Time is my nemesis. I never have enough of it. I think I share this affliction with a lot of you. Often when I am chatting with people, I am asked how long it takes to make a specific piece. I usually do a terrible job of answering this question because my process involves several steps and I tend to get bogged down in details before I am pulled away from the conversation or I have totally bored the questioner. SoI thought I would use this blog to answer the question for those of you who have asked in the past…
The first thing I do when contemplating a new sculpture is to loosely sketch out the new form, either in a sketchbook or on the chalkboard that I have on the wall of my studio. Sometimes I make a small maquette in clay. When I am ready to start the full-size piece, I extrude several coils at once (picture a giant fettuccini maker attached to the wall), laying them out on my work table to set up a bit. I start with a 25-pound bag of wet clay, pushing the whole thing through my extruder before beginning the construction process. I put a lot of effort into forming the base as this is the most susceptible area for issues to develop as the piece grows in height and weight. From the moment I open the first bag of clay to the point where a new sculpture is ready to sit and dry will depend, of course, on the size and nature of the sculpture and the humidity level of my studio. I need at least 3 to 5 days of clear studio time at this phase.
Once I am satisfied that the initial formation is complete, I watch the new piece closely for a few days, sometimes wrapping and unwrapping it to slow down or speed up the drying process. I need to monitor the drying closely to avoid the cracks that could result from drying too fast. Once I have fully unwrapped a piece to dry, it will take another week or two, or possibly even 3 weeks, before it is dry enough to fire in the kiln. If I try to fire a piece before it is fully dried, it can literally explode in the kiln, something I really like to avoid.
Each of my sculptures are fired at least two times, sometimes more. I fire my kiln very slowly, usually 10 to 20 hours to reach peak temperature in the first firing. After the kiln reaches temperature, it will take another 15 to 20 hours to cool. Once a piece is cool, I wash it down and start glazing. Glazing takes anywhere from 3 hours to a day, depending again on humidity, the type of glaze I am using and the size of the piece. Once glazed, I put the piece back in the kiln, preferably before the glaze has dried because my lichen glazes are easily disturbed if handled at the dry stage. The next firing will take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours to reach peak temperature and another 15 to 20 hours to cool.
Not a really clear picture on time, is it? As a general rule, I expect most pieces will take about 3 to 6 weeks from start to finish. Of course, there is some time in there where I am not working on that particular piece and I will begin the planning process for a new one or I will work on other aspects of my art, like mixing glazes, updating my website and database, or cleaning my studio, which gets very messy by the time a sculpture is in the drying stage.