Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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A Year of Mindfulness: Becoming Aware of Food

Bless us oh Lord and these, thine gifts, which we are about to receive….

And so went the daily prayer my family would say each night before digging into dinner. A prayer over our food.

For the most part these were just rote words I learned as a child. Words that were to remind me to thank God (or the Universe, or Buddha, or Allah, or whatever deity you might believe in) for the food on my plate.

I was reminded of these very words because this week’s mindfulness practice asks us to look deeply into food. That is, to consider where our food or drink came from; the people who harvested the food, the driver who transported the food, the farmer who grew the food, and so on.

When I was a child, my family grew some of our food in a small urban garden. Mainly tomatoes and corn which were the easiest to grow. As an adult, I carried this trait with me and have had a vegetable garden for many years.

But for many in society, there is no opportunity to grow food. And the further away we are from the source of our food, the easier it is to forget all that is involved in bringing food to our table. This lack of awareness was the basis for some localvore movements.

Yet beyond the understanding of where our food comes from and all the people (and animals) involved in bringing it to us, when we become aware of food, we awaken to our complete dependence upon the life energy of many other people. This awareness gives new meaning to the idea of having communion with others. That is, each time we eat or drink, we come into union with countless beings.

This week as you eat or drink, look more deeply into your food. Become aware of the source of your food and all those countless beings who contributed to bringing these items to you.

Reflection: The life energy of many beings flows into us as we eat. -Dr. Jan Chozen Bays

Bean seedling - Version 2


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Using Vintaj Patina Inks with the Mokume Gane Technique-Part 2

Welcome Back!

When I last posted we were discussing Part 1 of the Mokume Gane technique using Vintaj Patina inks. You can read that post here.

By the end of Part 1, I had showed you the conditioned clay sheets, painted and stacked the sheets. You learned how to texture the clay stack, called a “billet,” and saw what happened when a release isn’t used with rubber stamps.

After the billet was textured, we let it rest. Letting the stack rest means setting it aside for 30 minutes or so. If you don’t want to wait that long, put the stack in your freezer for several minutes to firm up the clay.

Here is the textured stack of clay.

Fully textured clay stack

Fully textured clay stack

Revealing Layers

After you have textured the stack of clay and let it rest, it is time to reveal the layers underneath. To reveal the layers, you need a sharp cutting blade. Why? Because you’re going to start slicing off the top layer of clay.

Yep, after all that work poking and pushing and tickling that stack of clay, you’re going to remove layers in what might feel like the destruction of hard work. Removing the layers is how you’re going to see just what all that poking and prodding did to each successive layer.

This is an exciting and sometimes nerve wracking process. I love it because of the element of surprise. You really never know what patterns are going to emerge each time you slice off a layer of clay.

Okay, I’ll stop my yammering and show you the patterns that were revealed in my stack of clay.

Word of warning! As I said, you need to use a sharp blade to make it easier to remove the layers. You also want to make sure the billet is secured to your work surface (either a ceramic tile or acrylic work surface) before you start slicing. If the stack of clay isn’t secured to your work surface, it will start sliding around when you make your slices. Not fun.

To take a slice and reveal the layer, hold your blade with both hands. Place the sharp edge of your blade at the top edge of the billet. Bow the blade slightly and start to pull the blade TOWARD you.

Don’t press down too hard or deeply. You’ll end up with a crater in your clay and a thick slice.

Don’t worry if you pull through and only get a small piece of the clay. Put that slice to the side and keep going.

Layer One

This is what appeared after removing most of the top layer of Vintaj Patina onyx ink. I like how the onyx ink pull into the circular holes. The ink is a little crackled as well. Often, for me, when I remove the top layer, I get lots of little bits of clay coming off. Never can seem to get a nice completely intact layer.

Layer one revealed

Layer one revealed

Layer Two

After taking off a bit more, here is layer two poking through the clay. This second layer is the ochre ink.

Layer two revealed

Layer two revealed

I like this subtle color shift as the ochre ink is revealed. But remember that word of warning earlier about applying too much pressure when you slice through the stack? I did just that on layer 2.

MokumeGaneLayer_Crater

Now don’t fret when this happens. The simplest solution is to take small slices off the lumpy side until you even out the surface of the billet. Easy peasy and you’re back in business.

Here are some of those smaller slices that came off the first two layers.

MokumeGaneLayers_BlogPost

These slices are what I’ll use to create my final piece. You can see that as you slice through the layers, you start to reveal the colors of paint. The textures you applied way back in the beginning help compress the stack and drag the colors through it.

Your texture tools createt these very organic patterns in the clay. What’s neat is you often have two very different patterns on each slice. A front side (the top layer you see as you slice through the clay) and a back side (the pattern on the back of the layer.) Now you can choose which side to use in your finished piece. Inevitably, one side is going to be more interesting than the other side.

Final Layer

This is where I stopped slicing through the billet. I loved how the ochre ink circles surrounded the black dots.  I like this pattern and haven’t decided what to do with it yet.

Final layer (for now)

Final layer (for now)

So What Did I Make?

About a year ago, I became quite fascinated with circular shapes. I’ve always liked circles. But this time I started making a variety of circle or disk shaped pieces. Some had patterns, some had faces. I haven’t done much with them, just tossed them into a box for future inspiration.

And that is what I decided to do with the layers of patterned clay that I sliced off my clay stack. I applied the slices to white clay, cut out circles and oblongs, and then formed the clay over domes.

Five Disks

Five Disks

You can see how taking your slices and re-arranging them onto a sheet of clay once again changes the original pattern.

Convex, Concave, and Oblong

Convex, Concave, and Oblong

The oblong piece was created with a shaplet template. The slices were put on textured black clay. The gold is Rhine Gold mica powder.

More circle love

More circle love

VintajInks_Test2_MG_4Disks

And this is as far as I’ve gotten with these pieces. I would like to mount them onto a board. Wood? Cradle board? Something with encaustic? Not sure yet.

Disks on Green

Disks on Green

Well, I did have one idea of incorporating wire, maybe copper, into the design. But that is just a spark of an idea in my head. I haven’t sketched out the full design yet.

So there may be a Part 3 still to come in this adventure.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about one approach to using the Mokume Gane technique. Now it’s your turn to give it a go.

If you do make something with the Mokume Gane, please leave a comment on this post and include a link to your blog post, Flickr page, or website. I’ll post your links in a separate post so we can see what you created with this fun technique.


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Using Vintaj Patina Inks with the Mokume Gane Technique-Part 1

A couple weeks ago I wrote about my first experiment with Vintaj Patina Inks on polymer clay. You can read my initial impressions here.

This time around I wanted to try the inks in a popular polymer clay technique called Mokume Gane (moe-koo-may gah-nay). Mokume Gane is a Japanese metal work technique where thin sheets of metal are stacked (called a “billet”) and fused by heat and pressure. The metal is forged and carved to produce unique patterns.

In polymer clay, we use a similar approach using thin layers of polymer, stacked one upon the other, and then textured with a variety of tools that are pressed into the layers of clay. This is one variation of the mokume gane technique applied to polymer. Other variations include using texture plates to impress the clay and placing small balls of clay under the billet to create a bumpy surface.

So let’s see how all this worked with the Vintaj Patina Inks.

Materials

For this test, I decided to use

  • white Premo
  • onyx and ochre Vintaj Patina ink
  • an umounted rubber stamp
  • assorted texture tools

I also had on hand a cup for water, paintbrushes, gloves, paper towel, and wore an apron.

Inks, stamp, clay, paintbrush. Ready to Start!

Inks, stamp, clay, paintbrush. Ready to Start!

Creating the Billet or Stack of Polymer Clay

I conditioned the white clay using a Atlas pasta machine and rolled it to a #4 on the machine. Then I cut the sheet into 4 equivalent squares.

VintajInks_Test2_MG_4SqsWhite

I painted two of the squares with the onyx ink and two squares with the ochre ink. I used separate paintbrushes for each color. Be sure to rinse your paintbrushes in water as soon as your done with the inks. Then I let the inks dry for 10 minutes. I didn’t pick up any residue when I touched my finger to the ink. The finish is shiny and not tacky.

Painted clay

Painted clay

I mentioned in my first test with the inks that they are rather messy. Here’s proof. The ochre is the worst of this three pack.

Messy bottle

Messy bottle

Once the inky squares were dry, I stacked them. I put one ochre sheet on the bottom then the onyx sheet on top. Alternating the remaining sheets, I ended with the onyx sheet on top of the billet.

Billet

Billet

At this point if your billet gets a little distorted, you can trim the edges to square the stack. You can also use a straight edge to even the sides by gently pressing the clay with the straight edge. A ruler or old plastic card works well.

Now, before you put texture to the clay, it is important to have your stack of clay firmly secured to a surface. I use either a ceramic tile or an acrylic work surface. Securing the stack to a surface reduces distortion and helps when you start to slice off the layers of clay.

Adding Texture to the Billet or Stack of Clay

Putting texture to the clay is one of my favorite parts of this technique. It’s easy to go a little crazy with all the tools. I had one polymer clay teacher tell me she spent a half-hour adding texture to a stack of clay!

I made the first impression in the clay with an unmounted rubber stamp. Here’s a trick for getting a good impression with a rubber stamp: stand on the stamp.

Yes, stand on the stamp. Put a ceramic tile on the floor with your stack of clay on the tile. Then put the stamp on the clay and stand on the whole thing. Give it a good press with your foot. If you practice yoga, you can use this time to practice your best flying ballerina pose.

Standing on the stamp to put texture in the clay.

Standing on the stamp to put texture in the clay.

When I removed the stamp, I realized I had made a mistake. I should have put a release on the stamp. A release is used to prevent the stamp from tearing away the clay or paint. You can use a light spritz of water, a mix of baby powder & corn starch, or a spritz of Amour-all as a release. Apply the release to the surface of the stamp then press the stamp into the clay.

Here is what happened when I pulled the stamp away from the top of the clay stack.

MGStack_PaintPeeledOff_Text

See that white clay peeking through about 1/4 of the way down? That is where the onyx Vintaj Patina ink peeled off and onto the rubber stamp. It’s possible the ink was not completely dry in that particular spot.

Onward….

Then I added more texture with a few favorite texture tools.

Texture tools

Texture tools

Here is the stack of clay with pokey holes, squiggly lines, and other fun stuff pushed into the clay.

Fully textured clay stack

Fully textured clay stack

Word of warning! If you use a cookie cutter or straight edge to texture the clay, don’t press the tool right into the middle of the stack. Odds are when you pull the tool out of the clay, the clay might come right out with it. This can happen with circular tools, like a cookie cutter.

To avoid this, lightly dust the cutter and press it closer to the edge of the clay stack. If the section of cut clay separates from the stack, gently press it back into the stack with your fingers. Let the entire stack of clay rest for a few minutes before adding more texture or before you start to remove the layers of clay.

Removing Layers and Revealing Patterns

Now that you’ve pressed tools into the clay stack and made a groovy pattern on the top of the clay, you’re going to start removing layers of clay to reveal patterns underneath.

But first we’re going to let the billet rest. It’s all warm and soft at this stage from all the pushing and prodding with the texture tools. If you start removing layers now, you’ll smear and smush the clay.

So take a break. Grab something to drink or eat. In the next post I’ll show you the patterns that emerged when I removed a few layers of the impressed clay. I’ll also share what I made with the slices.


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A Year of Mindfulness: Mindful Driving

Mindful driving. Does that sound like an oxymoron? Can one be mindful when driving? Where does Dr. Bays come up with these practices?

All those questions went through my head when I read the title of this week’s practice. But the real purpose of this practice is to open up your beginner’s mind. That is, to switch from driving on autopilot and to return to awareness. Awareness of all the movements involved in driving.

(For those who don’t drive, bring your awareness to being a passenger in a car, bus, or train. Or bring your attention to riding a bike, if that is your mode of transportation.)

Think back to when you first started driving. How did it feel to sit in the car as a new driver? What was it like to feel the car move beneath you? How did you feel when a large truck passed you on the expressway and the car wobbled a little bit in the draft?

Do you notice any of these things now when you drive?

Take a moment, right now, and picture yourself in the driver’s seat of your car.

Ready?

Okay. So tell me, what is the first thing you do when you get in your car?

Which hand do you use to put on your seatbelt?

When you grip the steering wheel, where on the steering wheel do you place your hands ?

Are you sure?

I had to stop and think about this myself because getting into and driving a car is second nature to me. I’m sure it’s that way with you too. It is something we do automatically without really thinking about it.

That is the point of this practice. Becoming aware of what we’re doing.

And then there are the emotions that show up when we’re driving. The way we react if we get behind a slow driver. What we say if someone tailgates behind us. What we do when someone cuts us off in traffic.

Mindful driving requires relaxed, alert awareness. This isn’t about daydreaming and drifting off. Its about being aware of your surroundings and how you react to situations within that surrounding.

Mindfulness requires us to exam all aspects of our life, to become aware of habit patterns we’ve acquired, and to be willing to discard those patterns that no longer serve us.

This week, become aware of driving and your driving habits. Are there any patterns that you can begin to leave behind?

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