it is doing what it has always done: it makes my life a brighter and more pleasant place."
I've been thinking about this for the last few days. 

In the earlier days of this blog, I wrote daily, almost. It was never the most spectacular example of prose, ever, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. It gave me a place to share cool Halloween stuff and connect with a bunch of you Halloween people (many of whom are actual, real-life friends, now). I had just moved into a new town, and I hadn't made a lot of friends, yet, so it gave me another avenue to connect. It also gave me a chance to work out my thoughts and to get some insights from those of you who wanted to chime in. 

John Wolfe (may he rest in peace), of the now-defunct Season of Shadows blog, said my posts had the feeling of catharsis. He was right. This blog is my catharsis, even though life has gotten too busy to write on it daily.

But telling your truth - telling the truth - seems to be a bit of a challenge in these ever-changing times.

Case in point: The Donald. Twitter has at last started placing fact-checks beside his tweets. And the tiny-handed man-baby is, predictably, shitting his diaper and threatening to sign Executive Orders so he can continue to lie. While this would be funny if it were a sit-com, it's frightening to see the behavior of a malignant narcissist in the person of a man who has the nuclear codes.

What does that have to do with writing? With this blog?

Well, I guess for me, it brings home the importance of telling the truth and accepting responsibility for my actions, good or bad. I'm far from perfect, and I'm not always right, but I will always tell the truth on these pages. It's so much easier than the panic of having to keep track of all the lies you've told.

Those of you who have followed me for a few years, or maybe even since my first post in 2008 will have seen a lot of life happen to me. Some good things, some great things, and some incredibly painful things. I won't say "bad" because all the things which have happened to me have made me grow. They've made me more introspective and more determined, sometimes softer and more compassionate. All of it has changed me. All of it has shown me where I need to grow - good lord has it shown me where I must grow! - even if I'm kicking, crying, and screaming as it happens. Such is life. 

Writing it out has been instrumental in my healing. In my living. In watching the old parts of me die. In the contemplation of the unknowable future. In the process of rebirth.

I'll continue to write it out. 

As with Mr. King, it makes my life a brighter and more pleasant place.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

WIP

In between studying new programs to advance into the VFX field, being absolutely stunned at my luck in being a part of a top-notch team of folks working on new technology (and knowing I will not ever be the smartest person in the room when working with them, which is humbling, but in a good way), I'm still able to take time to do what I love: make Halloween.
I haven't made little pumpkin guys for years, so after a couple of false starts, I managed to remember the technique necessary to put a few together.
The studio where I will be doing the firing is still closed, unfortunately. I mean, I get it, right? But I'm just impatient to get these guys fired so I can glaze them. I have to make enough to be able to rent the kiln from them, too, as they're a high-fire studio and these guys are all low-fire clay. 

I use earthenware for these mostly out of habit, honestly. When I had my studio and my kiln, firing at lower temperatures is easier on your kiln elements as well as your electrical bill. I also like low-fire because the colors you can use are so much brighter than you can use at a higher temperature range. Many of the minerals used to create color burn out in higher temperatures, so low-fire is a good choice. 
I'm using underglazes for my pumpkin guys for the time being. They're formulated to stay put, rather than flow, so if you paint pictures or designs, they stay exactly where you put them. I may or may not go over them with a clear glaze. I'm not sure, yet. We'll see how they look when they come out of the first firing.

Whenever that is...