Art School: Semester 6, Week 9

Jeff Powell
8 min readNov 1, 2019



Hello everyone.


Sorry. My cold continues. Yes, I am a bit better, but the outward symptoms remain, and those are barrels of fun, let me tell you. But I am improving. It just takes a while.

The news this week has been, well, newsish. (Newsy? Newslike? Newsesque? Whatever.) There’s one, big, non-school story to share that may dominate the coming weeks, but more on that below. First, the regular school stuff.

Advanced Ceramics

I’ll tackle this class by project, since otherwise it’s an ugly word salad. (Wait, aren’t all of my posts like that, perhaps seasoned with a generous batch of typos and editing glitches? No matter. Onward!)

Project 1 — the thrown bowl form project. We got our marks back on this. I got an A. I am not at all sure how, given that almost nothing I created was like what I wanted or envisioned. I suspect, though, that the instructor knows I pushed my limits and the setup as hard as I knew how. So, the result was interesting to her in various ways beyond the piece (which I still think wound up bland and uninteresting, thanks to the glazes doing nothing like what I anticipated).

Project 2 — the body project. This week I created a thing that it can rest on while being raku fired. There was also a test firing for some people (I was too busy to participate, but I observed on the day) and I think my project has a chance of turning out something like how I want it to. That said, however, I wonder if it will impress the instructor or not. This might be a project where I don’t do nearly as well as I could. (Or that could just be my own insecurities speaking.) Here’s the thing: my project is pretty simple. That is, it’s not a complex piece, nor is it difficult at a technical level. I hope it accomplishes what I want in the end, and in fact getting to this piece was a lot of mental effort and thought. I hope the end result is more interesting for all that work, and causes people to stop and think. If so, it will be more of a success than the piece I made for the first project. But how it will go over as far as my grade is concerned, who knows.

Project 3 — the inspiration/miniature/enlarged project. This week we went to the Museum of Anthropology here at UBC. We were given a tour of the Koerner collection, and then turned loose to find a piece that we were inspired by. The instructor’s words were actually more like “go find a ceramic piece you really love.” I did, and here’s a link to it:

That piece is not part of the Koerner collection, though. It’s a relatively recent (1988) work by a local, indigenous artist. Apparently there was no tradition of working in ceramics here in the pacific northwest, so any ceramic work you see from indigenous artists is therefore modern. That’s cool.

I was attracted to the work because of the shape. As a sculptor, I was drawn to the form immediately. I know it’s patterned after a seed pod, but it has an interesting feeling, as if it is partly organic (or natural) in shape, and partly artificial. It’s really lovely. The finish is not really a glaze, I think. The process is called “sawdust firing” and is somewhat similar to raku firing. The work is created and burnished (that is, polished with something hard and smooth, to seal the clay). Then it is bisque fired to vitrify the clay and make it durable. After that, it is put into a container (called a “saggar” — not to be confused with a “sagger”, trust me) and packed with sawdust. The sawdust is set on fire and the saggar is closed up. The smoke from the burning sawdust penetrates into the object creating the glaze/patterning. In this case the original clay was sort of red/brown, I think. The colour changes on it are the result of the firing. Note that the firing is done only in the presence of the heat of the sawdust burning, so very low temperatures compared with a traditional glaze firing.

This project, as the name implies, comes in several parts. The first part was to find an inspirational piece. That’s now done. Then we research the object to learn more about it.

Next we make a miniature version of that object, just a inch or so tall. (Not sure why this is the plan, but it is.) I will start that (and the research) on Monday.

After that, we’re to create a full size object that is based (perhaps loosely) on the object we selected and the miniature. We are given free rein on clay, glaze, and firing choices for this. Almost anything goes, so long as the school has the facilities and we aren’t doing something stupid or hazardous.

Finally, we give a presentation based on our research and on our final object. At this point, however, that’s still a ways off, and a lot can change between now and then. This instructor is well versed in changing things.

Sorry there aren’t any new photos. Just as soon as I have some to share, I will.

Public Art

As with ceramics, this might best be explained by project.

Project 1 — the individual public art project. Here, I have made some progress. First off, I did more research and finally picked a painting scheme:

Those two photos were taken in the library, to see the pieces in the actual lighting conditions. And the answer is that I will be painting the hexagons dark on the interior and light on the exterior. That is the best arrangement of paint that keeps the contrast most visible most of the time. In the left photo, the two hexagons on the upper shelf are painted that way, while those on the lower shelf are light in the interior and dark on the exterior. In the right photo the two in the back are in the selected scheme, while the two in the front are the other way around.

And having made that decision, I got started:

This is from class on Wednesday, as I was starting to paint the interiors of the hexagons. Note that the two rows of hexagons have exactly the same paint on their interiors. The front row is in direct sunlight while the back row is in shadow. That’s the kind of thing you have to deal with in the real world, and it can be a tad challenging.

I hope to go in this weekend to continue the painting.

Project 2— the SkyTrain station windows. Our project was submitted for approval and everyone said yes. It was also sent off to the printer, and it seems to be OK there as well. (The instructor tells me that if there was a problem with the files he would have let us know. His limited comments therefore mean they look fine and will be usable.) In theory this will be printed and put up sometime in the coming few weeks. Photos at the time, of course.

Project 3 — the SkyTrain station wall project proposal. I have about six ideas for this, and am just barely thinking about any of them. Over this weekend I need to iterate on them a bit, pick one, and get going on more detailed drawings and plans. The entire package of information is due at the end of the term. Again, no photos to share because all I have are some very poor sketches in a sketchbook — and I hate sketchbooks — so for more details you will just have to wait, along with me.

Cultural Theory

This class continues to drive me crazy. This past week we discussed (mostly) a work by Jacques Derrida titled The Gift of Death. I read the assignment multiple times and didn’t understand it at all. Not in the least. Apparently it’s a commentary on how the story of Abraham being ordered by God to sacrifice his son is a (and possibly the) central aspect of Western culture, and just how full of conflicts we all are as a result. Or something.

To me it was a barely readable mishmash that seemed to be an allegory, but for what I could not say.

We’re reading something else this week. No idea what, yet, but I will have it done before the weekend is over. *sigh*

Other Stuff

The big news this week is that Vancouver is now in the grips of a transit strike. Specifically the bus and SeaBus drivers are in the middle of a job action, mostly complaining about working conditions. (I have to say I agree with them completely. The company they work for treats them like interchangeable cogs in a machine. Cogs that don’t need bathroom breaks during bad traffic, for example.)

The unions claim they do not want to seriously impact traffic and commuters during this strike. The last time there was a transit strike here was back in 2001. It went on for four months and was (apparently) a nightmare, even though the amount of transit use at the time was tiny compared with now. It ended only after the province passed a law ordering them back to work. That they want to minimize their impact is something I get. Nothing will cost you friends like imposing on people.

But being on the north shore means I am dependent on transit, or I have to drive and park. The latter are technically possible, but the drive is long and unpleasant (both of which will only get worse if the strike causes others to drive as well) and the costs are high. I am lucky, though, because I have the option. Others are not so fortunate, and if this strike gets ugly there will be fallout.

I am not even sure what my commute will look like on Monday to get to school, or over the weekend to go paint hexagons. This does not thrill me, being a control freak and all.

On a lighter note, here’s a quick snap from the interior of the SeaBus on Wednesday morning:

Check out that sunrise.

And In Conclusion…

There is no shop dog, of course, but…

The shop manager is dog sitting for a friend for a while, and the dog gets lonely. He’s old, apparently, and very calm. So he’s now visiting the shop, at least sometimes. That might not be cool by policy, but this dog is about as mellow as they come. That’s him, in his dog carrier, in the shop office. I barely got a sniff, but he’s a lovely addition to the faculty.



Jeff Powell

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