Happy Box Architecture Mural/Phase #2

bird detail

In this post I want to talk more about the clay pieces I made for the mural.

Once Carrie presented me with the working ideas for the mural I began design of the large humming birds which would hover around her abstract flower.  They needed to be two to three feet in height and width so they could be seen when pedestrians and car traffic approached the building.  At this size the birds would need to be cut in pieces so they would not warp or crack and also so they would fit in the kiln.  Being in pieces they reflected the mosaic process on the rest of the building.

I made small cartoons (outline drawings) of humming birds in several positions.  Once Carrie chose the ones she thought would work best I increased their size by using a grid where each one inch square of the small design became a four inch square, taking the size from six to nine inches the needed size of two to three feet.

I then rolled slabs of clay large enough to accommodate the large cartoon.  I laid it over the clay and traced it, making an indentation on the clay beneath.

green ware hummingbird

Next I cut away the excess clay but left the bird in one piece while I decorated it by adding clay design and impressing other design with stamps.  At this point I cut the bird into pieces, keeping the design elements intact.

After drying the pieces between pieces of drywall to a leather hard stages I smoothed edges and let the pieces dry then bisqued fired them to vitrify the clay so glazes and under glazes could be applied. They were then refired to a temperature of 1888 degrees (or cone 06) to let the glazes adhere to the clay.

In this same manner I designed a series of buds and flowers of the “self heal” plant which would go on the lower part of the mural on either side of the doorway.

self-heal plant

glazed self heal plant


Once the mural cartoon and mesh were laid out on the floor of Happy Box Architecture these larger tiles were put into place and the smaller mosaic tiles were added to complete the more abstract elements in the design.

mural in progress

This final photo shows the conceptual layout in progress.  It begins with the earth tones at the base, moves upward through flora and ends with the sky at the top of the mural.

Happy Box Architecture Mural / Phase 1

Entry Mural Happy Box ArchitectureSeveral years ago our daughter Carrie Gault moved her architecture practice into an old service station on Central Avenue in Charlotte, North Carolina.  She redesigned the interior by turning the two car bays into a beautiful open floor plan with large windows where the doors had been.  Doing much of the work themselves, she and her business manager, Donna Cole, transformed the interior space into a working studio while conducting business at the same time.

When the interior was complete Carrie approached me in the fall of 2009  about helping her change the facade of Happy Box with a large mosaic mural on the entry wall, pictured at left, and forty foot wall in front of the building.  Carrie saw her architecture studio as being a place of calm and joy.

She is also a painter and had done a series of abstract paintings which follow the linear lines of the building and wall.  She asked me to work with her.  My work is much more symbolic and mythological but through a series of drawings and and emails she merged our ideas into a wonderful representation of the earth both under and above ground and the sky. (See the photo below of us in Carrie’s studio.)

Carrie/MickeyCentral to the entry wall is a large abstract flower from Carrie’s paintings and large humming birds representing “joy” done by me.  The design pulls one’s  eyes into the sky then carries one down the to a field of plants, rock forms and roots around the door.  The wall forms the horizontal dynamic of the paintings.  It begins on the left with plants and root forms and ends in a pool of fish.

Now began the hard work.  It was time to bring the ideas to life.  Contractors who worked with Carrie gave her lots of old tile left from previous jobs.  The problem was it was mostly “Charlotte beige.”  We hauled boxes of it to my Raleigh clay studio where we reglazed it in a variety of colors.  We made lots of samples and were thrilled to find that our over glazing worked very well. It was fun to be in the studio together.  I teased her that the last time she had been there was when I paid her a minimal wage to help with the pottery business when she was in high school.

I made a series of small hummingbirds to test glaze colors and shapes for the large ones to follow. Later the large birds were made from clay cut into pieces to form part of the mosaic puzzle.  I also made a series of self-heal flowers and buds to frame the doorway.

All of this was returned to Charlotte where the process of forming the design began.  With her large printer Carrie was able to take her small painting and copy it to a size of 20’x8′, the size of the entry wall.  It printed in a soft version with blocks of color which would help us place the tile pieces correctly.

Carrie Placing Tile We laid it out on the studio floor, then covered it with clear plastic so the design showed through.  This was then covered with a strong, open mesh, much like one sees on the backs of commercial tile sheets.

Then the real labor began.  Hundreds of tiles were broken into pieces and stacked in piles according to color.  With Carrie starting on her large flower and me working on the area around the door we began the process of laying out the actual tile.  We set up a tall ladder so we could climb up and survey our progress.  It helped us correct color and design changes.

I returned to Raleigh and left Carrie, her business manager Donna Cole to finish the tile placement. Once it was complete Donna earned her purple star by gluing each and every piece to the mesh with a strong glue called Weldbond.

Click here to learn more about Carrie and Donna’s Color Box mosaic business.


Deja vu

This past winter I have had the interesting task of recreating two sculptures I had made years ago. Each was done for a different reason. Each caused me to revisit the reasons why I made the piece in the first place.

The first request came from my good friends Susan and Ed. Susan and I were at Artspace at the same time and shared studios next to each other. I had recently returned from a trip to Ireland where I had watched the ravens which were everywhere. They were magnificent creatures. Not small but, as poet Mary Oliver says,

“Raven. This is
not a big bird, you understand, but an
impossibly big bird, its
chunky, almost blooming black beak

and its large unquenchable eyes
like a small unheard explosion.”

The raven has been a symbol of mine for many years. She represents magic and knowledge of the past, present and future. After the trip I made a sculpture of three separate ravens, above, in conversation with each other. They were made of clay and then painted with encaustic (wax and pigment applied with heat).

Susan and Ed remembered these birds and asked me if I would create a raven for them. It would sit on the corner of a screened porch they had recently built and would be a gargoyle to divert rain flow from the roof. It became clear that there wasn’t enough flow to need a gargoyle so we decided on a simple sculpture. It was recently finished and will soon occupy its plinth off the porch.  The raven in progress is featured at right.

The second sculpture is of a Spirit House I had made years ago. The couple who purchased it called me just after Christmas. They were dismayed when their daughter accidentally knocked it to the floor and reduced it to many small pieces. They asked if I could reproduce it. Because they had saved the shards and I had an old jpg of the front and one side I was a able to remake it.

It was fascinating to return to pieces from the past. I read some of my old journals and find that my symbols return in a cyclical manner. As my personal journey progresses they take on deeper meaning. As I turn to new work I am grateful for this trip to the past.