Around the turn of the millenium I emerged from the fog of caring for young children (including a set of twins) and realized that once again I had the time and energy to pursue interests of my own. To my surprise, the two obsessions that have taken up my leisure time since then have been reptile breeding and ceramics. Who knew?
I bought my first reptile since childhood (those regrettable days of buying and inadvertently killing “chameleons” [anoles] and iguanas due to ignorance), a leopard gecko, in 2003. During the summer of 2004, with my twins away at overnight camp for the first time, I took a three-week pottery class. I figured I’d better have a final project idea for the class and decided, not surprisingly, to make leopard gecko hides. “Geckcessories” (“gecko” + “accessories”) was born!
The process of making the same item over and over has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, after making some feeding dishes in 3 pieces, I eventually figured out that I could make them better and stronger by sculpting them in one piece. On the other hand, sometimes a piece that fortuitously comes out looking good the first time can’t be repeated.
I began by making leopard gecko hides shaped roughly like the body of the leopard gecko with a tail attached to the side. These were fabricated by draping a slab of clay over a sock stuffed with newspaper, giving the drying clay a twist to approximate that sinuous line of a moving gecko, and adding a curving tail. When I began breeding leopard geckos and producing babies, I started making hides for the babies, experimenting with color and glazing techniques. One of my best discoveries was finding a glaze mix that reliably approximated the tangerine color of some of my nicest looking geckos.
Just as a blacksmith will make the tools he or she needs for the craft, I began to make items I needed for the geckos. When I got frustrated about the mealworms climbing out of the feeding bowls I’d bought, I made my own with curved sides. As I expanded my collection to include different species, I started making “geckcessories” for them as well: hides in the appropriate species shape, hanging nectar bowls for the day geckos, and even a climbing structure for my bearded dragon.
I may have continued exclusively making accessories for my geckos but for two realities:
♦ I have enough gecko related items to meet my needs, now that I’ve been at it for 8 years.
♦ Although many people admire what I make, not too many people buy them. One thing people who make ceramics need to be careful about is producing so many things that the house gets overrun. My house is cluttered enough.
Consequently, as I’ve gained experience with ceramics, I’ve moved away from making items that are primarily “geckcessories” and have tried my hand at objects that are more art with a gecko theme. I started simply: tiles with geckos inscribed into them, a sculptured sleeping leopard gecko, snake shaped drinking cups.
Last year I bought a 4-level cage where I house all my leopard gecko breeding groups. The cages are large plastic tubs which have been screwed into a wood structure and fitted with 1/4″ sliding glass doors. From the front the cage looks lovely, with nicely finished wooden trim. From the sides, though, the tubs are visible, and since the placement of the cages puts this side on display in my dining room, I needed a solution, which turned out to be ceramic. During the past year, I’ve created 8 ceramic panels, each with a gecko-related scene, that covers the exposed side of the cage. When I started, I didn’t know what shape I wanted the panels to be, or how I wanted them “illustrated”. I tried cutting geometric tiles and sticking lumps of clay in gecko shapes on them, but this wasn’t what I was envisioning –not that I really knew what I wanted. Through a process of trial and error, as well as giving myself time to let my subconscious idea clarify itself, I arrived at a final shape and design: free-form rectangles with the geckos figures created by pushing them up from the back-side of each panel.
In the same way that gecko breeders start with a general idea of what they want to accomplish and learn and change as they gain experience, I’ve had the pleasure of being able to grow, these past 8 years not only in gecko breeding but also in fabricating ceramics. The overlap between the two has been especially rewarding. I can hardly wait to see what the next 8 years bring.