Art School: Semester 5, Week 5

Jeff Powell
13 min readFeb 2, 2019


Greetings fellow travellers. Yet another week gone, and the semester is over one-third in the past. Hard to believe in some ways, and yet easy in others. I continue to spend way too much time on campus, but that is my lot in life. Had I been a painter I could have worked at home, but nooooo… I have to be a sculptor. And not only that, a sculptor living in a rental and having no personal studio, so the only place I can make a huge mess is at school. Whee!

But enough complaining. I know at least a few of my readers have been stuck in the Polar Vortex this past week, and are not happy about it. That would be worth complaining about. Here the temperature is getting close to 0° C tomorrow, and we might see a bit of snow. If it happens — a big “if” — the city will shut down and people will complain. But those of you in Chicago know we have it easy.

Everything was about school this week — well, almost everything, as you will see below — so let’s get started.


This week we started making models of our possible stool designs. I made a couple of simple ones:

Those are about one-third scale. That is, they are 6" diameter tops, and the uprights are of about the same size. The final thing will be 18" in diameter and 19" tall, I think. There was a third model but apparently I didn’t photo it. Just as well, actually. It was a crazy idea that is really hard to justify and make look good. All tabs & slots & crazy angles. I might go back and revisit it if time allows, but so far it does not.

I did manage to take additional photos of the earlier sketches, as I promised. Well, sort of. This first one is a nasty picture.

Yeah, more than a bit blurry. Sorry. The issue is the camera on my phone. The display is huge for a phone, but it is still difficult to be tell if the photo is sharp or blurry on the device itself. I have to look at it on a real monitor, and by then it is too late to retake the picture if there is a problem.

Anyway, that is the original set of “ideation” sketches. The idea is to quickly sketch out many possible designs in very little detail, looking to see what works or feels good, without worrying about the specifics of how the resulting object could be made. As a result on this page you see small, somewhat gestural drawings pondering various possibilities. Three of them are slightly vignetted — that is, I’ve put a shaded box behind them — because they were more interesting than the others at the time.

The next week we were to continue the ideation as needed and proceed into iteration. Iteration is the process of refining one idea through a number of variations to explore it more deeply. In this case that meant spending time with the three options from the first sketch set to see how things might go. Thus, there are three pages:

Click to enlarge

What you’re seeing there shows my own limitations and interests. The left is one option that I played with briefly and kind of liked. But I did it after I worked on the middle sketch sheet, in which I played with options for my favourite design choice. In fact, on that sheet I concentrated on the joinery quite a bit, given that will be the big challenge we have with the CNC router we’re using to cut the wood these will be made from. As it happens, a lot of the joinery questions apply to both my favourite option and the one on the left. As a result the left sketch didn’t have to develop those concepts all that much. The third sheet was the final option I’d had some interest in originally but I quickly realized that I wasn’t interested in it after I started working on it in more detail.

The cumulative result of that sketching lead me to decide I want to create a round stool — that can double as an end table — with vertical supports (or fins) that can be shaped in various interesting ways. (Note that the middle sketch above hints at that in the lower right, but there are zillions of fin options it doesn’t explore.)

At this point, being me and having a 3D modelling program available, I moved to the computer and spent a week working on the basics. I wound up with a plan for the joinery that I hope will be both functional and pretty, and I was ready to start thinking in depth about the design of the fins. Of course, the instructor wanted more sketches. It’s too soon to head for the computer, he thinks, thus:

Top left is more details about the joinery and some ideas for making things pretty and interesting. The other two start to examine fin ideas in more — but not huge — depth.

That combination of work lead the instructor to agree that now I can use the computer to work on fin design for real, and I have started that. Sadly, however, I have yet to figure out how to print or capture images from the software. I can screen capture things, but I really need to spend more time with it to see how to get things I can share here. For that, you’ll have to continue to wait, I’m afraid.

This coming week I need to have a bunch of options explored on the computer, and at least one more model made. I am working on that stuff already, and any snowfall on Sunday will lock me in the house where I can keep slogging away at it.

Aboriginal Carving

I think you’re aware that the current project is carving a feather from red cedar. I have two photos to share of that effort so far:

That’s the early stages, roughing it out, if you will. At this point, other than a couple of places where the wood wants to split no matter which way you point a gouge or chisel, things are moving along well and I am enjoying the process. You might note some foreshadowing in that statement, though, if you think about it.

That shows where the work is now, as I write this. My instructor says he isn’t aware of a word for “mistake” in his native language. Instead the word “teaching” comes up. That is, sometimes you learn a lot from things or events, possibly about how the way you did something might be changed or improved next time around. In that spirit, there has been a lot of learning in this project.


Note the colour difference in the wood from top to bottom. That’s real. It’s not a trick of the light or the photo. The dark brown wood is much more brittle, and carving it is harder to do in some ways, particularly across the grain. (And note which way the feather fronds are pointed. Again, sigh.)

The spine is too thick, and though you can’t see it from these photos, the front and back spines aren’t quite lined up.

Also, the fronds are a too thick, and the wood (and my own skill level) won’t let me thin them out.

There are other issues that aren’t as obvious, but such is life.

The plan is to clean this up over the weekend. The back will remain flat — without the frond details — but the entire thing needs to get thinner. I hope to spend a bit of time refining the fronds and putting in a couple of other gaps as well. I’d been thinking about calling it a flamingo feather and painting it pink, but at this point I think not. It will remain as is, a textbook example of expecting too much of myself and the wood.


This is the class that has consumed all of my time, and that doesn’t look to be changing. And once again I have photos aplenty for you.

First, here’s the latest photo of the thing that will be cast in aluminum:

As you might guess from the hash marks in the lower right, there were four coats of latex on the Plasticine relief carving below when this was taken. Right now there are 13 coats on it, and I will probably continue on to pouring plaster over it this weekend. (As I write all of this it seems this is going to be a very busy weekend!) More photos of this process next week.

The main event right now is the casting project. There are two objects that I cast, one of which I continue to work with, the other is set aside. The latter is the top. It’s effectively out of the picture now, as I am not thrilled with it as an object or as a casting. The other object, though, was surprisingly interesting, so I will start with this:

Bunches of cast objects, from two different moulds (and a pile of lousy top casts on the right hand edge). Those objects in front have a pour spout in their mould and obvious large chunk of hydrostone sticking up from their bases as a result. The others come from a mould that is open on the bottom, and thus the pour is easy and leaves only a relatively flat bottom to sand smooth, rather than that chunky thing sticking out that has to be whacked off and sanded.

Eventually I got to this state:

24 objects, sanded and lined up

There you see most of the object army, cleaned up. In reality I cast a couple more after this point, bringing the total to 31.

With one object, I did some experimentation, because I’d decided to start assembling these into a single, final object. In fact, it will be a tower, 10 layers tall, with each layer consisting of three objects stuck to each other, and I needed to figure out how to make that happen. I used a sacrificial object to test out some theories, and that lead to this:

And this:

And this:

Every object had two holes drilled in the back. The upper hole is just there to let hydrostone in to help hold things in place. (That will make more sense in a bit, I hope.) The lower hole had a bent wire inserted into it and hydrostone poured in to secure it. Those wires were also bent (though the photos don’t show the final scheme I used for that, as it evolved quickly to avoid wires interacting with each other) and then the objects were arranged so hydrostone could be poured to lock them together. That looked a bit like this:

As you can see, I used plastic wrap and clay to temporarily plug the gaps and lock objects in place on a board. The wires are in the middle, where the hydrostone will be poured, and (it is to be hoped) also fill those upper holes, one of which is visible above. The pour looked like this:

I let the pour flow over the top in all but one case, as it is a simple matter to sand it all smooth in the end. It’s also interesting because when you pour wet hydrostone like this, the water in it gets sucked into the dry material in the surrounding objects, and the level of poured material drops very quickly. I had to keep topping it up, to the point where I was worried I had leaks around the clay barriers, but that only happened once, and wasn’t all that bad.

Anyway, several groups of three were poured on a board:

And left to cure. This photo happens to show the set intended for the top of the tower in the bottom.

The clay was removed after an hour — since that’s enough time for the hydrostone to get pretty firm — and then everything left overnight. Then things were sanded down and holes were drilled in them for the wire and hydrostone that will bind them all together in the end:

The next step is probably to attach them together in groups of two with white glue. That will make them easier to manipulate, I hope, during the final assembly. Then I will use a long wire and more hydrostone and start the final process of building the tower.

My instructor thinks this is all a bit reminiscent of Brancusi’s Endless Column, and I get that, to a certain extent. I wasn’t consciously thinking of his work as I put my final plans for this together, but the relationship is there.

I suspect that this project will slow a bit during the coming week. There will be more waiting around for things to cure and dry, but there should be more visible progress to share next time.

Other School(ish) Stuff

As if I wasn’t already busy enough, there are a couple of other things going on.

First off, my carving instructor says he is going to introduce me to his mentor sometime soon. He (and I apologize, but I have only heard the name spoken, and I am not even sure I have it right, so for the moment this person will remain just a pronoun. I’ll get it sorted out ASAP, I promised!) is carving a large pole of some kind starting in the coming weeks, and I might be able to help out in some way, at least with some of the heavy work. Or not, but the introduction is going to happen, and we’ll see where that goes.

And… the plastic recycling project is just starting to move. I have some research to do for it this weekend. Mostly just reading and website poking, but it will take some time. Those who are curious about it can visit the Precious Plastic website and see what we’re basing our work on. My instructor has big ideas he hopes to follow through on given time and funding. For now, we’re effectively prototyping and doing proof of concept work.

And finally, at the urging of my sculpture instructor, I contacted a local gallery and introduced myself as a possible volunteer. I have to be careful to avoid over committing, but getting a toe into the local art community seems wise, and the gallery in question has been around for over 30 years and is reputable. A fine place to start and see what happens. There are no specifics here yet, but as things come up I will let you know. Early on I expect it will be requests to help at events and other, similar things. Once they get to know me, and I have a better handle on my time, there might be beefier roles to consider.

So, that “free time” other people talk about? Not so much for me.


If you expected anything here other than the usual Art School Post Index, you would be wantonly optimistic.


I actually have one this week, but it’s a bit grainy as my phone does that when I try to zoom in to capture something far away:

That’s the big news in Vancouver Harbour this week. A container ship smashed into one of the big gantry cranes as it was docking at about 5am on Thursday morning (I think). The crane collapsed onto the fully loaded ship, and, well, it’s a mess. No one was injured, but now they have to figure out what to do. The gantry crane is seriously damaged. It will probably have to be cut up and removed. Then the ship can be unloaded, and the port can resume using that dock, less one gantry crane. Or so I am guessing.

In the meantime the port claims to be losing gobs of money, and various people are complaining that the port doesn’t have enough capacity to begin with, and taking a major dock offline for days (at a minimum) is a huge problem. Container ships are at sea, heading this way expecting to be able to use that dock. Where do they go? And all the cargo on that ship — most of it completely unharmed — is stuck there for an unknown amount of time. It’s not a pretty situation.

I know a port expansion is in the works, but I don’t know if this will speed it up or slow it down. It might do either, depending on whether the fixes here require resources that are needed to get the expansion going, or if it causes people to realize that the expansion is even more important than they thought.

I will keep an eye on that ship during my commutes. It will be interesting to see when the crane is removed.

And In Conclusion…

I am running out of time! I have nothing for you this week. I am sorry. But I have to reread, fix all the typos I can find, and then run off to campus to keep working on sculpture. Maybe I will find something humorous to share here next week. Sorry!



Jeff Powell

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