Art School: Semester 7: Week 3

Yeargh! I feel so far behind, and yet — objectively — I know I am actually ahead.

This is a weird term. Last term was weird too, but I blamed it on Cultural Theory, a strange class that left me cold in a number of ways despite my long standing interest in philosophy. But that class isn’t in the mix this term, so the cause must be something else. All I have are studio classes, and that should be just fine. I should be loving it, and yet even after three weeks it’s a struggle. I have no idea why, but it feels like I am already way behind on everything. In addition, it seems the amount of work I am facing is so huge I have no clue how I will tackle it.

I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t just drop all my classes, graduate, and be done with it. (Yes, I could legitimately do so.) Decades ago I learned to call this feeling “senioritis.” That is, the mental state high school (or college) seniors find themselves in as the year ends, they’ve got plans (for school or a job), and nothing they are doing at the end of the term seems like it will matter in the slightest. Maybe that is what I am dealing with.

But I will persevere. I will triumph in the end. Or something.

And in that vein, this post is all about my classes. Nothing else happened this past week (other than all the snow melting in an amazing hurry and nearly continual rain), so you’re just going to have to put up with class descriptions only. Sorry.

Advanced Ceramics

The first assignment was to create sprig moulds, and from those we are to create a sculpture, possibly using a framework. My sprig moulds were taken from my hardware stash — screws, nuts, bolts, etc. And in the last post I mentioned my work was inadvertently phallic. So, um… here it is before the bisque firing:

Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan Walk Into A Hardware Store

Lag screws, bolts, nuts, washers, and miscellaneous other hardware are the things that make this up. The entire thing is patterned after a lag screw (which seemed an amusing idea in the beginning — make a lag screw from lag screw sprigs — and only afterwards did I realize the other implications of ths shape… oh well) and I have covered the entire framework to the point that none of it is visible. As of this writing, it is fully dry and ready for bisque firing on Monday.

Next up, we have the platter project. For that I have made a clay mould into which plaster will be poured on Monday. It’s really exciting. Are you ready?

Yes, that’s a large, rectangular chunk of clay with a void scooped out of the centre. It will get filled with plaster on Monday, then that will harden and I will remove the plaster and sand it smooth. Then we can drape clay over the hump of plaster — it’s called a hump mould — and form a platter. We’ll make a series of five, and they will be modified in various ways.

To that end, I also created another sprig mould to let me create the specific sprig that will go onto one of these platters:

Yes, that is a Swedish horse, sometimes (apparently) called a “Dala Horse” or a “Dalecarlian Horse” according to Wikipedia. The platter assignment also involves bringing food, and I’ve decided to bring in Limpa, a light, somewhat sweet, Swedish rye bread. Thus at least one platter needs to look a bit Swedish, but without going so far as to glaze it in the style of the Swedish flag.

I hope this all makes sense later. In fact, I hope I can keep track of it all later!

On the written assignment front we have a “Thought Paper” due in mid-February. That’s to be written about either an artist talk or an art exhibit. On Thursday I went to see a show at a gallery at Emily Carr University here in town. The work is by Masaomi Yasunaga, and consists of works made from ceramic glaze. No clay, just glaze. He creates these things in moulds made of sand, stone, and other materials, fires the work while it is embedded in the matrix, and then removes the work in a process that apparently resembles an archaeological dig. Here are two photos to give you a taste:

These works are not functional, but some look as though they might have been before they were buried in the ground for 10,000 years. Interesting things, but my response is complicated. The display is meant to make the viewer think of burial mounds and related topics, and the shapes of the works are somewhat disconcerting, probably because of the way they walk the line between “might be functional” and “not functional.” In any case, I hope the odd thoughts bubbling around in my head make for a good paper.

The other assignment (in the short term, anyway) is to pick a reading from one of several books, prep a discussion of it and some questions, and lead a discussion in class. That’s also due in mid to late February, and I need to work on picking a reading with my assigned partner. We have time, but I hate to let things sit.

About this class, my thoughts are a bit mixed, and include things like:

  • I am not all that sure about clay. It’s picky and needy at the worst of times, and you cannot simply set it down and walk away for an hour or two. Instead you have to clean thoroughly and wrap everything up or you will have a dried, unworkable mess on your return.
  • I am even less sure about mould making, which was also the case in my sculpture classes. It’s a lot of fiddling around with things that are not the end result, which I generally dislike. It’s also kind of a pain in some ways, and seems very wasteful as well. Though I know it is necessary in some cases, I am not really a fan.
  • If this was my only class, it would be no problem. But the third project is (I think) a chance to make just about anything we want in ceramics, and so far I have no clue at all what I will do. Absolutely none. Partly that is because I haven’t thought about it yet, and partly it’s because I am treating this class (and Wheel Throwing, too) as experiments in new media, rather than as things I definitely want to do more of. I will figure something out, but I am not thrilled with the lack of direction given my own (poor!) skills with clay.

Wheel Throwing

But the big, ugly assignment — ten identical mugs — is now crashing down on us all. This coming Wednesday we’re supposed to have five of them done, with handles attached. And a week later, five more. Or rather, a total of ten, some of which might or might not be the five we have done the week before.

Here’s the thing: I can’t throw worth beans. I struggle to centre 1.5 pounds of clay. (I have no clue how I will centre the larger amounts needed for the bigger projects coming: plates, bowls, and the pitcher.) When I do manage to centre the clay, though, the problems are far from over. Opening up the clay and keeping the opening centred is, shall we say, challenging. Keeping the walls evenly thick as I get them to rise is less than simple. Keeping the lip from being a lopsided mess is nearly impossible. And doing all of that while controlling the shape. Well, at the moment all I can say is “Ha!”

I made an early attempt at a possible mug form. Here is a photo of four things I threw that are somewhat similar in shape. Not perfect, mind, just close:

That photo shows all the problems I mentioned, along with the difficulty of pulling them off the wheel without mangling them. (There’s actually a trick to that: let them spin slowly and point a fan at them for 10 minutes or so. Then take them off. That works wonders, but it’s a bit dicey in a room full of people throwing. You don’t want to dry out what they are still working on.)

Oh, and did I mention that I seem to have a hard limit on just how tall I can make anything? Even if I manage to centre a larger amount of clay, I still hit a fundamental height limit at somewhere in the five to six inch range. At that point some part of the walls is so thin that it wants to fold or buckle. (See the inside of the left front cup form above. Those ripples? That’s a result of the wall a bit farther down starting to get too thin.)

Anyway, on Thursday I tried throwing again and hit on a new form that is much simpler and that I might use for the mug assignment. Here are a three that I managed to throw that morning, and one more thrown on Saturday morning on the right:

This new form was called a cafe au lait cup by a fellow student, and I am OK with that. I seem to be able to throw it reasonably reliably, as you can see from this picture taken at the end of the Saturday throwing session:

That’s nine so far. They are definitely not identical, and some are better than others in various ways, but I hope to get five out of that batch for Wednesday.

But they also need handles, and I am still working out the specifics on that front. So I added handles to the four mugs I made in the earlier shape:

The middle parts of the handles are wrapped in plastic to keep them from drying too quickly. (They will crack in that case.) And all four of those handles are differently shaped. These are experiments, after all. The one in front only attaches to the mug at the top. The blue plastic rib (a tool for manipulating clay) is holding it up so it doesn’t sag as it dries. Actually, all of these have their handles supported in one way or another to keep gravity from doing what it usually does.

Tomorrow I go back and work on adding handles to the nine cups I have, assuming I can pick a style I like. If time allows, I might even throw some more and attempt to get ten good ones and finish this assignment completely. (Ha!)

Public Art

There’s really nothing to photograph in this class yet except various oddly shaped pieces of cardboard. As a result I’ll hold off until there is something a bit more interesting to share.


This week we took our fully carved spindle whorls and prepped them for investment. That means we added sprues and gates, as well as a pouring cup. Here are some photos of my setup after class:

Note the design I added to the negative space in the work. Bonus points to anyone that can figure it out. I hinted that something was coming last week. Now you can see it. I know the photo isn’t stellar for that, but I assure you that those with the right mindset can figure it out from what you see in just the left photo.

In truth, I tried to create my addition to the design at home after I finished carving out Aaron’s design, but I absolutely hated the result. I tried a second method and hated that as well. As a result I wiped them out completely and had nothing in those spaces. In class I mentioned I was happy to have put nothing in there at all and that I intended to leave it that way, but I was told that was not an option. In response I got out a set of finer tools and did it again, controlling the size and location of the elements better in the process. This time I hate it less, so I let it stand. I am doing what I have been told, and it will be fine.

And In Conclusion…

Expect a similar ending in my future posts, at least until this term ends. I will do what I can to liven things up, but it’s a bit of a challenge, honestly.

Thanks for reading!

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

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