Memorializing a Breast

This morning I received an inquiry asking whether I make busts of breasts.  What an unusual question. Or is it?

I remember the day before my mother was to have her mastectomy, 13 years ago.  She was overcome with the thought that she would lose a breast. She had never thought much about her breasts before until the time came when one would be forcibly removed.  My sister and I set up a video camera in her room and gave her privacy so she could express her feelings of loss and sadness.

I never saw the videotape, but I had wanted to do SOMETHING to help ease her pain.  I used clay to start a "Survivor" series of art sculptures and jewelry.  I wanted to show women going through the painful "cure" for cancer (chemotherapy, radiation, nausea, skin burns, perceived loss of femininity) that they ARE still beautiful and worthy of being happy. So each survivor necklace is hand-painted with hopeful colors and they sometimes accentuate the missing appendage - a portion of the sales goes to the Komen Race for the Cure Foundation.  Each Cancer Survivor Goddess sculpture is shining with positive energy.  Each sculptural bust is thought-provoking and beautiful.  Mom appreciated the Survivor series and proudly wore the neckpieces with many of her outfits.  In fact, "Contemplating old Wounds" won Best of Show at the Valley Sculpture Artists art competition and an Award of Merit at the California State Fair.

But back to the bust for breasts project. . .  Without anymore information from the potential client, I assumed that she wanted not just a clay representation of her breast, but maybe a casting of her torso with both breasts intact.  A body cast, like what many pregnant women do.  For many years I have wanted to explore body casting techniques where strips of plastered-coated gauze are spread over a body part(s), dried/hardened, then filled with 1/4"-1/2" of plaster or concrete or clay which is later fired in a kiln.  I have seen demos of various ways of casting, even tried using latex to cast forms, and I have made several plaster molds for some of my artwork.

With the help of the Internet, I did a bit of research on the current methods for body casting and read commentary from others who had hints and tips.  After selecting one method to try, I went to several stores to find the needed materials. Then at 4 PM, in the garage, with a black plastic sheet over the floor, I filled a bucket with water and began to cut strips of gauze.  Then I took off all of my clothes (yes, I did) and sat on the floor with dozens of gauze strips around me.  All different sizes. Very important: use lots of Vaseline on the skin that will touch plaster. Lots of Vaseline, or you may have to chisel the plaster off your skin later.

So after about a hour of criss-crossing plaster-coated gauze-like strips, my torso was covered with a hardening plaster cast.

I carefully lifted it off and set it on top of the black plastic to dry completely.

A few hours later, after dinner, I was dismayed to find that the damp garage actually softened the plaster cast! And some of the layers were coming apart!  Squeezing some glue in between the layers, I let the cast sit an hour longer, but luck was not a lady tonight! The glue had not started drying at all.  So I brought it into the warm house and let it dry overnight.  Guess what? The glue was still almost liquid and the cast still not very stiff. Arrgghh!

Home Depot had to be the answer (as usual). I bought some Plaster of Paris and drywall tape and applied another layer of tape and plaster on both sides. After a couple of hours in front of a fan, it was stiff and dry.

A 3/8" layer of clay was fitted into the crevices of the form, the excess cut away into a pleasing shape, and the form allowed to dry a few hours.

I did not want to wait for it to be leather hard overnight, so I flipped the large form over onto a towel and the clay form popped out, as hoped.  Hurrah!  After some adjustments to the clay, I took a damp sponge and evened out the rough spots.  Voila! My first body cast! Tomorrow the body will get more detailing.  The glazing for this one may end up being rather abstract or whimsical, but I won't really know until it happens.

Next time, I'll tweak this methodology a bit, but the first time ended up being pretty darn successful!  How exciting! The breast can be memorialized!




After a hectic, hectic first half of 2010 preparing for my “Legacy” art show in July and other art venues, and creating a metal studio and learning how to make half a dozen Amazon-sized garden sculptures, I just sat back and realized that I’ve taken four vacations in the last three months!  And what an improvement that has made in my spirit and emotional well-being!

First was a trip to Shelter Cove, along the north coast of California, mowing my dad’s many lawns at his house which overlooks the ocean.  Dad is no longer able to live there due to Alzheimer's Disease and every few weeks his wife’s family drives 5.5 hours from Sacramento to care for the property.  

So in July, my sister and boyfriend and I volunteered to make the “sacrifice” of doing some very difficult yardwork for many hours, looking at the ocean from the kitchen window, admiring the sunset while eating dinner, watching the stars so big and bright in a sky devoid of obscuring city lights, walking along black sand beach, eating the shrimp and fries basket in the tiny “town” of Shelter Cove, exploring the tidepools, and hiking in the Kings Wilderness area. 

And I brought 50 pounds of clay and made several nature-inspired wall hangings which will be unveiled at the Crocker Art Museum Holiday Art Show the weekend after Thanksgiving.

In early August, I bragged in my Spirituality and Art blog about not doing anything that I had planned to do (no clay, no newsletter writing, no blogging) at our annual vacation in Mendocino, CA, which is 1.5 hours or so south of Shelter Cove and two hours north of San Francisco, CA.  It was evident that I was starting to unwind from the frenetic pace I had set earlier in the year.

In mid-September, we went camping for several nights at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. We were within walking distance of a creek a long stone’s throw from our campsite.  We were near stands of redwoods five minutes from our campsite.

We hiked up to see waterfalls and stunning overlooks to the mountains surrounding Big Sur.

We drove down the coastal highway to visit Hearst Castle.

We went to another waterfall which can be seen from State Highway 1.

On the way back home, we walked around Carmel, CA, and looked at several art galleries.

The weekend after the Big Sur trip, we dressed up and drove back down south for the Renaissance Faire at Casa de Fruta on the Pacheco Pass, meeting my boyfriend’s daughter there.  They went on the huge swing and we ate traditional foods such  as the Toad in a Hole, huge artichokes, cottage pasties and the like.  My favorite African import store was there – “Upsan Downs” – so I got some more African bracelets.  

And I got my first tattoo at the Renaissance Faire, to the delight of my daughter-in-law who has been clamoring for us to go together and get tats; mine was only a henna tattoo that time, but I loved it and might make it permanent.

The last trip was to the Evergreen Lodge in the Yosemite area.  And what a treasure! The weather was record-breaking 100s in Sacramento and in the low-80s at Yosemite, which was PERFECT!  Lots of hiking through unimaginably beautiful and unusual countryside. Parts of the granite mountains looked like we were on another planet.

The sunsets from our room were magnificent.  And I cannot even describe the starry starry night above.  We even saw the Milky Way!

Have you ever been trapped in a life-sized spider web?  The Evergreen Lodge had lots of fun and artsy structures for kids of all ages.

So I took the Nature Cure and am renewed and ready to embark upon a new type of creativity.  

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I prescribe the Nature Cure!  I also donate 10% of all sales of my breast cancer survivor art jewelry to breast cancer research, so if you're interested, please take a look: http://www.kanika.us/1mastectomy_pp.htm



I volunteered to do a clay demonstration at the Patris S12 Gallery Art Preview Night last month.  My goal was to start and finish an art piece that would be worthy of contributing to the Third Annual Art Bra Show this year to be held at the 20th Street Gallery, 911 20th Street, Sacramento, CA.  Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) and Albie Aware Breast Cancer Foundation are preparing to host the Third Annual Art Bra Show to bring awareness to the plight of breast cancer in Sacramento and its effects on all women. Please join us for a special tribute art show to help bring awareness and raise funds for these two organizations. Women’s Wisdom Art, a program of SFBFS, and the Albie Aware Breast Cancer Foundation will be hosting Art Bra Show 3 on September 8-30, 2010.  The silent auction is on September 11th, from 5-8 PM, but you may place your bids anytime between Sept 8 and 11th.

And so on August 12th, with a 25-pound bag of red clay and a quickly put together round table and stool, I made an armature out of a pipe flange attached to a lazy susan, with a fabric-covered pipe extending from the center. I began to roll some long clay snakes on the tiny table top. I thought it would be easiest to make a coil sculpture since I had such a small space to make it in.

After I had enough snakes, I started forming the basic structure. Round and round the snakes go, using the same overlapping technique that one might use on a pie crust edging.

After an hour or so, the body was taking shape.  I made some cross-members to keep the body from expanding too much. I had forgotten my paddles and had to beat and compress the sides with my hands and the water bottle.  You can see the overlapping techniques on the top two rows.  I also used a metal rib to compress the clay and as the clay dried I was able to use the serrated side of the rib to make a cool texture on the clay. That action served to flatten out the walls of the trunk.  Because I spent a bit of time talking with customers and other artists from 5-8 PM, I did not have time to make her head while still at the gallery.

So . . . when I returned home I made a flattened piece of clay, slightly curved at the edges.  I accentuated the breasts then cut out an interesting triangle area in the middle of the chest.  You tell me what that is for . . . After drying a couple of days, I had to decide what colors to glaze the body.  I wanted it to be special for this special fundraiser but did not want the glaze to obliterate the linen-like textural quality of the skin.  

So I chose red and black iron oxide brushed on, then wiped off, with a touch of diluted clear glaze over the top to make the natural color of the red clay shine through.  But I also wanted a bit of "flavor" so I painted several purple spiral-esque tattoos on her back and the neck.  Then into the firey kiln (yes, she was only fired once).

I knew I should have made an egg shape for the head! But I didn't and the head ended up taking me much longer than making the whole body! I ended up welding some steel pieces together, wiring and and attaching them to the clay head.  This structure also served to balance the body so it wouldn't tip over.

I wanted the face to have a different sheen than the body so I used acrylics to make her look contented.  Sparkle in her eyes.  Funky hair of reds, browns and oranges, with a same color bra edged in brown leather.  What do her eyes see?  What is she smiling about?

And the finishing touch is a necklace that reflects the joyful turquoise and red colors in the tile on which she sits.  What's in a name? Everything.  I polled my Facebook Friends to help me come up with a name.  The perfect name came in after I had delivered her to Helen Plenert, the director of the Women's Wisdom Project:  "The Girl from Ipanema" - beautiful brown skin, sitting on ocean colors, skimpy bra top, sun-kissed hair.  And my dad's second favorite song in the world.

And I hope she finds the perfect home as a result of the 20th Street Gallery fundraiser, because the money she brings in could help disadvantaged women learn about breast health, as well as learn that they are beautiful, no matter what their present circumstance or malady.  I want women to have the hopeful outlook represented in the face of the "Girl from Ipanema."


Layers of Life

This month "Layers of Life" is on display at the Patris S12 gallery this month: July 8th 6-8 pm and July 10th, August 11th, and September 11th, 2010, 6-10 pm at 1200 S Street, Sacramento, CA.

Click here to read: Kanika's July Newsletter


Remembering Mom

On April 1st, my sister, brother and I celebrated what would have been mom's 76th birthday with her best friend, Mrs. James, mom's great grandson, and my boyfriend.  We went to our favorite restaurant, Crepeville, to reminisce.

We told stories about mom and Mrs. James going to the casino once a month. Don't get in between mom and her Double Diamonds slot machine! (smile). We talked about other friends recently departed. We talked about grand children and great children, the carriers of the genetic torch.  We ate fantastic light meals, then before the rain started to fall, adjourned our annual remembrance.

Coming back home, I knew that it was finally time to get started on my project.  The Blue Moon Gallery agreed to have a retrospective art show of my and my mom's artwork.  She was a watercolorist and I have my mixed media Kanika African Sculptures.  I need to provide a couple of photographs showing the best of our respective art pieces for advertisement of the show scheduled for July.  Last night, I gathered all of mom's already-matted and framed work, selected about 30 of the best pieces, and took the best pictures I could without removing them from the frames.  It was a somber, yet joyful, process to see her work again.  Touching each piece was like touching her spirit. Setting the pictures around my livingroom made me remember what a fabulous artist she was, as well as being a phenomenal human being.

Here are a few of mom watercolors that might make it into the Blue Moon show in July:

Starting May 1st, mom's prints and original watercolors will also be on sale at the Kuumba Collective Art Gallery, 1001 Del paso Blvd., Sacramento, CA.  They are open from 10 AM to 4 PM, Thursday through Saturday.


Make a Mask with Kanika - A Day to Play with Clay

It was just supposed to be an art show celebrating Black History Month.  The Branch Manager at the Elk Grove Library just wanted her library users to have the opportunity to see some black-oriented art in her beautiful new library at the edge of old town Elk Grove, California.  But she and I were concerned that few people would visit the show in their community room.  Neither one of us wanted me to be sitting there, probably mostly by myself, for six hours. So we talked about making this a hands-on event: "Make a Mask with Kanika."  I would bring some clay and let people carve a little mask. Simple, right?  Well . . . because we advertised the event on Facebook, through the local newspaper, to hundreds of people on my e-newlsetter mailing list, and in the library itself, it did not turn out to be a simple day.

The night before, I spent about one hour rolling out mask forms, about eight clay blanks on each of six cookie sheets.  I wanted the very soft clay to set up a bit so that it was "leather hard" and better able to be carved.  I also brought an additional 100 pounds of clay in case we ran out (which we did) and/or people wanted to roll out their own pieces from scratch (which many did).  OK, the prep was done and the car loaded up by 8:30 Friday night.  I spent the rest of the evening watching the Olympics.

On Saturday morning at about 8:00 AM, my son, Matthew, got out of his warm bed and helped me to set up my art display at the library starting at 8:30 AM.  Pat had also asked one of her student volunteers to help me set up the room (thank you!)

I had carefully planned to use four long tables for the attendees, and a fifth one for me.  We put two chairs at each table, but I knew that we could fit one more on the other side of each table if we needed to, for a maximum of 12 people who could make a mask at the same time.  I had brought some plastic table cloths to protect the table-top surfaces, an 8.5" x 11" piece of cardboard and a small sponge for each station, and a bowl of water and spray bottle for each table. I also put out lots of assorted tools at each station that could be used to make textures on the clay.

We set up three more tables on the opposite side of the room for my three-dimensional sculptures, African art books, Kanika portfolios, autograph book, and business cards and postcards.

We also set up information from "I Made It" and "Alpha Ceramics", local businesses who would let attendees glaze/color their masterpieces and could fire the masks for a small price.  OK, by 10 AM I was ready. And the people started coming.  And they came and they came all day long!  In fact, all of the following pictures were taken between 10:30 and 11:30 AM or so, because after that the crowd was huge and I only had time to work with them on making their masks.

But by noon, new people were coming far faster than the old people were leaving. So three more long tables had to be set out, handling four people each. And I had to divvy up the tools I brought.  From about noon to 3:00 PM, I was attempting to assist up to 20 people at a time who wanted to learn how to make a mask.  From the youngest of about two years of age, to many teenagers, to many middle-agers, to several older folks like me, it was a fun and free-wheeling time in the Elk Grove Library Community Room today!!!  Pat kept coming in and marveling with me about how successful the event was.

Thank goodness for the Delta Sigma Theta sorority who brought refreshments!  I was so busy from 10 AM to 3:30 PM that I only had time to drink about 1/2 cup of water and eat two cookies brought by the Deltas.  I didn't realize how hungry and thirsty I was until I got into my car to come home!

So after putting away the sculptures, taking a shower, and eating some quickly-prepared dinner, I reflected on what made the day so special.  They are in no particular order, as follows:

*The weather was sunny and bright, no rain in sight as was prophesied by the weather people.

* Many of my customers and friends came to support me and find out how the sculptures are made.

* Each attendee used the clay in amazing ways, either by creating extraordinary textures on the clay or great shapes.  One lady made several parts for what will be her entry into the 2010 Art Bra Show in honor of breast cancer. One lady made a face sculpture on the back of a spoon and an amazingly delicate filigree design for the headdress.  An initially-reluctant father jumped in and made a cool mask to show his little girls that he was as cool as they were in making a mask.  One lady made the most beautiful small face (I later found out she too had taken numerous clay classes from Cosumnes River College Art Director, Yoshio Taylor).  Another lady made a heart but added numerous additional hearts overlapping the first one.  Another lady decided to try a bowl form.  So many ideas that I cannot list all of them.

* The children were ALL so polite, whether their parents were around or not. None were goofing off, yet they all had a ball making masks and other clay forms.  Their level of creativity was amazing.

* Pat and one of her star employees helped me break down the display. I felt a little bad for the janitor because many of the black chairs were covered with grey-colored clay and the floors would need cleaning.

* All ethnicities and religious persuasions were represented by the attendees.  There was amazing harmony in that room.

* Everyone really seemed to get a great deal from their hands-on experience. And that's what my primary goal was!  I left the library with a sense of hopefulness and excitement that so many people were turned on to clay!