Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Winescapes" 2010

I just wrote this article to be published in the CAEA Painted Monkey as the Lead Article!

A Ceramic Artist Tackles a Wine Bottle
By Yvonne Cavanagh

I have always been drawn to texture and spend much of my time adding it to my ceramic work. After I throw on the wheel or hand build a piece I spend hours carving lines, holes, and scratching to create visual interest. I don’t draw out my ideas first but rather just begin. Even though I teach my students to draw thumbnail sketches, I don’t do this for my own designs (don’t tell them). I don’t really know how to explain how I feel as I work. It’s as if the piece tells me what and where to carve, when to stop and when to keep going.
As an artist, sometimes it’s fun to have an opportunity to create come to me. I have been asked by the Bakersfield Museum of Art ( for the last 3 years to turn a large 6 liter wine bottle into a work of art for a fundraising event they hold called “Winescapes”. They ask 30 artists to transform wine bottles and then the bottles are bid on in a silent and live auction. Patrons come and enjoy wine and food as they bid on the artistically transformed bottles. I am always excited and honored to participate. The artists attend the event and so many of us know each other and have spent time chatting, agonizing and celebrating each other’s bottles leading up to the event. As an artist we are used to creating what our imaginations or whim desires. It is an entirely different animal to be handed an object and asked to “turn it into a work of art”, one that (hopefully) a patron will want to purchase. I had never done anything like this before participating in 2008 and now look forward to it every year.
The first year (2008) when I picked up the bottle from the museum I thought to myself “This bottle is HUGE! What have I gotten myself into?” The bottle sat on my dining room table staring at me for a good two weeks. The light piercing though the pretty dark green glass only added to my apprehension. Each time I walked by that empty undecorated bottle I felt like it was watching me thinking to itself, “Yep, still here and you still have to make me into an amazing piece of artwork. No pressure…” Ugh.
Then I had an epiphany… why did I think I needed to paint flat pictures instead of creating texture, which is what I really love to do? I thought of the aboriginal artists who use the dots of color in repetition close together creating a subtle but mesmerizing visual narrative. So I decided to go in the direction of texture again but through the use of paint. I masked off small triangles at the top of the bottle and sprayed it with grey matte primer. I then removed the masking tape to reveal the pretty transparent green glass. I began by drawing small circles at the top of the bottle. I wasn’t sure what I wanted the whole scene to be yet, so I started painting. I painted solid color first and then when it was dry began painting dots on top of the solid color. The dots were made with the back of a small paint brush and sit just a millimeter apart. I could only make 3 dots before re-dipping the brush to ensure even circles of color. I find the more I work on something, the more ideas start to flow. After I began the top I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of the design. I drew giant abstract flowers at the bottom, mountains, clouds and a large rising sun. I painted them all flat colors, and then added dots in other colors on top of the first flat layer of paint. I was very excited with the finished bottle and the event was a great success.
In 2009, I created a bottle in the same style but the subject matter changed. My bottle turned from day to night and the mood therefore changed as it turned. One side had a full moon and turned to a sunny, cozy scene on the other side. I relish thinking three dimensionally and having a bottle to paint allows me to think about how a viewer will experience each side of the finished piece.
This year, I couldn’t wait to get started on my bottle and finished it in record time. I used the same technique of the dots, but again the design changed. I wanted to reflect the economy and express that visually with an optimistic slant. I painted huge pink flowers on one side. As the bottle turns the flowers are grayed and underneath some of the dotted petals I hid pieces from old newspapers about the economy. Now that I have my technique down I can concentrate on the theme of future bottles and can’t wait for next year.

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