Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Lock Ciity Comicon

  

    Recently, my good friend and fellow TMNT alumnus Steve Lavigne invited me to join him at a comic convention in North Haven, CT… and I decided to take him up on his offer. It's called the "Lock City Comicon", and it's being held this Saturday, July 28, at the Best Western at 201 Washington Avenue in North Haven.

    I've never been to this show, so I don't know quite what to expect, but from the description at the convention website (https://www.lockcitycomiccon.com), it looks like it should be fun. And with Steve there, how could it not be? -- PL

Friday, March 30, 2018

Glazing night!


    Yesterday morning I was happy to receive a text message from TIffany Hilton, my pottery teacher, informing me and the other students in her "Intermediate Wheel" class that she was offering us an extra hour of class time -- we could come in at 5PM instead of 6PM, and use that extra time to deal with glazing all the pots we'd made.

    To say I was ecstatic to be offered this extra time might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Though it's a necessary step and can produce beautiful surfaces and colors, glazing is my least favorite part of the whole pottery-making process. There never seems to be enough time. And it's also stressful because, unlike throwing or trimming, where you are working in your own space at your own pace, and what you do does not really affect (or is affected by) the actions of your fellow students, glazing is different. There are only so many buckets of glaze to go around, and if another student is using (for example) "Sea Green", and you need to use "Sea Green", your only option is to wait until that person has finished with "Sea Green". And that can sometimes be a long wait, if that person has a lot of pots they want to glaze with "Sea Green" (like I did, last night).

    And it's doubly stressful if your plan is to use two different glazes on certain pieces, as you then have to strategize when both of those glaze buckets will be available. There is a significant amount of time management involved in glazing.

    It's also a multi-step process, with at least one of the steps being quite exacting. First, you have to wipe each bisque-fired pot down with a damp sponge, inside and out, to remove any accumulated dust which might affect how the glaze adheres.

    Then -- and this is the exacting part -- you have to paint liquid wax on the bottoms of the pots, taking great care to make sure that you cover the appropriate areas so that the glaze, when rendered molten and thus fluid in the firing process, does not ooze down and come in contact with the kiln shelf, as this can result in the pots being bonded to the shelf, something TIffany frowns upon (and understandably so, as it leaves her with the problem of chiseling the offending pieces off of her kiln shelf -- not a fun activity).

    The wax serves to act as a "resist", so that when you pull your pot out of the glaze bucket, the glaze in which it was just immersed will not adhere to the areas where the pot has been waxed. At least that's how it SHOULD work… sometimes the wax gets applied too lightly and/or patchily and the glaze sticks to the pots in inappropriate areas.

    So now you're ready to dunk your pots into the glaze… but wait!

    Before you can do that, the next step is stirring. The glaze is a mixture of various mineral powders in water, and as you might imagine, when the glaze sits  unused for a while, the powders precipitate out and fall to the bottom of the bucket, creating a heavy, several inches-thick muddy mass which needs to be stirred to a certain consistency to be useful.

    If you're lucky, you will choose a glaze bucket which has already been stirred by someone else, as then you might only have to stir it slightly to restore the glaze to the proper level of fluidity. Stirring up the glaze in a bucket which has not recently been stirred can take a lot of muscle and time. As it happens, both of the glazes I chose to use last night were in the precipitated state when I got to them. It's a chore, but necessary, or the glazes won't work right.

    Okay, so NOW it's time to dunk your pot into the glaze bucket to give it a nice, even coating of glaze. This is usually a fairly easy job, as long as the pot is of a certain size and shape. Pots which are not large and have substantial feet are probably the easiest, as the size and feet allow you to get a nice, firm hold on them with only your thumb and one other finger (usually the middle finger). The thumb goes on the rim of the pot, and the other finger on the foot. Into the glaze bucket it goes, to a count of two, and then out, tilting the pot to drain off any excess glaze.

    Once the liquid glaze dries on your pots, you have to then carefully use a moist sponge to wipe off any stray bits and blobs of glaze on the waxed areas (the glaze beads up on the wax, but doesn't all fall away… and there are almost inevitably little crevices and depressions into which some of the glaze worms its way, regardless of the coating of wax). Keep in mind that the liquid glaze dries to the consistency of a fragile, powdery paint which can chip or flake off easily, so you have to be very careful in how you hold the pot as you are wiping off errant glaze blobs.

    Of course, all this work pays off (usually, unless you've made bad glaze choices) when the pots have gone through their final firing, and you end up with glossy finished ware that you can eat and/or drink from (or just look at!).

    Still, it's a lot of work, and last night I was exhausted after glazing all of my pots. Here's a photo I took of my twenty-five unglazed pots waiting to be worked on (mine are the ones within the red border). 




    I don't think there's any way I could have done them all without the extra hour TIffany gave us to work on glazing (I used every minute), and I thank her for that! -- PL

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Empty Bowls night

    This past Monday, March 19, I attended my first "Empty Bowls" charity event at The Pub in Amherst. MA, thanks to the generosity of my pottery teacher, TIffany Hilton, who gave me one of the two free passes which she'd been provided as a contributor of bowls (somewhere in the neighborhood of 160, I think!) to the event. Even though she's been contributing bowls for years, this was the first time TIffany had been to one of these events.

    The Pub was pretty packed when we arrived around 6PM, and it took about half an hour waiting in a slow-moving line to get to the point where we could pick a bowl from among those donated to the event. I spent some of the time in that line looking at the various choices of soups available, several of which appealed to my taste buds. (I think the line was moving slowly in large part because the people in it wanted to have enough time to scope out the wide variety of bowls from various potters' studios.) When we finally got to choose, Tiffany and I decided to go with a couple of bowls from her studio, and I ended up with one of the ones I'd thrown, trimmed and glazed.







    Then it was time to stand in line to get our bowls filled with soup. This line was moving more quickly, and in short order TIffany had her bowl filled with minestrone, while mine was filled with chicken and shrimp gumbo.

    The Pub was so crowded with happy soup-eaters that I feared we'd be eating standing up, but fortuitously a moment later a table became available, and we were able to sit down to enjoy our soups. They were very yummy! And a few minutes into the soup, a server came to our table to bring us salads and glasses of water.


     Here's TIffany about to enjoy her bowl of minestrone...
 




... and me preparing to do the same with my gumbo!

   


     Although I am not a real fan of noisy, crowded spaces, I think I will go back to this event next year. I hope TIffany holds another bowl-making marathon and I get invited to participate. Thanks again, TIffany, for the opportunity!  --  PL

Friday, August 4, 2017

"Devil Anse"? Devilance?





   I was watching an episode of "American Pickers" a few nights ago, and pickers Mike and Frank were talking with an historian about authenticating an old document having something to do with the famous feuding Hatfields and McCoys. Then one of them mentioned a name of one of the feuders -- William Hamilton "Devil Anse" Hatfield -- and my ears pricked up.

    You see, one of my favorite Jack Kirby comic book creations -- "The Forever People" -- had ended its original run with a story featuring the titular group of young New Gods fighting a desperate battled to elude one of Darkseid's most feared minions, "Devilance the Pursuer".

    Devilance? Devil Anse?

    The similarity in these two unusual names is striking. Could Jack Kirby have heard of "Devil Anse" Hatfield, and been inspired to create "Devilance", or at least the character's name? I wonder… -- PL

Saturday, May 6, 2017

May the Fourth be with you!





        I have the feeling that I have posted about this before, though I can't recall for sure if I have. So please forgive my aging brain if you've read something like this previously!

         I actually meant to post this a few days ago, on May the 4th -- now known in some circles as "Star Wars Day" -- but didn't get my act together in time.

         Way back when I had my little used book shop (cleverly named "The Little Used Book Shop") in Norhampton, I took it upon myself to build a "Star Wars"-themed costume for Hallowe'en. I had been so taken with the extremely cool design of the stormtrooper costumes in the first "Star Wars" movie that I knew I had to try my hand at making -- as best I could -- a replica of one of those armored outfits.

         However, I wasn't going to even try to recreate the stormtrooper helmet -- the multiple curved surfaces just seemed beyond my limited capabilities. So I ordered a replica stormtrooper helmet from a company out in California which was doing officially-licensed "Star Wars" headgear. 

         For the rest of the costume (except for the foot wear, for which I used some plain white tennis shoes, and the blaster rifle, which I picked up at a local toy store), I set to work building a framework using some nice flexible (but sturdy) cardboard from lingerie boxes I got from a local women's clothing store. As best I could, working from photos of the stormtroopers I found in various fan magazines, I constructed the various armor pieces with this cardboard.

         I then mixed up a home brew of papier mache (basically flour, water and shredded newspaper), and used that to build up the shapes of the armor pieces, sculpting the curves and details.

         When the papier mache had fully dried, I applied multiple coats of pure white gesso, the material painters use when preparing canvases. It not only captured the white color of the stormtrooper armor, but in multiple coats, it also gave extra strength to the pieces.

         For the black under-armor garb, I bought a set of white long winter underwear and dyed them black, and sewed on strategically placed Velcro strips which corresponded to appropriately placed Velcro on the armor pieces, so that I could slip the pieces on and the Velcro would hold them in place.

         The last and most vital piece to the outfit was the helmet. It was getting pretty close to Hallowe'en -- I think about three weeks out -- and I finally received the helmet in the mail. Or at least I thought I had at first, though the suspiciously light weight of the shipping carton should have given me a hint. When I opened up the box, it was empty -- no helmet! I immediately wrote a frantic letter and sent it off to Don Post Studios. About a week later, I got another box from them in the mail. I should have held my sigh of relief, given that when I opened the box, there was no stormtrooper helmet -- just half of a Darth Vader helmet!

         AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!

         Another frantic letter went out immediately, and finally, a few days before Hallowe'en, I got the right helmet. Whew! I couldn't fit my eyeglasses underneath it, so I couldn't see much while I was wearing it, but it looked great. I ended up using that costume for several Hallowe'ens, until the papier mache and cardboard started to disintegrate. I still have the helmet, though.

         The photos which accompany this post resulted from a happy coincidence. I was. at the time, working on drawing the campus map for Amherst College (my first significant freelance art gig), and mentioned to the man who'd hired me (whose name, if memory serves, was Doug Wilson) that i had made this stormtrooper costume. He suggested that I bring it in and have a staff photographer (who I'd been dealing with as a source of reference photos for drawing that map) take some shots at various places on the Amherst College campus. So I got dressed up in the costume and traipsed around, posing for photos.




         The photographer (whose name, sadly, I cannot recall) took a couple dozen shots, and somewhere I have the contact sheet showing all of them, but I only got a few of them printed as 8 by 10 prints.

         Thinking back on it, I guess I was really "letting my geek flag fly" -- I don't know if I would have the nerve to do something like that today. -- PL

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dreaming

    Dreams can be very curious things.

    A couple of days ago, I was sleeping fairly late in the morning. Suddenly, I heard a loud, single bark from a dog, as if our dog Kirby was in the hallway outside my bedroom, and I woke with a start.

    But I knew Kirby was not there, as he was, at that moment, in Maine. I had a few moments of disorientation until my sleep-befogged brain processed the situation, and I realized that I had dreamed that very realistic bark.

    Then today I was feeling anxious about an odd business venture I'd gotten involved in -- custom-mixed plastic zipper bags of cereal, which I was personally mailing out to my customers. The anxiety came from my realization that for the first batch of shipment, I had -- for some stupid reason -- added milk to the cereal in the zippered bags before I'd shipped them. My mind was imagining the disgusted reactions of customers who would be receiving plastic bags full of mushy cereal slop and sour milk…

    … and then I woke up.

    Curious. -- PL

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bernie Wrightson, 1948-2017



    This morning I saw the sad news that the world of comics and illustration has lost one of the great ones -- Bernie Wrightson has passed away.

    Way back in the early to mid-1970's, I -- as a comic book geek and aspiring comic book creator -- had the good fortune to be hired by the late, great Norman Witty of Northampton, MA, to work in his used book and comic book store, Omega Books, and even go to a few comic conventions with him as well (my first experiences with such). I got my first original Jack Kirby page at one of these shows, a cool Vince Colletta-inked page from "The Mighty Thor", a piece I still have, and treasure.

    I learned a lot about comics and comic art from Norman during those years, and and although many details of my life back then are a bit fuzzy, one thing I remember very distinctly was his pointing out the artwork of Bernie Wrightson in one of the first issues of "Swamp Thing" from DC Comics, a book which was getting "hot" at that point in time among collectors, with the first issue being a real collectors' item, in large part because of the uniqueness and high quality of Wrightson's artwork. Norman directed my attention to a number of small panels on one page, expressing his opinion that these small panels were lovely pieces of storytelling art in and of themselves, showing more care and artistry in a few square inches than many other comic book artists would put into whole pages.

    And he was right!

    I was blown away by the care Bernie put into his drawing, and especially his inking, which was lush and precise. I became a big fan of his work, and followed it pretty avidly through most of my subsequent comics-buying years. I was even lucky enough to find (if I am remembering correctly, with the help of TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman) and purchase a beautiful full-color piece of his work featuring my favorite dinosaur, Triceratops. It now hangs in my studio.

    As fans of his art know, Bernie went on to do a lot more amazing work. His illustrations for "Frankenstein" probably represent a high point in his career -- imaginative, amazingly detailed and almost superhumanly inked with a fluid precision which still boggles my mind.

    He will be missed. -- PL

    P.S. The illustration I chose for this post is my hand-drawn copy of one of Bernie Wrightson's wonderful drawings from his run on "Swamp Thing", one of a number of such pieces that I did on wood back in the 1970's. I would pick favorite artwork from comics and do my best to carefully reproduce them by hand in pencil, ink and color on 3/4 inch pine boards. Then, using the tools at the UMass wood shop, I would carefully cut out the figures with, typically, a combination of band saw and jigsaw, then cover the edges and back with black ink, finishing with several coats of protective polyurethane.

    This particular example, created circa 1975, was actually owned by the aforementioned Norman WItty, who was a great admirer of the work of Bernie Wrightson. I'm not sure if I sold it to him or gave it to him, but apparently he liked it enough to keep it in his collection until he passed away a few years ago.

    (The photo here comes from an eBay listing for the piece from 2014.)