Two…

A second wall sculpture done today — WIP — wet clay stage. Got the other one hollowed out and drying.

Steve Eichenberger sculpture WIP

Steve Eichenberger sculpture WIP2

Admittedly kind of strange…no rational explanation for the shape of the face…it’s just what my hands roughed in without me thinking about it.

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Ran across this quote today on the web: “Serov believed that the artist ought to be adept in every available medium because nature itself is infinitely diverse and inimitable, just as the artist’s mood and feelings differ from one day to another: today he wants to work in one way, tomorrow in another.” I like it! I identify with it. It’s not a trait conducive to creating a marketable “body of work” but it serves to keep my inner artist engaged. Just today I was reviewing past projects, in disparate media, and a part of me wishes I could incorporate ALL those media into my current repertoire. I guess there’s nothing stopping me from becoming a “mixed media artist” but I’d need to amalgamate them in such a way that the resulting body of work has a coherence about it…a signature look and feel.

Hammer formed metal is my most recent media addition, and I think it’s a keeper. I’m happy with its versatility, the patination process I’ve come up with, its look & feel, its permanence, and I enjoy the processes involved in forming it. Today I was wishing I could try yet another medium: gouache. Another one I’d like to add is mache; I wish I could find a suitable use for it in my work — where it would seem to “fit” the work, and not “cheapen” it… A major problem with 2D work, for my constitution anyway, is that it’s sedentary. Standing or sitting at an easel for hours on end is not good for me. I get to feeling “toxic” from the inactivity. Small scale clay sculpture (like I’m working on now) is pretty sedentary too…I stand in one place to sculpt them, then sit to hollow them out. At least with metal work I’m hammering, moving around the studio from anvil to buck to bench shear to vises and so on…the process of distressing the metal preparatory to patination is good exercise…overall it’s about right: not too taxing to the point of potential injury yet not too sedentary either.

I realize I could schedule constitutionals every hour or so during lengthy 2D sessions, but the paints would dry out, and I’d lose the “flow.”

Overarching all these “wishes” is the need to make a living from the way I spend my time!

So enough rambling for now…gotta go put ears on another proto-human head before the clay dries too much.

Back to Clay

Steve Eichenberger wall sculpture in progress

Jackie just decided to have a studio sale later this month, so I irrationally decided to try to make a sculpture or two in time for it. There’s virtually no chance of getting any ceramic sculpture done by then due to the necessary drying times and the pesky laws of physics…but I’ll ride the motivation wave anyway and see how far I get. This guy will hang on the wall, and he’ll have a funny pointy hat made from ………. riveted aluminum, of course!

He looks like he does because I have a thing about looking waaaaay back into our collective past(s?) to when we were proto-humans…with occasional blips of intelligence and understanding rising briefly above the baseline of animalistic inner and outer experience — as our knuckle dragging forebears gradually evolved brains capable of self awareness, reasoning, complex language, the arts, and a voracious curiosity to make sense of their surroundings…and of their very existence. With them began the mystery of how I know I’m “me” and you know you’re “you.” It’s that mystery that each and every human animal, all around the world, shares in common. And that commonality is so much greater than any “differences” we think we have! “The ghost in the machine” is the most amazing phenomenon in the known universe. I’m grateful for the privilege of experiencing it firsthand! I wish we could all focus on *that* for our eyeblink lives…

The Urge to Create

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During yesterday’s ________ time, I figured out how to make aluminum mounts for glass goat eyes for new sculpture I’m working on.

It’s hard to describe in words the drive I have to __________. First of all, what words do I use for ________??? I haven’t been able to come up with a concise descriptive term for it…I’ll try jotting down some candidate words & phrases, as fast as they come to mind:

free sculpt

follow the energy

experiment/discover

freedom of expression

creative outlet

self actualization

what I’m on the planet for ::: vocation

positivity

self image, identity, self respect, letting my inner artist out to play

play…with tools/methods/materials/concepts/combinations

expand vocabulary (of a particular medium) to the max

mastery

see what comes out ::: be surprised ::: off the wall

get lost in the *process* of making

let ideas run wild, sidelining the inner critic

suspending the cares of life for a little while, focusing all my energies in a positive/creative direction

Okay, that felt good to walk a circle around the urge and try to describe the salient aspects of it…but I can’t write all that every time I want to talk about “it” in a sentence…and I’m aware that this very act of trying to figure out words is robbing me of time I could be spending doing the actual thing I’m trying to describe, but I’m also aware of the value of putting my motivations into comprehensible form so I can better understand them and align all my inner energies in support of those goals…

I sometimes feel vaguely embarrassed/guilty about the intensity of the drive I have to indulge my inner artist. It seems to be asking for a level of priority that is impractical in relation to everyday life’s realities. It sometimes comes across as wanting to “do whatever I want” all day, every day, which is of course absurd.

It’s really not all that unusual, though; you hear it all the time from musicians, artists, dancers, actors who want to quit their day job and do ________ full time. In fact, I just saw a documentary in which a woman wanted more than anything to be a dancer, and then actually became the principal dancer in a national ballet company, but then got so tired of performing Swan Lake over and over that she quit to do her own thing: interpretive, self-expressive dance.

I deeply resonate with the following as well: In an interview with British artist Nicola Hicks, the questioner asks, “How do you balance life between living, working and loving?” and she responds, “I’m completely useless at it. I never feel I’ve got the paths right. The one thing that is never allowed to suffer is the work, which is a very hard decision to make, but I’ve found that for me that’s the way it has to be. If the studio work suffers there is no hope of anything else working. So other things have to be dropped. (…) All I know is, if you let the work go you have no hope, so there are sacrifices.” (excerpt from Flowers East: Nicola Hicks, The Pale Green Press, 1996 edition, ISBN 1 873362 315)

For the past couple years (up until recently) it’s been a struggle to get *any* free studio time, for weeks/months at a stretch. I chose to let other priorities take precedence. During those stretches, I literally felt like my life was on hold…which made me feel guilty, because I really have a good life! But right or wrong, it *feels* like I’m not truly living when I’m separated from making art (i.e., unconstrained studio time).

I’ve written a fair amount on this blog about the (self indulgent?) seemingly monumental struggle it’s been to rearrange my life just to free up a few minutes or an hour or two per day of unconstrained studio time — in the hope that someone else out there might identify with my experience, and find encouragement to keep on keeping on!

Back to Life!

After a year of voluntary banishment (see previous post), my inner artist is now finally re-inhabiting my corporeal body! My goal was for this to happen by April 15, so: mission accomplished. Glad I did the remodel, glad it’s over.

First fun project: figure out how to make lightweight, break-resistant goat horns from non-toxic materials, for a faux taxidermy wall sculpture. The photo shows some of my trial & error steps toward a solution:Steve Eichenberger artistNote the principal & interest bar graph…kind of a non sequiter you may think…but an online interest calculator seemed as quick a way as any to generate a logarithmic progression, which I then used to mark off the lengths of horn segments on left. That was fine for two dimensions, but how to get sweet compound curves in three dimensions? So I then messed around with stapling a paper model, thinking I might be able to make horns from three cutout pieces of sheet metal or similar, joined along their three common edges. But I wouldn’t be able to freeform / fine tune the curves if the sheet material were pre-cut…so combining the two ideas — segments + three shared edges  — led to my favorite idea so far: solid segments joined by three flexible edges (hand carved wood segments with wire struts). Whether or not I ever actually use this particular idea, the “getting there” is a perfect example of my favorite part of the process: conceptualization > exploration > experimentation > discovery!

My return to freedom won’t be like stepping through a door, but more like fording a wide stream; because I need to make more than 100 crows/ravens to replenish my exhausted inventory and for gallery orders, which will consume the majority of my energy for the next four to six weeks. But “after that”  …    (I’ve been promising myself “after that” for so long that it’s hard to believe I’ll ever arrive, but I’m clinging to the likelihood that I will…)

Hopefully I can find an hour or two for experimentation here and there even in the midst of crow-making.

Overall, I’m very aware how fortunate I am, and am living my life immersed in constant gratitude.

 

Patina Crisis Resolved

“Exploring Happiness” series, “Orangutan” by Steve Eichenberger

20″h x 15″w x 7″d

Fired ceramic, rubbed pigment and wax patina, wall mount.

I’ve been working on publicity for our Valentines season double weekend show in our new Venetian Red Gallery space, so haven’t had much time to sculpt recently, but I did accomplish something, something I’ve been stressing over for months — figuring out how to patina my new series. I experimented on a couple of small test heads, then got up my nerve and patinaed the above pictured “Orangutan.”

Feb 22 addendum: Now I’m painting. Yes, painting…painting faces, on cardboard. Um hm, I did say cardboard. As in corrugated. Because I just wanted something to quickly experiment on, and there was a nice box at hand.  And now I kind of like the mid-tone ground, the absorbency, the repurposing. Not sure if I’ll post photos (which would only serve to document my current state of digression from whatever trajectory I was on before).

After watching myself from afar…well, not that far…for many decades, I’ve noticed some patterns within my disorganization. My current position in the creative cycle I call “scrabbling.” Like what you would do if you were stuck in a mud bog…try to scrabble your way forward. Or what you would do to the side walls of a pit you’re stuck in: try to scrabble your way out. Scrabbling is unsettling because there’s no way of knowing if all the frenetic energy expended will ever move me in any beneficial direction, or just exhaust me. But I also have an underlying current of enigmatic expectation, that anything can happen. My critic grumbles nothing probably will, but my 17-year-old core-self says Some Big Thing Just Might.

I experience the full gamut of emotions simultaneously during scrabbling, resulting in an over-cooked internal stew that tastes kind of gray, but nevertheless provides abundant energy to keep on scrabbling. And I do feel highly motivated to keep on scrabbling, no matter what, no matter if there’s no known why (yet). The afar part of me is entertained watching myself scrabble. I’m curious to see where it will take me this time — where it will lead me artistically.

Untitled

Untitled, ceramic sculpture by Steve Eichenberger

SOLD

A little smaller than life size. Sculpted solid, hollowed out, pieces cut out and glazed separately, then black grouted back together. It doesn’t translate in the photo, but the mid-toned portions have exquisite patterns of shiny black nubbins smaller than the head of a pin; visually and tactilely mesmerizing. The lightest section looks and feels like ivory — not white — but it’s virtually impossible to photograph pieces with extreme lights and darks without over- or under-exposing one or the other.

I think this piece has something to do with the ever-present background/subconscious weighing of issues that have no clear answers.

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“Strange Bird” in process. (5/11 addendum: SOLD!)

I’ve been invited by White Bird Gallery in Cannon Beach, Oregon to be in their Animals show this spring. This is a possible piece for that show, if the human ears don’t disqualify it from the “animal” category.

Looks kinda like…


Small quick sketch done this afternoon (face is 6″ tall). May do some more small faces because I need things to try out patinas on without experimenting on major pieces.

Orangutan

SOLD

Final photo above added Feb 17. “Exploring Happiness” series, “Orangutan” by Steve Eichenberger.

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Major challenge to hollow out, but it’s done now and drying.

First of new series completed

First completed piece of my newly evolving series, working title for the series: “If You’re Not Laughing, You’re Not Paying Attention.” Approx. 12 x 12 x 6, wall mount, hand-built one of a kind fired ceramic w/underglaze, SOLD (thanks C&L of Portland).

More about this piece in previous post.

I say ‘evolving’ series because I still feel like more of an observer of my current work than an originator of it — the meaning is still in the process of settling in. The most obvious common denominator is laughter. Some pieces look like “hearty laughter.” Others look more tweaked, perhaps drifting closer to maniacal laughter…which is fine by me, I can easily identify with that…maniacal laughter seems a perfectly rational response to much going on around me in these strange times economically and politically.

I’m in the midst of being a guinea pig in my own experiment: experiencing the positive endorphins released in the process of sculpting big laughs. It’s hard to be all hang dog when face to face with huge laughter.

New piece underway, similar to previous so far

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12/12 finessed ears and teeth. Think I’m about done with sculpting phase. Was going to do some other things with this, but kind of like it the way it is so may leave it. I was going to do the same things to the previous similar one, but decided to keep it as it was…I can just keep making more until I’m ready to try the modifications on one…

13w x 14h x 8d in wet clay stage — pretty big.

12/11 revision with oversized ears roughed in…think I’ll leave them this big for comic effect; will refine them tomorrow after the clay has had a chance to firm up a bit.

Soooo time consuming! but fun.

My inner critic is heckling me for spending so much time on these faces without knowing if they will sell for enough to make even minimum wage for my time. So far it’s not getting to me…I’m too busy enjoying the process, which for now is worth more than money to me.

2010 is still here, and I’m savoring it

A year ago I was optimistic and excited about living the futuristic sounding year 2010, and it has not disappointed! It’s been tumultuous for us, but momentous as well. I’m sorry it’s nearing its end, but it’s not over yet. There’s still 1/14th of the year left.

Many good things going on artistically:

–A local couple made a very encouraging purchase from me today, they bought one of the brand new pieces I’m working on before I’ve even finished it! It still needs one more trip through the kiln to fire on the underglaze. I’ll post a photo of it later with its final finish, but you can see it in wet clay form here: If You’re Not Laughing, You’re Not Paying Attention. Thanks C & L from Portland! This was a wonderful affirmation for me as I continue to experiment with this new series. Visitors to our just-completed Open Studios event saw me working on another in this series, not named yet, shown in the slideshow a couple entries below (female face, ram’s horns), which I finished sculpting today.

–I like my new studio. I know I’ve said that before, but if I can’t repeat it to my blog, where can I say it?!? Today I had fun showing dozens of Open Studio visitors my new space and new sculptures in process or fresh out of the kiln.

–The positive response to our Open Studio event (five days over two weekends) was energizing and motivating! I want to populate my tall white walls with a crowd of sculpted faces!

–I’m looking forward to my next piece, based on a photo of a boy letting out a roar of a laugh! I contacted the photographer who immediately gave me his blessing to use it as reference. It may well end up looking like an old man simultaneously with looking like a youngster, which would be fine by me…that’s kind of how I feel! Anyway, I’m anxious to be “surprised” by how it turns out over the next several days. I’ll add new photos to the slideshow below as it progresses (12/10 update: sculpting phase complete as shown in final slide):

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Wood Sculpture…kind of

Quick sketch on an envelope…

…in short order turned into a sturdy, adjustable angle sculpture stand.

It’s so nice to have a DRY indoor area to build things like this in our new location! I can do woodworking any hour of of the day or night in the large hallway right outside the studio door.

I began my current face/head sculpture on a vertical board. The clay stayed put just fine until I added a lot more weight with the curling horns…I’m lucky the whole thing didn’t plop facefirst onto the floor, but fortunately it gave me some warning by suddenly but uneventfully coming unstuck and gapping about half an inch from the supporting board. So I leaned it at an angle temporarily while I built the above adjustable tilt stand to use in just such situations. I’ve been wanting such a stand for a long time, now I have it!

Sculpting the Sculptor

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By ‘sculpting the sculptor’ I don’t mean a self portrait, but rather working on my real flesh and blood self moment by moment day by day month by month year by year decade by decade until death do me part. It’s not rocket science, but more like gardening…hacking away at what I don’t want, planting and cultivating attributes I do want. Nor is it usually very interesting or exciting; more often it’s boring and tedious, like weeding. And, like weeding, once isn’t enough. The weeds keep coming back.

So every day I’m alive, entropy happens, and it’s up to me to take proactive steps to counter it.

I’m encouraged to persevere in my biological sculpting efforts by research in the field of neuroplasticity, defined on Wikipedia as follows:

Neuroplasticity (also known as cortical re-mapping) refers to the ability of the human brain to change as a result of one’s experience, that the brain is ‘plastic’ and ‘malleable’. The discovery of this feature of the brain is rather modern; the previous belief amongst scientists was that the brain does not change after the critical period of infancy.

If I’m diligent in my efforts to supplant negative traits with better ones, I’m actually changing the structure of my brain. Sculpting neurons.

I’m bringing up this topic because this past weekend we had a lot of folks come to our first ever event in our new space (thank you one and all, it was a big success!), and I noticed how much it took out of me to talk about my work and/or show people my in-process work in my new studio space. Part of me would rather keep all that to myself until the work is completed. But I know I appreciate it when other artists open up about their process, their insecurities, their energy swings, so it’s not fair for me not to. I’d like to get past the reticence though, grow thicker skin…get to the point where such experiences energize me rather than drain me. I can use the vague sense of inadequacy stirred up by such interactions to spur me to dig even deeper, work even harder to develop my creative skills and work habits. To develop a lattice of neurons robust enough to shake off occasional scrutiny, whether from my own inner critic or studio visitors.

I think part of the issue is that I create work for myself, not for “the public.” I’m just not much of a social animal, I guess…I’d rather let my sculpture do the talking.

‘Stressed but OK’

Quick sketch, about a foot high.  SOLD  Fired, underglazed…may just wax it and leave it pretty much like this photo. I resonated with this while sculpting it, decided to leave it alone when I grabbed the head and pulled upward, causing neck to appear strained. ‘Stressed but OK’ is a common modus operandi for many of us these days.

“If You’re Not Laughing, You’re Not Paying Attention!”

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SOLD

Another experiment with a wall mounted piece; working title, “If You’re Not Laughing, You’re Not Paying Attention!” It’s almost life size. (photo of finished piece added 12/23)

This one happened without any preconceived idea of what to make today…just pawed through some reference clippings first thing this morning in the studio and used a postage stamp size mug shot of some random guy as a jumping off point. It was fun to be “surprised” by the day’s work. No I don’t have any idea what kind of ears those are…except that they are NOT intended to be rabbit ears! I roughed in various shapes and sizes of horns and hair tufts, but these ears seemed the funniest so I went with them.

Not sure where if anywhere this is a step toward, but at least I’m making wall mountable work for a change instead of work that needs a pedestal/table/ledge to live on.

I think of “sketches” like this one as experiments/explorations because I feel like I’m flailing about in new territory. I learned from such things as:

–I first made the neck straight under the head, then impulsively sliced off one side and added to the other, instantly making the pose more interesting to me.

–moving the irises/pupils to one side enhanced the “turning his head” effect (extrapolating from the ram’s horn experiment a few days ago where I directed the gaze sideward/downward, in that case to engage the viewer as she/he comes along the hall toward the studio door)

–still didn’t get the lips flat enough…it looks like he’s saying “Heyyy” or something…difficult to convince my brain to flatten the lips out against the teeth as they would be when smiling broadly. (It isn’t obvious in the photo, but that’s his tongue, not lower teeth, just inside the lower lip.)

–nostrils widened since they are attached to the skin that is pulled back by the cheek muscles

–I’ll correct it before the clay dries, but when I snapped this photo I had forgotten to add clay underneath his left eye (right in the photo) where it would be pooched up from the rising cheeks. This makes his left eye look more like it’s looking, and his right eye look more like it’s laughing.

–experimenting with muscles in forehead and their contribution to the emotions conveyed

–it’s difficult for me to get wrinkles right…to get a solid material to look like supple skin…I feel I made some progress on this piece, but have a long way to go.

–I’m curious why a certain shape looked “funnier” to me (horns/hair/ears)? Is it the extreme sideways positioning of the ears? Are moose inherently funnier looking than deer? Is it because predators faces are often more vertical (eyes closer together and smaller), and harmless creatures’ ears are usually larger (to hear predators)? Chihuahuas do look funny with their big side mounted ears, vs a dobie with clipped vertical ears.

So, while the resulting sculpture is the most obvious product of a sculpting session, it’s definitely not the only product; I’m also enlarging my repertoire of ideas and skills to use on future projects.

Another nice by-product when it happens, as it did today: enjoyment of the process!

Ram horns experiment

Progress as of Tuesday night. It was about 8 p.m. when I was ready to slice off the horns, so I asked one of the moped guys next door to catch them. With horns out of the way, I sculpted regular human ears underneath…but then covered them mostly back up with hair. Sculpting phase is over, let the hollowing out begin.

 

Partially done — hope to finish the sculpting phase on Sunday. About 12″ high. Noodling around for something to put over the door to my new studio space…originally intended for this to be a small maquette, but it grew along the way, so maybe if it turns out OK it can serve as the final, at least for awhile.

Finished in time!

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“Gratitude 2”

43 h x 12 w x 22 d

I did finish this piece in time for Art in the Pearl. Watch the slideshow to the very last image to see the completed piece.

June 29 update

Set up the scoop background in our photo room and did the above test shot of “Reprieve” tonight. May tweak it further, but it’s in the ballpark of what I’m after.

Over the weekend I built lightweight crates I’ll need to transport my larger works via truck to two summer shows coming up. They will do double duty as pedestals at the shows.

I’ve been getting a lot done since my last post…finished patinas on all pieces, waxed some of them  — all pieces are pretty much ready to display. Now need to photograph all the pieces, get my booth figured out, make signage, decide pricing, reserve a truck, and so on and on…

May 9 update

Probably the last photo of this one for a month or two — next steps involve cutting it up into a couple dozen sections, hollowing each section out till there’s just a 1/4 to 3/8″ wall of clay, then re-assembling prior to firing. I’ll continue to refine various parts, especially the legs, tail, and belly. I’ll scrape and shape the ears to make them lighter/thinner.

Won’t You Come In?

Thought about making this guy several feet tall to put by the entrance to my booth(s) to invite people in to look at my work, but couldn’t make a sketch I liked, so just made a maquette to work out the kinks. Now that I see it, I think a large version would too easily get knocked over by the frenzied crowds … so IF I make a bigger version, I’ll build him on an integral ceramic base/pedestal and maybe beef him up a bit so he can survive thwacking backpacks.

Completed the sculpting phase of a medium sized sculpture tonight. Started assembly stage of fired Aristophanes. Three months from today I’ll be in my booth at BAM if all goes according to plan. We finished a big marketing project for our tile biz yesterday, so I’m hoping I’ll have more uninterrupted time to sculpt now. Three months will fly by!

Productive insomnia …

I laid awake a few nights ago and came up with a plan for freeing up my style. It was encouraging, exciting, motivating. I look forward to implementing it.

The basic points:

• cut / piece / juxtapose parts and fragments to create a whole

• synthesize! with my background in construction, sculptured brass dies, moldmaking, wire sculpture, woodcarving, oil painting, concrete work, graphic design and more, it’s high time to bring all these media together … wood, metal, plaster, cement, mortar, glaze, paint, waxes, adhesives, screws, wire, re-purposed and found objects

• draw from my 50+ years on the planet to come up with concepts that reflect my conclusions / observations about the human condition thus far

• continue to challenge myself to get looser with my work

Three quick clay sketches done on three different evenings, about life size. I don’t yet know exactly why I’m doing them, but I’m finally unbothered by not knowing … having gone through this cycle enough times to know that the “why” will reveal itself eventually.

 

Aristophanes—done for now

 

I’m done with the wet clay sculpting phase for Aristophanes.

I just finished placing all the hollowed out and re-assembled sections back on the armature temporarily to get all four legs/feet to agree on what’s level, and will leave everything uncovered to firm up for a day or so before moving them … ummm … somewhere! to dry for several weeks before firing them.

66,000 Generations of Reason | Step by Step

Attic Gallery says a collector is interested in my “66,000 Generations of Reason” and he’s curious how I made it. So I sent the above screen capture (from my Mac finder) to the proprietor today. It’s pretty low res, but gives a general idea of the steps involved. The gallery said they printed out some copies to have on hand for anyone else interested in my work.

The prospective buyer wasn’t sure how/where to display this large a piece … it would need about a 4′ x 4′ pedestal, admittedly quite a commitment of space. It would be easier if my sketchbook would give me wall pieces to make instead! But mine is not to question why …

Aristophanes progress

 

Steve Eichenberger | Sculptor

I hollowed out the top/final section of the torso tonight. It was pretty dry, which made for difficult and slow going with regular loop tools. I like to cruise kitchen stores for clay tools, and awhile back I bought a sturdy metal gizmo (shaped kind of like a grapefruit spoon) and broke the plastic handle off the shaft so it fits in a drill. Spinning at high speed, it removed the hard clay handily. 

 

Steve Eichenberger | Sculptor

I still need to hollow out and re-assemble the above pieces plus the two front legs (not shown) … then I think that’ll be it for hollowing. I’d like to finish the hollowing-out stage tomorrow. I have ideas for what I’d like to make next.

The “Long Story” of how “Reprieve” got his name

  

"Reprieve" bisque fired, assembly stage. Steve Eichenberger | Sculptor

 

“The Long Story”

Soon after Jackie and I met, we “accidentally” discovered that by combining our talents/skills/knowledge/aptitudes, we could make ceramic tile.

After much research, trial and error, humorous and spectacularly unsuccessful attempts at moldmaking, and then finally producing a collection of about a dozen designs (we now have over 300), we launched a handmade tile business in 1995. I worked full time at it until it was built up enough for Jackie to quit her outside sales job and join me making our fledgling line of hand-pressed, bas relief tile.

The business grew fast, we moved to an industrial space, had six kilns running on three-phase power, up to 11 part-time employees, and … found that we didn’t have time to make art anymore.

We thought a larger company could take our tiles to the “next level,” so in 2000 we approached a corporation we had done a lot of business with about the idea of teaching them how to make tile.

They said yes, so we licensed our designs to them (we owned the designs, they had exclusive rights to produce them), they made our tile line, and gave us a royalty on every tile.

That worked fine for the first few years, then gradually less fine for all concerned until

SUDDENLY AND UNEXPECTEDLY

I found out by a chance phone call that they were going to cease making tile five weeks from that day. Did I mention it was unexpected?!?

This was about a year and a half ago, right when I was on fire artistically … felt I was ready to make some moves … on the verge of putting myself out there in a bigger way.

But then we got the news about tiles, our beloved tiles, our future income forever till we’re wrinkly all over tiles.

On the one hand we were happy and relieved to get “our baby” back under our control once again, but it meant changing our lives entirely and abruptly.

So I immediately swallowed my artist self whole in an instant. He didn’t have time to utter a word, because I put him in head first and gulped. It was brutal, but that’s what I did.

I literally hacked up and threw away a major work in progress since time was of the essence if we were going to jump start a national handmade tile business from scratch in just five weeks!

We also needed space and lots of it. We looked briefly at industrial spaces, but decided it might be “safer” financially (prophetically, looking back) to shoehorn tile operations into our existing studio space.

So I gave up every square inch of my former sculpting space to tiles. We hired and trained people, hired electricians to max out our incoming electrical capacity, bought and wired kilns, made hundreds of tile molds, bought dozens of gallons of glazes and began the arduous process of glaze testing/matching, and on July 1 of 2008 we started producing orders for our dealers all over the country.

The first few months weren’t pretty, but our employees/artisans did a fantastic job of hanging in there and learning and improving to the point that now they have taken our tile line to a new level of quality and beauty beyond our expectations. They’ve raised the bar to the point that I can’t even press a “good enough” tile anymore, not for this crew!

Now, when an order comes in, I have confidence in our team to take it and run with it, and know they’ll do a great job.

It has been a huge undertaking maneuvering the business to this point of efficiency/competence, but the reward is that my day to day involvement has gradually become less necessary.

We had exceptionally good tile orders last August, and decided to re-invest the profits into more studio and storage space. So we had a local contractor build a brand new 14 x 20 studio for Jackie and a 12 x 16 first class storage barn on a slab. I was very involved in the construction, wiring, painting and so on for most of the fall … it was fun, actually!

And then, after everything and everybody else seemed to be pretty well taken care of and humming along relatively smoothly, I began re-organizing, discarding and efficientizing (hey, it’s my blog, I can make up words) to re-claim a 10 x 10  foot corner of my former studio space just for me, just for sculpting. When tiles returned to us out of the blue, I thought I might never have time and space to sculpt again … which has served to make me appreciate all the more deeply the opportunity to resume making large-scale ceramic sculpture once again.

Hence the name of the first piece I sculpted in my new space — “Reprieve” — of a hare that had been stoically sitting in the same position day in and day out, ears limp, eyes unfocused and gazing forward at nothing.

Then a rousing voice, stage right, hollers at him to come on over here and sculpt! He lifts his head a little, then begins to raise up, and slowly turns to see if it could be true, cocking an ear in the direction of … click: freeze frame: “Reprieve.”

Told you it was a long story.

 

 

"Reprieve" bisque fired, assembly stage. Steve Eichenberger | Sculptor

This evening’s progress…

 

 

Steve Eichenberger | Sculptor

 

Steve Eichenberger | Sculptor

 

I already removed and hollowed out the head earlier in the week, and the ears are shaped and drying.

Steve Eichenberger | Sculptor

 

Steve Eichenberger | Sculptor

 

This evening I started the process of cutting everything into manageable pieces, hollowing them out, and re-assembling them, then re-cutting them apart. I know, it’s insane. This stage is definitely unnerving, and if not done well can lead to major headaches later (like getting all four feet to sit flat after firing).

Steve Eichenberger | Sculptor

 

Due to so many other irons in the fire, I’ve let this sculpture sit for over a month under plastic. Well, clay does have some organic matter in it…and lets just say I now have fresh incentive to finish it faster (although ‘fresh’ is definitely not the right word ).

Not much scheduled for the weekend, so I have no good excuse not to make progress on hollowing out.

Oh, I keep forgetting — I need to make the tail too!

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1/30 update:

Hollowed out same parts as yesterday on other side.

Finished sculpting/attaching tail.