Making art as part of a collaborative community is an ever-changing, unpredictable, and always inspiring process. In this series, we celebrate the unexpected outcomes of studio cross-pollination, collaboration, mishaps and coincidences. Today, Sumati shares her process for making her magnificent birds.
Sumati and the birds
As well as the more popular pieces, I also make some more unusual ones, and these two birds are wonderful examples. They’re a pelican and a blue heron, and they’re really large – standing over three feet tall.
The heron and the pelican
For birds like this, they need to stand up on tall metal legs – unlike other sculptures which sit on wide bases on the ground. So I enlist the help of a friend who’s a metal artist. The first stage is like any other piece, and takes place in my ceramics studio.
I make the birds’ bodies out of clay, molding and shaping them until they’re exactly how I want. I also add the textures of the feathers and the detailing, getting the angle and the weight distributed so that it’ll stand correctly when it’s upright. It takes a long time to get it all right!
When it’s almost dry, I cut a huge hole in the bottom. Then it’s fired separately, and finished. I do all the glazing and staining, and the final effect is incredibly realistic. They all have glass eyes, and for the heron I add the characteristic long feathers coming out from the back of the head, which I make from brass wire pounded out to add a patina. And then the whole thing is glazed; white, grey, black, and the beak is stained.
Welding in the structure
The final stage is bringing the piece to the metal artist. It probably weighs about forty pounds, so not too heavy – remember it’s got that huge hole in the base, where the legs will be attached. My friend is an amazing artist and welder. The first thing he does is make these wide metal struts that get glued on the inside, into the wings or back of the heron. It takes about thirty hours to set this glue, because it’s so strong, and that’s a good thing: it makes the final piece really durable.
Then he starts welding from the inside out. The legs are welded on to this web of struts inside the bird, so there’s no danger it will topple off. It means that the bird can stand up on these beautiful delicate legs without any danger of it collapsing or breaking. The final outcome is strong and delicate; it’s a realistic bird, but it will be able to last outside in all weathers.
Herons in the wild
The heron is associated with three elements: air, water and earth. It’s a very patient hunter, waiting next to streams and rivers to catch the fish that sustain it, and so it brings a tranquil, peaceful energy to a space. As a bird that lives by water, I love seeing herons out by a pond or next to a pool in the backyard.
One person bought a heron and placed it at the end of their dock. The base is metal, so it’s heavy enough to be bolted down. The effect of the heron looking out to the lake was magical!
Interested in a friend for your outside space?
As we spend more time outdoors over the summer months, a handmade piece of ceramic art is a beautiful way to add interest to the outside of your home in your yard, pool or garden.
A tall heron or pelican standing gracefully adds natural interest to a pool, and is an elegant addition to the edge of any water feature. Come into the studio and talk to Sumati about the piece you’d like to welcome to your home.