Archive for September, 2014

Material to Identify

Monday, September 15th, 2014

While looking through my clay materials I ran across this jar.

Jar of Material

The jar is not labeled.

Open Jar of Material

So what is it?

In 1996 I was teaching at a community college in California. I arrived one evening to find a hall filled with bags and jars of materials. Apparently someone donated them not knowing that it was necessary to have an MSDS for each. There was all sorts of toxic stuff, lead and the like, and this jar. I brought it home and put it in a box until this weekend.

The material looked vaguely familiar, but couldn’t place it.


The unidentified material next to granular rutile. The unidentified is on the left, granular rutile is on the right.

And a closer look at each–

Unknown Material

Granular Rutile

I sent images to an artist friend who worked for a clay company for several years. He suggested it might be Ilmenite. Rather than looking through Conrad, I googled Ilmenite and found this on Wikipedia

Ilmenite is the titanium-iron oxide mineral with the idealized formula FeTiO3. It is a weakly magnetic black or steel-gray solid. From the commercial perspective, ilmenite is the most important ore of titanium.

Magnetic??? I gave the material a quick test. I grabbed my telescoping magnet. When I placed the magnet near the material this happened–


Curious where ilmenite could have been mined and found this information of the

Encyclopedia Britannia site–

Ilmenite… forms large masses, as in Iron Mountain, Wyo., and in the Ilmen Mountains, Russia, from which it derives its name.

The reason I was looking through my clay materials was to find possible materials for use in concrete.

Time to test.

Concrete as an Art Medium

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

I attempted to use concrete several times over the past 20 years. While some results were promising, I wasn’t ready to commit time to figure out why problems occurred.

I am currently working on a series of pod pieces. The pieces are constructed of actual woody pods. The contents removed and replaced with coins or metal bits woven into fulled wool, with hinges and bindings added.

Pods in Progress

Yep, they are in a plastic box. Ever since casemaking moths came to live in my studio, everything they might like to eat is stored in plastic or glass.

The plan was to make cedar boxes for the pods. And then a fun thing happened. I was rearranging some things in my studio and found some concrete cups and tiles from my last concrete casting attempt.

Concrete Cup and Prototype

The concrete cup on the right was cast in a silicone mold.
The mold was made of a waxed woven cup similar to the on the left.

Immediately I started thinking about making concrete boxes for my pods. But how? Concrete box with wood lids? Concrete with bamboo support? Concrete with inlaid copper? Concrete with metal mesh and code?

I googled concrete and found loads of stuff on using ready mixed concrete to make functional objects and tons of stuff on hypertufa.

Then I found Andrew Goss. He has a website with lots of great information for using concrete to make art pieces.

After reading the information on his site, I realized that I had attempted to cast thin walls without compensating for the removal of aggregate. Adding latex wasn’t enough especially when I was not caring properly for the pieces. I did not know the importance of wrapping the pieces in plastic. Why, I don’t know. My background is in clay and I definitely know how to care for clay during forming and drying.

I selected four concrete and hypertufa mixes for my first test–

 Materials Mix 1  Mix 2  Mix 3  Mix 4 
 Vermiculite 1.5    
 Peat Moss    1.5    

I added very little water so that I could press the concrete into silicone cup molds. I wrapped the concrete-filled molds in plastic. After two days I removed the pieces from the molds, leveled the bottoms of the cups, then wrapped them in plastic. Every day I have given the concrete cups a dip in water, then rewrapped them in plastic, and popped them in yogurt cups. I do think that a thinner plastic would be better.

Wrapped Concrete Cups

The main objective is to find a concrete mix that when cured will live nicely with my pod pieces. I like the texture that results from using peat in a hypertufa mix, but I do not like the bits flitting about in the air when it is sifted. Wearing a respirator does not keep the peat dust from collecting all over the studio. Also, I really dislike the way it smells in the wet mix and every time I unwrap the test pieces.

Since I want to make a success of concrete this time, I thought it would be a good idea to use good and tested information. I purchased Andrew’s book, Concrete Handbook for Artists, Technical Notes for Small-Scale Objects. I wish that I had found the book the first time I attempted concrete.

Andrew Goss’ blog, Art Concrete.

Elder Jones’ blog, Sandpudding Studio. Wet Carved Concrete

John Annesley’s blog, Sustainable Buildings as Art. Burlap-crete

The Hypertufa Gardener

The Cement Tile Blog

Spiders and Spiders

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Not Dust on the Wall

The spiders have burst from their egg sac.

Spiders and Egg Sac

Spiders and Spiders

Previous Post on the Green Lynx Spider