Jody Bishel, Dios 1999, 8″ high

In the late 1990’s Jody Bishel created a series of vessels based on botanical imagery.  Jody recently sent me this image of her favorite vessel. She called this piece DIOS after watching the Japanese anime series Shojo Kakume Utena.

Jody explained her title this way:

“The character of Dios was the ideal prince who eventually found that living up to that selfless ideal was an impossible challenge, a bit like keeping all lint and dirt out of a complicated white vessel form! I had in mind to do a companion piece in black and name it Akio after the character who was Dios’ opposite side.
There’s this part of my brain that still thinks that perfection is possible and it pushes me to keep trying. In the end I let go of that and love the work more for its imperfections. This piece seemed to sum up a lot of the elements I’d been using in the series.”

Speaking about some of the technical challenges in creating this piece, Jody added:

“It’s a challenge to work all in translucent and shades of white and keep it clean. Limiting the color let me focus on shape and texture. I always like to play surfaces off against each other.
These vessels make many trips to the oven between stages and it is very important to support them with fiberfill while they bake. Warm clay is weak clay. Sometimes I use strips of paper taped around a piece to support things. I used aluminum foil of shield parts of the piece and tried to bake as little as necessary in order to keep the whites clean. I usually bake the leaves with the pot up side down so that if they slump they’ll go in the right direction. I like a small foot on these pieces which puts too much stress on the bottom of the vessel if I don’t support it with a ring of something when I re-bake. I had sent Dios out to be photographed for a polymer clay calendar that unfortunately fell through. It took a long time for them to send the piece back and it arrived badly packed and with several leaves broken. I just couldn’t deal with it for years. When I finally made the repairs I neglected to support the bottom of the piece and it now has cracks in the opaque liquid Sculpey glazed interior. I’ve decided to just live with them. Actually translucent and opaque liquid Sculpey are a big help in building an elaborate form like this. They aren’t just decorative. They add strength and aid it attaching fresh clay to cured clay.”

Here are few more images of Jody’s vessel forms:

Speaking about her early vessel forms and about her personal creative process, Jody said:

“I still have my very first vessel form, a small stylized pomegranate that I built over a wooden apple from the craft store. I’m often tempted to photograph it next to one of the later ones for comparison’s sake, to remind myself of how simply they began. When I’m working on a project I rarely understand all the aspects of the piece until it is complete and I can step back and look at it.

The possibilities of any material fascinate me and I work in a gently directed intuitive way. For me the act of creating is a very spiritual and meditative process so it shouldn’t seem surprising to realize that the vessels are small scale temples, containers for a bit of sacred space, a peaceful moment in time. The detail is there as a tribute to the creative forces of the natural world and also to slow down and draw in the viewer. Change your focus, change your world.

After that description you’re probably picturing me working on a vessel in a peaceful studio, all sunshine and light with each step proceeding as it should. Hardly. My studio is still my kitchen table. To achieve the result I wanted I had to develop all sorts of tricks to keep the clay from tearing itself apart in the oven. I was definitely pushing the material beyond what common sense would expect of it. Sometimes the failures were more interesting than what I had set out to do.

When things go wrong I invariably go through the same three stages: 1) Stomping and swearing profusely, 2) Despair of ever completing the piece or anything else of merit, and 3) Reconciliation. I take a deep breath, gather up the broken pieces and get on with it. That finished vessel is a well earned victory and that’s when they become peaceful.”

I cannot remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in looking at art, talking about art and the making of art. In 1990 I earned a Phd in art history at the University of Maryland. My first experiences with polymer clay were in 1992, but I consider my real work with the medium to date from 1999.