Art School: Semester 5, Week 3

Hello Everyone! The third week of the semester is over, and that means about 25% of the classes are done. I still have a hard time with just how fast time flies when you do something as structured as school. If I was just whiling away the hours at home, the days might seem to crawl by, but at school all I hear is the constant wooshing noise of days, dates, and deadlines flying by at top speed. It is quite amusing.

Before I jump into the nitty gritty of the week in school, I do have two things to point out here:

  1. Please — PLEASE! — email me about typos. I do my very best to eliminate them. I read, re-read, use a spelling checker (set to Canadian English) and generally try my hardest to avoid them in the first place. But none of that completely eliminates them, and I will make them, including all the blunders that a 5th grader should be able to avoid. So, please help me look a tiny bit more literate by reporting typos so I can fix them. Email is best, but you can leave a comment if that’s all you know how to do. Thanks in advance!
  2. As you read posts on Medium, you may note the little “clap” icon somewhere on the page. That button is important to some people. You see, Medium has an option to pay people that write on it. I have NOT elected to do that, but others have. If you see a post on Medium that you enjoyed, clicking on the clap button once (or more times… you can do it many times if you want) helps Medium tell a piece is appreciated. And note that “appreciated” is different from “good” or even “well written.” For those who write on Medium for pay, claps help them get paid more. As I say, I have not chosen to monetize these posts. It seems silly, as my audience is tiny and my intent is just to share my art school experience with family and friends. But you may find yourself reading other stories on Medium, and if you like them, hit that clap button. Yes, you can hit it for me, too, if you want. Medium won’t pay me, but they might take note of my little pieces and show them to more people. Thank you!

OK, enough of that. Off to the week in school!


Still no photos here, but we’ve started sketching — specifically engaging in ideation, that is, the generation of ideas to approach a problem. I drew a bunch of quick sketches last weekend and based on those I have three possible approaches to the stool design that I want to further explore. This weekend I will sketch out each of those a bit more, and then (I hope) pick one and start to explore it in more depth, working on the options and details within a given design.

With luck I will share photos of the sketch sheets next week.

While I am on this topic, I have been working on a side project here. I may have mentioned the need to create a bit of plastic to keep the buttons on a set of wireless headphones from being pressed while in their case? I am still working on that. I did initial design work in Adobe Illustrator, since I had that handy at home. I’ve now moved on to taking it into Rhino CAD to turn it into an object that I can actually print on a 3D printer.

It’s an interesting exercise full of frustration and aggravation. I got the entire thing designed and layed out only to discover that Rhino wouldn’t join the various solid parts together into a single whole. Some hours later I had figured out what that meant and why, and resolved that issue, so then I had one object. Sadly, however, that object contained a “naked edge” (that I did not explicitly create) and that is a big no-no. For several hours now I have been working on how to get rid of that naked edge, and it’s not simple. I am a novice with this software, but it’s been a real pain.

Thankfully there is no hurry on this. Eventually it will get done.

Amusingly, also somewhat related to the design class, the instructor is tagging me to assist with a project to build some machines to recycle plastics into sheets and filament for the makerspace. We’re going to meet next week and see what that actually means and entails, but he says he can pay me. It won’t be much, but it will be amusing to have income once again, should that come to pass. Honestly, I’d do it on a volunteer basis for this instructor, but he’s got grants and all, so I’ll humour him. More about this in the coming weeks as it develops.

Aboriginal Carving

No photos here yet either. The first two exercises were so simple — carve a convex and a concave curve — that they weren’t really worth sharing. The biggie is learning to sharpen gouges, and to use them in a controlled manner. The instructor is very concerned about safety, and wants no one injured, which completely makes sense.

We did turn in those exercises, though, and next week we start spoon carving, it seems. I’m tempted to carve a spork, just to be a pain, but we’ll see how it goes.

I am also just barely starting to contemplate a different kind of 3D wood working that is somewhat related to this course. The other day I went into the shop, grabbed a scrap of red cedar, and cut it up into about 6" chunks with one angled end. My intent is to start gluing these together in interesting ways, and thus create a lattice of sorts that defines a 3D space. Once the lattice is dry, I hope to get out my knives and gouges and turn the very square edges on the openings into things that are more organic and interesting. I have no idea if this will work, but I am trying. Photos will appear if it does, but be aware I am calling this first attempt a maquette, or even less. I’m not out to make something beautiful yet. Just learning things about the possible technique to see if it is worth chasing in more depth in the future.


For this class, I have photos. Yay!

Let’s start with the fact that we’re putting some of the sculptures from last semester on display in the little lounge area that the fine arts and acting studio students all share and live in. We have one wall, between two glass cabinets, and the first items on display are Leo — my flamingo thing — and an untitled work by a fellow student — Emma — that also happened to be a bird. Those of you who saw the post with all the sculpture photos saw it last semester, but if not, here is the display, with Emma for scale:

From what I hear and see, people like this display. It seems we cause some people to ask questions and actually ponder the art. That’s all I can ask as an artist.

On to the current sculpture class. You may recall we’re doing three kinds of mould casting. I have photos from each.

The first is the last one we’ll actually finish up: bas relief cast in aluminum. We’re each to carve a low relief, domestic scene in a bit of Plasticine. I have mine mounted and ready to carve:

Not very exciting, I know, but it will change. We have to have some progress on the carving done next week. That won’t be a problem, though, because I will be spending gobs of time in the studio working on the other two casting projects, and there will be lots of waiting around.

The next project is the blanket mould. I am not certain yet, but I think this will be a one off cast and that’s it for me. However, I might change my mind and use a number of these for the actual art object that is to emerge from this whole endeavour. Anyway, the blanket mould started with securing an object down to a bit of plywood:

It’s hard to tell, I know, but the object is one you saw last week. Just some wood that I cut into an odd shape and glued together. It’s hot glued to the plywood, and I used clay to fill the small gap around the bottom. Once that is done, you cover it with a clay blanket — about 3/8" thick — and add a clay mohawk to it, which defines where the two sides of the eventual plaster shell will meet. Here it is, pictured from above, ready for the first half of the plaster shell:

Next up, you apply a plaster shell to one side, in layers reinforced with something (burlap in this case). Like this:

And if that makes no sense yet, here’s a view of the same thing from the opposite side

Since those pictures were taken, I have moved on with the process. Sadly, I was dumb and didn’t get out the phone and take more pictures. Sorry.

Once the plaster was dry(ish) we removed the mohawk of clay, drilled some holes into the existing plaster (to create registration nubs), coated the plaster with a release agent (Vaseline petroleum jelly in this case) and then applied plaster over the other side, reinforced once again. This plaster has a hole at the top, though (filled with clay) that will allow the rest of the mould casting stuff to be poured in.

Once that was dry we carefully pulled the two plaster halves apart, removed all the clay from the mould and object (which, ideally, is still attached to the board), drilled some holes into the plaster interiors (to create more registration nubs), covered the inside of the mould, the object, and the board with release agent, and then we mix up the agent that will create the mould itself and pour it into the hole on the top of the plaster bits. (Technically the plaster bits are sealed to the board and each other with clay first, and they are attached to each other with some bailing wire too. But just how much detail do you really want?)

We were going to use a urethane rubber for this mould, but it’s not here. Supposedly it was shipped, but we don’t seem to have it. I am working ahead of the rest of the class, and the instructor told me I could use the two part silicone we have (called Oomoo) instead if I wanted, so today I did just that. As I type this my mould is curing and over the weekend I will crack it open, cut out the object, and perhaps even risk a first cast with it in Hydrostone if all goes well. And I promise to get photos of the completed mould next time I am on campus!

Then we have the third mould process we’re working on: a two part silicone block mould. For this I am casting a top that I turned on the lathe in the shop. The mould is poured in two parts in a containment field. The object is embedded in clay up to about half its depth (or a good place to split the mould on the object) and the rest is covered in silicone. That cures, then the clay is removed, the silicone in the containment field is covered with a release agent, and the other half of the mould is filled with silicone. Somewhere in this process an opening is left to provide access in the mould to pour in your casting material as well.

So, I did all of that, and wound up with this:

I’ve cut the bottom off the containment field, and you can see the pour hole at the top, made with clay. Both “halves” of the silicone have been poured already, and the wooden top itself is embedded inside that purple silicone mass.

Next, you get it out of the containment field:

Here it is, slipping out, and you can see the seam where the two pours came into contact, and the start of my first real headache with mould making. That seam turned out to be welded together. Despite the release agent — Murphy’s oil soap in this case — the silicone from the second pour had stuck firmly to the first, and the only option was to cut it apart. I did that:

The top has been removed, and you can see that my registration nubs were damaged and so on. At this point I had no clue if this mould would work or not, so I started the process of creating another one. I was careful to use more release agent this time, and it turned out better:

If you click on that image you’ll get an enlarged view and see that the mould on the right is much cleaner. One of the registration nubs broke off because it was stuck, and there was one small area I had to cut, but the silicone did release otherwise.

OK. Now I have one — and possibly two — moulds I can cast this weird top from. I did that. I taped the mould parts together to apply pressure and avoid leaks, and poured some Hydrostone into them. When it had cured I discovered the second headache in this project: I’d created a tapered opening to pour the casting agent into. But the top was already narrow, so the result was a sort of hourglass cast shape inside the mould as it cured. They could not be removed from either mould without breaking them. Argh!

OK. I looked things over and decided I could make a 3rd mould, but before that I would try and repair these moulds. The instructor gave me a selection of plastic straws, and one was a good fit. It was about the size of the top of the top (so to speak), and thus narrower than the pour opening. I cut it in half and inserted the pieces into the tops of the two moulds, mixed up some more silicone, and carefully put it into the tops of the moulds around the outside of the straws. Only then did I realize that I had not put any release agent on the straws!

So… does Oomoo stick to the plastic the straws were made of? I had no idea, and I had a six hour (minimum) wait for it to cure before I could figure that out. Sigh. At this point I am starting to think that mould making is not for me, but time will tell.

This morning I went in to the studio and determined that the straws could be removed!

Note the nice, narrow holes in the tops of those moulds. Yay! That means I can push the cast objects out much more easily and without them breaking now.

I did a test cast in each mould — to be sure the straws hadn’t messed anything up — and all seems well. (Did I remember to photograph the resulting cast tops? Of course not!)

I did one more thing after removing those (unphotographed) test casting: I created a simple clamping set for these moulds to apply just a bit of pressure to them so they don’t leak while things are going on:

Those let me avoid using tape on every cast, and make setting up for each cast easier. It’s nice to have a well equipped shop with scrap wood and threaded rod. What you can’t tell from that picture is that there is Hydrostone in the moulds as well, so I should have two more cast tops when I get back to campus and open them up again.

I’ll be going back over the weekend — and on Monday — so I hope to have a fair number of cast tops out of these moulds relatively soon. They all require a lot of sanding and cleanup, but it’s a start!

And that is the end of the details about the last week in sculpture class. As I say, I am not at all certain that casting and mould making is for me. You may recall my complaints about printmaking: lots of fiddly stuff in the way of getting an end result that you can’t really control. Casting is feeling a lot like that, but I am doing my best to keep an open mind. And a big stack of sandpaper to clean up my casts!


Art School Post Index. So you can see these stories in order if you want to.


I have only one other picture for you today:

This is Vancouver seen from the SeaBus, coming out of North Van, headed into town. It was pretty and nice, and all the locals were thrilled that it was going to be sunny!

And In Conclusion…

Often I have a video here, but today I am sharing an article that resonated with me and my old stone carving group down in San Jose. Everything about this feels so familiar, I couldn’t not share it here.



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Jeff Powell

Jeff Powell

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