Art School: Semester 2, Week 15 — It’s Over

The 2018 Winter semester is officially over. My last class has come and gone, and while there are a few odds and ends to wind up (grades to get, eventually; projects to pick up once they are graded & returned; a book to sell back to the bookstore; and the opening of the graduate student art show to attend if I can make it) I’m actually done on campus until the Summer semester starts in a few weeks.

But a couple of things did happen this past week that are worth sharing, so here they are.

Art History, Printmaking, and Drawing


For me, running in Chrome on Linux, that plays directly in the browser. You might have to save the file and play it in your local movie player. (It’s an MP4 file.)

I learned a thing or six by putting the two separate video channels together in one like that. In particular, there are a few glitches that were not obvious as I looked at things separately in their individual “screens,” and there is at least one that I knew about but left that I would now remove if I were to do this again. Beyond those things, there is also a problem of not having enough time to tell the story. I trimmed it down in various places but there still wasn’t enough time to do the end of Duchamp’s life justice. To fix that, I either more aggressive editing, more time, or less story. I suspect every editor working in video has exactly the same issues.

Many thanks to Jim, who pushed me a bit on how to do this, and pointed me at an excruciatingly powerful, command line only, video editing tool (ffmpeg) that, amusingly, I only used purely to reset the title metadata. It can do so much more than that, and could clearly be useful in the future if I am doing more video work. It could have merged the two channels together if I’d taken the time to figure out how to do it.

Anyway, enjoy the video, and wonder about Marcel Duchamp. He was one weird dude.


I have lots of pictures to explain the entire build process, and some shots of the final installation as well.

It began by collecting umbrellas. I’ve shared this picture before, but here’s what my locker looked like after the Langara lost & found gave me all of their collected umbrellas:

raw materials

I took those home and started to break them down. Here’s that mess:

starting to disassemble things

Next, I welded together a framework of 1/2" rebar at the school’s shop and took that home. There I had some scrap plywood left here, so I cut a chunk of that out and screwed down some small, kid’s rain boots to it. I inserted two bits of pipe into those boots and put the frame into them, then filled the boots with some old, white tile grout that I had around from a previous project. That combination gave the entire thing enough weight and size at the bottom to hold itself upright, and let me remove the body from the base at the ankles just by lifting it out.

grouted boots, drying

Next I created the hands from umbrella handles and wired them into place. I also wrapped the entire thing with wire and added another umbrella handle and more wire to create the head area. All of that wire wrapping was just to give the spray foam insulation (coming up) a framework to cling to.

ready for foam insulation

And then the foam was applied.

a foamy mess

Once cured, the foam and base were painted black (just to make them less obvious), the protective paper & plastic removed, and the entire thing brought back indoors.

Ready to start the next phase

At this point I realized that I had not cut up nearly enough umbrellas, so it was back to that:

more raw materials

Then I started adding a layer of black umbrella cloth over all the foam. This made it less lumpy and eventually helped hide some of the construction details. I know someone will ask, so: the umbrella fabric is held with with home made, very long staples. I used the same wire that I bought as foam reinforcement and cut pieces something like 5" long, bent them into a staple shape, and pushed them through the cloth into the foam. Note, also, that in the photo below I have already wired some umbrella handles to the spine.

starting construction

In the next photo we are some ways along. I’ve created and attached the rib cage, and started putting spars and coloured cloth on the legs. Some notes:

The rib cage is made from umbrella spars, bent into the right shape and wired together in groups as left/right rib pairs. Those pairs were then wired to the spine, and wired together in the front with the vertical spars that mimic (among other things) the xiphoid process. By the time this was done I had a ton of cuts on my hands. Umbrellas are sharp!

The spars on the legs (and eventually arms) were an interesting installation. I cut a piece of gaffer’s tape about the length of the circumference of the leg or arm where I wanted the spars attached. Then I’d lay that out on a table, sticky side up. Then I cut spars to the length I wanted and put them on the tape, sticking them down at one end. Once I had enough spars I added another piece of tape over the top — sticky side to sticky side — to lock the spars in. Then I could pick the entire thing up, wrap the tape around the creature, use more tape to hold it in place, and then add a couple of staples to lock it in. On the legs and left arm that was enough, since the spars hang down, but on the outstretched right arm I had to add a second piece of tape closer to the middle of the spars to hold them horizontal.

Once a set of spars was in place, I’d cut an umbrella cover in half and wrap it around the taped end (so the spars protruded out from beneath it) and staple it down. Each limb has 3 or 4 layers of spars and coloured cloth done in this manner.

mostly done with the legs and rib cage now

This process continued:

still more work

Next is a nearly finished shot. At this point a couple of pieces of umbrella cloth on the waist were removed (I didn’t like them), and the mohawk isn’t yet done, but it’s close. There’s also a cloak to hang on him, and a bunch of detail work to be done during installation.

Note the addition of horizontal umbrella handles on the shoulders at the front and back. I’d been trying to figure out how to make those areas look right, and that seemed like a good choice.

Oh, and about the face. I came home from school one day and my wife had apparently been going through the pile of fabrics and found this one. She simply draped it over the head to see if the “eyes” would look right and left it there. She was 100% correct, and once I saw it I knew that was the answer. I’d previously been thinking about working with umbrella parts to create a face of some kind, but this was much better. More subtle, and all it really needed.

getting close to done

And here’s the final thing, packed into my car and ready to go get installed:

on the move

About the installation itself:

The intent of this project is that the installation (somewhere on campus) be relevant to the site, somehow. In some way the installation needed to tie the site and the art together, and we should be able to explain that at some level.

I wandered around campus on a few occasions looking for good places to put this guy. My original thought had been that he could go anywhere outside, because it was related to Vancouver’s rainy weather. And that would have worked, but as I got more into the project I realized that I really didn’t want to get it soaking wet (if it was raining) since I wanted to keep it, and putting it outside on a sunny day made less sense.

I also considered the library, going so far as to talk with the arts librarian there to pick a possible location and get her approval. I’d thought to perhaps put it in the section about magic & witchcraft, but it wouldn’t fit. (More about the size of this beast later.)

In the end, though, the best place to put it was very meta. In the world of the work, the person magically raising this creature on campus would need an out of the way corner to work in, where he (and it) wouldn’t be found. And it tusn out the sculpture instructor almost never uses his office — he hates it — so that room was perfect. But even better, it was *his* office, so at the meta level, could be a more perfect place to put the sculpture than in his office? Plus, the instructor has a great sense of humour and I knew he would appreciate it.

To get permission to do this was a chore. I wanted it to be a surprise, if course, so I had to ask the department chair, who had to sign a note, which had to go to security, and they had to approve, and they had to be there when they unlocked his office door, just to be sure nothing strange was going on. (Well, it was strange, but they had to be sure nothing too strange was afoot.)

By the end the work had taken a slightly more sinister turn. Not hugely sinister — given the colours — but it’s clear this creature is raised via magic, and that inspired a pentagram and some burned down candles. And since it’s made from old and broken umbrellas, clearly it has to emerge from a pile of those, and in the end you get this:

final installation

Here’s a closeup of some of the stuff on the floor. It includes cloth, handles, spars, and various broken bits of umbrellas, all hiding that ugly plywood base.

stuff on the floor

And here’s a side view showing the extended arm and head in a bit more detail:

“You! Yes, you!”

And the back of the head. I used a band that held an umbrella closed to create the pony tail effect.

back of head and cloak

After crit was done — more about that below — I packed him back up and took him to our new home. Here he is, guarding my new (and still mostly empty) studio.

new home

To follow up on a couple of things mentioned above:

First, this is the first time I’ve done anything this large. Working big is an interesting experience, and Yori Seeger (who might see this some day, and who runs the school where I last taught stone carving in California) had some very good words about this, which were pretty much echoed by my sculpture instructor here at Langara. Basically, your relationship with a work is different when it is human sized or larger. It feels different, and has a very different impact. In part, at least, this is because you stop always looking down at the work and start facing it directly or even look up at it. Mentally that is a very different experience. Also, in part it’s because works that are our size or larger impact you the way people do. As a rule, small things are just “things,” but big things feel more important. This isn’t conscious (or necessarily true, actually) but it’s part of our basic, instinctive wiring.

Also, it is different physically — I had to use a ladder to create the mowhawk, for example — and your work style changes. You’re moving around more, and differently, from when you work on something smaller, and that changes how you feel about it.

All in all I really enjoyed this work. It was really fun to work this large, and I hope to do more of that in the future.

Crit was really interesting. Since we’d installed these works around campus, the entire class had to walk between them, so the entire relationship with the works was different. They were destinations, and that made the process even more fun, despite the rain we had to walk through to several of the pieces.

As usual, my fellow students all took very different approaches to this project, and the results were very different. There were a couple of other large creations, I was happy to see.

I think my own work was well received, and I expect a good grade on it. The instructor knows how much effort went into it, and seems to have appreciated it on many levels. Amusingly, crit day was the one day in recent weeks when he went to his office before class, so he got the surprise of seeing the work with no one around. I was hoping to video his reaction, but that wasn’t possible. His own theory is that it was better this way, as the surprise was more real. Apparently he first wondered if I’d needed a place to store it before installation, and only then realized that no, his office was where it was installed. I’m good with that.

Assemblage itself is an interesting thing. Before this class I’d had limited experience with it, and some assemblage pieces had left me wondering what on earth was going on. The works created by our class were a window into that process, and helped me understand it a bit more. I won’t claim that I understand all assemblage works, but there is art in unexpected places, and this is definitely a way to make it. There may be more of this in my future as well.

Wind Up

I was thinking about writing up a “year in review” as well, but I think I’ll hold off on that until after summer school. That will give us an actual year here in Canada, and a full year of school for me as well. So look for that later in the year.

In the meantime, I hope you know how to reach me, and I hope you won’t be a stranger!


  • The usual index of art school posts and other things here on Medium, because Medium’s display isn’t chronological, as far as I can tell.

Dog Pictures

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

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