I've mostly been on hiatus from my creative life these last few months. I needed the step back, the stillness, the time to just be instead of always doing. But the inertia of my summer seems to be fading as quickly as it began. My son has returned to school, perhaps a psychological prompt that it was time to move back into productivity. All I know is that my brain is moving again.
I haven't made anything for myself in months, which is the danger of being a professional creative type. But there's nothing better than making something just because. No client dictates, no deadlines, you can even fail. I indulge in it far less than I should. But last week I suddenly felt the urgency to make use of the remainder of the season.
I went back to something familiar, working with air-dry clay, but decided to explore it in a different way. Instead of working with the usual shapes (circles, ovals, rectangles, and squares), I wanted to work with natural forms, making small bowls out of leaf shapes, working with thinner clay.
The fig leaf bowls are my favorite because they are both graceful and highly detailed, though they're a bit more fragile than the bowls made with solid shaped leaves. But they're all good sizes for small things - jewelry or desk supplies, perhaps. At some point, I'll have to decide how to finish them, though I think I'll keep them neutral instead of coloring them green. But I'm undecided for now - that'll just have to wait for a more productive part of fall.
Air-dry clay (I prefer DAS brand)
Clay rolling mat
Acrylic clay roller
Clay scissors or sharp scalpel
Wire baking rack for drying (optional)
Fine tip tweezers (optional)
1. Begin by rolling out your clay to approximately 1/4-inch thickness, then place the leaf, vein side down, on the surface of the clay. Use the roller to roll directly over the leaf, both pushing it into the surface of the clay and thinning the clay at the same time.
2. Lift the clay off the mat, with the leaf still in place, and trim the excess clay with scissors (I just cut a general shape around the leaf, then go back and do the detailed cutting). Put the excess clay back in the package to keep it from drying out.
At this point, you have two options. You can cut around the leaf, using scissors, or you can keep the clay on the mat and use a sharp scalpel to cut around the leaf. I prefer scissors, but it's entirely up to you. The fig leaf has fairly easy contours to follow and might be easier with a scalpel, but I'll show you some detailed leaves that I found easier to cut with scissors. But the bottom line is to use the leaf itself as a template - and don't worry about the little breaks in the leaves that may occur with rolling. As long as they aren't too severe, they won't affect the end result much.
3. Make an oval shaped ring from a piece of aluminum foil and gently arrange the leaf covered clay inside, making sure the bottom of the clay is resting on a flat surface (so that your "bowl" will sit upright once it's dry. The aluminum foil is mostly to support the outer part of the leaves). Carefully remove the leaf and let the clay dry before removing the foil, at least overnight. At that point, you can turn it over so that the underside dries as well.
Note: If your leaf is too firmly embedded in the clay and you risk tearing the clay removing the leaf after it's been arranged, remove the leaf covered clay and put it on the mat and remove the leaf first. Then carefully arrange it in the aluminum foil ring. Fine tipped tweezers can be a help for leaves that are too firmly embedded.
Leaf Cutting Detail:
With the strawberry leaves, I wanted to see how I'd fare with overlapping leaves. I arranged it in a small wooden bowl (which was the perfect size) for the first few hours, then transferred it to an aluminum foil ring afterward to complete its drying. In the end, after it had completely dried, I had to reinforce the overlapped leaves by adding a little glue (Beacon 527 Multi-Use glue), which worked just fine.
P.S. I've enrolled in an introductory pottery class, which starts next week. While my primary focus will be thrown pottery, I hope to learn some good techniques to share with you that can be used for hand building as well. Stay tuned!