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Master Kaleidoscope Cane by Carol Simmons
copied from her site:

Building a Master Cane: Component Canes 

Posted on by Carol Simmons 
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 kaleidoscoped.

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 modified 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.

Building a Master Cane: Thinking It Through 

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 thin). I 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 along 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.

Building a Master Cane: First Revision

This is a continuation of the previous post Building a Master Cane: Thinking it Through.

Some of the things I didn’t like about the original design were

  • There 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 about my 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 colors of 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 and pressed 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 pieces 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 added 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 sheet (5).

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.

Building a Master Cane: Adding the Second Section 

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.

 Section 2.


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.

Construction Technique
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…
  1. 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.
  2. 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 components by
  • 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 situations.)
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 pretty complicated.

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).

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