Takin’ It Outside and On the Road

In terms of ceramic art, mine and others, I did it up royally last weekend. That means I went for maximum effort and uber-luxe spectacle by attending and participating in both the California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art AND the Santa Cruz Clay Show and Sale at Bargetto Winery.

Friday: To Davis, CA and back (2.5 hours each way) in 12 hours. The other 7 hours we were NOT in the car, we toured 45 exhibits and demos at the 22nd annual CCACA. What a whirlwind of wonderful work! I’m always dumbfounded by a few pieces and suitably inspired by a great many more. For the first time, I was kinda sad not to have the whole weekend there.

Biggest showstopper of course: Cabrillo College’s outdoor exhibit titled “Hard Times.” Described as “a social comment on the economic down-turn and a trompe l’oeil ceramic art installation.” My all-ceramic aquarium piece, which I have previously spoken of, was made for this. Here are a few shots, a street view and one from the uphill side of things.

It was almost TOO realistic!
Anything not white is ceramic!

All the “pedestals” are pieces of furniture. Everything else is a ceramic treasure. (Well, you already know the aquarium is glass…) It’s daring to take an outdoor space and fill it with such a large concept. And when the sprinklers went on Sunday morning, the aquarium even held some water.

Saturday and Sunday: My first away from my studio outdoor ceramic booth set-up and sale. I called it a Pop-uP Pottery Village. It contained a population of around 25 local ceramic artists. We were all lined up in row and around a courtyard, representing an impressive range of pottery and sculpture, featuring artists old and new to both the craft and the sale. (Me? Definitely a Newbie on all counts, really.)

I found an authentically playful way to engage my visitors and my colleagues, felt surprisingly comfortable and pleased with how it turned out. At the end of Sunday, all my business cards were gone, I added a dozen new fans to my mailing list, made respectable sales, got a couple of leads to galleries (!) and found out I must have a bigger vehicle in order to safely hold the booth, furniture, display shelves and all the carefully packed boxes of breakable work.

Here are two views of my booth set-up, front view and from behind the “counter.”

Yeah yeah, I really need some signs!
I asked my visitors if I was the appetizer or the dessert.

It was probably a good thing to be so incredibly busy because my game got really tight. Not only did I survive some completely new ventures, I was energized and encouraged by them. A few things still need to be put away, the studio needs a good clean-out, but I am happily aware of how getting out there completes the creative cycle for me. Each time round is less scary and confusing and I savor the recharged impetus to make more work. And, best of all, thankfully these two events will NOT be on the same weekend in 2012. Yes!

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How to Make Your Own Ceramic Aquarium Gravel

Bone Dry Chunks with Bowl and Sieve Labscape

Notice I only said How and not Why.


If you’re thinking of real gravel for your real aquarium, the Why becomes problematic. Why do that when it will take a full workday plus overtime to grind enough gravel to fill a ten gallon tank to two inches? Why ever do that when there are unknown toxicity issues with underglaze and oxide colorants that your prize fish may demonstrate by dying on you?

No, this gravel-making is a completely sculptural endeavor of my own device. It’s one item of many spurred by the Cabrillo College Ceramics Department’s proposed installation at the annual California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art held in Davis, CA at the end of April.

A Magic Realist Ceramic Rock Portal

We’re following up our fantabulous 2010 Cabrillo Rocks Portal installation -pictured above – with a life-sized out-on-the-lawn trompe l’oeil ceramic Yard Sale! Folks are right this minute working on fishing gear, globes, games, toys, linens, shoes, hats, bags, skateboards, dolls, a bake sale and then whatever else we can concoct between now and then.

I’m offering a used aquarium set-up: a real aquarium with clear glass, but with the frame painted white (like all our tables, shelves and props will be) and everything else in it ceramic. I plan delicious tongue-in-cheesy mermaids, sunken ships, broken Greek columns…along with faux warped and stained cardboard boxes containing the pump, heater, filter, and canisters of fish food, medicines and a net. A complete mock set-up! Just needs fish and water. $30 OBO.

Hence the gravel. It’s important to the faux-y integrity of the piece for me to make my own. But HOW???? My first approach was to bust up bisqueware with a hammer. Too hard. Too sharp. Too uncontrollably uneven. It’s much easier to chunk up potato-chip brittle bone dry clay – which is essentially “dust held together by memory” according to one wise kiln tech I have known.

I used a mortar/pestle in the clay lab, but started with the densely heavy 10kg weight as shown below.

Bonedry wares returning to Dust

Then came the pestle which got the pieces to a mix range of pure dust to pea gravel sized.

Crush Just Fine Enough, No Finer

Next, a trip through a series of fine to coarse strainers and meshes straight out of my kitchen. Put the gross chunks through a fine sieve to get rid of the dust and too-teensy bits, pour what’s left onto a pizza screen and shake. The perfect size falls through!

Fine mesh behind; Pizza screen mesh in front

Continue to crunch up the leftover big pieces, then sieve, screen and shake a few more times. Sieve the inevitable dust out of the desired gravelly size and collect in buckets until there is enough volume to acceptably fill the tank. Plan on around ten hours of this in order to have enough volume, factoring in the clay body shrinkage.

Also factor in sore shoulders, upper back and arms, temporarily-impaired hearing from hours spent in the drone of the glaze room’s exhaust fan, and the gag factor from wearing a particulate mask until the creases in your face are nearly time-worn. All pretty unavoidable.

I’m pleasantly aware that making gravel this year is an act of “decomposition” regarding last year’s rocks and am lovin’ the strange parallel.

In the next-related post on this topic: garishly coloring this gravel and making tired boxes and whatever else has come up.

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