Art School: Semester 2, Week 14

Hello everyone, and welcome to another instalment of “Jeff drives himself nuts in art school and writes about it as well.”

This was the penultimate week of the semester, and four of five classes are now done. Details follow below.

Before we get to that, my wife and I had an interaction last week that I thought should be shared. As most of you know, I am married to Anne, who outshines me in all things. She’s smarter, nicer, and better looking than I am, and though she is a bit of a hermit, once people know her, they discover that I am the duller half of the couple. (She will also claim I am the nicer one. Don’t believe her.)

Anyway, the other night as we were trying to go to sleep the dogs simply would not settle. Two — Skookie and Cruzer — were pacing and just not happy with going to bed for the evening. There was some discussion about these things that I don’t recall, but as we worked through it I rolled over to snuggle up against Anne, who tried to bite my head in response (don’t ask me why… I’ve stopped asking questions like that), and then rolled away after a few minutes. At which point this conversation ensued:

J (in whiny voice): The snuggling stopped.

A (voiced as an answer to a question): Oh. There was a brief instant between aggression and ostracism that might have been interpreted as affection.

J: Yeah, that.

I think that summarizes our married life pretty well.

And it’s good that we have that nice, stable, and sane relationship as we do things like move. Again. Together — so far — we’ve moved four times, and have remodelled two homes in a major way. Apparently we can handle stress as a couple, so that’s good.

And now we’re moving again, this time from Richmond to North Vancouver. Details when it’s over, but we’re packing now. If you’re local and silly enough to want to help, drop me an email and ask for the date. But note there is a good chance we have this covered ourselves. We’ve done this before, and didn’t fully unpack after moving to Richmond, so we hope it isn’t too bad. With luck we’ll have this one done pretty quickly, and without too much pain.

Art History


The Last 20 Years

The topic for this print was “self portrait as objects” and this is the first time in this class that I’ve had an idea for the print that I actually liked and that came together in well. I hope it’s obvious what those objects are, but just for the few readers that might wander through here who haven’t met me in person, that’s a keyboard in the background, with a set of stone carving tools on top of it.

As I’ve previously stated, I think, I really didn’t enjoy the various printmaking processes. The instructor was lovely, and her explanations were just fine. It’s actually the processes themselves that were the problem. They add layers of distance and work between me and the end result. And not just work, but fiddly work that may or may not go well, and that you can’t really tell if it’s done right until you’re either much better at this than I am, or you’ve actually printed the thing.

For linocut it’s the working of the block, and dealing with the image positive/negative (white/black) reversal while you’re cutting it. In intaglio the image isn’t reversed, at least, but you’re not drawing on the paper, you’re modifying the plate in whatever method is used in that particular technique. Ours involved cutting lines or otherwise adding texture to a plastic plate that would carry the ink to the paper. (Oh, and inking the plate in both linocut and intaglio is an another kettle of fish in which everything can go wrong.) In silkscreen, it’s the creation of various masks that will let you put ink only where you want it.

Oh, and though we only printed one colour in linocut and intaglio, all of these processes could be used to print multiple colours, and in that case you need to properly register the paper you’re printing on, so all the colour layers are printed in exactly the right place relative to each other.

In silkscreen, at least, my own personal skills let me know right away how I was going to split up the colours into layers, and what order I would print them in. In my case, I printed five opaque colours in this order:

  1. a yellow strip that became the keys on the keyboard
  2. a pink outline for the bezel around the keys
  3. the brown of the hammer handle
  4. the light gray of the hammer head and chisels
  5. the dark gray of the highlights on the hammer head and chisels

I started with about 15 pieces of blank paper, and got about 5 that were pretty good in the end. The big issue is registration, but there’s also a touch needed to get the right amount of ink down, keep things from sticking, and so on. For the terminally curious, here’s a picture of the screen (or mask) that I used for the pink layer:

Creating that mask (or stencil, or whatever you want to call it) takes time. You have to paint an emulsion (the green stuff) onto the screen where you don’t want ink to be on the final image and let that dry. In my case, that took about 4 hours for this particular mask. It’s complicated. Then you expose it to UV light for five minutes to make it insoluble in water. After that you mount the stencil (which is in metal frame, cropped from the picture) into a set of hinges that let you lift it so you can slide paper under it easily. Then there are a bunch of fiddly steps to determine and lock in the location where your paper will go, so that it is properly registered against the mask and the previously printed colours. Finally you take the ink you have chosen (and probably mixed) and apply it with a squeegee. That printing process is fast — just a few minutes to print my 15 copies — and that is a good thing because if the ink dries on the stencil you have a nightmare cleaning process to go through.

Once you’ve printed that colour, you clean the ink out of the stencil, then remove the emulsion with a chemical emulsion remover. Those processes take ten minutes or so if all goes well, longer if not. Then you get to wait for the stencil to dry.

At that point you can start all over again with the emulsion creating the mask for the next colour, but don’t forget that you still have to wait for the previous ink layer to dry before you overprint it. Usually all of the stencil creation process takes so long that hardly matters, but I suppose you could try working with several masks all created at once, and then it could be an issue.

As I said, printmaking involves all kinds of fiddly work that can go wrong. In the case of screen printing the ink can be of the wrong consistency and cause the paper to stick to the screen, or there can be registration issues, or any of a number of other technical glitches, all the way down to something as common and silly as getting ink on the borders of the paper as you are handling it while printing.

Give me a hammer & chisel any day. Printing is for printers… that is, things connected to computers that someone else has figured out how to make work. I can press the “Print” button.


Vancouver Golem, make from umbrella parts and other stuff

That image doesn’t really give you a sense of scale. It’s about six feet tall, and the head is much larger than a human’s would be.

As you can see, the feet are in some ancient kid’s rain boots with frog images on them. There is a metal frame which was covered with spray foam insulation to give it body, and that was painted black to let it disappear where it might show. The hands are made from umbrella handles and the rib cage is made from umbrella spars, wired together in bunches. The legs are covered in umbrella fabric and umbrella bits. All in all it’s quite a pile of stuff.

It does break down at the ankles, so it is easier to transport. (I won’t say it will be easy. It’s going to be a pain, but it will transport.)

Remaining to do is to cover the arms, upper torso, and head with “stuff” and then install it on campus early on Wednesday morning. Then go to crit, and then de-install it and take it home. And move it to the new home shortly thereafter.

Also, please note that unlike printmaking, every step in the creation of this beastie leads to an obvious visible result that I can evaluate for correctness (and fix or change) along the way. It’s a much more satisfying process for me.

About the umbrellas… I have gobs of them, as that image probably helps show. The lost & found at Langara gave me all of theirs — that was probably 40 or so — and I got another bunch from The Hive, a local workspace coop thing. And I got a few more at random. There is a large pile of umbrella bits out of view in that picture, waiting to be included in the final product somehow.

Anyway, final images of this guy — still needs a name or title — next week. Ohhh… wait. It has a title now. You’ll just have to wait to learn it. Next week, with the final images. Sorry! :)


My portfolio review was pretty simple, but still interesting. I had a few assignments this time that I did really well on, even by my standards. So that was good. And I can see my own willingness to try new things and play with stuff based on researching what other artists have done. That was also good, and it relates to the postscript below.

The life drawing session, though, was a bust. It simply didn’t flow in the least this time. Last week I had a minor breakthrough and did a bunch of drawings in a gesture style that I thought actually worked, but I couldn’t find that this time. Not sure why, but it just wasn’t there. Others were also struggling, though. It might have been end of semester stress or something, but only a few people were drawing really well that morning.

In any case, this class is done.


My own project went fine. I created a piece about the last 20 or so years of Marcel Duchamp’s life. He did a number of strange things over the years, but giving up art to go become a chess player was a bit of a surprise. Even more surprising was the fact that he had a piece he’d been working on for a long time that was only made available to see after he died.

I’d love to include a link to a video here, but that is a bit of a challenge. You see, it’s on two screens, and I didn’t record it while we were doing critique. That’s because the setup we were using lacked sync hardware between the two computers, so we’d queue up two MP4 files, set them to loop, hit play at about the same time, and hope. Very amusingly, though, they would creep out of sync over time. One of the computers had a brief pause between loops, or something, and the two displays would gradually crawl farther and father out of sync as we talked about the work. It was actually kind of funny.

To make it work I need to figure out how to create a single video that has all of the content and sound. That may be possible, but I will have to do some digging into the software to figure out how to do that. For now, sadly, you’re going to have to wait while I finish the golem, and possibly move. But if I can figure out how to merge the two videos into one I will do so, and I will share it here.


One assignment from the media class required us to go to an art show of some kind in town during the semester and write up a response to it. This section is based on that exhibit and my response.

Last weekend, just after I posted the last update, I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see a retrospective of Takashi Murakami’s work titled The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. I cannot claim to have a great understanding of Japanese culture, but I wanted to see this show. His work is interesting, and I figured there would be some fun things to see.

We arrived and decided to look at the exhibits on the ground floor first, and walked into something that we didn’t know.

Boom. Mind blown.

We’d entered an exhibit about the rise of expressionism, and I found myself surrounded by very interesting work by artists I now know a tiny bit about.

Otto Dix, who worked in Germany between the world wars, and who created images about what Germany was really like after WWI, often featuring those who were injured in the war. His work was later deemed deviant by Hitler. His work came up in my art history class.

Hanna Hoch (there’s supposed to be an umlaut over the ‘o’ there) who I learned of in my media class as a collage artist, but she also painted, and one of her original oils was here.

An Egon Scheile, who’s been in the news lately because he was a problem with the girls, and the #metoo movement is causing museums to evaluate how to discuss him and his work in light of modern sensibilities.

Edvard Munch, who we probably all know of from The Scream, but who also created other work (of course), several of which were included here. Munch has been mentioned a couple of times in various classes.

And a number of other artists including some more modern ones, like Tony Scherman, a Canadian painter working in encaustics (that is, pigment in wax, rather than the usual oil or acrylic binders). A large, wonderful work of his titled Poseidon was included. It wasn’t for sale, of course, and I can’t afford it, but I’d like to. Scherman’s art hasn’t come up in any of my classes yet, but maybe it will in my summer class on Candian Art.

All of these things were rattling around in my head as we walked the show. Specifically how I know a bit about these artists and their work — even though I also know my knowledge barely scratches the surface — after my first year of school here at Langara. I felt like I got a lot more from that exhibit than I would have before, and I really enjoyed it.

Only then did we go on to the Murakami show, which was wonderful in its own way. Here are my two favourite pieces:

Temple Guardians, Murakami Style

Those are really large sculptures… maybe 12' tall or more. They’re very funny, actually, with such highly exaggerated musculature that they make me laugh. And look at the teeth in the mouth of the one on the right, jutting in from the sides.

But there is something about them… something subtle. Of course these aren’t “real” but they have a life to them. These figures feel both silly and serious at the same time. There’s a balance there that I found fascinating.

In this same room, beautifully lit on three surrounding walls, were more paintings by Murakami. Subtly disturbing works painted after the Fukushima disaster, where the viewer starts having to ask the uncomfortable question: are the distortions in these figures just his style, or is he painting about the aftermath of radiation exposure?

This exhibit is a retrospective of his work, and his style has varied over the years until he honed in on this interesting manga/animation approach. His older works are fascinating, and very different.

Then we walked upstairs to see one last exhibit — BOMBHEAD — art about and after the nuclear bomb. This was a bit overwhelming, particularly given what we’d already seen. By the time I found myself walking through a collection of government literature from the 50's and 60's about just how wonderful the atomic age was going to be, and how great the bomb was, I had lost it. All I could think about was how we’d done duck & cover drills at elementary school in the Chicago suburbs as a kid. Not for an earthquake — in Chicago? Ha! — but for what to do if the bomb went off. I was done.

We left, with the intent of going back soon to see it all again — and the other exhibits we missed — when we weren’t overwhelmed.

But even now, nearly a week later, the fact that I have all this background knowledge that I didn’t have before resonates with me. My drawing instructor asked us to research artists and try to work in the style of one. I picked Scheile. Hoch was an example artist in my media class. And works by Dix featured prominently in the discussion and mid term exam in the art history class. I am making connections I would not have made before, and it’s fascinating.


Dog Pictures

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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