Art School: Semester 7: Week 4

Greetings everyone. Thanks for coming back.

There will be no whining in this week’s post. I promise. Several readers pointed out that I am always stressed out early in the term, and at the end I am always much more laid back than my fellow students. It seems I front-load stress, which is apparently not all that common. Honestly, I wish I’d developed that skill before my first time through college.

Another possibly related thought: perhaps part of the reason I am stressed (beyond just the school stuff) is that I am also chomping at the bit to solve the long term housing issue, and thus get the next chapter of my life going. That’s going to involve getting moved to a new place, and maybe even getting fully unpacked (after something like three years with a third of our stuff still in boxes). This could/should also mean a new shop/studio, and who knows what else. Exciting stuff, and I have to admit I am a bit tired of paying Vancouver rental rates, which are ludicrous.

But as I say, no whining! We chose this adventure, and I am enjoying it.

To set the stage for the rest of this post, it’s important to know that — as with last week — I have done nothing but go to school, so all content is once again class related. Sorry about that, but let’s get to it.

Advanced Ceramics

This week was a bit slow. My inadvertently phallic sculpture was bisque fired and survived just fine. Sadly, I have no new photos of it at the moment. I also prepared some test tiles to see what the cone 04 glazes we’re going to be using look like. Here’s what those tiles looked like before they went into the kiln:

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I have no idea what they will look like when I next see them. They are in the glaze kiln now, and I will learn more whenever they come out.

If you’re wondering how I will know which glaze is which, you’re asking a good question. First, I have a list of all the glazes that I have meticulously built, and I have maps that show me the tiles identified by the pseudo-roman numerals you see in the upper left corners:

The maps show I made several recording errors as I was glazing the tiles. With luck, though, I got them all straightened out. And I have revised the glaze list to include all of my notes and corrections.

Finally this week I poured plaster into my hump (platter) mould, let it cure, removed it from the clay, and sanded it down to clean it up. It is still drying, though. Plaster takes a long time to dry, and for this purpose it needs to be pretty dry. The theory is that we roll out a slab of clay for a platter, drape it over the hump mould, cut it to the right height, add feet (if desired), and let it sit “a while” (an undefined term, I note) while the plaster sucks water out of the clay so it will hold the desired shape. As you might guess, wet plaster doesn’t accomplish that task nearly as well as dry plaster, which is why the wait for it to dry now. But I do have a box of some sort of white clay for this project now, and if my plaster is dry enough I can get started at any time.

Here’s a photo of the hump mould as it stands:

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Exciting, eh?

Wheel Throwing

The instructor seems to think we all got clobbered by the snow day we had a while back, and she keeps adjusting dates for things as a result. We now have nearly a month to get a slew of things ready to bisque fire. Or at least that is how I interpret the notes now on the whiteboard in the studio.

The first thing is our set of mugs. Everyone submitted five mugs for bisque firing this week, but the extension means we can ignore them and throw more if we want to. As it happens, the instructor told me I should do that for a very specific reason. Before I tell you, here are some photos of the mugs I made. Perhaps you can guess the problem?

Look closely. My engineering brain should have caught this, but I completely missed it.

The issue is the handles. They come down to the table like the foot of the mugs. It is thus easy to accidentally bang the handle onto the table when you set the mug down, and the shock will break the handle off. (It will probably also spill the contents of the mug in the process.)

So, while I think these are OK in terms of my throwing skill (and I do mean “OK” — not great, not poor, just OK) I need to rethink the handles completely. I have a new plan, and I already used the laser cutter in the makerspace to create a new template for the extruder that will help. (Note the different thicknesses of the two handles in the left photo. I plan to avoid that issue in the next batch.)

(Jeff from the next day here: I threw the entire new batch of ten mugs on Saturday. Amazing. They look remarkably similar to the previous batch, just without the handles so far. Below are two photos of the last batch I threw.)

This past week also saw us get our test cups out of the bisque kiln, glaze them, and load them into the gas kiln for firing. Here are a couple of photos of the glazed but unfired cups:

As with the test tiles mentioned above, I have maps of each cup telling which glaze I put where. The thing about these glazes, though, is that we’re working in a reduction kiln, and in my very limited experience, nothing is reproducible in that environment. Every kiln firing winds up at a different temperature and probably with different oxygen amounts as well, so the glaze colours all change from firing to firing. If I can reproduce anything I get with these tests, I will be very surprised.

There should be photos of the final results next week. I think they are actually cooling down as I type, and the kiln will be unloaded on Monday.

Public Art

We’re making great progress here. During class we continue to discuss the actual process of dealing with public art bids, contracts, and so on. (The instructor has several large public art pieces in the works right now, and she shares redacted versions of some of the documents with us so we have a clue how these things actually go. This is the kind of class that really matters as a result. It’s very real.) Besides that, though, we are now actually working on the fabrication of the selected project for the SkyTrain station wall.

This week we laid out the various pieces on 4' x 8' sheets of 11 gauge steel (which are remarkably heavy) and cut them out with a plasma cutter. Here’s a photo of my friend Jessica doing exactly that, along with the results of the second cutting session:

She’s good. I wouldn’t want to freehand those cuts myself.

The next task in this process is extensive grinding on the edges to smooth them out and thus make everything nice and neat. There are a lot of hours of noisy work ahead of us in that regard. There is also a frame to build that all the sheet metal pieces attach to, and then the complex task of assembling it all.


Progress continues here as well. This week we did two things. First, we melted our aluminum and poured ingots (of a sort) as preparation for pouring our metal when we cast our spindle whorls. It seems there is some magic about melting down the metal and pouring it into ingots before you pour it in the actual final form. It seems it will outgas in some way, or release impurities, or something. The claim is the second melting and pour will be better as a result. That said, I was the first to pour ingots, and the mould we used was still covered in oil to keep it from rusting, so I got a rather ugly mess, particularly when combined with my rather hesitant pouring technique:

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I need more metal than fit into the corn ear mould, so the rest was poured into an ancient bread pan.

The second thing we did was to start investing our wax master spindle whorls:

As you can see, what I am doing is painting a thick goo (called “Mold Mix 6") over the surface of the wax original and the gates & sprues attached to it. We paint several layers on it (nine, the instructor says) and let each layer dry before going on to the next one. Once that is all done, we go on to burn out the wax, leaving only the hardened shell into which we will pour molten aluminum.

Finally, I promised several readers another hint about the pattern in the object that I wonder if anyone will figure out. A number of you suggested the negative space was shaped like birds of one sort or another, and while that is true, that’s not what I was asking about. That aspect of the negative space was defined in the original design by Aaron Nelson Moody. Instead, what I was specifically asking about is emphasized in this photo:

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The bright areas are the items in question, and those are the things I put into place that were not part of the original design. I plan on chasing the metal a bit to make them cleaner in the final object, but those eight windows onto the object should set the stage for the next round of guessing at what I have done.

Good luck!

And In Conclusion…

That’s all folks. No, really, that’s all. I wrote this first draft on Friday evening. The plan is to take a couple of missing photos on Saturday and publish on Saturday night, after spending a long day in the ceramics and foundry studios. And if you’re reading this, apparently that’s what happened.


Written by

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

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