When I build a master
cane I begin by making a number of individual canes that will become
primary components of the master cane. I don’t plan
the master cane design ahead of time; rather I make
a bunch of individual canes in the color palette I have chosen. I make
whatever designs come
to mind as I am working. I am trained as a botanist so often the
components are plant elements. I rarely make an entire flower or plant;
usually the canes are individual petals, small groups of 2-3 petals, or
leaves. Whole flowers will appear when sections of the cane are
I try to make canes that vary in shape, color,
intricacy of design and value (lightness/darkness). When I have what
feels like a good number and variety
of canes, I take thin slices off of them and start
exploring composition by moving the slices around on a tile.
These are the canes I made for the master
cane I will start designing in my next post. Some of them are left from
my first effort (shown in previous posts), others are new. A few are
versions of the canes you saw in the previous post.
My component canes tend to be quite small in
cross-section. I am simply unable to visualize their overall
arrangement if they become much
larger. (I’ve noticed in my workshops that people
vary considerably with respect to the sizes of canes they are
comfortable making.) The
slices you see above are displayed on a 6 inch
square tile, so you can imagine how small they are. In order to have
enough master cane to
make plenty of unique kaleidoscope designs when I’m done, I make the
component canes about 3 inches tall/long.
I also pre-construct a series of what I call
“linear elements” that can be used create rhythm in the design and to
separate neighboring canes
that are too similar in color or
value. Finally, I make a shaded bullseye or two and some shaded
blocks that I can cut up to create filler for small
gaps in the design. I
think of these canes as “support elements” in the overall design. They
greatly expand the flexibility I have when positioning
the primary component canes. Here are some of the support elements for
the master cane I will begin designing in the next post.
I’m working on
what will be my last kaleidoscope master cane for a while and I want to
get it right. This one has been a real challenge for me
because I want to keep the colors really strong, which means not adding
as much white as usual. In recent years my kaleidoscope designs have
had little or no background surrounding the individual design elements.
Rather, the elements are pressed against one another, which means there
has to be a strong value contrast from one to the next in order for
them to be readable in the final design. I could outline them all in
black but that
would either produce a stained glass window effect (if the lines are
thick) or tone down the colors in the reduced cane (if the lines are
don’t want that to happen, so I have to maximize the value contrast
between the edges of adjacent elements.
These are the components I’m working with at this point. Each component
cane is 3 inches tall. I have sliced off the tops of the canes and
arranged them on a tile in one possible design for the master cane.
(The triangle is 5.5 inches from top to bottom.) I’m not happy with the
results so I’m going to be moving some of the pieces around, taking
some out, and making some new ones to fill in gaps as I work towards
my final design. If I did this with the actual canes I would risk
damaging them, so I will be using only slices. I decided to take you
with me as I work this through to give you a peek at my process. It is
the same process students in my 6-Day Kaleidoscope
Pendant Workshop use when they build their master canes.
of the things I didn’t like about the original design were
were colors that didn’t belong.
The arrangement lacked rhythm; it was more of a hodgepodge than a
design consisting of interrelated parts.
There wasn’t enough value (light/dark) contrast within
some of the canes.
There wasn’t enough value (light/dark) contrast between
some of the neighboring canes.
The first thing I dealt with was the color issue. I had
been lazy and incorporated some canes left over from a previous
project. These canes are
marked with an “x” in the picture.They just didn’t fit: The leaves were
more olivey and desaturated than the rest of the cane and the blue had
a lot of
black in it and thus was too shaded to go with the others. As much as
it hurt to take a step “backward,” I took those canes out. I also
took out the
large trumpet shaped cane in the middle because I didn’t think it had
enough value contrast.
At this point I
started fresh, with new slices of the remaining canes, so it is
“goodbye” to the above arrangement. In the next post I’ll write
modifications to some of
the remaining canes and show you some of the new canes I added (and
explain why). I’ll also show you my first efforts to
create a more rhythmic design.
Building a Master Cane: Finishing the Design Phase and Starting the Cane
This post was nearly finished yesterday then something happened with
WordPress and I lost it all. Hope I can remember what I said!
I had planned on describing the construction of a
new design for the master cane from the cane slices I showed in my last
post. However, as I
worked on the design I realized I could
provide the same information (why I did what I did) when I was actually
building the cane. So, I won’t
describe the design phase. The
results are shown below. You can see that I didn’t finish the
design; I seldom do. I’m an impatient person so once
the design is developed to the
point where I feel I know where I’m going with the cane I stop
designing and start building the cane. (Also, I always
deviate from the design to some extent when I build the cane, so it
doesn’t pay to fuss too much with the initial design.)
The X marks the
spot where I started. Although I didn’t finish the plan it served its
purpose. Unlike the first plan this one had rhythm and continuity
as well as more contrast between the elements. I
learned that most of the linear canes I had planned to use to separate
the main elements of the
design weren’t going to work because
they didn’t provide enough contrast. I decided to keep some and
supplement those with simple slices of shaded
rectangular blocks made from
Skinner Blends and wedges cut from shaded bullseye canes. In this post
I’ll talk about building the first section of the
cane starting in the lower right hand corner. These are the canes I
used for the first and second sections of the master cane:
(The collection above should include a slice off of a shaded orange
block but the picture was taken before it was made.)
The first section I built looked like this:
I started with the pinkish, trumpet shaped “flower” (1).
Initially I had planned to place the leaves right next to the flower
but changed my
mind for this reason: Although
the colorsof the flowers and leaves are quite different
they are similar in value and would blend
together visually. I needed to separate them to
make the final design more readable. First I added the narrow white
margin around the lower
part of the flower cane but this didn’t provide enough
separation so I added wedges cut from a shaded orange block (2) along
the sides of the
flower. The wedges were effective because they were
(a) lighter in value than both the flower and the leaves, (b)
simpler in design (plainer) than
the more detailed leaves and flower, and (c) wide
enough to provide good separation (the white margin wasn’t). The
wedges’ shading made them
more interesting than a simple sheet of orange
clay would have been. After the wedges were in place I added the leaves
everything together to eliminate and gaps.
The orange wedges served a second purpose in the design: they supported
the flared top of the flower. First I pressed the flower cane into the
shape I wanted, then I formed the orange wedges so they would fit
the curve of the flower. This is an important point. When you put two
together you want to be sure each piece is shaped appropriately before
you put them together. Trying to shape one piece by pressing on the
piece next to it is seldom successful.
My next goal was to create an oval shaped shaded line around the
flower. Because the top of the flower didn’t have the curve I wanted I
half of a shaded bulls-eye cane above the
flower (4). I cut the cane in half lengthwise and used a rod to curve
the flat side before placing it on the
flower. Then it was ready to add the oval line.
Except it wasn’t. It is quite difficult to make a wrapped
sheet of clay form a smooth curve in a cane. For that to happen the
perimeter of the cane
inside the curve must be perfectly smooth. My cane had
small bumps where the leaves met the yellow wedges. I had to smooth the
tops of the
leaves down to blend smoothly into the orange wedges before I
could add the sheet to form the blue line. I did that then added the
Next I added the piece with the orange dots (6). Before I added it, I
elongated and curved it to match the curve of the oval.then I pressed
it in place. I wanted to preserve the cusp-shaped separation between
the new piece and the oval so I cut a wedge out of a shaded maroon
bullseye cane. I used rods to press the flat sides of the wedge into
gentle curves to match the sides of the gap before putting it in place
and pressing it against the canes (7).
I added the last three components in the order show, shaping each to
match the cane supporting it before I put it in place. The leaf cane
had rounded corners initially. If I had wanted to maintain the curve on
the inner corner I would have added a small cusp-shaped triangle to
support the curve.
At this point I made sure all parts of the cane were pressed firmly
together and no gaps remained. This was easy to do because I had taken
care to eliminate gaps as added each component. I put this part of the
cane aside and started building the neighboring section (below). I will
tell how I did that in the next post.
Section 1. In the previous post I constructed section 1.
Here is another look at the plan and section 1 as I constructed it.
If you compare the two pictures you can see that I generally followed
the plan in regard to the component canes I used, but their shapes and
dimensions turned out to be quite different in the cane. This is always
the case for me. Entire component canes behave differently than slices
off the tops.
My construction of section 2 is shown on the right. You can see there
are several areas where I diverged from the plan (above). I made the
changes because when I started to assemble section 2 I placed it next
to section 1 to see how the two sections would relate and found the
energy I had hoped to create just wasn’t there.
The canes I was adding were too simply close in color and value to the
canes that were already there to produce the contrast I wanted. I
decided to use the purple striped cane to separate the two sections.
Because of its high contrast in values and it’s eye-catching striped
pattern it enlivened the transition. I also replaced the three
mid-value canes in the lower left corner with a single cane. The
“California poppy” cane’s sharply contrasting yellow and red-orange
color and its simple design added another energetic element to the
design. The cane section was essentially “bookended” by strong
elements. A third strong element (the dark orange flower) topped off
this section of the cane.
To provide added separation between the patterned elements I increased
the number of Skinner blended slices in the cane. These slices are from
blocks made by rolling Skinner Blends into long strips then cutting the
strips into rectangles and stacking the rectangles from light to dark
to form shaded blocks of clay. The blocks were elongated to 3 inches,
the height of the other components, then sliced into thin slices.
A note about color in the cane: I used only primary colors, a bit of
black, and lots of white in the cane. The secondary colors (orange,
green and purple) and all the others were mixed; they were not packaged
colors. In addition, all of the colors I used were “toned down”
slightly from their rainbow equivalents. I added a tiny bit of the
complement to tone down the hue and white to enhance the value
gradation in my blends.
The more you work with a cane, the more opportunity there is for it to
become distorted or pick up flecks of clay from the surrounding area;
therefore I set section 1 aside and began section 2. I wanted to start
with the purple striped cane but without section 1 there was nothing to
support it. I solved this problem by using a glass jar to support the
cane and maintain the curve while I worked.
I often find it is easier to combine individual subcomponents before
adding them to the main cane. The flower on the left was
constructed as a single component cane early on. Before I added it to
section 2, however, I attached the fuchsia blend and the “grass leaf ”
cane. Adding these parts before attaching the flower cane allowed me to
press them firmly against the flower cane without having to worry about
distorting the purple striped cane. Following the same strategy I
placed the purple-to-white blends on the two sides of the upper leaf
cane (7) before adding it to section 2.
I worked outward (to the left) from the purple striped cane supported
on the jar. As was the case with section 1, all of the curved elements
were curved by pressing them against a glass or rod before adding them
to the cane.
A couple of words of caution…
The clay I use (Premo) is often soft enough that one piece
touching another can become stuck and impossible to remove without
damaging one cane or the other. This is the case even though I leach
nearly all of my Premo clay before I cane with it. When I have to place
two pieces together to check a fit I dust them thoroughly with corn
starch first so I will be able to separate them easily. When I come to
the point where I want them to adhere to each other I rub them with a
little clay softener to eliminate the effect of the cornstarch.
Every time you add a new component to a master cane I suggest you
check to see that the cane extends all the way to the bottom of the
master cane and will fit against it for its entire length before you
press it into place. If you only look at the top you are likely to end
up with gaps and missing sections of cane at the bottom.
Building a Master Cane: Finishing the Construction
Here is the master cane after all the components have been added and
the cane has been compacted but not reduced. You are looking at a
1/4th inch thick slice I took off the back of the cane with my slicer.
The slice is 5 inches from the tip of the triangle to the base.
In this post I’m going to talk about adding the remaining four
sections. I won’t discuss all the components this time, but I will
point out some of the decisions (and mistakes) I made as the cane
progressed. The sections of the cane and the order in which I
added them are shown below.
As I worked I focused on providing visual separation between the
Putting lighter canes next to darker canes and vice versa.
Putting simple, plain canes next to more visually complex canes.
Using neighboring canes of different hues
Using a variety of cane shapes
Using “line” canes or thin slices off of shaded blocks between
components that were too similar visually.
I also aimed for a feeling of motion, energy, and fluidity.
I went through several iterations of section 3, primarily because of
carelessness. I inadvertently allowed some components to touch
one another before they were in the correct positions. Because the room
was warm they stuck together and I had to pull or cut them apart. Some
were so damaged I had to replace them with new components. Another
difficulty was that I handled the piece so much that I distorted the
profile on the right hand side where I planned to connect it to section
2. (After that I went home for the day – always a good strategy in such
I used a lot of “line” canes to separate elements from their neighbors
in section 3. The most effective were the purple and white stripes and
the pale blue “bricks”. The others weren’t as effective because they
didn’t provide enough contrast. I also used some slices off of shaded
blocks as fillers and dividers. If you look closely you can see a
fuchsia one, a teal one and a green one.
As I constructed sections 3 and 4 I added the lower two corners of the
triangle. I left section 6 for last because I thought it would be
From the beginning I planned to have different colors predominate in
different areas of the cane. Sections 1 and 4, combined, make a mostly
blue-green-purple region. Section 3 is dominated by turquoise. I
planned for section 5 to have red-orange, red-violet and green on one
side and blue-greens and purples on the other. I did this knowing that
when I cut up the cane and kaleidoscoped the sections I would end up
with kaleidoscopes consisting of very different color combinations. On
the right are some examples; there will be more in the next post (after
I’ve sanded and buffed them).