Art School: Semester 4, Week 2

Wheeeeeeeee! This semester is a rocket sled!

Do you remember the scene in that weird, aliens-in-interdimensional-space, Indiana Jones movie where Indy and a Russian are fighting, accidentally activate a rocket sled in the process, then fall through a big glass window onto the sled, keep fighting, and then the countdown ends, the motor ignites, and it hauls off down the track in the Nevada desert, pinning them both to the machine in the process? This semester feels a lot like that. By the end of week five I will probably look and feel a lot like Indy as he rolls off that sled and tries to get out of the way before the rest of the Russians show up.

I have no idea what is going on in the world right now. I mean, I still read the news on my phone, but this past week has left it all a blur.

Oh, before I forget, I discovered this today:

These are silkscreen prints from last fall’s printmaking class. Mine is the middle one on the upper right. The middle one on the upper left was done by my friend Jessica (read on for more about her). Sadly I don’t recall who the others are by, and even at full resolution I can’t make out the signatures. Sorry! But seeing another of my images in that cabinet was a total surprise, particularly from the printmaking class. Amazing!

Professional Practice

This class isn’t a huge load at this point. But there has already been a schedule change. We were going to take pictures of our art to create a sample portfolio this week, but the new lighting kit the college ordered hasn’t arrived yet. So, that activity gets pushed out by at least a week. In the meantime, we’ve written a cover letter and a CV, and we’re supposed to be getting started on a long version of our artist statement, I think. That document isn’t intended for general consumption, but rather as a source of content and inspiration for show, gallery, grant application, or otherwise specific artist statements that we might need to write in the future. We’re to consider it a living document that we update all the time as our art practices — or our thoughts about those practices — change. I need to get started on that, though the actual assignment has yet to be distributed.


Sad news this week as this class was cancelled unexpectedly. But that doesn’t mean the homework was. We’re all supposed to be thinking about our lamp kit design options and sketching ideas to help find interesting design choices.

Naturally I took things one step farther. In the first week the instructor got out a five metre long strip of LEDs and tried to demonstrate them to us. He had a small 12 volt power supply that he plugged in and hand connected to the strip, and it started blinking. That wasn’t right. After a bit I suggested that perhaps this strip wanted more power than the rather small wall wart he had could supply, so I cut off about a meter of it, and that light up just fine, but it also started to blink after a while.

This week I went to the store in Vancouver where he bought the LED strip to ask about a spec sheet for it. No luck. The sales guy told me it wanted 1 amp per metre, though. That’s 12 watts per metre if my math is right, and the instructor had a 1 watt transformer. That’s not going to work. But honestly I don’t know if I can trust that 1 amp per metre number without a spec sheet from the manufacturer. Googling around for similar products that doesn’t feel right to me. They lowest I could find wanted 12 watts per half metre, so that number might still be low.

Anyway, I’ll know more later, but it’s interesting. Next week we’ll be sketching a lot, it seems.

Indigenous Carving

My knife is almost done. All that’s left is the sharpening, and even that is started.

Ha ha ha ha ha! “All that’s left is the sharpening!” That’s funny!

Sharpening is a nightmare. Sharpening is a monster in the dark that eats people and doesn’t even spit out the bones. Sharpening is… difficult.

Anyway, here’s the picture of the knife that I promised:

You see it, don’t you? Right there, above this line? A lovely picture showing a carved wood handle with cord wrapped around the end, and a short, flat blade sticking out. You do see it, don’t you?

Yeah… neither do I. That’s because I forgot to take it last class. And on Friday when I was back on campus.

So, once again I owe you a picture of my knife, possibly in concert with the beginning of the next project we’re going to do.

This class is really wonderful, though. The pace is lovely, and there is a lot of chatter between the students and the instructor, on all kinds of topics. In fact, though we haven’t yet touched on orbital mechanics (Hi Dennis!) or on job security (Hi Doug!), it feels very similar in style to the stone carving class I taught with Sue down in California.

There’s no actual homework yet, but that’s only because we haven’t gotten to the point where we’re able to work unsupervised. That’ll probably come along soon enough, and add to the ride that is this semester.


If there’s an engine pushing this sled at mach three, this is it. This is where the major action was this past week, and — I assume — what will drive the worst of my anxiety (and joy!) for the rest of the semester.

In the first week we were told to buy stone and start thinking about our project. Over the weekend I went to one of the two local stone yards. It was an adventure. The instructor recommended 25–30 pounds of soapstone; I bought 47 pounds of alabaster. Translucent, white, Italian alabaster. My favourite carving stone ever, and at the best price I have ever seen it sold for. Astoundingly cheap. I am happy! Here’s a picture of what I’ll be carving:

The base is triangular, with sides about 11" or so. It’s about 14" tall. I see only one small fissure I have to worry about, and I think I will remove that chunk before I do anything with the stone.

On Thursday and we got the demo of how to forge chisels, sketched ideas and/or made maquettes, discussed our concepts with the instructor, and (ideally) worked on our chisels and/or started carving. No one actually carved. Some people might have started working on their chisels, but I didn’t. Instead I made a very quick maquette to show the instructor, got a nice suggestion to improve the piece, and then drew on the stone to start laying out the work. I also setup a time to meet a fellow student today to make the chisels and carve.

So, let’s go through that in order:

My plan is to make maximum use of the volume of the stone. I will create an abstract with three arms that meet in the middle at the bottom and again at the top, and the entire thing will twist somewhat as it rises. Think of it a bit like a closed flower bud, but the petals will be empty space and the sculpture will kind of be the lines where the petals meet, and some bits inside. Twisted. Hard to envision, I suspect, but I can see it, and that’s what matters.

I’d love to show you the maquette I made, but it fell apart immediately, before I could even take a picture. Sad but true. My sketches are trivially simple, but here’s the best one of the lot:

I told you it was trivial. The general idea is that the image on the left shows the outer volume, the right most image shows the overall shape, and the middle bit is a detail of the portion in the centre bottom of the interior. While talking with the instructor I told her I was thinking about twisting the outside 120 degrees as well, as it went up. Her suggestion was to twist it a bit less than that — perhaps 60 degrees. Now, remember, she saw the maquette as well, and I don’t have that to show you, so don’t be bothered if the image and the description make no sense to you. She had extra info to work with.

Today — Friday — I met Jessica at the shop to forge our chisels. We finished in five hours, both beat (she’s now at work, and I am still getting over a cold) so we went to our respective homes to recoup rather than carve stone.

“But,” I hear you say, “you forged chisels? Pictures or it didn’t happen!”

OK. I can do that.

We were using a small, propane driven forge. Very easy to work with, it seems, and not all that expensive. We were creating chisels from hot rolled, low carbon, square stock steel, like this:

I know, not all that exciting, eh? We cut those to our selected lengths using a metal cutting bandsaw. Easy. I made mine a tad long deliberately. I also decided a bit later to make four, not three, so after a bit the pictures will inexplicably show four tools in progress.

The first step was to heat them up and hammer them into the rough shape on the anvil. The steel gets red hot — close to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit — and then you hit it with a hammer for 30 seconds or so, if you’re lucky, then it goes back into the forge to reheat. You can grab another one to work on while the first reheats, though, which makes the process a bit faster if you have the energy to do it. I got the first three to the end of this process relatively easily in my opinion. Now, I wasn’t smart and did not get someone to photograph me doing this craziness, but I did photo my classmate Jessica doing the same work:

As you can see, the process is very hands on here at Langara! That’s a bit of the forge in the lower left of the photo. (And yes, Jess did say I could post a pic of her doing this, and I will send her the link to this post too.)

My first three chisels came out of that process looking like this:

Still not all that exciting, I know, but get over it. They’re going to be stone chisels. And given this is the first time I’ve ever forged anything, this is also definitely not going to be tool porn, ok?

Next up, after they have air cooled — to keep them soft — you file them into their final shapes. This can be done with various power tools if you want to make them look more fancy or accomplish it faster, but hand files will work. Here they are:

I know, icky surfaces. I just didn’t want to spend substantial time cleaning them up. I filed off all the rough bits that would hurt or catch, and I spent a bit of time on the wire wheel with one of them, but it was too much trouble. Unless a miracle happens I will continue to buy chisels rather than make them, so for me these are more of an experiment. I also think the teeth we can cut are pretty shallow and not all that aggressive, but they might work. Time will tell.

Anyway, the next step is to temper them. This was done by heating them up again and quenching them in oil. But we didn’t just drop them in. The first 2" or so are kept in the oil constantly, since that portion of the chisel needs to be very hard. The next 3" or so were dipped in and out of the oil as it cooled, to create a medium hard area, effectively a zone of transition between the hard tip and the softer end. Once the worst of the heat had been removed from the chisels they were fully quenched in water and wiped clean.

Nearly done. Next we used an oil stone to hone the cutting edges (now hard enough to hold an edge well) and we stamped our initials (or something) into the shanks. I chose the “or something” approach:

Yes, they really all do say “CAPTAIN OBVIOUS”. I like it.

So… that’s the status of the chisels. Done and waiting for testing soon. This weekend, in fact, as I’ll be going back to campus to get carving. That’s because the stone carving is due for crit on October 11th. There are three class sessions between now and then to carve and polish an entire stone, along with everything else the other classes are throwing at me.

I’ve done a lot of stone carving. I know how long it takes. This is crazy!

Rocket slide!


Not much here this week, as you already know. Sorry!

Art School Post Index. Because Medium didn’t get the ordering right when I imported posts from somewhere else, and I can’t figure out how to fix it.


Once again, sorry, but there was nothing but school and being sick this week.

Well, OK, there was this:

Those are my lockers (plural!). Note how full they are. Also note that the photo was taken on a Friday — a day I have no class to go to — so I’d left my backpack at home, and the raincoat and over shirt were already removed from the lockers. I have piles of stone carving tools in there for a few weeks, and the Zyliss box you see is a vice I will be using to hold the wood I am carving in my indigenous carving class. (Because I already owned it, so using it is a no brainer.) So, yeah, I had to rent a second locker for all my stuff this year. Whee!

And In Conclusion…

Here you go. Best I can do this week. No time to search up anything funnier.


Yes, this really does tell you a lot about me!



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