Art School: Semester 7: Week 10 — The Covid-19 Edition

Jeff Powell
9 min readMar 14, 2020

What a difference a week makes. Last week I was trying to figure out how I would get everything done before the end of the term. This week I am wondering if school will be closed before the term is even over.

In the gap between the last post and this one, many colleges have shut down all their classes. As I write this, Langara College has not closed, but multiple instructors have told their students that it is only a matter of time before that happens. As of now there is no news about a pending shutdown, and I see no guidance yet from anyone in authority in Canada recommending schools should close. But given events in the world, it feels inevitable.

And that leaves me where, exactly? I mean, I have four classes I am taking, all with projects in process, and the distinct chance that none of them will get finished during the term. In truth, I am kind of lucky. I met all the requirements for graduation last term, so even if I were to fail all of my current classes — an unlikely event, to say the least — it wouldn’t matter to my status in any appreciable way. But I love finishing things, and abandoning projects in the middle feels like a very bad idea for some reason.

With all of that in mind, I’ll go through these classes one at a time and document their status. This is for me as much as it is for you. Getting this information in order means I will have a clue about how to proceed if I can, and what I might pick up later if/when that becomes possible.

Advanced Ceramics

Here’s a list of the projects in this class and their status:

  • Project 1: The sprig project. Done, mark received. This was the inadvertently phallic sculpture.
  • Project 2: The platter project. Done. My platters await marking.
  • Project 3: The self directed project. This one is undergoing metamorphosis, or was as of this past Monday. Details below.
  • Thought paper 1: Written and submitted. No mark back yet.
  • Thought paper 2: Written and submitted early. In fact, I sent it in just before writing this post.
  • Reading Group: Done. My group has already picked our reading, shared it, and I have written up my view of the resulting discussion.
  • Studio participation and related items: I’ve been doing this all along. I think I am probably fine on this front.

As for the third project — the one undergoing metamorphosis — last week I promised you photos of the work in process. Here they are:

On the right you see all of the crazy jig I made to support the clay. And on the left you see a closer view of the clay currently in the jig. (The colours are different for reasons I don’t really control and am not about to try and fix. The one on the left is closer to real life in that regard.)

The plan for this project was to make a series of sculptures using this jig. It holds dowels at various heights and there are six places where arms can extend out from the centre. Actually, the jig is fully adjustable to allow for three, four, five, or six arms equally spaced around it. Between that and the height adjustment on the dowel rods, there’s a lot of flexibility.

But there are also problems. First, the top and the vertical dowel supports at the outer rim mean it’s harder to thread clay around the jig than I’d like. I tend to bang the clay into things which makes it messy and requires lots of cleanup. And the cleanup is hard because all the wood makes it difficult to get your hands or tools into the right position to reshape the clay. Worse, though, is the fact that my first attempt to work with this jig saw me using much narrower extruded clay that could not handle it’s own weight. Even with the foam supporting the bottom of the clay (as seen in the photos above) the smaller diameter clay strands broke. I had to reclaim them all and start over with a much thicker extrusion as a result.

The thicker clay is less appealing to me, and doesn’t really match my vision, so I was already frustrated by this thing. Then we had our platter crit on Monday. During that crit, it came up that an option for my final project might be to create a series of platters to be hung from a wall, using a glazing option that I like (the blue, bubbly glaze I shared last week). So the first level of metamorphosis in this project is the possibility of abandoning the jig based project entirely and instead focusing on creating a series of platters.

But that’s not all. There’s a final project for the Wheel Throwing class, too, and it might factor into this as well.

But before I move on from Advanced Ceramics, there was one last platter that came out of the kiln since last week, and I have a photo of it to share:

I am not all that happy with it, but it’s a thing. It could have been a lot worse.

Anyway, next week — virus allowing — I need to make significant progress on my final project. I will, in fact, need to get significant work done this weekend because platters take a lot of time to dry to the point where they can be removed from the mould, and with a need for several, I have to get moving on those at a minimum. Whether I will continue with the jig project as well remains to be seen.

Wheel Throwing

Once again, it seems wise to enumerate the projects in this class and their status:

  • Project 1: Ten identical mugs. This is done and the crit was yesterday, combined with the pitcher crit. Details below.
  • Project 2: Two to four pitchers. Same status as the mugs above.
  • Project 3: Two to four lidded forms. These are made, bisque fired, and just went into the kiln for their glaze firing.
  • Project 4: Two to four plates. These have been made and bisque fired.
  • Project 5 : The self directed project. Not yet started, but I have a plan, sort of.

The mug and pitcher crit, yesterday, was interesting. In my notes I actually call it a disaster. My mugs have several issues the instructor doesn’t like. Specifically, the handles keep the hands of people smaller than myself too far from the mug body; they attach too closely to the lip, which resulted in distortion; and the bottoms are not flat. All in all, I think they were a train wreck.

As for the pitchers, these fared only slightly better. I have five pitchers: a set of three that I call “chicken pitchers” which are OK but I don’t think she liked the glaze. (These were reduction fired, and this particular firing didn’t get enough reduction, so the colours aren’t all that bright. Have I mentioned I hate reduction firing?) The other two pitchers are heavy, awkward, and she doesn’t like the handles. Once again, a train wreck.

I have no photos of the final, glazed versions of any of these things yet. That’s an oversight on my part that I need to fix soon.

On the lidded forms, here they are, glazed and awaiting their final firing:

The colour variation front to back is caused by shadow. They’re all glazed in the same way. Whether they will be at all interesting in the end I really don’t know. I won’t even describe what I attempted this time because every time I do so with a reduction firing the results are entirely different than what I anticipated.

Since I am sharing photos from wheel throwing, here’s one of my shirt as I was glazing the interiors of those forms:

Yeah… quite the mess. Yet another reason I probably should not be a ceramicist.

You saw the plates last week before the bisque firing. Here they are out of the kiln:

As for the final project, my plan is to create a sculpture from a set of wheel thrown forms, cut, modified, and stuck together. At this point, though, I am thinking I will glaze it in a manner similar to the platters I am going to make for the other ceramics class, and it might be part of a set in the end. Blue, bubbly glaze everywhere.

All assuming covid-19 doesn’t completely wipe out the rest of the term, of course.

Public Art

There’s been a lot of progress on this project, thankfully. Here’s an in process shot:

That’s Heather (left) and Jessica (right) prepping to weld the standoffs to the back of the metal wave that is clamped to the frame. Both Heather and Jessica are far better welders than I am, so I did stuff other than welding.

The project isn’t quite fully assembled, but it is getting close:

There are three more pieces that need to be attached: one more salmon and two more pieces of seaweed. You can see the standoffs for those already mounted on the existing work.

Once the welding is done, everything gets sanded, primed, and painted. Oh, there are a few fins that get welded to the salmon too.

We’re way ahead of schedule according to the instructor, which is great, but if the virus shuts down the school, this project will stop. Not a good thing, as quite a few people and organizations plan around this. I have no idea what will happen in that case.


As I have previously discussed, there are only two projects in this class. The spindle whorl project (which I have completed) and the other project, in which we make an object for ourselves. I am working on the latter, and started investing the wax original. Here are a couple of photos of that in progress:

If memory serves, these were taken when I’d finished the second coat. Two more layers have been applied since then, leaving five more to go before Wednesday morning. (The investment material is supposed to dry for at least 48 hours before we burn out the wax. Class is on Friday morning, so we need to have it drying from at least Wednesday morning.) Again, assuming the school isn’t closed, I will be adding more layers this weekend.

Harbour News

I was moving pretty early on Sunday and have a couple of photos from the SeaBus in the morning:

On the left, Vancouver in the fog. (Technically, since there was also frost on the ground in addition to the fog, would that be called “frog”?) On the right, The Sisters (better known as The Lions) in the morning sun.

Other Stuff

Monday morning I rode a bus into town rather than the SeaBus (the timing was off) and I caught this shot of the full moon over my shoulder and though the bus window and the railing of the Lions Gate Bridge:

You’re looking west(ish) towards Bowen Island and Vancouver Island beyond. That’s West Vancouver on the shore on the middle right.

And In Conclusion…

I learned on Sunday that the SeaBus doesn’t start running until 8 am. How did I learn that? Well…

And that 3:27 left until the next SeaBus is a lie. It was actually 18:27 left. I had breakfast next door while I waited.



Jeff Powell

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