Monday, October 11, 2010

Clay Date Mayhem

The Heights really can be a small town neighborhood. We have approximately 45,000 residents, which is more than twice the size of my hometown. Then there are all people who commute in and out for work or other business. That's a lot of people. Not to mention we live in the 4th largest city in the country. Because of this, I am still regularly surprised when a small web of connections crosses and I end up meeting people I kind of feel like I should have known already.

Recently, I had an amazingly good time at a little off-beat location called McCheek's Academy. Ms McCheek is a ceramics artist, real name Carole Smith. She and her husband are both creative types. They live in a pair of corrugated metal warehouses which are cut and sliced in to a couple small rental units, their primary residence and art spaces- a kiln for her, plus a studio for her own creative process and also the many classes she has started offering. Her husband does screen printing and has an area dedicated to keeping shops like Hello-Lucky in tshirts as well. All of this work and creativity is surrounded by a wonderful green garden where you could relax with a drink and forget the hustle of the world around you.

Carole and her husband have lived in the Heights for about 5 years. Like many of us, they saw the neighborhood as a place where the arts are appreciated and people are supportive of one another. This helped make career change a little easier for her. Carole had gone to arts college in London and had a lamp shop there where her pieces were bought and sold around the worl, but fate had it's way with her and, when she fell in love with an American, she landed in Houston. Like many an artist before her, Carole ended up in restaurant management to pay the bills while she kept the creative fires going with her Mc Cheek's Mayhem Etsy store, as well as custom orders. For Carole, Mayhem is all the pieces she creates and I am sure her new schedule is adding to the chaos. After 7 years, though, it was time to get back to where her heart is full time. She wanted to teach but a shortage of available art teacher positions in HISD helped her realize she might as well go out on her own. Welcome Mc Cheek's Academy to the mayhem.

McCheek's Academy is the perfect way for us to all create a little Mayhem of our own. Every Thursday night from 7- 10 PM, Carole hosts up to 10 friends for Clay and Cabernet. The perfect adult play date... or should I say 'clay date.' My friend Mairi came along, both of us having a mantra of "I love to drink and make stuff." I packed a fun bottle of wine and cruised on down West 9th to get my clay on. This is where it got tricky! I didn't realize at first that the "house" was a warehouse. It took a couple of u-turns to realize what I was looking for was this blue metal building surrounded by greenery. Once I was sure it was the place, the small sign on the fence welcomed Mairi and me to Clay & Cabernet.
619 W 9th (at Waverly).
Might be easier to find if you know it's across from the metal fence with the doll heads on it. Know the one I mean?

Carole and I connected via Teresa at Hello-Lucky. Small world. Even smaller world when I walked in the door to find another mom I have never met in person before but with whom I have emailed, who also happens to live in my teeny neighborhood, Proctor Plaza. THe next guest was Serena from Antidote. This also makes sense since Carole's husband screenprints Serena's uber cute Yeti Sunshine tshirts. There was one other person, Dran, and I didn't have a connection to her but this was obviously not her 1st creative endeavor as she made some beautiful tiles I show you further down.

Classes are currently held in a partially completed apartment which will eventually become a rental until for Carole. When that happens, she is preparing a nice space in the mail part of the house for class. For now, though, this is perfect. Just the right size and I didn't feel like I had to be so self conscious about the messes I sometimes make when I am trying to be creative.

We signed the guest book, making sure to put our emails so Carole can notify us when our items are ready. There was a cork screw and some wine glasses waiting there for me. Fab. The main table was set with a work area for each person and in the middle were cups and bowls and boxes of tools to cut, stamp, emboss and roll the slab of clay Carole had prepared for you.

Wine and tools

Also on display were some projects Carole and others had made, set out to give you ideas of how the paints would look after being glazed and also to get your creative juices flowing. I need help in that area. I am a very practical person in that I don't like to make things purely for decorations. I like them to have use. I must have picked up ever item on this table 3 times... Finally, I figured out that while I may not like decorative items, I know someone who does. My mom. I decided to make her a little gift for her garden.

Before we settled in with out own clay, Carole gave a brief lesson on some of the techniques we can use to create our pieces. The most important one was the process by which you adhere pieces to eachother, important if you wanted to make some kind of box or planter. Otherwise, she did quick demos of decorative techniques like embossing or rolling leaves in to the clay to make a more organic design. This leave rolling was going to be perfect for my mom's little garden sign! Carole had a few leaves on the table but said we could feel free to go in to the garden and find anything else we wanted. I decided it would be nice to have a look and headed through the metal door in to the big, lush garden.

Carole demonstrates some clay work techniques and gives up helpful tips for our projects

Carole's garden has everything from your run of the mill bushes to herbs and flowers, all available for your use.
Just pick what you want.

One the crowd had kind of mingled around, looked at some samples, asked questions, it was time to get down to work. Carole had pre-prepared large slabs of clay for us to work with. Each piece could easily make 2 larger projects, so no one should fear not getting their $35 worth. However, if you're not comfortable with working with clay in a raw form, she also has plates and cups that you can paint, which she will glaze and fire for you. Still, I was thrilled by starting from just-past-scratch with my clay.

Serena bringing her slab to the table. Carole provides aprons but I would still recommend dressing casual and comfortable since it's hands on. The clay can get a little messy and so can the paint.

After grabbing my own piece of clay, I used a template to cut a square and decided I would use flowers to make my decorative impression. I loved it! I was even more excited when I found letter stamps which can be used to make text on the clay. I added "Paula's Garden" and then.... Well, there wasn't a lot more to do. Luckily there were more creative in attendance. Serena said she was going to make some tiles (with herbs) and then some gift tags. GIFT TAGS! BRILLIANT! I had a huge piece of clay left and was thrilled by this idea. I am one of those people whose presents are usually not nearly as nice inside as they are wrapped on the outside. I loved the practical, useful and unbelievably cute idea of making little tags for presents or other occasions.

The flowers I rolled in to the clay for my mom's garden plaque.
The greenery rolling was a favorite technique of the crowd on this night.

Mairi rolled a giant fig leaf in to her clay and then cut it out to make a large base.
She had many little cut outs that she adhered to this base to make a bright, fun piece of art.

Thanks to Serena's idea, I was able to make maximum use of my clay slab, cutting out circle and other shapes, some embossed with stamps, others with leaves and flowers. I used small letter stamps to have some say Thank You, Joy, Love and Baby.

My tags were decorated in several ways.
I embossed words on them and pierced a small hole in each one to thread a ribbon through.

Fellow Proctor Plaza mom Kim used small circles and made several dozen designs from her slab. She is going to glue magnets on the back and use them as gifts through the Holidays this year. Another brilliantly practical idea!
Carole has cutters of all shapes and sizes.
Your imagination is the only limit on what you can create!

As I mentioned, Dran made some beautiful tiles in striking red. I can only imagine how brilliant they're going to be when they are glazed. Here is a hand drawn tile with pictures taken from a book about Kimonos and Obis. I can't believe I don't have a picture of her other tile, either. It was a beautiful free hand zinnia design taken from one of the obis in the book. I am just awed by people who have that kind of talent.

Attending Clay & Cabernet was a great adventure. I am already trying to get a group of friends to go with me in the next couple weeks. I want to make holiday gifts tags and maybe some small ornaments as teachers' gifts. And who knows what someone else with come up with that set the lightbulb off in my head for projects beyond those. If you're looking for a fun night out that's more than just sitting there with wine in your hand, have some wine and creativity at the same time. Every Thursday, 7 PM, you can have your own Clay Date!

My mom's garden plaque (Merry Christmas if you're reading this, Mom) and some of the tags I made for baby gifts and thank yous. It takes about 2 weeks for them to be double glazed and fired. I can't wait to see my finished products!

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