Monday, July 26, 2010

Imogene Paper Puppet on Etsy

As promised, here are the new images of Imogene's sample paper puppet, available on my Etsy shop and featured (for the remainder of today) on the Etsy Storque Main Showcase:

Maybe it's' just an engineering thing, but this paper puppet has taken me almost TWO WEEKS to complete!! I had to reconfigure her arms and legs from multiple shots, and i had to Photoshop her footbinding ribbons so they looked like ribbons, and yet possess a graphic interest, two-dimensionally. This proved trickier than i expected. But her she is. I hope all you Etsy fans who "hearted' her will try putting one together for yourself!! An exercise in doting for the intrepid soul, to be sure.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Paper Ephemera on Doters' Etsy shop

Well, it's taken me over a week, but i've created the first of a new series of digital printable downloads for my Etsy shop: the inaugural piece, inspired by all the interest in Imogene and the Golden Lotus Puppet Show, is a paper puppet of Imogene and all her shoes and puppets. Shown here are some details of the downloadable files. Please go to my Etsy shop to order.

More paper puppets based on
my anthropomorphic figures are forthcoming, now that i've figured out a system for breaking down the images into parts. Next on the paper puppet stage will be several Humpty Dumpties and a full theatre of my avatar, Virginia Wool!! If there's something specific you'd like to purchase as a paper puppet/theatre, please drop me a message, Etsy convo, or Alchemy request!!
Each digital file is 300dpi, and prints out on full 8.5"x 11" sheets, and can be resized for smaller projects. Check back soon for an image of the assembled puppet and --with any luck-- a video of her in action!!
For those who want finished puppets, check back soon; i'll be featuring a limited edition of hand-colored lithographic 'tunnel book' cards of Imogene as well.
Thanks again to Michelle Traub, on the Etsy Admin Team for featuring Imogene and the Golden Lotus Puppet Show on her "Keeping It Weird" blog on Etsy.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Outting Me Weird on Etsy

For the record, it doesn't weird me out at all. In fact, all i can say is, it's about #*$! time.

Just checked the Etsy before bed, to discover one of my pieces, "Imogene and the Golden Lotus Puppet Show" was featured on Etsy's "Keep It Weird" Blog. How awesome is that?! I mean, i've known my work was weird my whole life. But to have it acknowledged with such eloquence by a blogger on the Etsy Admin Team ten days into my tenure there is just delicious. Plus, today is my Mom's birthday! So, all together now:
"Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday Dear WeirdoDotersMom,
Happy Birthday to YOU!!!!" (Love you Mom!!)

A little bit about Imogene, since she's just made the Weirdness Shortlist (and up to now, i'd kept the weirder aspects of her nature under my hat). Certain of my anthropomorphic figures seem to channel specific energies, and like any weird artist, when that happens, i just have to go with it. Imogene is such a character. She's a Sino-American-feminist-martriarch-chimpanzee who decided to repurpose her footbinding slippers before imposing their energy on subsequent generations--as puppets. She's the ultimate "doter." Don't ask me where these things come from, i don't know. But they take on a life of their own, and Imogene was no exception. Her namesake, Imogene Coca, was one of my favorite comediennes: something about the elastic expressiveness of her face and the way she used it to make subtle statements about the human condition made me want to laugh and cry simultaneously. When i finished the facial features of the chimp, not yet knowing exactly what her character would be, i thought, "Hm. Looks a bit like Imogene Coca," --who was still alive at the time. It just happened. I swear. Not premeditated. These things never are. And i mean no disrespect to the late Ms. Coca, whom i find beautiful. I'm an anthropomorphic sculptor and a storyteller. I've done self-portraits as dog, pig, fish, sheep, and mule. I love animals; as they are in reality and as metaphors for aspects of our spiritual and natural mysteries as fellow earthlings. I hope Ms. Coca's spirit would ultimately be honored by the reference... and i'll tell you why.

I happened to be reading something about traditional footbinding slippers somewhere at the time; i remember seeing some naƬve posting on eBay: someone had these ornate footbinding slippers up for auction advertised as antique baby booties. The irony of such a perception was too poignant to disregard. Since i had 'chimp' on the brain and was even then trolling through my cultural lexicon trying to imagine how to costume a chimp for maximum effect, the footbinding slippers just hit me, because chimps, of course, have opposable thumbs on their feet. Who better to exemplify the dramatic hyperbole of a foot deprived of its primary function by the very embellishment which adorns it and elevates it to a fetish? As is usually the case with my more demanding sculptures, the matter had decided itself and we were off and running, so to speak.

But i was a little confused by the Imogene Coca riff in this project. Why her, with this?
Footbinding is hardly comedy. Why her now? So i started looking up old skits she did on "Your Show of Shows" with Sid Caesar, and found the one where she plays the photographer's wife, and he poses her for various shots and she freezes in whatever position he poses her, to express his vision. He keeps making adjustments to finer and finer details, until he's posing the very muscles of her face, which Ms. Coca inimitably and dutifully 'holds,' immobilized by his agenda.
Somehow that skit, from the 1950's --the same decade in which footbinding was declared illegal in China--brought home a connection that i could no longer question. A few days after my little Imogene came intact out of the kiln ready to wax and costume, the real Imogene passed away. Story of my creative life: a private, karmic 'baton' gets passed to me on a level too weird to be believed and too convoluted to explain without sounding... well... really weird. But there it is, consistently undeniable.

Ten months of researching and sewing, embroidering, and doting. My weird little Imogene crept pedantically into my world with no commissioner (lucratively speaking) and no real prospects. Too doll-like to be really conceptual, too laden with statement to just be a pretty little dolly-doll, with her scary puppets and her unflinching revolutionary earnestness. By the time she found her way into a gallery in SoHo (where she was priced at $11,000 by the gallery owner, a number calculated from the $4,500 i told him i needed for my end of the work) we were living in a post-9/11 world, and the collector market that i'd just been orbiting into suddenly seemed to dry up. She sat there in a glass case for two years, until i came and took her home, seven years ago. Even now, she waits in veils of tissue, to tell her puppet stories to someone.
--Brand-new and yet on her way to becoming

But the final karmic nod that i must be patient with this strange gift i have for channelling rogue energy came when i stopped in Chinatown on my way home after picking her up.
The fortune in my cookie, which i later tucked inside Imogene's cap, admonishing:
"(S)he who hurries cannot walk with dignity."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Wedging Clay and Throwing a Slab

At right is a diagram of how i 'throw a slab.' It's similar to wedging the air out of a body of clay, and creates a large smooth slab without the use of any mechanical equipment. For this process, you will need to wedge or throw your clay on a wooden board (appx. 18"x 24")upon which you've stretched some unprimed, raw canvas. If you attempt to do this on a slick surface, the clay will simply stick like pie dough on an unfloured surface and you'll have to scrape it up and start again. Starting with a cube of clay (no more than a pound or two), simply lift it up with one hand to about 12" to 15" above the surface of the board, and throw it straight down, turning each lift so that it maintains a cube shape, to be sure any air bubbles have been driven out. Once you're confident that the clay is sufficiently de-aired, then continue to lift and throw it down, but confine your 'turns' to two sides, and throw the clay down at a slight angle, so that it begins to spread out like a pancake. Don't try to do it too fast or the clay will tear or crack. Every time you pick up the slab to flip it over, grab an adjacent edge, so that the clay is driven out evenly from the cube's original center. It's a lot simpler a motion than i can draw in a single diagram, and it takes practice to get the feel of what's going on. I will try to make a demo video for a later post. Please don't hesitate to email me with any questions or suggestions if this seems unclear. --A footnote: i work with slab-built cones because i HATE to hollow out a solid sculpture, and if you fire a solid chunk of ceramic clay any thicker than about 1" or 2" it's highly likely your piece will explode from the expansion of chemical water trapped in the greenware that turns to steam in the high temperatures of a kiln. Building with slabs is a bit different, but well worth the practice, so Good Luck!!

Next post will document a rabbit head from slab-built cone to finished bust.

My Process: Ceramic Clays, Stains & Tools

Note: if you've never worked with high-fire clays before, i recommend you look up a local ceramic supply store or school that offers classes in your area; this little tutorial is only meant for people interested in how my figures are made, and for those with some experience with ceramic sculpture and firing processes. If you're under 18 years of age and you're reading this, please talk to your parent or guardian before attempting to fire a kiln.
Any kind of ceramic clays will work; i prefer mid- to high-fire ranges (cone 05 to cone 6). My favorite source in TN is Midsouth Ceramic Supply, located in Nashville. My favorite source in NYC is New York Central Art Supply, in Manhattan (their range of ceramic clays is somewhat limited but they get extra points for comprehensiveness: their second floor full of exotic papers is my idea of heaven, but i digress). Shown here is a buff colored high-fire stoneware, at what i consider an ideal working state: in a room that's 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and 72% humidity. The drier and hotter the room is, the faster your clay dries out. The cooler and damper the room, the longer your clay's 'open time,' or time you can work it.
Shown here are an array of my favorite tools (from left to right): two small wooden knives (the first one i've had since i was about ten years old; you can see where i've had to whittle it sharp again), a red-handled stylus from the days when graphic design involved using sheets of transfer type; an empty mechanical pencil used to impress tiny circles, usually for the pupils of my Humpty Dumpties' eyes; two salvaged dental tools (get friendly with your dentist!); a standard ceramic 'scoring' needle used to 'score and slip' two pieces together; a handmade scoop utilizing a paper clip and a straight pin at opposite ends; a bamboo calligraphy pen; and a spare red-handled pattern-transfer wheel from my sewing basket, so the red-handled stylus wouldn't feel lonely.
Pure pigment, high-fire ceramic stains are expensive, but a little goes a long way. I'm still using the first tiny bags and jars that i bought 20 years ago for the most part: I keep a palette of dry stains in an old "Jelly Bellies" assortment box for easy access, and dry mix them as needed (except for copper carbonate, cobalt carbonate, and rutile, which alter chemically when mixed with other colors; everything else is pretty much 'what you see is what you get.' Pinks fade a bit with no overglaze while yellows and blues can deepen in high-fire, depending on what they're on or under, clay- and glaze-wise.
You can also buy pan sets of underglazes, which are mostly just ceramic stains suspended in gum arabic so they stay put on the greenware. Mine have been emptied and refilled with ceramic stains and filtered water so many times i've lost count. These basic eight colors here cover just about all my organic mammal needs, color-wise. Old pudding cups, sour cream containers, and baby food jars pinch-hit as pans for alternate colors. An assortment of decent brushes help with mixing and application, and a small pot of 'slip' (slurry of water plus whatever clay i'm sculpting with, if it's white) helps when i'm creating lighter tints of some colors.
Chunks of clay are sliced using a length of florist's wire anchored to a table-clamp (i think this one's actually a lamp-base, but whatever you have handy works). It helps to keep them an even thickness, but if you're a bit wobbly like i was here, no worries. You can even it out in a couple of different ways. Slices for a bust or cone that's about 5" high needs to start off about 3/4"to 1/2" thick (1 cm).
While the clay is still quite moist, you'll need to thin it down by about half, either by wedging it thin on a canvas-covered board (see diagram in the next post), or if they're relatively small, you can just hand-pinch them down. As with wedging, compressing the clay strengthens it, & drives out any air bubbles. Most clay that you can buy in stores has been run through a pug mill to de-air it, but when you're working on something that's going to take weeks or months to finish, you can't be too careful: one little air bubble in a piece and it'll explode in the kiln.
Once the slices have been pinched or wedged into slabs, i tear them into triangles, curling each triangle into a cone. For a narrow cone, i let the corner opposite the longest side be the point of the cone. For a medium-width cone, i pinch a fold into the middle of the longest side, and let that be the point of the cone. For a wide, saucer-like cone, i tear the slab into a circle and cut out a tiny wedge-shaped slice (like removing a skinny slice from a pizza, and the center of the circle becomes the point of the cone). I then 'score-and-slip' the two edges of the cone together.
Shown here are a few rough cones, before any refining was done.
None of these cones is more than four inches (10 cm) from base to tip. If you wanted to work bigger than this, i recommend thinning your slices by throwing them out on a wedging board, rather than pinching. (See next post). These cones became the busts of the various animals in the photos below. The narrowest cones became birds, some fish, and some mammals (such as a borzoi hound's head, and a deer's head). The medium-width cones became various mammal's heads for the most part (rabbits, some dogs, and a pony), while the wide, shallow cones became the faces of stouter faces, such as bears, owls, and cats.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Welcome to "dotersdoting," the blog for my Etsy shop: ! Here i will offer background information on all my work: details on process for my one-of-a-kind anthropomorphic sculpture and handbound artist's books, previews of works-in-progress, and the occasional 'how-to.'

Thanks for dropping by!! --connie