Note: I have just posted my USA teaching schedule for 2014. You can see it here.
It has been a gorgeous autumn here in Colorado. I’ve been immersing myself in the beauty of the season by making autumn leaves from my hidden jewels mokume sheets. The organic patterning of the sheets has often conjured images of leaves in my mind. I’ve been using portions of sheets to make leaves for years. This time I aimed for an autumn palette that mimicked the colors around me. I mixed my Premo mica clay with small amounts of zinc yellow, ultramarine and cadmium red to obtain the rich russets, wines, golds and olivey-greens of autumn.
In the past I’ve incorporated leaf motifs in pendants, earrings and brooches. This time I wanted a larger canvas for the leaves. As I thought about how to do this my eyes fell upon a set of wire baskets hanging in my studio. They had been there so long I had forgotten about them. Now I realized they contained the perfect canvases for my leaves: gourds. Each year about this time I collect three or four of the mineature green gourds sold for holiday decorations. I place them in the hanging wire baskets where they eventually dry out. I collect them because I love the shapes and have imagined someday I would do something with them.
It was easy to prepare the gourd for a veneer. I sanded off a few blemishes; then I coated the gourd with acrylic gel medium and let it dry. Meanwhile I conditioned some scrap clay and rolled it out on the thinnest setting of my pasta machine. I wrapped the sheet around the gourd cutting off any overlap so that the edges would abut. I pressed out any bubbles then smoothed the seams to join them. Before I baked the gourd in the oven I drilled a tiny hole to let expanding air escape. When the gourd was cool I gave it a quick sanding and rubbed a light film of clay softener into the surface.
I made sure all of the mokume sheets were the same thickness (#4 on my pasta machine). Then I cut the leaves from the sheets freehand. I created a bright outline around each leaf by rolling out the colored mica clay into #4 sheets, cutting extremely thin strips off of the edges (1/16 in) and then wrapping a strip around the perimeter of each leaf. In some cases I also cut into the leaves and inserted strips for veins. Next I rolled black clay for the background on a #4 setting and cut a wide strip which I positioned outside the outline. (See the diagram, right.) I burnished the parts together then when all the leaves were ready I placed them as close together as possible to cover the gourd. Where there were small gaps I cut a piece of black clay to fill the gap. When I had filled all the gaps I burnished all the seams together and baked the gourd in a bed of corn starch.
Finally I sanded and buffed the gourd to a high shine. I wanted the leaves to stand out even more so I went back and sanded the black background to a matte finish. I’m looking forward to doing more work on gourds in the future.