Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Papier-Mache Art Bowls 6: By Request

This time out, something a little different: I was asked to make and donate a couple of papier-maché art bowls to a silent auction, as part of a fundraising event.

This was for the same cabaret fundraiser for which I also played incidental music. The silent auction was an idea added to the Cabaret during last year's event, and at that time I donated a couple of photographic prints, which went well, and raised some good money. Looking back, I've donated a lot of art to fundraising events over the years; I keep getting requests, which one may take as a compliment, since someone obviously likes the art. The fun part about silent auctions is that people get into bidding wars for the most desirable items; which can raise a lot of cash. This year I donated photographic prints again, but the organizer also discovered that I had been making papier-maché for the past few months, and asked me to make and donate a couple of art bowls, as well.

So, in a way, this was my first papier-maché commission: art bowls made by request, to be donated and sold.

I made three bowls, even though only two were requested, but they all eventually went to good homes. I usually make three bowls of size at a time, or two larger bowls; I find that once I get set up to make papier-maché, I get on a roll, and keep going till I run out of media and ideas. As with making a lot of my other art, and with making music, I started out with only one idea, and the rest were improvisations. I don't make a distinction between improvising music, improvising poetry, or improvising art-making. Very often, I start out with only a vague idea, or in some cases a clear but incomplete idea. Usually, even if I have an idea at the beginning of a session, I end up improvising, and fairly often those unintended pieces are the best ones.

The one idea I set out with was to make one bowl have a musical theme—since this was, after all, a fundraiser for a musical group, Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus. So I used some of my printed music papers, which you can find at many good craft stores in their scrapbook departments, to make the outer shell of the bowl. (Not too different from the Bowl of Music I had made a few months ago as a Xmas gift.)

Stone Music Bowl exterior

But once the outer shell was made, I didn't know what to do with the inside, so I improvised. I used some of my previously-printed photographic images, which I find fascinating as a useful recycling of my own visual art, and also as a way of breaking out of the two-dimensional plane of most visual art, especially photography. What emerged during the making of this art bowl was something approaching the shamanic: my own photo-illustrations of feathers and stones, originally made by arranging the materials directly on a scanner. Many people don't think to use scanners as photographic imagers; but you can think of a scanner as a camera with a large plate and very narrow depth of field. Placing objects directly on the scanner can yield very interesting results. So, this first bowl, with its exterior of musical themes and its interior of earth-based imagery, became something more than its parts. It became a two-themed bowl in which the interior and exterior, seemingly disjunct, synergize to become more than the parts. (Haiku often work this way, with two different images finding a metaphoric unity via parataxis.)

Stone Music Bowl interior

Those stones in the center of the bowl are actually part of the photographic image. The illusion of there actually being stones nested inside this bowl is intriguing.

Stone Circle Nest Bowl exterior

And that illusion led me towards making this next art bowl. I used prints of a photograph I had made, in 2005, of a land art sculpture I had made at Pescadero State Beach in California, one of my favorite, most personally magical places, which I revisit every time I am in the region. I had wandered down the beach cliffs, slightly inland up the river channel, when I was drawn to make a land art sculpture. Neither the first nor last made at Pescadero.

These land art sculptures are a response to the energy of a place, and are made out of earth and plant materials found on-site; they are ephemeral pieces, not intended to be permanent, and are quickly destroyed by weather, the tides, and the other elements. What remains is the photographs I make at each site, recording the ephemeral piece. For example:

Stone Circle Nest, Pescadero, CA, 2005

For this art bowl, I wanted to recreate the sense of the circular stone discovered at the center of a nest of rocks. I wanted the viewer to turn the bowl around, seeing many layers of piled stones, and discover the central stone, at the center of the bowl, as the bowl's focal point. Once again, the illusion is that there is an actual stone in the center of the bowl, even though the stone only exists as part of the photographs used to make the bowl.

Stone Circle Nest Bowl interior

I feel like this was a very successful piece. If you saw this bowl sitting on a shelf or mantlepiece, at first all you would see would be the jumbled rocks making up the outside form of the bowl. Only when you picked the bowl up and look inside would the single circular stone in its nest be revealed. This bowl, like the others here, went quickly at the silent auction fundraiser; but I like this idea so much that I might have to do another version of this particular art bowl for myself, later.

Finally, this art bowl made of beautiful decorative paper. This uses some of my favorite paper, made by Black Ink, which is marbled with gold foil, and laced throughout with metallic fibers. In truth, I was hesitant to use up this paper for this bowl till I knew I could get more; I used to be able to get these Black Ink papers at a local craft store, but they are no longer available there. Fortunately, one can order more packs of this paper online (just search for Black Ink decorative papers). This turned out to be the art bowl that was most popular at the fundraiser, and went quickly.

This decorative paper is very thin. It is quite fragile when wet, so using it in papier-maché can be tricky. What I did for this bowl is set down the exterior layer in the mold, then use a complementary color of mulberry paper over that. In fact, this bowl is made up of four layers of paper: the decorative paper on the exterior and interior, while sandwiched between those are two layers of colored mulberry paper. The sandwiched inner layers give the bowl good structural strength, and make it quite firm when it has dried.

I was very satisfied with the look and shape or the result. The bowl is stronger than the last one I made from this kind of decorative paper, yet it also retains the paper's inherent beauty. I may have to order more of this paper soon, and try this again on a larger scale.

Because I was on deadline to get these bowls done for the fundraiser, I used a drying trick that I haven't used before, and am not likely to use again except under similar time pressure. I made these bowls the night before the event, down to the wire, and only one of them (the Stone Circle Nest Bowl) had dried by morning light. So I finished drying the other two bowls in the microwave.

Warning: This is a trick, if you ever use it, that you must be very cautious with, and use only very conservatively. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have used this trick at all. The metallic fibers in the decorative paper are not suited to be microwaved. And you don't want to dry a bowl too quickly or thoroughly, like pottery in a kiln, because rapid drying can pull the paper out of shape, distort it, crackle it up. Instead, you want to just nudge the drying process along.

So what I did was put each bowl in the microwave for no more than 8 to 14 seconds at a time. This is enough to heat up the residual water in the matrix, which causes it to evaporate at an accelerated rate, drying the bowl faster than normal, but not altering the matrix or burning or warping the papers. Then I took each bowl out and let it continue to air-dry for several minutes, basically until it had cooled off. Then I repeated the process till the drying was done. In the end, it took an hour to carefully dry each bowl, using the microwave, whereas normal air-drying would have taken most of the day. Like I said, if you ever do this, be careful and conservative with the process. Don't overdo it, and don't rush it, which can damage or distort the final product or cause other problems.

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