Saturday, January 16, 2016

Up Against The Wall: Part Two


All right, I've gotten to work on the new tile backsplash.  In fact, I've been working on it for a year and a half. The design is way more involved than the last one was, thirty years ago. That's not surprising. I drink less now--that being the only direction my beer consumption could have gone--and I'm not as inclined to half-ass my projects. In fact, I'm tinkering with it even to the extent of painting individual fir needles. I'm tidying up the intersections of colors with an Exact-O knife. In fact, I have, with maturity, become a complete fussypants.

And there's no guarantee that's going to do me any good.

Because here's the thing. After I sent the first backsplash to the kiln, all ten-plus square feet of it, and it came out as well as could be expected, I started painting tiles as Christmas presents. Little things, like trivets. And about half the time they came out just fine, and half the time they Most Certainly Did Not. They came out of the kiln all runny and blurry, like over-nuked leftovers. I'd paint a flicker and it would come out brilliant with all the feather edgings intact, a constellation of spots perfectly arrayed on the belly. Then I'd take the same amount of time and trouble on another tile, and it would come out of the kiln looking like frat barf on Taco Night.

There was no predicting it. In a disturbing parallel to the current state of my cognitive abilities,  the result could be precise and orderly, or it could be all over the place. I asked the kiln owners if they had any insight into this. Not one did. "That's the beauty of ceramics," they'd tell me through rumpled grins, shrugging in their muddy smocks. "You're playing with fire. You never really know what you're going to get!" Ha ha!

Bite me.

And this is the real reason I never finished the backsplash project, thirty years ago. I was terrified at the prospect of spending literally thousands of hours hunched over in my studio, inches from my work, with my glasses off, with Exact-O knife and tiny brush, like some medieval monk, and have the whole thing go straight to hell in a few hours in a kiln. And no one can promise me it won't.

Picture Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. He's been on his scaffold for four years with his head cranked back so far it might snap off at any time, and once he got around to creating God, there He was hanging right over him unnervingly for the whole rest of the project, and poor Mich had to paint chubby little babies over and over again just to get over the willies, and finally he eases off of the scaffolding and stands under his work and he's disoriented and miserable but there's this big ceremony and somebody hands him a bottle and tells him to go ahead and whack a pillar with it, and he doesn't know if it's a bottle of Champagne or a Molotov cocktail because he still doesn't have his neck working properly yet, but everyone's smiling and clapping and he just has to give it a whirl.

So I'm ready to pack my eighty tiles off to the kiln, and I don't know what's going to happen. It could be grand, or it could blow up. Either way, there's going to be a bottle involved.

40 comments:

  1. If that last photo is it, you have 80% gorgeous work. Why don't you just put 6-8 in the kiln at a time? That way you would not be so discouraged when a small batch fails. I do not understand how this happens, but I have never worked on ceramics. It seems odd that it cannot be better controlled.

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    1. Something about providing the same conditions throughout? I made a point of "owning" the whole kiln. If it had all gone to hell, I wonder if I would have tried all over again? Hmm.

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  2. Oops. It looked at first to me that the bottom part was not done. But I think I see now, that it is sand...so you are 100% beautiful.

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    1. I've got my problems with the design, which I sort of made up as I went along, but the firing went great!

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  3. I am just gobsmacked by how wonderful this is! Please provide more close-ups of the finished tiles.
    Your biggest fan (though I may lose weight soon).

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  4. I will open the first bottle today in your honor, Murr, if for no other reason than your effort. Success is up to the gods. And the whims of the kiln.

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    1. I don't think it takes too much for you to pop open a bottle, Jono!

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    2. You're right, but this is a special occasion.

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  5. That is a real piece of art. It scares me that humpty hump years from now, some a-hole will buy your house and may decide to cover it with calk board.
    BTW, superb use of the expression "Bite me!"

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    1. Glad you like "Bite me." I had something else in there at first and then decided to go for a little decorum.

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  6. Beautiful, Murr. Tater thinks so, too - look at his (her?) interest in that bird!

    Do you paint anything other than tiles? I would love to see it if you do. There seems no end to your talents - writing, painting, quilting, music ...

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    1. You definitely do not want to see me dance.

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  7. I had a brief affair with clay-and-fire once...I realised, long before I got as far as tiling a kitchen, that it was not "my" medium. But damn! you done good.

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    1. I just got store-bought tiles and glazed them. I didn't make the tiles themselves. I don't think it's my medium either. But! The wall behind the kitchen sink is all buttoned up now.

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  8. What can I say but wow. You talent hog.

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    1. We'll have to have Dave weigh in on that--he waited 32 years.

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  10. I'm in awe of your beautiful work. And optimism.

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    1. I was only just optimistic enough to see me through it. You don't want to COUNT on it because if they #*$$ up you don't want to have to kill yourself.

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  11. I thought you were only doing a small splashback just above the sink, now I see the whole thing, it's even better than I imagined. Well done. A five star job for sure.

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    1. After a while, it's like, where do you stop? Obviously, the ceiling!

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  12. Murre that is absolutely incredible. Like one of your quilt hangings, in ceramic and glassy glaze. I am in awe, and I owe Dave a thank you for whining you into it. I know someone who plays piano like a demon, makes quilts, can paint and glaze tiles, and install said tiles, can write like nobody's business, is hilariously funny, and sticks with shizz until it's DONE. That's you, and you are a gift. xoxoxo j.

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    1. When you finally come visit (when is that BTW?) you'll notice the special bit. It's visible in the last picture...but I know you'll notice it on your own.

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  13. Wowser! Absolutely beautiful! Really nice! I assume you're planning on staying in this house until you die.

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    1. Oh yes. We moved in in 1978 and nothing we've done has been done with an eye to resale. We're going out feet first.

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  14. Beautiful work! You are multi-talented, for sure.

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  15. Per your comment to amarkonmywall - we moved in in 1979 and ditto your comment! Plus, as far as messing up your tiles - I took a class in pottery/ceramics a few years ago. Apparently I'm able to coil and roll out/cut out (whatever that is called) but trying to make an actual pot is beyond my expertise. The class pounded and banged and threw stuff on the wheel - and some if it got thrown back. Finally I had something that sort of looked like it could be a pot in a future world, but hey, I was proud of it. All class work was put into the kiln. The next week our teacher said there had been a kiln disaster. Uh oh. Without another thought my hand shot up and I asked "was it mine?". (You can guess the answer.) I began seeing $$$ cascading through my vision. Fortunately, even tho my little pot exploded in the kiln, no other pots were harmed, nor was the kiln. (This class was at the local Catholic girls school, taught by a nun, so I'm guessing a small miracle had occurred.) For the rest of the class I rolled out my clay and cut it out - and had star ornaments and a chicken plaque to show for my efforts. For safety sake I have not taken any more classes. So I commend you on your amazing back splash.
    Also, tell Dave he's not the only one to have to wait on home improvements to be completed. We added on in about 1988 and the bathroom was completed except for a light fixture - just a bare bulb, to be replaced with a real fixture, per my husband, "as soon as I get around to it". Kids are grown, out of the house and guess what - I'm still waiting for him to "get around to it".
    As always, love your humor!

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    1. I think we still have switch plates missing here and there. After a while you just don't see it. At least I didn't have to roll out my tiles. I just bought 'em all unglazed.

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  16. Bravo and Huzzah!! And Fussypants Unite!! Your tile composition is so very beautiful. Having been a ceramicist once, I know the joys/terrors of waiting for the kiln to open... probably why I switched to metals & jewelry. A little better for control freaks like myself, although still not without the requirement of proper obeisance and sacrifice to the soldering gods. Job well done, ma'am.

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    1. Oh yes. I did some jewelry fabrication for a couple years. I assure you it can be splendidly messed-up, also. But I will say that colored-pencil is my favorite painting medium, because I'm a control freak.

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  17. Nice...I like the fanciful rendition of Haystack Rock to the right, is that Hood on the left?
    I'm going to be in Portland in a few weeks, got any restaurant recommendations? Seafood....but anything really good.

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    1. Yes sir on both counts (Mt. Hood from the Elk Cove angle). And you can't walk down the street here without tripping over great restaurants. By seafood, you DO mean sweetbreads, pork belly, foie gras and duck eggs, don't you? We love Ox.

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  18. Wow - I am seriously impressed! This is magical. I did ceramics once when I was young ...just once...and got a similar comment from my teacher - I wish I would have had the nerve then to say "bite me"!

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    1. "Bite me" comes really easily to the very young and very old.

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