Art School: Semester 6, Week 10

Jeff Powell
9 min readNov 10, 2019


Greetings everyone! Ten weeks down, more or less, which means three(ish) to go. The actual length of the term is a bit fuzzy, as some classes run into the break, others do not, and if the transit strike gets nasty, who knows what will happen. But there isn’t a lot of time left before we’re supposed to be done. It sure does seem like there is a lot of work to do, though.

Advanced Ceramics

Let’s see. This week we are raku firing the second project — aka the body project. I finally have a couple of photos to share:

On the right is my actual piece. It’s been bisque fired — which turned the black clay white! — and if you look closely you’ll be able to tell I have applied some glaze around the holes in the piece. The hole at the top is for mounting the work on the wall. The other three holes will have screws or nails sticking through them.

As you might guess, this piece is about my relationship with my own body. Specifically about muscle cramps. The surface texture, tears, and so on are all deliberate. Yes, it’s kind of a tendon, but you get the idea. The raku firing will turn the clay smoky black again,while the glazed bits should be white and crackled. Then I install the hardware and it hangs next week. With luck it will scream “pain!” to anyone who looks at it.

Firing is on Monday — Remembrance Day — which is interesting because campus is closed. We’re still going to show up and do this, though. The instructor seems to think security will let us in, and we can all hang out in “the cage” (a covered, outdoor area containing the gas fired kilns and storage and work areas for ceramics and sculpture materials) and get this done.

The photo on the left is the piece on the stand that holds it up at an angle so it will fit into the raku kiln for the firing. (Sorry it doesn’t show it from an angle. I totally forgot to do that.) The piece will be heated up, the glaze will melt, and then we remove them with tongs while they are so hot they are glowing orange. They are put into metal pots with newspaper that burns and smokes, which does the colouring of the clay.

Other than that, I am starting the research for the final project. I have no real details other than what I shared last week, though I now have access to a three hour interview with the artist who made the object I picked. I also have a stack of books about pit, smoke, and sawdust firing techniques, which are related to how she works. I am attempting to figure out a good way to mask certain areas for the firing, so I can get some raw clay in the final work, in addition to the fired finish. That’s for tomorrow, though.

Public Art

There has been progress here as well. Here’s a series of photos of the project going through painting:

If you look closely you will note changes between them. What is missing is a final photo that shows all the hexagons on the shelves, fully painted. In fact, I took some empty boxes to school today so I can load them up to move them to the library for installation sometime in the next week. Crit will be on Nov 20, so I am done in time. I am a few days later than the original crit date, but I lost those to the cold that wiped me out for a weekend. All in all, not too bad.

As I am working on my project, the rest of the class is working on theirs as well. Here are some photos of a couple of friends and their respective artworks:

Those are of Heather’s big apple, taking shape. On the left it is pretty rough, but recognizable. In the middle she has applied the texture she wants, and you can see the stand she created for it. And on the right, that’s her using an angle grinder to smooth out the texture a bit. She’s got to get it painted, epoxied to the base, and installed on the school grounds in the next ten days. She’s on track to make that happen.

Next up:

This is Jessica’s concrete form project. In the upper left you can see the forms in their early state, with wire mesh and some cement wrapped around foam insulation. In the upper right they are coated and coloured, though she wasn’t sure this was the final colour state at this point. Lower left, she’s turned them over, inserted the metal retainers, and applied cement to the bottoms to lock those in place. And in the lower right, that’s Jess, creating some test lumps with the last of a batch of cement. She’s going to experiment with possible sealing products to see if she likes the look, or wants to leave them raw and unsealed. They will be outdoors for a substantial time once they are installed on the Langara grounds, so a sealer is an interesting possibility. But it may mess with the colours in unacceptable ways, thus research.

In addition to these projects, the week after we crit them, we have another thing due: a proposal for the wall mounted piece at the SkyTrain station. I have no clue how anyone else is doing on that, but I have my art planned out, and am getting started on the presentation. As a result, you get early access to the concept:

That’s a render of a 3D model I created today in a program called RhinoCAD. The black frame you see in the back is 8' x 8' in size and made of 2" square steel stock. It already exists and is bolted to the side of the building. The various circle elements are the proposed art, and are made of painted steel, supported in front of — and attached to — the existing square frame via an additional, hidden steel framework that bolts to that frame.

The render shows the art and frame casting shadows on the wall behind. Though, to be honest, I am not certain the sun can actually hit it from that angle.

I have files setup in Adobe Illustrator to let me create a maquette for the presentation. The maquette frame will be laser cut from 1/4" plywood, and the circle parts laser cut from card stock. The presentation will also include the render and other information (concept, schedule, budget, and so on). There’s plenty of work left to do, particularly when combined with the ceramics assignment still outstanding. Whee!

Cultural Theory

This class continues to plod along. Three more meetings and then the final exam. I cannot wait for it to end. Other than that, I have nothing to say about it that I haven’t already said. *sigh*

Other Stuff

The impact of the transit strike has been minimal so far. In fact it’s mostly hit the SeaBus. There are laws requiring an engineer to be present on every sailing, and the first thing they did was have all the SeaBus engineers stop working overtime. Apparently there aren’t enough of them, so they’ve been cancelling a few to a dozen sailings a day, mostly in the evenings.

I haven’t really noted that, however, because my commute timing has been weird. As I head out of the house I pull up an app to tell me which bus I can catch first: the 246 over the Lions Gate bridge or the 249 to the SeaBus. For at least a week now it’s always been the 246. A similar process applies on the way home. Get on the SkyTrain and as I get close to Vancouver City Centre, I check the app to see when the 246 leaves from that station. If it’s possible to catch it easily (without standing in the cold for 20 minutes) I have been doing so, and for the past week it has worked out.

That said, since most of the SeaBus cancellations have been in the evenings, things might get sketchy if I tried that route. If I go on to the SeaBus terminal I have no clue how long I will have to wait to catch a running SeaBus. It might be 5 minutes, or 15, or 25. I also have no idea how full the terminal will be. The SeaBus has a strict passenger limit, based on the number of life jackets on the ship, so if it fills up, they stop letting people on and the rest wait for the next sailing. When things are running on schedule — without a strike — it’s very predictable. At this point, not so much. So I tend to take the bus if the connection looks reasonable.

The current threat is that the strike will get worse after Remembrance Day, with overtime stoppage for bus mechanics too. That could hit 10% to 15% of the bus system, they say. Whee!

Nothing else to talk about this week, except for this one, tiny thing…

And In Conclusion…

I’ve been given a scholarship. And no, I never applied for anything. Apparently certain scholarships are handed out via data mining (to find students who are eligible — meet the required GPA, class load, etc.) and then a committee picks the recipient(s) from the generated list. I’ve been given the Xerox Canada Scholarship, which will pay for about half of my final term. Here’s what the school has to say about it:

Xerox Canada Scholarship is awarded annually to a student enrolled in Design Formation, Fine Arts, Journalism, or Publishing. The award is typically given out on a rotating basis, to a student enrolled in one of these programs. Please see below for specific criteria, depending on which department is awarding.

The specific Fine Arts program criteria are:

Fine Arts (2019): Awarded to a student who has completed two terms (minimum of 15 credits per term) of the Fine Arts program and who has shown outstanding achievement, professionalism and dedication to the advancement of the studio arts.

It was rather a surprise when I got the email telling me about this. I am, of course, honoured to receive it. Apparently the Fine Arts faculty appreciates what I do, so that’s something. As you can see, this award only goes to a Fine Arts student once every four years, and there is only one to hand out. It’s kind of exclusive as a result. Gulp.

I find it hard to fathom this has happened, but it did. I have to write a thank you note to the Xerox Corporation before they will give me the check, though. And apparently post secondary scholarships here in Canada are not taxable, at least from what I can see in a quick internet search. We will, of course, have our accountant confirm that little detail.

And that seems a fine way to end this week’s post. Encouraging, and uplifting, even as I race to get everything done before the term ends.



Jeff Powell

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