In late November, with only two of four sculpture projects completed, I struggled to make a semi-autobiographical portrait bust in clay. I’ve gotten better at thinking in three dimensions, and despite being quite familiar with my own face, this was quite the toughie until I rolled out a slab of clay and literally draped it on my face. It created a very general mold, as I couldn’t have the slab on my face for long, even after creating air holes at the nostrils, yet it seemed to help anyway. Aiming to let the piece dry out over the Thanksgiving break, I worked at an incredible speed. I knew the way I was building would likely create deadly air pockets, but in a rush, there was a voice in the back of my head saying maybe I can slap on enough slip to prevent that. And even if pockets do form, maybe the laws of physics won’t apply this time.
Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me that day, nor the day that I went to put my bust in line for firing. A few days later, when I went to ask if the pieces had been fired, my professor informed me that there had been a tragedy in the kiln on account of another piece which hadn’t been fully dried when it went in. While that may have been a factor, once I saw the extent of the damage to mine, I knew I had to have been at fault.
Half out of guilt and half out of sympathy for a piece made somewhat in my likeness, I began the process of putting it back together. Using clues such as unique burn patterns on protruding parts, discoloration from where I’d fashioned a chin rest out of Plasticine to hold the downcast head up as it dried, and of course, the shape of the pieces, I worked mainly to put the external chunks into place. The face was relatively easy to put together, but when it came to the hair, given that I had no photos of the bust before it got bisque fired, I had to spend hours just picking up pieces that looked like they should go together. I even got a headache in the last two days of this, but once I figured out where the last big chuck of hair went, I felt a huge sense of relief.
I haven’t done the last bit of super gluing/epoxy-ing, and will probably leave off some chunks to try to work with the cracks and the holes that I couldn’t fill in. I’m not sure yet if I should paint this. On the one hand, I was expecting this clay to turn beige when fired, so the soft pink was a pleasant surprise that I kind of want to keep. On the other, the epoxy “sutures” look far too garish, and the already busy hair area looks even busier now. Covering the cracks with paint would take care of that, but even if I mixed a color that was the same color as the bisque, once the figure is covered, people wouldn’t know that was the color of the clay.
Another idea I’m toying with is painting the smooth parts, but leaving the jagged parts unpainted to show the pink of the clay. I only have a couple more days to work on this though, so I might leave it as is for the class and paint it later if the mood strikes me.