Art School: Semester 6, Week 7

Jeff Powell
9 min readOct 20, 2019

Well, I survived my (probably last ever) midterm exam. More on that below, but I figured I’d put that out there right up front. It sets the tone for the week, and lets you know where things are in the overall schedule.

As with the past few weeks, not a lot other than school has been going on. Sad, but true. I have one non-school story (from last night) to share though. Life still happens, it seems.

Anyway, on with the show!

Advanced Ceramics

We’re in a weird state with this class. We’re working on the second project, but we have not yet critiqued the first project. Honestly, much like my intro ceramics class from two years ago, I think there aren’t enough projects in it. I’d love to do more work and get pushed harder in other directions, but I suspect there is a kiln rationing issue. There are only so many kilns and they can only be fired so many times in a term. To avoid the intro classes and the advanced classes stomping on each other, the number of projects has to be limited to some degree. And thus we all get a bit less work, so the schedule can work out properly.

Think about it this way: there are two intro ceramics classes and one advanced class all going on at the same time. Each class has three or four projects to fire, and each project takes two firings: one for bisque, and one for glazing. The way I calculate it, that’s 20 kiln firings, minimum, and each takes two days or so. But in reality there are always more firings than that. Students get work in late, or there is a lot of large work and it takes multiple firings to get everything in a project fired, and so on. And advanced students use the gas and raku kilns for some firings, so the mix changes there, too. In short, though, there are a lot of firings to coordinate and get through so work can get done and critiqued. And without a huge number of kilns (we have three electric, I think, and two gas) there is overlap and contention. You get the idea.

Anyway, on Monday we crit the first project. You’ve already seen the photos of that in its final form… the weird mushroomish thing. Not a huge success in my eyes, but I did pull off stuff that I was trying for the first time, so yay, I guess.

The second project — the body project — I think I have also described. This is the thing where we are each assigned a part of the body and create a work related to it in some way, and the entire assembly is displayed on the wall as a figure when it’s all done.

I got the right thigh — body parts were literally assigned at random — and I had a plan pretty quickly. I was going to create a thigh shaped work that was made of multiple layers of clay, pierced full of holes so you could see through them to the negative space inside.

I worked on that for a while, and became disillusioned. There are no photos because what I created stinks. And I think I mentioned last week that I might do something violent to it as a result.

I have since gone on to create a new piece, and I am much happier with it:

That view is sideways and the clay is still wet, but imagine that is the tendon in the back of your thigh. Ever get cramps back there? That’s what it might look like. And the holes… well, the one on the right (the top) is for hanging the piece. The others will have screws or nails through them in the final work. There will also be some mild glazing on parts of this (a crazed white glaze is how things are supposed to go, it seems) and that’s it.

Amusingly, this piece doesn’t bisque fire for over two weeks, so I am way ahead here, assuming this doesn’t break as it dries. I probably need to roll out a slab to fire it on, though, so I can move it around carefully for the bisque firing, and so that any glaze that drips will fall on clay and not a kiln shelf. But there is gobs of time to do that.

So at the moment my ceramics angst is tamped down. I am happy about that.

Public Art

There are two projects in process here, and one more about to get started. The first is the personal project. In my case that’s the one made of hexagons that I shared photos of last week. It’s continuing:

That’s me priming half of the beasties. I have also picked paint colours and am experimenting with them, though I have no photos to share of that process just yet.

The interesting development in this project is that the instructor just pushed the crit out two weeks, so we all suddenly have more time. It should be a simple matter to finish it on time in my case. I will keep pushing, but it will be done.

The second project is the group window treatment for the local SkyTrain station. And (as I kind of expected) I wound up being the key computer dude on that. I think — and hope — that I finished all the relevant computer work on it yesterday. Sadly, I cannot share the actual files with you here because they are ridiculously large. It took hours and hours to get the final files prepared, and while I hope they are done, I need final review from my fellow students. What I can share with you is this much smaller version:

That’s a small JPG file extracted from two huge TIF files. To give you an idea of just how small that is, the top window panes in the real installation are 291" wide and 63" tall. The bottom ones are 194" wide and 63" tall. And the files for the printer need to be 300 DPI, so that is a LOT of pixels. My poor computer just about burst into flame trying to work with it. But as I say, it seems to be done.

On Wednesday, if everyone in the group likes them, those files go off to the printer (and the transit people) for approval and eventual printing. Assuming no changes are needed, it will still be some time before the installation happens. Months, I think. I will keep an eye out for it and get photos of the final installation when it’s all done.

This really is something of a group effort. The actual art there was done by two people: Heather did the illustrations and Atheana did the background. (Both have been mentioned in previous blog posts.) But aspects of the content and the layout go back to everyone else in the group, so it does reflect a significant effort on everyone’s part. And I am honestly jealous of those who have good 2D art skills. My own are sadly lacking.

Finally, we’re starting to think about the metal piece at the same station. It’s an 8' x 8' wall hung work, and at the very end of class we all make a presentation with our idea for it, along with a bunch of supporting documentation. I have to get cracking on that one, but I haven’t yet had a particular idea hit me hard enough to get going on it. I will, though.

So, this class is also pretty much under control, assuming I can figure out the third project, that the second project really is done, and that I can keep on top of the painting of the first one. Much like ceramics, my angst level here has dropped a bit.

Cultural Theory

The angst level remains high for this class, sadly, but it is what it is. We had the midterm exam this past week — as previously mentioned — and I expect I did OK on it. I don’t think my grade (or mark… Canadians call them “marks” at least as often as “grades”… an interesting linguistic difference) will set the world on fire or anything, but I expect I did well enough to continue to pass the course.

As I said up top, though, this is probably my last midterm exam, ever. And the final exam I will take in another six of seven weeks is — it is to be hoped — my last ever one of those as well. I think I can be done with school once this diploma is complete.

But this class goes on, and we have more reading this week, naturally. About 25 pages of dense stuff from three or four different authors. I’ve only barely started that as I write these lines, but the evening will be devoted to it, I am sure.

I had an interesting conversation about this class with the instructor I had for my introductory painting and sculpture courses. He thinks the second half may be more relevant than the first. Apparently we’ve been reading mostly structuralist works, and the world has moved on to post structuralist (and other) theories. He says that a lot of art created these days is in response to those ways of thinking. Maybe he’s right, and perhaps the instructor will make it more relevant in some way, but I have my doubts. Time will tell.

Other Stuff

I promised a non-school tale as well, so here you go.

As you might recall, we have a number of dogs, including Tinkerbelle, the giant half Great Pyrenees, half Saint Bernard who is now about three and a half years old. This is the very large, 3.5 (ish) year old dog who got a nasty fungal disease and nearly died.

Well, it turns out she is a bit nocturnal. The Wikipedia page says this is a thing with Great Pyrenees, as do other sources. They are bred to guard flocks all by themselves, and so must be alert to predators at night. That’s one explanation, anyway. Another is that the fungus that messed up her hips might have mucked with the connection between her brain and her bladder and bowels, making her less sensitive to her own needs until they become urgent. And that kind of urgency seems to happen on a regular basis, even at night.

It’s all conjecture, regardless, but there is a story here.

Last night we went to bed as usual. Tink, however, was not happy about that, or about something. She managed a hat trick and got me up at 12:30, 2:30, and 4:30am. Then Cruzer decided that 6:05 was his wake up time. As you can imagine, it was a bit of a rough night. For me. Anne slept through it all, as she usually does. That’s good, though. I can deal with this, though it does get old.

Obviously I have no clue how well Tink will sleep on any given night. Sometimes she only gets up once. Mostly it’s two or three times, though. Last night’s outages were particularly well spaced out, sadly.

Another thing to know is that we don’t just throw Tink outside and ignore her. She can be rambunctious and we’re not tolerating barking at 3:00 am. So I have to go out with her. And it has rained up here for a week straight, and the night time temperatures are around 10°. (That’s Centigrade, of course. For those of you who live in benighted countries where the Fahrenheit scale is still used, that’s about 50°.) It’s cold enough that going outside requires a heavy robe and slippers, and even then standing around outside for more than a few minutes is dumb. But the dog inevitably forgets why she needed to go out the moment she’s through the door, so there is a lot of standing around to be done. *sigh*

This is my life, alas. Now you know.

Harbour News

Not much here, but I did see one cruise ship at the dock late this past week. It has to have been heading out for the season or something. I can’t imagine it was still going north up the coast when the weather has been so rainy and cool, but I could be wrong. I did notice a huge bulk material carrier ship in the dry dock undergoing some kind of work, but that happens. All in all, it’s been a relatively boring week in the harbour. I think that’s good, honest. An exciting harbour is not a good harbour.

And In Conclusion…

That’s it for this week. I have to go deal with laundry, so I will leave you now. Cheers!



Jeff Powell

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