Art School: Semester 7, Week 1

Here we go with the very last semester of art school, or so I think.

But wait, I hear you ask, why would I be uncertain about graduating? Well, it turns out to be a tad complicated. The program I am taking has undergone a lot of change over the past few years. During my time on campus, the graduation requirements have changed at least twice that I know of, and one of those changes was pretty substantial.

As it happens, I have discussed all of the changes I’ve heard about with the department chair, and I have followed the latest program closely. In fact, I would say I am 99.9% certain I can graduate right now; the classes I am currently taking are all extras as I understand things.

That said, after a few conversations with my fellow students who are less clear on their graduation status, I tried the online graduation evaluation tool to see what it had to say about my situation. Amusingly, it claims that if I want to graduate with the requirements that were in place at the time I started, I am not eligible. I would need another English class, and more Art History.

But if I select the requirements that were in place twelve or eighteen months later, I am eligible, but those evaluations include (and seem to require) the classes I am currently taking. That is wrong given the program as I understand it. So I now have an appointment (in two weeks) to meet a graduation evaluation advisor and determine what the truth really is. As I say, I fully expect to be told that I can graduate, but perhaps I have been mislead about the rules. I don’t think so, but only by asking the questions can I confirm that. And perhaps my conversation with these people will in some way trickle back to whoever it is that maintains the online graduate evaluation tool, so it can be brought up to date.

Another thing of interest is that Winter Is Coming. (You know, that sounds like it ought to be the tagline for some big TV show.) Technically, Winter is already here, as this photo shows from Friday morning on campus:

However, in a couple of days it seems like winter will really arrive, and I will finally be exposed to weather that makes it actually feel like I am in Canada:

Those temperatures are in Centigrade, and -10/-14 is pretty cold. This part of BC is regularly described as “the Florida of Canada,” and you can probably see why. In two and a half years I haven’t experienced much below zero weather at all. There has been some mild snow, but it generally only lasts a day or three, and doesn’t mess with things too much. But those predicted temperatures are pretty cold. Houses here have no shut off valves for hose bibs, for example, so those could freeze and make an awful mess. The water lines in our rental are just exposed pipes in the crawlspace, and it will get a bit nippy down there with nothing above freezing for days in a row. Adventure might await.

Anyway, that’s enough introduction. I know you’re really here to learn what is going on with my classes, right? (No? You’re here for Harbour News? You’re going to be disappointed, friend, but I will try.)

Advanced Ceramics

There are three projects in this class, along with some reading and a couple of simple written assignments. We don’t have the details on all of the assignments yet, but I know the first, and a bit about the second.

The first project is to make a ceramic sculpture out of sprigs, and possibly extruded clay. As previously described, sprigs are bits of clay, pressed into a mould to take on a shape, and then attached to a ceramic object. I shared a photo of the sprigs I am creating before, but here’s another shot of some of the objects I cast:

As you can see, I raided my hardware stash and put together a pile of odd things. The mould making process involves embedding them halfway in clay, and making sure any and all undercuts and openings are filled so the objects can be removed from the plaster. Here’s what that looks like before the plaster is poured:

My first attempt to cast the outlet failed. The plaster that went into the ground plug holes broke off as I was removing the outlet from the plaster. I had more hardware anyway, so I made another pass at it:

This time I put more clay into the ground plug holes. It almost worked, too, but one still broke off. Not sure what I will do about that. Most of the other mould worked, though a number of the washers did not remove cleanly. I am not certain if those will be all that useful or not.

I only just realized I have only one photo of a resulting mould:

As you can see, it mostly worked. There is some mild chipping around the edges in a few places, but I should be able to work around that simply enough.

I’ll try to get photos of all the moulds this coming week, as well as the process of using them. The operative word there bring “try”.

This coming week I think we’re starting to create our sculpture made of sprigs. I have a vague idea, but only time will tell if it will work or not.

Wheel Throwing

As long as we’re talking about clay, we might as well discuss wheel throwing too. This is the class that seems most likely to consume me alive, at least given what I know so far. The first assignment is to create ten identical mugs, where a mug is a drinking vessel with a handle. That description had me more than a bit concerned, as making things “identical” seems impossible (to me, anyway). Thankfully, the instructor’s definition of “identical” is not what I expected.

She wants us to create ten mugs that are similar enough to obviously be related. She’s most concerned about the weight of the walls and base being similar and even, and she’s definitely not letting us trim them after they are thrown. (Production potters don’t trim, as a rule, because it’s a lot more time and effort, which means higher cost of things you’re selling. Instead they learn to get the shape right on the wheel, with consistent wall and foot thickness, among other things.)

This first week we’re only supposed to practice throwing cups. She wants us to get into the swing of using the wheel, and to play with the shapes we’re creating. We’re to create five cups to use for glaze tests, so we’re allowed to save our good ones despite this week being just practice time. Overall she wants us to play as much as we can this week. I spent Thursday morning in the studio doing as she requested, and learned a couple of things in the process:

  1. I like the lowest wheels we have in the room, which seems a bit odd as I am taller than many of my (mostly female) fellow students. The lower height makes it a bit easier to centre the clay as I can more easily lock my elbows into my legs while doing that. I suppose I might be more comfortable on a higher wheel if we had stools of different heights, but they seem to come in “short and right for the low wheels” and “too tall for the wheels I have used so far.” More testing is in order, of course, but the big take away is to check my setup carefully before getting started.
  2. I need to throw with more clay than the instructor does. During her demo she said she usually throws with 3/4 pound of clay, but mentioned that we might feel differently, and need more. That is definitely the case for me. 3/4 pound is so little it felt like there was nothing to grab on the wheel, and walls wanted to get too thin very quickly. Moving up to about a pound — or even a bit more — felt a lot better. It seemed I had enough to actually create something that might work.

Here’s what came out of my first round of throwing:

Again, we were told to play with shape, and even to distort them. That one in front with the very wonky lip nearly fell apart on the wheel, but I managed to save it, and it grew on me, so I kept it. (There’s a bump in the lip nearest the camera that happened as I was removing it from the wheel, but I straightened that out after these photos were taken.) Of the others, two aren’t deliberately distorted out of symmetry, and one is.

Also, it turns out (I think) that the two in the front were thrown with 3/4 pounds of clay each, while those in the back were thrown with one pound each. The back vessels are taller as a result, which makes sense to me. I had more clay to work with.

Again, these are only going to be used for glaze tests, so there is nothing magic happening here. In fact, any or all of these might get dumped into the reclaim bin if I get better results when I attempt to throw again.

I am hazy on other projects in this class yet. There will be a pitcher, and we get to choose from several small plates, a few dinner plates, or one large platter. Other than that, I lack a good idea of what is coming.

Public Art

This class started with the announcement that we’re going to build the project proposed by my fellow student Heather. Here’s the maquette she made for her proposal:

That doesn’t show the colours, obviously, but you can expect blue waves, green & yellow plants on the bottom right, and the fish will be pink(ish), I think.

We’re already starting to work out the details by building a full sized model in cardboard (it’ll be eight feet on a side when it is done). I suspect we’ll be getting materials in house in a week or two to begin cutting out parts and get fabrication started.

I really like Heather’s design, and I think it will be very striking when it is finished. I’ll do my best to get photos of the work at is advances.

And speaking of (largely) Heather’s work, the vinyl window treatment is back up at the SkyTrain station. I have no clue when it was redone, but it’s much better this time around. The photo is awful (it was still pretty dark when I took it, and the yellow lights played havoc with the colour balance, not to mention the reflections) but here it is:

With luck that will be up for quite some time without additional issues.


The final class in my schedule this term is the new foundry (metal casting) studio. This is fascinating, as the two instructors co-teaching it bring very interesting perspectives. Devon Knowles is my sculpture and public art instructor, and thus brings a ton of technical knowledge to bear in addition to the artistic side of things, and Arron Nelson Moody was my Aboriginal Carving instructor, and so brings his First Nations experience and perspective to the class. That’s important because the first project is to cast a spindle whorl.

There is a vast amount of history around the spindle whorl in the local (Musqueam) culture, and our work with this object is something of an honour. The instructors have prepared moulds of an unadorned spindle whorl, and on Friday we pulled wax positive casts from those moulds. Next we will apply a particular design to the back of the whorl, one we’ve been given to work with. It’s a design done by Aaron, and that was used in a display in the 2010 Olympics. In fact it was one of the earliest public displays of Musqueam art. We’re going to carve that design into our wax positives, with modifications of our own choosing in some of the negative space available.

After that, the process gets technical as we invest the wax object to prepare a shell for molten aluminum, burn out the wax, embed the shell in olivine sand, pour molten aluminum into it, remove the shell, and chase/polish the resulting casting to finish it. And that’s only the first half of the class. Once the spindle whorls are done, we repeat the process but this time we create a wax original of our own design, and it will be cast in bronze rather than aluminum. Also, somewhere in there we’ll do some practice pours of aluminum to get the feel for that process.

Here are two photos of the table during the introductory presentation in this class:

On the left you see Aaron’s drum at the back, and his design in the lower left. The silver object that looks vaguely like a model from Star Trek is a test pour that Devon and Aaron did as they prepared for the class. It shows the gates & sprues used to get the molten metal into the form, and let the air vent out. On the right the moulds have been opened up.

This class promises to be a lot of fun, and I should walk away with enough technical knowledge to be able to do this kind of work on my own in the future if I want to purchase the right equipment. And who knows… I just might do that.

Harbour News

I haven’t had a lot to share from Vancouver Harbour of late, but there is one thing that’s been going on for at least the last week that is interesting:

That’s a dredging barge positioned right in front of the SeaBus terminal at Waterfront Station. I took that photo on Wednesday morning. The starburst pattern comes from those lights on the back of the crane striking the not-so-clean windows of the SeaBus terminal through which the photo was taken.

I suppose this kind of thing has to go on in every harbour, otherwise they would eventually silt up. And this is right next to Canada Place, where the big cruise ships dock. Those have to keep coming for the economic benefits, I suppose. But there may be something else going on here. The cargo ship terminal (one gantry of which is visible to the right of— and behind — the barge) is due to expand soon. If I understand the plans, it will expand to the west a bit, which is somewhat towards us as we look at that photo. Perhaps some of this dredging is to get ready for that expansion, or to get it done before that expansion happens. There were barges closer to the cargo terminal a while back, and they were probably dredging over there too, which is why I wonder if this isn’t all preparatory work for that upcoming construction.

Should any answers to that become available to me, I will share them here. I know many of you are nearly crippled with curiosity about the affairs of Vancouver Harbour!

Other Stuff

On Monday morning before my ceramics class, I finished the installation of the light board that I created last summer. Here are some photos:

On the left you see the whole thing, with the LEDs operating. In the lower left corner you see the light from those LEDs reflecting off dirt on the surface of the glass. The photo on the right is a close up of that corner. From this you can see how the device works: you write on the glass with a fluorescent marker and the LEDs illuminate it from within the glass. The presenter stands on the side where the camera is in these photos, and is filmed through the glass from the far side (where the window is in the photo on the left). The presenter simply talks and writes while being recorded. Then, once the filming is done, the video is digitally left/right reversed so text and charts are all oriented properly for reading when the video is viewed.

It’s a snazzy presentation technique, and allows people to avoid the use of separate graphics that disrupt the flow of the lecture, and also avoids the cost of creating those graphics separately and/or overlaying them over the video in production. From what I saw as I read about these things, it makes for an effective teaching tool.

In any case, my part in this project is now done. It officially belongs to the Education Technology department, and they get to deal with it from here on out.

And In Conclusion…

Here’s a little something I’ve meant to share for some time:

On the left — the W — we’re looking into Vancouver from the SeaBus as we approach. And on the right — the Q — we’re looking at Lonsdale Quay from the SeaBus, in this case as we depart.

The Q is fairly obvious to me: it’s on a tower at Lonsdale Quay Market. Digging into it, though, the Q we see was installed in 2018 to replace the one that had been there for the previous 32 years. It rotates slowly, though that failed for a while some months back and it had to be repaired.

The W was less obvious, but once again the internet has all the answers. Originally the W was atop an Eiffel tower replica on the Woodwards building, but that was shut down in 1993 when Woodwards went bankrupt. Eventually the building was scheduled for demolition and redevelopment, so the W was removed before the building was destroyed in 2006. It was replicated with new technology (energy saving LEDs, in particular) and was put up on the new building in 2010. The old version remains on display in a courtyard below.

I find the trip from Q to W and back again a pleasant experience. It will largely end once school is over, and I may only make it very rarely once we move to a new home at some point, but it’s quite a nice commute, and I will miss it.

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

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