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Open Studio Report: 4/19

I did, in fact, arrive at the studio today equipped with figures for my bird house. I’m aiming for a 4″ x 4″ box floor and a 14″ box height. The entrance height will be about 9.5″ and the entrance hole will be 1 1/4″ after shrinkage. The choice of birds I could attract include titmice, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers, as shown. I really don’t know what we’ll attract and it is getting latish. Last year, baby chickadees were born and later fledged from the wooden bird house on the Shore Pine. I spent so much time last summer heading squirrels off with a plastic spray bottle set on stream! My ceramic bird house can’t be chewed through, though… I have been interested in birds for some time, but have been a bit of a vagabond and am only now settled enough to take the time to learn more about them. My step-grandmother was a photographer, birder and botanist, and I tagged along with her on a few outings when she set up her Hasselblad for shoots. I still have many of her slides and a book or two with her pics. My mother is also keen about birds and I’ve learned quite a bit from her. I’m a latecomer to the scene but have been influenced by the people around me. My father was interested in crows and I remember  listening to him talk about them, their social structure and conversations. His enthusiasm for corvids made me interested in them, too. An article by David Shaw in Birds and Blooms magazine states that crows can recognize people. Citing a study by the University of Washington, Shaw says, they are also “capable not just of recognizing humans individually, but also of teaching their offspring which humans are dangerous.” Intriguing! We live on a crow flyway and sometimes hundreds congregate in the woods behind us for the night. On any given day, the sky can be nearly dark with them as they wing their way up the hill to the west. Crows ‘people’ our yard every day, too, and I’ve started talking to them, after having read this article. Maybe I can befriend one. Back to my project, though. My bird house will be impervious to predators, crows or squirrels, and will hang from our big leaf maple. I must say, I am having a bit of trouble with my bird house. It needs the structural support paper clay affords, but I’m making it with regular white clay. It will work out in the end, but I could have saved myself some grief had I chosen the other clay. I went with what I had and that’s not always the best route, is it? It was an exciting day, though, because I cut the entrance hole. Finally! Here’s a pic of what it looks like…mind you it’s upside down and is minus the lid. Click here to see what I’m emulating. On another note, I’ve made a diagram of my plans for the interior of my greenhouse, seen below. The triangular object storage container and I will tuck it into the corner to make room for a lemon tree. Soon!

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Open Studio on ArtWalk Day, April 17th

We had so much fun in the studio yesterday! It was the last day of the ArtWalk and we were all feeling festive. Pauline Doyle and Dan Severance showed their lovely work in the main studio area. I’d say about 100 or more people came by the studio. After seeing Pauline and Dan’s work, couples, families and individuals worked their way down the hall, looking at displays. Finally, they arrived at the area where the Open Studio crew was working, the throwing room, the glazing/kiln room and the space between. As Gary sculpted his horse, he drew quite a crowd. Many people had never see such a work in progress and they were spellbound. Gary’s friendly and he chatted and answered all their questions. Sylvia wedged clay and threw along with Lily. And there were treats aplenty.

Action: While Gary did sculpted, I worked on my tiles and bird house. I finished three terra-cotta tiles, then, sandwiched them between plaster bats to hasten drying time. My “Sheaf of Wheat” tile had been bisqued and I brought it home to mold. Interestingly, the mold that grew on the clay during the lengthy drying period didn’t burn out when bisqued. It stained the tile. It won’t affect my tile, since I’ll glazed it after molding, but I thought it was curious…. Shifted the brown sugar medallions to the bisque area, as they’re bone dry. After firing, I’ll give them to friends. Just a little something….

Plans: My oil lamps were glaze fired but I’m going to have to redo them because they aren’t sealed on the bottom. Did I wipe the glaze off before firing, like usual? Silly me. The entire bottom half of the lamps needs to be glazed, so the oil doesn’t seep through when I light them. Will reglaze, then fire upside down. No sweat… Let’s see, I worked on my bird house and am very happy with it. The lid is well-supported during the drying phase and it isn’t cracking. However, this coming Tuesday, I have to do some serious work on the whole bird house:

  • cut a hole sized to the type of bird I want to attract,
  • assemble the bird house to figure out where I’ll cut holes to thread the chains,
  • affix the decorative knobs at the top and bottom,
  • test the nesting platform to see if it’s stable,
  • finish all decorative treatment,
  • check under the lid and inside the house for cracks,
  • fix any cracks I find with paper clay,
  • and, finally, start thinking of my glaze treatment.

The bird house will hang from a big leaf maple tree, as I want it to be shaded. Direct sun could hurt the baby birds. About glazing…I do intend to glaze the inside, even though it will make it heavier. If you’ve ever cleaned out a bird house at the end of a season, you know about the insects and larvae that  cling to the inside walls. A sealed interior will be easier to clean.

The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning with younger hope than ever!… What at such a time are histories, chronologies, traditions, and all written revelations? The brooks sing carols and glees to the spring.” — Henry David Thoreau

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Open Studio Report, 3-29

STUDIO: It felt so good to be back in the studio again after a week’s down time because of a sore throat. I missed my projects and the conviviality of my studio mates. At this point, I am officially behind on my bird house and may miss spring nesting this year. If that happens, it’s okay, as it will still look nice hanging from our wide-leaf maple tree, but I’d rather it be done and up. Also, after I started undoing the wrappings on my project, I remembered I hadn’t looked up the dimensions for the hole in the bird house. Skipped that step and made the ball-shaped knobs that will go on the bottom and top and repaired a crack with homemade paper clay, slip and tissue bits. Think I’ll bring the project home and work on it over the week, as time is of the essence. On Tuesday, I also started experimented with draping and folding some terra-cotta. Rigged a temporary mold of odds and ends and worked with  a 1/8″ thick terra-cotta sheet, but even that was too thick. Now, I must investigate techniques for increasing malleability and rolling out very, very thin….

Bisquing: I finally placed my wheat tile and oil lamps on the Cone 6 firing shelves, so next week I can make a mold of the tile and start drying it. Maybe, just maybe I’ll make the mold this week. Ge a jump on it…

Plans: I liked the effect of white underglaze with Shino over it, so think that is what I’ll do when I glaze the original wheat tile next week…will look golden and beautiful with the wheat motif. Also, I’m going to start making smaller, thinner tiles, ones that will dry faster and cost less to mail. Beforehand, I will start developing some more Arts & Crafts motifs. Time, time, I am going to start dividing my time differently: working at home more. The focus of Open Studio time will change, be devoted more to things I cannot do at home: using the slab roller, glazing and firing. I want to pick up the pace a bit and I love working at home, so I look forward to these changes.

HOME: Today, I made three ‘trees’ tiles and a slew of brown sugar medallions. At least one of the tiles will become a “Snowfall,” but I’m not sure about the others. It’s spring after all! For the medallions, I used Cathy Camley’s suggestion for forming a nice rounded edge: place plastic over the clay, then push a cutter down over the plastic and the rolled clay. Works very well!

Plans: I also booted up etsy.com and will sign up for it after I finish this post. I am considering either joining a team or forming one. More on that later, but first I’ll join on my own. This week, I engaged WordPress‘ Happiness Engineers for a guided transfer from .com to .org. I had so wanted to go with Laughing Squid for a hosted service because it’s an indie that supports the arts. However, I am not a techie, it’s not a WP option for a transfer, so must forego it. Instead, I am going with Blue Host, which has an A rating with the Better Business Bureau. I am also ordering my greenhouse kit today, so am very excited about that. That got me thinking about clay garden markers, but one thing at a time….

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Ceramic Bird Houses? Why not!

When I first saw a photo of a ceramic bird house, I thought, hmm, I don’t know…. Wouldn’t it become awfully hot inside? Bird houses must stay below a certain temperature, otherwise it’s harmful for nesting. Naturally, since it’s made of clay, it appeals to me and, I guess, if they’re removed from direct sunlight, it would be okay. The photo below right shows a replica of a bird house first created by New England colonists. A bird bottle, it encourages nesting for insect control. According to a Knox News article by Marcia Davis, “in 1752, a published advertisement listed ‘Martin pots’ for sale” and “an inventory in 1716 of the possessions of one Williamsburg property listed 16 bird bottles.” Davis explains that, “bird bottles provide nest sites for several cavity-nesting birds that eat large quantities of insects.” She continues, saying, “Carolina wrens are notorious for their daily patrols around the eaves and walls of houses. They’re looking for insects.” The Williamsburg Bird Bottle, at the right, is a bird bottle made by Paul Anthony Stoneware. While such birdhouses  would not be feasible where I live, because of predation by squirrels, it’s an innovative use of a vessel. Next, we have a cone-shaped bird house, hand-built by the same potter (who hails from North Carolina). I very much like this bird house and I think my Mom would like one, too, as she pointed it out to me last week in her new issue of Birds and Blooms, an old-fashioned magazine with a Canadian-American emphasis. Anthony’s site lists it as a two-piece bird house that is slab-built. It has a “nesting platform in the lower cone,” he explains, adding that “the cap lid raises for easy cleaning.” It’s 14″ high. While I was considering these houses, I thought, well, what about wattle and daub? Some birds use this technique, swallows, for instance. I remember once seeing cliff swallow nests while floating down the Bitterroot River, south of Missoula, Montana. They lined the light-colored sandstone cliffs and created a lovely sight as we lazily floated down the slow-moving channel in the summer sunshine. Barn Swallows make nests out of mud and sticks, too, so it made me wonder if anyone was making birdhouses with this method. Sure enough, I came across a group in New York that is making wattle and daub birdhouses. I rather like the idea and think it makes a lot of sense to mimic nature this way. If it’s good enough for Gaia, it’s good enough for us! I’m sure this version would be cooler than a glazed bird house, too. But, I don’t know how well it’d do over time in our rainy climate! Again, if it was in a sheltered area, it would last longer. I am so enamored of our Chestnut-backed Chickadees feeding during the winter, I think I might try to build a clay bird house for spring. Last spring, Black-capped Chickadees nested in a wooden bird house on the side of our Shore Pine. It would be nice to have several birdhouses in use. I’ll have to do a little more research before I begin, though. Would it be best to glaze the inside? It would certainly make it easier to clean it out after nesting season and it wouldn’t absorb moisture. I notice the venting on the cone-shaped house above and have that in mind, too. Maybe some holes along the upper portion would suffice. Last year, I had the darndest time keeping squirrels from our baby chickadees. I kept dashing out with a squirt bottle, spraying the squirrels with water every time I saw them harassing the nesting birds. I know it’s nature at work, but grr. One thing I found while I was trying to figure out a way to prevent predation was what looked like a good deterrent. It was a metal tube that you screwed to the outside of the bird house. Squirrels can reach their paws inside the nest and drag the nestlings outside and this tube prevents that. I could make a bird house with a built-in tube about the width of a paper towel tube and long enough to deter our little black squirrel or, at least, prevent them from nabbing nesting birds. Anyway, it’s worth thinking about. In the meantime, here is a photo of barn swallows in their wattle and daub home. (Stay tuned: one of these days, I’ll figure out how to be consistent with fonts on my posts but, until then…)

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