Currents Repose in wax, just before investing. She's hollow with multiple layers of wax. A coat of French Red goes in first for strength in delicate areas, then the cheaper Victory Brown bulks out the rest. This one's in Kat's kiln.

What’s worse than Castuary?* Castuary squared. What’s worse than Castuary squared?

Obviously: Castuary cubed.

I am in Castuary for three simultaneous firings, and it’s driving me nuts. I’ve stuffed my own kiln to the gills, along with Hugh’s kiln and Kat’s kiln, as if I’m in some goofy and rather spendy race to see which spits out sculpture the fastest.

And it’s teaching me a great lesson in the whole artist/show/gallery thing: Procrastination costs bigtime money and biggertime anxiety.

I’m delivering ten sculptures (maybe even 12, if the kilngods are smiling) to Guardino’s at the end of this month, as I’ve said, and they’re all a departure from my usual pate de verre panels and vessels.

The gallery saw a piece I cast several years ago–one of the first transparent lead crystal castings I made in the US, in fact–and asked me to build an entire show around this “waterwork.” And instead of my usual relief panels, they wanted full, pedestal-sitting, walk-around-it-and-see-all-sides, three-dimensional work.

So all of a sudden I’m doing exactly the opposite of every technique I’ve painstakingly developed for the last four years, and I’m absolutely loving it. Cool colors instead of warm, compound angles that twist and change in all directions instead of relief panels, figures within figures, light changes, transparency instead of translucency, eight inches of glass instead of two.

Only problem: 15 minutes into the first piece I’d already outrun poor Skooby-the-Skutt with his 13-inch kiln depth.

Unmolding the wax from the silicone mastermold for Currents Breaking. The transparent silicone is brushed on in multiple layers, each tinted a different shade of blue. It gives kind of a cool effect when you hold it up to the light. Hugh was casting this one.

I’ve yet to hook up gloriously huge Oliver Wendell Kiln, currently the world’s most expensive doorstop, because I am stubbornly requiring that the Glass pay the $2K it will cost, not me. (Or in other words, I need to make a profit of $2K on sculpture sales to pay for the installation. Note I said profit, not revenue.)

Hasn’t happened yet, so I’m renting kilnspace and having some of the bigger pieces cast in Hugh McKay’s foundry, down in Port Orford. You could argue that I’m spending more on rental fees than hookup costs (and you’d be right), and that this is one of those dumb psychological carrot-and-stick things I do to trick myself into a disciplined approach to art (right again). But if Glass wants to consume such a disproportionate share of resources, then Glass can bloody well contribute to the bottom line around here.

It also means that, since I’ve left myself too little time for finish work, I get to pay others to do it for me, which ain’t cheap. On the one hand it’s a relief not to do everything… but next time I’ll know to give myself at least two or three post-cast months for the endgame, i.e., coldwork, mounting, crating, photographing, etc.

Detail from the invest mold for Calm, after the drying cycle and before the crystal is loaded into the mold. The coral color comes from a generous dollop of kilnwash added to the facecoat mix.

Of course, the sensible plan is to stop making such honkin’-big sculpture and go back to smaller, flatter work that actually fits in my kiln. I’ve explained this to my hands several times but apparently they’re in collusion with Glass. At any rate, my work isn’t getting smaller, it’s getting bigger. And bigger.

It’s also gonna have to start getting hollow. Just ran the calculations on the piece currently on the sculpting stand (fortunately NOT in this show): If it’s solid, it’ll need at least 85 pounds of glass and more than 50 pounds of investment.

And I’ll need bodybuilding lessons. Or a crane. I should start sculpting in cotton candy.

A friend, a successful sculptor, once told me that the size of her work is inversely proportional to her age, and by the time she gets to be 90 she’ll need a microscope to sculpt. My sympathy for this plan grows every time I heft a mold into the kiln.

Investing directly from the clay. This works well for simple shapes--in this case you're looking at the piece upside-down, with the reservoir on the bottom. The piece, RiverFlow, is about 25 inches long but only two inches wide at its widest point, which makes the clay a real pain to dig out unless you know a few tricks. Just pulled it out of the kiln today.

Putting that much material into a single sculpture also brings up an interesting and somewhat dismaying problem, one that artist and veteran blogger Ellen Abbott has mentioned here before: You can tie up an inordinate amount of money in artwork inventory if you’re not careful.

An art marketing expert told me I needed a cohesive inventory of–at minimum–30 available pieces before I can effectively market to galleries. I’ve been working for the last two years to develop one (which should tell you something right there) and, lemme tell ya, Ellen’s right. It’s an expensive proposition.

It’s also making me wonder if I’m not being a bit too goal-oriented about this. I am selling stuff, but instead of “yippee, it sold!” my initial reaction is usually, “Drat. Now I gotta make something else to reach 30.”

Do I need a whole 30 of these? Would, maybe, 20 be just as acceptable? Sigh.

End of whine. Back to work.


*Castuary: The period between shoving the mold into the kiln and taking it out to discover whether you’ve made heaven or hell in glass.



  1. Jerry Jensen March 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    Actually the lecture by Lani nd Kate Elliot is march 28th, nest Sunday not today from 1 to 2:30pm. I don’t know about the sales ability of galleries in the Alberta Arts area compared to the Pearl area local galleries. Thoughts about the viability of selling in Portland for higher priced work have made me want to ask around about the sales volume for sculpture in glass.

  2. cynthia March 20, 2010 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Yeah…supply chain management. Dayjob stuff should apply to nighttime stuff. 😉

    Jerry, I really wish I could, but I’ve got a dozen sculptures to primp and finish mounting this weekend. I wish it was NEXT weekend. Mostly, though, it’s the low-end items selling. This’ll be the first time I’ve really had the bigger pieces out for sale. We’ll see how it goes.

  3. Peter Cummings March 20, 2010 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    If there’s a supply chain, it starts with the material I guess, then the maker, next the gallery, then the customer. The end result is the customer, not just the noisiest link in the chain. I don’t believe the theory that you only service the next link in the chain, it doesn’t work. Would B.E. stop at its supply base? I’m seeing artists shafted out of existence. We should be looking harder at this.

  4. Jerry Jensen March 20, 2010 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Hey, if sales are brisk and profits low then maybe the lecture Sunday at Bullseye on pricing your work might help. See you there?

  5. cynthia March 19, 2010 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    You know, chaniarts…I really LIKE the idea of slaves. Think of all the hassles it would save. But yeah, you’re right. I decided when I got the kiln that I’d hook it up with the profits from glass sales. Sales are actually fairly brisk but profits are a different matter. It may be time to rethink this.

    Thanks, Jim. I want to see what the controller looks like on a dung-fired kiln. Oughta be interesting.

    Peter, this lady is an artist’s representative who does a lot of artist counseling. She looked over my stuff, liked it, and said “How many do you have in inventory right now?” “About five.” “Oh, well, you need six times that–a minimum of 30 pieces–or you can’t get galleries to take you seriously. They want to be able to pick and choose.” Gee. did Rodin have 30 pieces in inventory? (Probably, but he was an overachiever)

  6. Peter Cummings March 19, 2010 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Looks like galleries are taking a hold on artists like the spanish inquisition. Ellen is right and if you have to have a 30 + inventory its very expensive. Then they can ask for one just like number 25 with a different colour. Add on the advertising and self promotion that got you noticed enough for them to include you. Who’s working for who. Artists organisations should stop working for the galleries and do some proper marketing r&d.

  7. jim Simmons March 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Nice work Cythia. I can hardly wait to see it in person.

    BTW, the way BS flys around here, hou should have plenty of fuel for your dung fired kiln :>)

  8. chaniarts March 19, 2010 at 11:14 am - Reply

    isn’t the whole point of tools to either make a job easier, faster, or possible in the first place? if you’re looking for ways to make it harder, you could always go back to dung fired pit kilns, but you’d have to find a set of slaves (or interns) to keep it loaded with dung.

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