Art School: Semester 7: Week 5

Well now, that was a “bracing” week. Something about deep concentration at all hours of the day except while commuting or asleep. It’s either joy or pain, and it can be hard to differentiate those at times.

But I promised no more whining last week, and I will stick to that!

This week I have a ton of photos for you. Gobs of them, in fact. And there are things I totally forgot to photograph besides, so I should get started.

But wait. This week is also an exercise in quick turnaround on the publishing of this blog. I am writing on Saturday evening, and it will publish when I am done. That means there are probably a ton of typos in here, but I am doing my very best to eliminate them. I trust you, gentle reader, to let me know where I have failed in that endeavour.

And now, on with the news from art school.

Advanced Ceramics

Last week I think I mentioned I had glaze test tiles in the kiln waiting to be seen, and that the “inadvertently phallic” sculpture was going into the kiln on Monday for its glaze firing.

Here are the test tiles. I’ve included the “before” photo as well, so you can see how the glazes differ with firing:

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The change, as you can see, is astounding. Most of the glazes we have give me no idea what they are going to look like in the end.

As for the actual sculpture, it is also glazed and fired:

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Two views of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan Go Into A Hardware Store

Other people tell me they really like it. As my own worst critic, all I can say at this point is that it doesn’t quite match my intent. Actually, the two yellow bits and the turquoise bit are pretty close, but the rest isn’t quite what I wanted, at least in terms of glazing. It should have been a bit darker in gaps between the threads on the screws, so they would show a bit more. And the white glaze over the top should have been a bit heavier, and thus a bit more opaque. But the crit for this project is on Monday, so it is totally done. If there was more time I could fiddle and refire it, but that is just not happening.

Overall, I am still not sure I like it for shape or design. In fact, I mostly don’t like it on those fronts, but I do know that working with that many, highly detailed sprigs was a significant challenge. I pushed myself pretty hard to achieve this, and while it disappoints on a couple of levels, I still feel like I did my best. I learned a lot from the effort, as well.

I hope to snag a photo of a particular work by one of my fellow students during the crit. That one really blows me away, and she used the same glaze idea as I did. Her work, though, is much, much better. If I can pull a photo, you’ll see why I think that.

Also this week we were to create our first platter to be ready for class on Monday, so the instructor can see that we are making progress and crit them as needed (or provide guidance on how to change things). I put the following together on Saturday morning:

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A couple of comments:

  1. This is the first time I’ve pulled anything off that mould. The lip needs work, I know. I rolled the clay out pretty thin for this, and it was drying quickly. I did manage to smooth it out somewhat after the photo on the right was taken, but it’s still not perfect. I suspect this one will either get scrapped or break “accidentally” before it gets fired.
  2. I am not certain about the feet. They are needed, as the bottom is rounded, but that shape is iffy in my mind. But simpler things felt wrong as well, so I just went with something. Again, this is to show progress and work, and might not make the cut for the final five platters we create.

Sheesh. I’ve been writing for over an hour now. Onward!

Wheel Throwing

The test cups came out of the reduction kiln glazed like this:

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Then I glazed five mugs on Tuesday afternoon, so they could fire on Wednesday. When I got home (after a weird school closure for the latter half of the day due to snow) I realized I’d used the wrong glazes. So I came in on Wednesday morning, cleaned them off, and reglazed with the right ones. The difference was important, as the wrong ones were for lower temperatures, and would have run all over the shelves of the kiln at the higher firing temperatures that were being used. So glad I caught that before the disaster actually happened.

Sadly I cannot show you the fired mugs because they are still in the kiln. I think they will come out on Monday, but who knows.

This week I also created my first (ever) thrown pitcher. This is definitely not a great thing, but it is something of a milestone. I centred four pounds of clay and raised walls pretty high. I even screwed up the lip, cut it off, and then raised the remaining clay back up pretty far as well. So, while this has a zillion problems (including the very chunky handle that was also a first in some ways), I actually feel pretty good about it:

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The image on the right is after some cleanup. The plastic is there to keep the pour spout from drying too quickly (and thus cracking). The handle is “pulled.” (That is, a wodge of clay is held in one hand and pulled — something like milking a cow with a wet hand — into a long strand that is then shaped and attached to the vessel. Pulling handles is not simple or easy.)

I also threw the parts of a lidded bowl form, but you might remember up top I said something about having forgotten to photograph some things. This would be that, as it were. In any case, it was not stellar in form or shape. It only shows that I heard her lecture on the topic and attempted the process, which is good for Wednesday at this point.

I hope to throw more tomorrow, assuming exhaustion and the cold I am fighting don’t cause me to change plans.

Public Art

We’re doing very well in this class. On Monday, Jessica and I worked together to plasma cut all the steel. Then, in class, a couple of people worked to grind the edges of the cut pieces smooth while Heather and I started the layout of the subframe. Later in the week I had time to grind edges a bit more, and Heather and I started assembling part of the subframe. Here are all the relevant photos I have:

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That’s Heather, grinding in the snowy weather on Tuesday (I was inside the sculpture studio working on my Foundry project but couldn’t resist taking the picture through the window.) In the middle are some of the plasma cut forms, ground smooth (at least mostly) and thus nearing readiness for actual assembly at some point. Finally, on the right, Heather does her best Vanna White impression with what looks like four rather simple pieces of steel. What you can’t tell from the picture is that it took about four hours of work for us to measure, cut, drill, test assemble, and weld those things together. They basically define the subframe. Everything else attaches to them in one way or another, so getting those right was key. The time spent there will make the rest of the job easier, we think.

In the coming week the grinding will continue, as we need to clean up all the plasma cuts. In addition, Heather and I will probably spend more time on the subframe, though I don’t know when just yet.

Foundry

There was a lot happening in this class. First, before it started on Friday morning, I had my invested spindle whorl ready to go. It looked like this midway through the investment process:

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The pink colour is food colouring to help us see where we have and haven’t covered with a particular layer. Here’s what it looked like after all nine layers were applied, it was dry, and just before I started burning out the wax:

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The bucket is half full of water to catch the wax and keep it from spreading all over as it burns. Before you can see that process, though, here’s a rare self portrait of me, ready to do the work:

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Just a little safety gear. The wax is not good to breathe in vapour form, though I know many bronze workers don’t bother with the respirator while working with the wax.

Here are some photos of the burn out in process:

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In the left, I’ve just started. In the middle, the pattern in the underlying wax is seen coming through the investment for unknown reasons. And finally, on the right, the process has become self sustaining. The entire thing is hot enough to melt the wax inside, which drips down and catches fire from the existing flame, adding to the heat, and so on, repeating until there is no more wax. You can see the wax floating in the water in the bucket as well.

When it was all burned out, here’s what it looked like looking where the wax used to be:

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It turned out there was also enough time to pour molten aluminium into that thing. I did the work, so I don’t have photos of myself during the process, but I have some of the results:

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Left: the aluminium has been poured and cooled just enough that we’ve placed a fire brick over the top to act as additional insulation. It helps to have it cool down gradually, it seems.

Middle: it’s been ten minutes now, and the brick has been removed. You can see the aluminium where I poured it (centre right) and where it came back up the vents (top and bottom left). That means the metal should have gone everywhere it was supposed to go, assuming I created the system of sprues, gates, and vents correctly.

Right: unearthing it from the sand. It is still very hot. This was done wearing heavy gloves, and then it was dropped in a bucket of water to quench it and cool it way down.

And finally, here’s the first view of the object with much of the investment removed:

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I have gobs of work to do to get it chased and polished. In fact I didn’t even quite finish getting the investment off it on Friday, as I had to go work on Public Art. Coming weeks will see me get going on the chasing, though exactly how isn’t entirely clear to me just yet. As it gets better I will share more photos.

Also, we were each given a chunk of wax to sculpt into our next project, which will be cast in bronze. I am pondering several alternative designs and approaches for that. More when I have settled on something.

And In Conclusion…

It’s rained a lot in Vancouver of late. The locals are complaining (not me, mind you) and they really wanted some sun. Today that finally happened. I was inside the ceramics studio for most of it, sadly, but I took this picture from the SeaBus on the way home tonight, just after sunset:

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Those are the Lions (which the indigenous people called the Sisters, if I understand things correctly) above West Vancouver. I know it’s blurry, but it was taken from a moving boat, in relatively low light, through a window, and with the telephoto doing everything it could to zoom into that view.

Anyway, the locals loved it, and I enjoyed it as well. Hope you do too.

Cheers!

Written by

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

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