Art School: Semester 6, Week 11

Hello. Sorry this post is late. I’ve been swamped. Tons of stuff going on, as you will see. Lots of pictures, though, so those who don’t want to read will have plenty to gaze upon. Yay!

Advanced Ceramics

I am in the throes of creating the final project for this class. I made a lot of progress over the past few days. After two days, here’s what it looked like:

There are several things to observe here:

  1. The colour of the clay. The instructor refers to this stuff as “Baby Poo.” It’s literally written on the side of the bag that we get it in. It fires down to a mid tone orange, but looks that awful yellow before firing. Why use such an ugly clay? Because we (two of us, myself and a fellow student named Azadeh, who just started reading these posts) are sawdust firing our pieces, and that’s a strange process. Generally a firing in a kiln is pretty even. Work in the kiln heats up and cools down at the same rate all over. That is not true with a sawdust firing, where things might get hot on one side as the sawdust burns, while the other side can stay cooler. The net result is more heat stress on the clay, even if temperatures are relatively low. To deal with that you need clay that is more resistant to that kind of stress, and we have been told this clay is the best for that kind of thing among the choices available in the school’s inventory.
  2. The plastic around the rim is my hack attempt to keep the rim from drying out, since there is a lot more work to do. That clay needs to stay moist so it will bond well to clay coils being added to the pot.
  3. Note the lumpiness. This is definitely hand work and it shows. It’s not nearly as refined as I wanted, even here in the beginning. I probably need to learn to live with that, as you’ll see.

This thing started life out as a “pinch pot.” That is, you take a wad of clay, stick your thumb partly into one side to create a hole, and then start pinching it to expand it out, keeping it even, and so on. That pinch pot was added to a slab built, octagonal foot. But that combination won’t create a large object, and (as far as I know, anyway) it’s not really a thing to make pinch pots all that large. But what people do is add coils of clay to their pinch pots.

Following in the footsteps of the potter whose work inspired this, I am using wide coils, which I roll out with a rolling pin and supports (bits of wood of a constant thickness on either side of the clay, and on which the rolling pin rests) to keep them even. Here’s an example:

As you can see, the “coil” I am adding is well over an inch wide, and because I rolled and cut it out, it’s very even. In theory it’s easier to work smoothly and evenly this way, though I am sure that requires someone with more skill than me.

Anyway, after three days (the last one being a solid eight hours in the ceramics studio) here’s what I have:

Boy is that ugly. *sigh*

I know, I know. I (like all artists) am my own worst critic. But allow me to state for the record that it doesn’t match what I saw in my head. At least not in terms of the precision of the work. I’ll go on to say it’s not as lopsided as that photo makes it appear — and that is true — only because it’s probably a lot worse than that photo lets on.

To be honest, I am considering taking off the six tooth like things at the top and creating a lid for the beast instead, but who knows. I am not yet certain of the shape that lid would take.

I had plans to do other things with this. Burnish white slip into it a couple of times before the bisque firing. But that’s very hard to do on those awkward surface. I’d hoped to smooth it out, but again, very difficult, and possibly impossible. And somehow the proportions are off. But if they were right it would be over two feet tall, so it’s probably best that I didn’t make that actually happen.

Whether it will even survive the night I honestly don’t know. It has a ton of stresses on it, and it wants to crack in various places. I am rather doubtful of a successful outcome, but what will be, will be.

I should point out, though, that this is way beyond anything else I have tried in ceramics (ever) in terms of size and complexity. If it doesn’t crack into bits and/or blow up in the kiln, that’s a big win. Even if it is gratuitously ugly. *sigh*

On a happier note, my body project piece is completely done, and will be hung on Monday. Here it is:

The three rusted metal bits are installed (glued in, actually) and one of the three fasteners on the left will be used to mount it to the wall through the hole at the top.

Honestly, I am pretty happy with this piece, and that is saying something for ceramics and me.

Public Art

The big news this week is that I installed the hexagon project in the library. Here are some installation pictures:

On the top left, you can see boxes of hexagons in the studio, waiting to go. Top right shows them open with a ladder (and coat rack) in place in the library. (It was raining on Friday morning, so it’s a good thing I had boxed them all up. Not that there was any other way of moving them to the library.) The other two photos show the magnets I used to put them together and attach them to the shelf top. Tiny little neodymium magnets. Each of those cases contains 100 of them.

And here’s a reasonable photo of the installed work:

And here are some other angles:

As always, I think you can click to enlarge any of those.

The installation took 2.5 hours, and was a lot more work than I anticipated. Not that it was hard work, but it was — rather surprisingly — brain work. I think the piece looks great in the end, and I am happy with it.

Then there is the last project, the proposal for the side of the SkyTrain station. Last week I shared an image — technically a render from a 3D modelling program — of my proposal. I showed that to the instructor who had a number of concerns, two of which I have chosen to address, the other I am ignoring. Her primary issue was that she thought it was climbable, and that might come up as a problem during review. (You don’t want people climbing the art, for some odd reason.) She also had some concerns about colours, but I’d expected that, and was ready to change things as needed in the future. The feedback I am ignoring was a composition issue, and there she and I just disagree.

Anyway, I had to create a new design to address the climbability concern. (Or at least try to address it. I rather doubt anything can really be done about it, but I have tried.) Here’s a render of the new plan:

I continue to make the metal framework a part of the composition, and I have played with the colours.

For reference, here’s a render of the back, without the fancy lighting and shadows, but showing the support frame I envision for holding it all together:

The entire thing should be one piece that is simply bolted into place on the frame at the station, or so I hope.

In addition, I have two other things to share from this proposal. I’ve been using the laser cutter in our local makerspace to build parts for the maquette that I will have ready for the final presentation. I videoed the cutter doing some of its work. If you’ve never seen a laser cutter doing it’s thing, these might amuse. I don’t suggest watching them on a mobile phone, however, unless you’re on a WiFi connection:

Finally I have two photos of projects by Heather and Jessica again:

That’s Heather on the left, painting her apple, and those are Jessica’s forms on the right, done and ready for installation, I think.

As far as I know they will be installing on Tuesday afternoon, though I suspect Heather’s could go out on Monday if she wanted to do that. Jess needs shovel work to get them installed, and they are going to be “interesting” to get to the site.

Cultural Theory

No real news to report here. Same old, same old. This week we’re reading something by Judith Butler titled Gender Is Burning, and it’s dense, opaque stuff. I continue to believe that if you are not writing clearly you are not writing well. The depth of your thoughts don’t matter if people cannot understand you!

In class we watched the movie Paris Is Burning, about the black and hispanic gay ball scene in New York City in the 1980’s. Interesting flick, in a way. Butler’s piece is largely (but not completely) in response to that, and to some criticism of it by bell hooks (yes, that’s correct… no capitalization… it’s a pen name of sorts, it seems) and something else that I have no clue about. We read the bell hooks critique of the movie last week, but even with that, and the movie, and another piece that explains Butler’s piece in some detail, the actual words Butler wrote are still pretty much gibberish at this point. I will be trying again soon.

Other Stuff

I have been on the SeaBus a couple of times this past week and all was well. However, it was either too early or too late, so the sun wasn’t up. Also, I have seen no interesting headlines and heard no oddball noises, so from what I can tell the harbour has been basically quiet of late. Thus, I really don’t have any harbour news to share. (Sorry Robin!)

On the transit strike, things are ratcheting up. Now the bus drivers are doing an overtime ban (in addition to the bus maintenance workers and the SeaBus engineers) and that is apparently impacting some percentage of bus routes. I have yet to have trouble, but the time is coming.

And In Conclusion…

I managed to turn in my thank you note to the Xerox Corporation and picked up my scholarship. I spent some time trying to find the name of the person who administers the Xerox scholarships so I could personally address the note, but I failed. Apparently they want to remain anonymous, so the note was addressed to “Dear Xerox Canada Scholarship Administrator.” If they wanted something more personal, it would be easy to create a web page documenting the people in charge.

The timing on this is amusing in a way. Just as I get the scholarship we register for classes (next week, on Tuesday) as a result of which they will wind up taking it all back. That’s the way it goes, I guess, but it’s amusing.

Cheers all!




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

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Jeff Powell

Jeff Powell

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

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