Art School: Semester 6, Week 14

This is it. This is the very last week of my sixth semester in art school. All the exciting details (ha!) below.

Advanced Ceramics

The first thing in ceramics this past week was the sawdust firing of my final project. Here are some photos of the process:

What’s happening in that sequence is:

  • The object is buried in sawdust (and chunks of wood, though you cannot see them) in a garbage can being used as a “saggar” for the firing.
  • A campfire is built on top of it.
  • And it is lit.
  • And it burns down to embers.
  • And it is capped up, so the embers can slowly burn through the sawdust and the resulting smoke can penetrate the pot.

But what really happens is that 30 minutes after you put the cap on the saggar, everything goes out and the entire thing goes cold. No smoke, no fire, nothing. So…

You rebuild the fire and get it going again. Note in these photos you can see the top of the object peeking through. That means about five inches of sawdust has burned away by the time these new photos were taken.

If you look closely, you might note that the lid of the object appears orange. No smoke has penetrated it. At this point it was seeming like a pointless exercise.

But the instructor suggested we put in bunches of newspaper and more sawdust on top of the fire, which created lots of foul smelling smoke (for which I am sure the rest of campus really appreciated us), and also that we stir the sawdust and coals around the objects to help things burn. So the next four hours were spent doing that, despite absolutely nothing about needing to do such things being in any of the five books I read while researching sawdust firing.

Then, when we all had to go home, the saggar was capped up again and left overnight. The following afternoon I opened it up and removed my project/pot/thing:

Yes, there is some smoke penetration, but not a lot. Clearly the smoke didn’t get the the bottom third of the object.

Here’s the same view of the object in different light:

A couple of days later, the instructor was asking about sealing the sawdust fired pieces. She asked about wax, so I tested that on one of my miniature versions of the original pot in the MOA. That was nasty. It left white wax in all the crevices, and nothing short of a heat gun was going to do anything about that. So a big “no” to waxing unburnished ceramics.

Then she asked about mineral oil. In response I did more research on Thursday morning. Nothing I found mentioned mineral oil as a possible sealant, but I did find a number of suggestions including grout sealer, commercial waterproofing products, acrylic sprays, and tung oil. As it happens I have some tung oil, left over from the wood project in my introductory sculpture class. So I tested it on the other miniature, decided it was OK, and got brave:

The oil is a bit weird. It seemed to dry in patches, or penetrate differently in places, so it looks a bit spotty. I dabbed it on with cotton pads, which shed threads that got stuck on the ceramic and then somewhat glued down due to the oil. If it doesn’t even out, this may be a total train wreck. Oh well. Note: the lid is off to the side so things can air out.

At this point the piece was sitting on a table in “the cage” (the outdoor storage and working area for ceramics and sculpture) to dry, since tung oil has a stink to it. Crit happened about 20 hours later.

Unsurprisingly, given my luck, the work looked exactly the same at crit time. The tung oil was still splotchy and uneven.

The crit itself was fine. The work got a good reception, I guess. I feel a bit less invested in this one that I did in the body project for some reason, possibly because this thing was so far outside the realm I normally work in. As a result, suggestions and comments really didn’t bother me, which was good. The instructor tried an amusing thing and put the lid on upside down. That was fascinating. That simple change created negative space above the tops of the handles, which resulted in a very different feel to the work. I don’t think that lid is the right thing to have in that position, but creating a differently shaped lid is clearly something I should have considered at the time. It showed me that I really need to consider things a bit more broadly while I am working, and think more about certain kinds of space and relationships that I missed while working on this piece. And it makes me think I might have missed that kind of consideration in other cases as well. That was a really valuable insight that I will do my very best to make use of in future classes and works.

Public Art

As you know from last week’s post, this class is done. But in related news, the vinyl project we did was peeling off the SkyTrain station already. The print shop did come out and tape it down, but apparently that was not supposed to happen. We are told they will reprint and reinstall the entire thing. No clue when, but apparently that is in the works.

Cultural Theory

The final exam is over and this class is done. Once again I responded to things Michel Foucault wrote. Of the writers we read this term, he was the only one that made sense to me most of the time.

I also sat down and entered all my grades on the various assignments and the midterm exam into a spreadsheet. With some simple math I determined that even if I get a zero on the final, I should still pass with a C+. And while I suppose that is technically possible, I rather doubt it will be the case. Thus, a B or and A are more likely. Assuming I do about as well on the final as I did on the midterm, I should wind up with an A, but who knows. All I care about is that the class is over and I can give the books to a student who will be stuck in it next term. I am toying with visiting the department chair and having a chat about this class, but I dunno if I should.

Other Stuff

Christmas is coming. The year is rapidly drawing to a close, and “2020” is a number that feels odd for some reason. For the first time since 2000 I feel a bit like I am supposed to be living in the future, based solely on the date. Not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me.

The next term actually starts on Monday, Jan 6. At the moment I think the final assembly of the lightboard will happen that morning, and then I will be in the second advanced ceramics class in the afternoon. (Remember the lightboard project from this past summer? If not, feel free to dig around in the archives to look it up.)

Then on Wednesday I will have wheel throwing and public art (that is going to be a very long day), and finally on Friday I will have the new foundry class, unless not enough people have signed up for it.

Come the end of that first week I expect to have a slew of major assignments all requiring a ton of work in the studios. I can feel the pain already.

In the meantime — between now and then — I will continue to post what I can. Expect short and sweet, though. I am definitely going to take all the downtime I can get between now and Jan 6.

Harbour News

It continues to be quiet on the harbour front. The transit strike is over — the bus and SeaBus operators approved their new contract — so that portion of transit is back to running on schedule. It turns out, though, that another arm of local transit is now considering striking. Some (but not all) of the SkyTrain operators are in negotiations as well, and have been out of contract for a long time. They just issued a 72-hour strike notice. I’m lucky, though. The Canada Line is operated separately, and unless they are also out of contract and thinking of going on strike, I won’t be all that affected by any new SkyTrain strike should it actually happen.

And In Conclusion…

This went a bit viral this week, and apparently it hit a nerve here in Canada. I thought it was worth sharing.

That’s what we’re dealing with. :)

My best to everyone. Cheers!

Oh Wait! The Typo Count Stuff…

Here’s a link to the ongoing typo count data. You can be immortalized here if you want. Just report typos to me and give me a nickname to refer to you with.

There. Now this post is actually done.




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

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Indigenous Creative Sector

Week 6 — Art Activity — Drawing II

Personal Artwork

Zarbaft; A Fabulous but Almost Forgotten Persian Fabric

The Most Beautiful Woman in the World.

Gardens and Whispers · Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo

Gardens and Whispers · Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo

How Art Programs Drive Innovation at ThoughtWorks

Canova’s Magdalena may not be one of the most valuable works of the auction season… But it will be…

Canova's Magdalena may not be one of the most valuable works of the auction season... But it will be one of the most important.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jeff Powell

Jeff Powell

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

More from Medium

We should put down our screens

The Alchemy of Color

Where Rains Converge

Relation to the Community (Week 8–9)