Art School: Semester 4, Week 3

Welcome to week two of Jeff Suffers Man Flu. It’s not been pretty.

I was on the mend until Monday afternoon when I was metaphorically run over by a train. I am doing my very best to do nothing but drink tea with honey and relax, but if you know me at all you know how well that goes over. It’s been a long disease. Plus, when you drink a lot of tea you wind up making a lot of trips to the bathroom. Good times.

With that as background, I’ll do my best to keep this post interesting, but first, one thing that is definitely not school related:

I actually heard someone use the term “bruh” today. In conversation. But I am already messing up the order of events in the story, so let me set the stage: There I was, standing in line at Waterfront Station waiting for the SeaBus to arrive and whisk me across Burrard Inlet towards home. I am, sick, kind of out of it, dazed and confused, when I hear — loudly, and apparently inside my right ear — the voice of someone talking on the phone, trying to arrange a meal. I startled, actually. This experience isn’t normal for me, given my approximately average height for the male species. “OK,” I thought, “there is someone very tall nearby, and shouting into his phone. The question is, why is he so close?”

I did my very best stealthy-look-over-the-shoulder to see what the interloper actually looked like. As I say, this was all a bit disconcerting, and I had no clue what I would find. The fight or flight reflex was already starting to kick in, and I needed to know what to do. What I saw was some white dude with short, curly hair, about 6' 2" tall — give or take — standing about three feet from me. At first I was confused. He wasn’t actually inside my ear canal, so how could he be the source of the one sided conversation about arranging a meal? Then he spoke again, and it came to pass that I learned he was using his full (possibly opera trained, who knows?) voice to be sure that everyone for about eight kilometres in every direction knew what he was up to.

In that moment, I am sad to say, I totally recognized myself. Again. Not in height — where, as I indicated, I am only average — but in volume. I am unfortunately blessed with a voice that can cut through reinforced concrete without amplification. Really. In that moment I (silently!) apologized to everyone to whom I have accidentally done the same thing in the past. I come from a loud family (Hi Mom!) and while I do try to keep it down, the simple truth is that I honestly don’t notice when I turn it up to eleven. I regularly tell people I have a face for radio and a voice for silent movies, but that doesn’t mean I am actually aware that my voice is causing buildings to crumble around me.

Anyway, I figured this was an interesting point of reference — a learning opportunity and a chance to reinforce my own internal volume reduction system in the future. To be honest, though, I did one more thing: I barely caught the eye of the offender — just enough for him to note that his conversation was being overheard by me (and everyone else within the blast radius of a five megaton nuke) — and I gave him the slight, knowing nod that happens during such a nonverbal conversation.

Brave, eh? I know. Had someone given me that particular nod, I’d have dropped my voice to the lowest whisper I could manage (which is probably something like a chainsaw running full tilt at 30' or so) and turned away from the one-who-nodded. As a result of that nod I would intrinsically know that I had (once again) been bellowing (and thus was bothering everyone in the surrounding parsec, none of whom needed to know about my dinner plans) and do my very best to stop it. This individual, however, was not possessed of that level of introspection. He continued his conversation as if no nod had taken place.

I was aghast. Clearly I had done everything possible. Were I British I would have ignored the entire affair — avoiding even the nod — but (being American) I plowed on with the nodded indication of the severity of the infraction. At this point I was at my wits end, so I channelled my inner British male and paid no attention to the ongoing debacle. After all, no one was being threatened (though anyone closer might have had grounds for a hearing loss lawsuit if the conversation went on too long) and should the situation change I could adjust my behaviour or expectations. Or flee.

And there things stood, me quivering at his every word, trying not to react at all; him carrying on at full volume trying to explain how his friend could meet him for lunch. Completely oblivious. As if no one else in the world existed, or at least as if everyone else needed to know of his developing meal plans.

And then he said “bruh.” I was shocked. I cannot even recall the exact content of (his side of) the exchange. It was something apologetic, I think, like “No worries, bruh, how about this… we can meet at Waterfront Station …”

I stood there in wonder, trying to grok (ahem, yes, I am my own kind of nerd, thank you very much) the situation. “Bruh” is not something I encounter in conversation. Not anywhere. I’ve read about it in passing, but it doesn’t come up, kind of like the courting habits of albino, arctic penguins. (Yes, yes, I know. But the point is made, right?) In any case I certainly didn’t expect to hear “bruh” from a twenty-something white guy dressed like he worked in a business office. Perhaps my expectations are all wrong, but that word seemed entirely out of place. I stood transfixed, trying to put my world back together and deal with this horrific linguistic development. I had thought I’d left “bro culture” (possibly also “bruh culture”?) behind in Silicon Valley, but perhaps not. Perhaps this was it coming for me here in Vancouver. I had no clue what to do with this data point. My gears stopped turning. They actually ground to a halt.

In that moment, when I was at my most vulnerable, the doors opened to let the milling hoard onto the SeaBus, and we surged forward. It seems that when I turned left to a row of seats he turned right to find a different row. Perhaps the nod had at least that much impact.

I don’t know if his phone conversation continued (though if it had I expect the vessel would have sunk, and I would have drowned, so I could not be typing this) or if his meal plans were ever finalized. I made my escape at Lonsdale Quay and continued home. As I type this now I am still trying to figure out what to make of it all. My nerves are all still aquiver.

Anyway, let’s review the situation at school this week, shall we?

Professional Practice

And, of course, it’s the one I messed up when I left class on Thursday. I had some homework to do for Design class, so I brought home the items needed for that, but I totally forgot to bring home a large sheet of white paper to use as a backdrop when photographing sculptures. Yay for my failing memory! As a result of that idiocy I had to go into campus today (Friday) — when I would normally not be there — to get that backdrop. As long as I was there I also tucked the Design homework away so it’s out of my hair until I need it on Tuesday. The net was another commute that I didn’t need while I was sick. Whee. And it’s been raining. Rather a lot, actually. It’s wonderful in that way, but it does make for interesting transit choices and wet feet.

With luck I’ll have the first Professional Practice class assignment done soon, though, which would be good. Next up in this class is doing a bunch of writing towards developing an artist’s statement. That might also get going this weekend. Not sure yet.


You might not recall the specifics. The intent is to produce a kit containing pre-cut parts made from two kinds of cardboard and/or paper, LED strips, and a power supply. The intent is to design an accent light from these components that could (in theory) be mass produced from simple, inexpensive materials.

I worked with a few ideas and started to head towards a particular one, but I felt that I might be locking in too fast on something. Then class ended and I had a reprieve: we were told to sketch more at home and keep ideating. I’ve done that now (that was the stuff I dropped of earlier today, after which I was verbally assaulted, as described above) and there is an interesting alternative idea that is based on a hanging concept, rather than a table top based plan. It’s more complicated in some ways, and neither option is fixed yet, but I have a couple of things to poke at in more depth as we move forward. Next week I think we will start refining an idea with more detailed sketches focused on doing that refinement, as well as playing with materials to see how things will actually work. Should be fun. With luck one or more of the next round of sketches will be suitable for mass consumption. At the moment the chicken scratches wouldn’t to anyone much good.

Aboriginal Carving

That’s the knife I told you about last week. It’s not much, I know, but it’s semi-done. This is a relatively modern version of an aboriginal wood carving knife. There are a few other styles, it seems, but this is the basic thing. In my case the handle is taller than it is wide, which means I know how I’m holding it by feel. The whipping around the business end is there as needed — and the knot for that is kind of interesting, and dirt simple. The short blade is a reground pocketknife blade. Not only was it reshaped — to give it a choil — but we are also completely changing the angle of the cutting edge on the blade itself.

Class this week was spent sharpening. A lot of sharpening. I have a knack for getting it wrong. Working with 240 grit wet/dry sandpaper I can put a nice (sort of) edge on the blade. It’s still rough enough to feel that it’s not right, but it’s definitely on the way to becoming sharp. After that, though, no matter what I try — 400 grit paper, wet stone, or simply breaking down in tears — the next step always makes it dull again. I will master this, somehow. I’ve ordered a personal set of wet stones to use, and I’ll hope that I can figure out how to practice doing it the right way.

By the way, if you go to YouTube and look for videos about knife sharpening you will have your eyes opened to just how vast and weird the world is. Apparently no one sharpens knives the same way. No one. Every wood carver on the planet has some different scheme and different tools for making it work. There is no consistency about any of it. I am doing my very best to do what our instructor is telling (and showing) us, but so far — as I say — I get a dull blade.

Nevertheless there was another thing in class. We were told our next “project” is to use our new knife and convert a 2"x2"x12" piece of wood to a cylinder. And I blundered into trying that first. Guess who got to be the poster child for a “learning opportunity”? (Actually our instructor calls them “teachings” and is totally non-judgemental about them. I’m the opinionated one.)

Anyway, you might not know this, but wood, you see, has this thing called “grain.” It’s really strange stuff, and despite the fact that there were no knots in the 2x2 I had, there was a place in it where the grain did something odd as a result of a knot that had been some distance away in the original tree. I, of course, didn’t see anything amiss and just carved away. Then, with a sort of crunching noise, much more wood than I’d expected came off, and it split well ahead of the blade.

Aaron — the instructor — used it as a chance to show everyone what to look for, but (alas) all we have is what to look for after I’d already mucked it up. I don’t yet know how to recognize issues with the grain in advance. I’ll have to figure that out.

Anyway, it was still fun, and next week I can do more sharpening! Yay!


First off, we hand ground the angles on these chisels, and that means they aren’t perfect. I also think they are a bit off. Shallow or steep depends on your perspective — and explaining that would involve a diagram that I don’t have available — but I think the angles aren’t quite right as far as the angle on the tips. Also, specifically on the toothed chisel, I think the teeth we created are too wide where they contact the stone. Were they narrowed down to points they might bite better. To really do this subject justice I would need a full, separate post and I’d have to include several pictures and at least one diagram. If that interests you, say the word — that means reply somehow! — and I will see about making it happen in my copious free time.

Back to the carving: I think the last photo you saw here was of the raw stone, something like this:

That should look familiar…

In the intervening week, I’ve done a bunch of hand tool work (hammer & chisel) and two rounds of angle grinder work. Here’s a photo in the middle of the hand tool work:

We have three nice dust extractors in the sculpture studio, and working in front of one of them is a dream. Very handy! I may have to plan a similar thing out in a future studio.

Anyway, the hand tool work continued until about this point:

Then things got really dirty:

Photo by Hanna, who was handy. Thank you!

That was over the weekend. I wasn’t bothering my fellow students with that mess. I hope. (Also, see mom? Note the respirator!) Once that was done I marked out where I wanted to start working on the interior negative space, thusly:

And then I got back to hand tools to remove some of that marked stone:

Now, in truth more has been done than I have pictures. In class on Thursday I continued with both the angle grinder and opening up the negative space. Things are getting better as a result. But I was sick and when class ended I cleaned up and fled, forgetting to take pictures. There will be more pictures next week.

One thing did come up with my instructor that is interesting. She suggested that perhaps some colour added to the interior of the stone might be interesting. Given this stone passes a ton of light, she’s right. I am pondering the idea of doing something like that, but I have yet to figure out what it would be or how it would work. There’s this spot down at the bottom of the interior, though… Hmmm.

Oh, my instructor? That’d be Devon Knowles. She’s cool.

Anyway, more about this next week. I hope most of the rough shaping is done and I am in the refinement stage by then. We’ll see.



And In Conclusion…

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

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