Art School: Semester 6, Week 4

Greetings everyone, and thank you — as always — for following these crazy posts. I have a hard time believing my life is all that interesting, but you seem to think so, at least given that people actually read these things. So I guess I need to keep writing them.

This week has been all about school, once again. I suspect that is going to be a theme running through the entire term, and quite possibly into next term as well. Lots of hours of work every week. It’s entertaining, but tiring.

So let’s get into it, shall we?

Advanced Ceramics

Currently we have two things in process here:

  1. A set of bowls to be used to perform glaze tests
  2. A project made from several forms thrown on the wheel

I am nearing done with both, though the photos of the second item you will see below lead me to believe I have to get back into the studio this weekend, at least for an hour or two. But here are the details:

Test Bowls

You saw these before in raw clay. Well, here they are now:

On the left is what they look like after the bisque firing, and on the right you see them with glazes applied, awaiting the glaze firing. And yes, they look camouflaged and ready to go into the desert, but (for those that don’t know) glazes can change colour a lot during the firing. Also, they behave differently when layered, so I am laying two or more glazes on top of each other in splotches in an attempt to see what the resulting combinations will do. Some glazes will run in the kiln, and those will form a weird puddle at the bottom of each bowl as well. In the end, I expect every last one of these to be ugly, and probably unusable except as pointers to interesting glaze combinations, assuming I actually made any interesting combinations. Time will tell.

Now, I can already hear some of you wondering “But Jeff, how will you be able to tell which glazes you used in a given spot on a given bowl?” Don’t forget you’re talking to someone trained as an engineer. Every bowl has a label (A through I) and an arrow (to set orientation) on the bottom, applied in iron oxide. And I have a horribly complex map:

With luck, I can translate what happens on each bowl into the glazes used, and the specific order they were applied in. With luck. I sure hope I wrote everything down and didn’t muck anything up. We’ll see.

As for the other project, here are the photos, but they make me cringe:

The first thing to know is that the left most piece in the bottom left photo didn’t survive. It was too large, and I attempted to trim it down aggressively a couple of days after that photo was taken, and it cracked extensively. It was not salvageable, so it is gone. In that same photo, the bit on the right is two thrown forms attached together. It’s tiny — perhaps only seven centimetres across — and it is nestled inside the other two forms.

The top, lace work(ish) thing was getting to be a problem yesterday, so I stopped working on it, and only now after looking at the pictures do note a host of issues. And (of course) it is sitting out on the shelf, drying. So additional work is going to be tough to do. Whee. But I may be able to smooth it out a bit and round some corners, etc. Suffice it to say it is very delicate, and I have no clue if it will survive the firing process.

We glaze fire the test bowls on Monday, and bisque fire the other project on Wednesday. I have no clue what comes after that — though we have a date for the glaze firing of the second project as well — but it will come together.

I think that is all I have to report about ceramics at this point.

Public Art

This class has been more of a struggle than I anticipated, but at least in part I hope that is ending. As with ceramics, there are two projects in process:

  1. A group project that will produce a 2D image to be put up on the windows at the local sky train station.
  2. An individual public art project that will be displayed on school grounds.

The former is still mostly in the talking and idea gathering stage. This week each student in the class is to create an image based around a single colour that we think reflects some of the ideas we’ve expressed in our conversations. Unfortunately those ideas have been all over the map, so it’s complicated. I have a plan that I will execute later this weekend.

The second project has been a struggle, but may (finally!) be coming together. The goal is to create about 100 hexagonal things, assemble them with magnets, and install them on top of some shelves in the library. Here’s what my sample pieces look like:

The two on the left are made of the same steel I intend to use. The one on the right is made from a thinner gauge that I was trying, but it’s too weak to support the weight of 4 or 5 other hexagons without bowing a bit. Given that, I used tape to play with what applying paint of two colours would look like, and I think that is the answer.

We did an initial presentation to the class last week, and I think I am good to go, provided I have solved the magnet issue.

Magnets, it turns out, are a bit of an oddity. I need rare earth magnets to do this, so I can keep them small enough to avoid being distracting while still being strong enough to actually hold things together. And I need a lot of them. Something like 400. Local suppliers either charge a fortune, or don’t have nearly enough in stock, but thankfully I found some available from an online supplier and my first test batch of 100 should be here in a day or two. Assuming they are strong enough, I am good to go, and I will spend only $60 to get 400 of them. But if they aren’t strong enough, then I have a whole different issue, and need to figure something else out.

Most rare earth magnets are made in China — where they mine most of the materials, I believe — so shipping from there is kind of a problem. I can get almost anything I want if I am willing to wait a month or two. Sadly, however, I need them sooner than that, and I need to know they will work, so my choices are pretty limited. Still, with luck I have found what I need. I’ll know soon.

On the assumption that this will work out, I’ve gone ahead and created a couple of jigs to help me cut metal repeatably on the treadle shear we have in the shop:

The bottom three oddities are two stops for the metal (on the left) and a paddle thing that lets me get the stops in the right place relative to the blade as they are clamped down. The paddle is removed and then I just start sliding sheet metal into the machine, bump it into the stops, and stomp on a big treadle to cut it. Easy and repeatable. The weird thing at the top bolts to the front of the treadle sheer and lets me reliably cut the pieces in the other direction. I take the narrow (5cm wide) strips I’ve cut with the first jig, rotate them 90 degrees, and push them against the corner to the lower right of that thing. That assures a 61cm long piece of metal when it is cut.

The net result will be 100 pieces of metal 5cm x 61cm. When folded each side is 5cm x 10cm, and there is 1cm leftover as an overlap where they will be spot welded together. There will he hours of work to make all of that happen, of course, and I still have to build a jig to help me get the bends in the right place each time.

Anyway, that’s the plan so far, and I hope next week I have confirmed the magnet situation and cut some (or all) of the strips.

Cultural Theory

This class continues to be what it will always be: read somewhere between 10 and 25 pages of thick, dense stuff several times. Write up a few questions about the reading, that show I have understood it, and provide an answer to one of those questions.

Last week we were reading Althusser (which appears to be pronounced like “all-to-sare”) who was an influential (but eventually mad, and murderous) Marxist thinker. Specifically a revisionist Marxist of a sort. His big contribution seems to have been the idea that we are all stuck inside various ideologies, and we generally adopt them as our own because we see them as natural and right. Essentially, if you’re born and raised in a capitalist system, you will think it’s the way things should be, even if you’re working 16 hours a day for pennies. And similarly, serfs would think they were living in the right system. And so on. I am glossing over a lot, of course, and this is only a survey class in any case, so I am glossing over what is only a gloss to begin with, but you get the idea. Later thinkers have built on (or objected to) Althusser’s work, as always happens, but we haven’t gotten to any of them yet.

This week we’re reading two bits by Freud and Laura Mulvey’s famous Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (where she introduced the concept of “the male gaze”). This week’s section is titled “Psychoanalysis and Sexual Identity: Who are You?” It should be amusing. Mulvey’s writing probably won’t be as dense as the Freud, but I could be wrong about that. I’ll see soon enough.

Harbour News

The only news this week is that the ship that was being refitted and the hotel ship for the workers doing the refit were both gone as of Monday morning. So whatever was going on, they really did get it done in just about two weeks. Other than that, I am still awaiting the arrival of the behemoth cruise ships. I think the first arrives in a couple of days. With luck I will get photos for next week’s post.

And In Conclusion…

That’s really it this time, folks. I am swamped and have a long list to get through before Monday. Everyone take care!



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

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Jeff Powell

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