Once again one of my lovely customers asked for a special sculpture. Debbie asked if I could create a fish sculpture based on a fish teapot that I created. The fish teapot is a goldfish. Here's a photo.
Anyway, the new sculpture would be smaller and made using polymer clay vs stoneware clay. The polymer "took me to school" through this project. One thing - for a tail like the veil tail on this goldfish extra interior support is required. I learned that wire mesh must be sandwiched between two sheets of polymer to provide extra strength and prevent cracking and breakage. I also learned that for a tall dorsal fin such as the one on this teapot, I needed to also reinforce the dorsal fin for the polymer sculpture. To provide the necessary support, I also created a sandwich with wire mesh as well as armature wires that were embedded in the fish body. The same sort of support mechanisms applied to the other fins where I used armature wires for the pectoral as well as pelvic fins and then wrapped the wires with aluminum foil.
Below is a picture of the fish finished with all of her bakes. Fully cured and ready for painting.
None of these steps were necessary when constructing the stoneware teapot. I was able to whip through the construction using slip and score techniques to join pieces parts with supports while the teapot dried prior to firing. No special considerations needed to be made as the stoneware teapot fired in the kiln.
The tricky part about working with polymer is as it cures (bakes) before it hardens, it softens. Not only softens but can move, shift and break. Because I put my sculpts through a number of bake sessions, it goes into the oven hard and during the bake it will soften as it heats and then hardens as the sculpture cools. I try to make every effort to add support for pieces that might shift or droop but sometimes the weight of the piece can move the support, as I found out the hard way. I use cured clay as supports as well as a bed of baking soda. I even tried cut up pieces of egg-crate mattress foam.
Here's a photo of the finished goldfish that I sent to Debbie. She asked that I glue the wires and leave them without beads. Debbie is a lamp work bead artist and plans on adding her own personal touch with her wonderful beads. Of course this fish also has eyelashes and pierced pectoral fins so that Debbie can add earrings.
So, through all of this you might wonder why I don't just jump back to ceramic full time. Believe me I've asked myself the same question. I realize that as I age so does my body and the ability to tackle the arduous activities of being a potter and ceramic artist. My stoneware is packaged in boxes of 2 - 25 lb bags of clay, that's a 50 lb box. The art of throwing on the potters wheel is an exercise in pushing, pulling and leverage. It's hard on the back. And with a garage-studio, working in the heat of the summer can make the process very rough. I call it flop-sweats and resolve myself to the fact that I just have to make the best of it and work as fast as I can. Polymer on the other hand is working with 1 lb packs of clay. My clay conditioner is a wonderful machine made by Lucy Clay and is easy to operate and run the clay through the necessary kneading and manipulating so that it's a workable consistency. I'm able to work in the comfort of my in-house studio at a comfortable temperature. I don't have the same strenuous tasks that I have with stoneware clay. Am I getting soft in my old(er) age? I don't think so. I think I'm being kind to my body that's worked with ceramic clay for (OMG) 47 years. I've been playing double duty over the past few years getting to know polymer but I'm getting very close to the day when I close down my ceramic studio and concentrate full time on the polymer sculpts. Yes, I just said that!