Art School: Semester 7: Week 6

Week six. Really. That’s more or less halfway through my final term, which is really hard to get my head around. Technically the term is thirteen weeks long, and often art studio classes go an extra week, so really the middle of the term will be in one more week, but for those with academic classes, this is it.

Also, it should be noted that this coming week is “Reading Week” — although very few people actually do much reading during the week off, I’m sure. It’s also known as “Spring Break” — which makes no sense since it’s in the middle of February. That is, winter. As it happens there was a slight chance of snow last night, so how they get away with calling it “Spring Break” I honestly don’t know. But then again this is the “Spring” term, and I assume they call it that because it ends in the Spring. But then again, the “Fall” term starts in the Fall and ends in Winter. Consistent term names? Who needs those?

But, as usual, I digress. You’re here to read about what happened in class this past week, and (surprise!) there’s a little bit of Harbour News as well.

Advanced Ceramics

I have no photos from this class this week because, well, I don’t. Here’s an update on the projects for this class as they stand:

  • Project 1 — the sprig sculpture. You saw the photos last week. I hate it. In fact, I doubt I will even bring it home. Crit has happened and no one could see past the shape. The joke of the form was lost on everyone, and while (apparently) the work I did was good at a technical level, I have to declare this project a failure on other levels. Oh well.
  • Project 2 — the platter project. Last week I had two or three platters, depending on how you want to count them. This week I have just two. One of the thin ones fell apart as I was cleaning up the lip on it. It literally split into about five pieces in my hand and then a whole lot more when it hit the floor. Such is life. The other thin one held up, and the thick one got sprigs attached and handles cut, which finished it. Both of those are — as I write this — in the kiln cooling down from their bisque firing. I will see how they turned out on Sunday morning when we unload the kiln. I will try to have photos next week.
  • Project 3 — the “make something” project. This is the final project in this class, and apparently there are no rules except for those related to kiln size, and thus fireability (which my spelling checker claims is not a real word, but I want it to be real, and that seems like a reasonable attempt at how to spell it, so that’s how it’s spelled as far as I am concerned). I am planning something for this project already. I’ve done some sketches and I am thinking my way through a complex jig that will help me get the clay formed as I want. With luck I will have a series of sculptural objects in the end. Details will be shared as the jig comes together.

In addition to the actual ceramic projects, there are three other things we’re doing in this class: two written “thought papers” and another person and I are to lead a discussion of a reading we’ve selected from one of a set of books. One of the thought papers is due when we’re back from the break, and the reading discussion is that week as well. I’ve actually already written a first draft of one thought paper, and I am sort of working on a second one in my head. The reading is selected and sent off to the instructor as well. I need to finalize that thought paper during the break, re-read the reading, and prepare some questions about it for the class. Not too much work, honestly.

That’s it for projects in this class. If I am productive during the break I will get the rest of my five platters made, and I need to lock down the final project and get going on it. Or I could sleep.

Wheel Throwing

Here I have some photos to share, but let’s go over the chaos that is this class (and present the photos) in project order.

First project: ten identical mugs. As you may recall, we were working on this when the first snow day hit and threw a wrench into everyone’s schedule. My first attempt at these mugs was not really acceptable according to the instructor, since the handles would break too easily. Nevertheless, we were told to bisque fire and glaze five of them. As mentioned last week, this was the glazing job I messed up, where I used the wrong glazes and had to redo them shortly before they went into the kiln. That, it seems, really screwed things up. Here they are out of the kiln:

As you can see, the glazes are all watery and thin. The instructor thinks that is because the mugs were too wet when the glazes were applied. I cannot confirm or deny that through personal experience, but I will be sure that the next batch is better on that front, at least. As I write this, there are ten mugs with revised handles in the kiln, cooling down from their bisque firing. Photos of those next week, I hope.

Second project: pitchers. We’re to throw two to four of these, depending on the height. I think I shared a photo of my first pitcher last week. it’s quite chunky and heavy, but it had a number of firsts in it around height, shape, and even a pulled handle. This past week I threw two more:

Neither of these is as tall as I’d like, but they are done and drying. The one on the left is kind of “meh” but the one on the right I really enjoy. The shape is really fun, and I hope the “handle” (the lobe on the left side, as you view it in the photo) is nicely graspable after it is fired and shrinks a bit. I may throw another pitcher or two over the break, just to see what else I can make happen. Ideally I will get something taller than these.

Third project: lidded bowl forms. Here I seem to have done well already. The instructor likes the two forms I’ve created.

As usual, Medium won’t let me rearrange the photos so the order is all wrong, but…

In the middle is my first attempt (ever). The bowl and lid were both thrown on bats (that is, disks that can be removed from the wheel in a way that keeps the form from being distorted) and the handle was thrown “on the hump” (that is, it was thrown from the top of a larger lump of clay on the wheel and removed by itself). This work surprised me because it dried far more quickly than I anticipated. Removing the forms from the bats was a challenge because the clay was so dry a wire cutter didn’t want to work, but I did manage it in the end. Then I trimmed both on the wheel, and scored & slipped the handle onto the lid. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the opening in the bowl is a bit off centre. That will be obvious when we look at them in crit, but the instructor didn’t seem to mind all that much. It seems that throwing things like this is not simple, and to pull it off on the first try is good news for me.

On the right is a photo of that same bowl sitting on a drying rack with newspaper between the lid and the bottom, just to be sure they don’t stick together.

The photo on the left is of my second attempt at a lidded bowl form. This one went even better. As with the first attempt, these were thrown on bats, and you can see them — the plywood disks — below the bowl and (inverted) lid. The handle was also thrown on the hump and cut off. Thankfully, this time around the drying was not as quick, and it was simpler to remove the forms from the bats. As with the first, I trimmed them on the wheel, and attached the handle with the score & slip technique. I was happier with this piece because the opening for the lid is actually centred on the bowl.

I should point out that any professional potter will have all kinds of perfectly legitimate complaints about these objects. The walls are way too thick, the lids are heavy, and the handles are large and chunky. The lids are also not particularly tight in their fit, or at least they weren’t before bisque firing. Still, for first tries, I am pretty happy with them.

Both are in the bisque kiln, and I will see them in their hardened forms on Sunday.

I might throw another attempt at a lidded form, probably with a different style lid, assuming I have time in the break week to do so. I am happy with these, but more is always better in a case like this, so if I can make that happen, I will.

Public Art

This class continues to move along at a brisk pace. In class this time around we went over budgeting and invoicing for public art work in more detail, and then went off to the shop where we did some more metal preparation. On Friday, the artist who designed the work — Heather — and I got back together in the shop and finished (we hope) the assembly of the sub-frame the piece attaches to. Here’s a photo of Heather hanging on the work as part of our “will it hold up?” testing when we were done:

The raw steel is the sub-frame we built. It is bolted to a larger, square frame behind it in eleven places. That frame, in turn, is supported on a rolling structure that stays at the school. In the end, the art gets removed from the frame and structure with a crane and moved to the installation location at the SkyTrain station on a truck. There they have a duplicate metal frame that it gets bolted to.

In any case, as you can see, it’s quite sturdy. And — in fact — after Heather nervously put her weight on it, I showed her how it’s done. While I probably don’t quite weigh twice what she does, it’s close, and the frame was rock solid with me hanging off it. We’re in good shape in terms of support, I believe.

The entire public art class is going to meet on Wednesday this week in the shop— despite the break — and keep working on this project. We may even get to start hanging art pieces on it, though that might be a tad optimistic.

I will also mention that working with Heather on this was an exercise in humility. She’s a much (MUCH!) better welder than I am. She did most of the welds on the back and I did a bunch on the front. Grinding things smooth on the back took far less time than the same job on the front. Go figure.

In any case, there might be more photos next week if we make good progress.


If you recall, last week I poured aluminum into the mould, and then removed the investment from the cooled metal. This week I began the cleanup and chasing process. First, the gates, sprues, and vents were cut off:

That left the whorl as you see it above and like this on the back:

After that I spent some time with an angle grinder, a disk sander, a bunch of sandpaper, a drill press, and (surprisingly!) a metal lathe. That resulted in the following:

It is still nowhere near done, of course. There is a TON of hand chasing to do to clean it up as I want, and I am considering resin or black paint to go into the design elements and help bring them out. I am not certain of that yet, but I will be doing some research about that option later today.

I think we have two or three weeks before this is to be critiqued, and I should be able to get it wound up. In addition, though, we have to create the wax original for our second piece during the break, so we can start putting gates, sprues, and vents onto it the first Friday we’re back in class. I have vague plans for that in my head, and need to get working on it this week as well.

Lots to do, but the results are quite nice, I think.

Before I leave this class, though, I should once again mention the design element I added to it. As part of cleaning it up and starting the chasing, I rechecked it, and created a paper version of it. Here is a photo of that. Perhaps this will help someone figure out my intent with it?

It’s not hard. Really. But it does require a tiny bit of specialized knowledge.

Harbour News

I mentioned the return of this section in the opening. That’s because I finally got a photo of a ship that’s been bugging me. I’ve seen it around the harbour, near the shipping terminal where an expansion is planned, in fact, but didn’t know what it was. In fact, you might recall me mentioning that I’d seen dredging going on a while back that might be part of the terminal expansion. I think this convinces me the terminal expansion has actually begun:

On the left is the bright orange hull of FRPD 309. She’s a suction dredger, and I have to think that bringing in something like that is expensive enough to be done only when really needed. My guess is they are preparing to extend the cargo shipping terminal on the right of the photo out into the water towards the ship. I’ve actually seen plans saying that is going to happen. The only question is when will it (or did it) get started.

The other oddity this week was something I could not photograph. During a morning crossing before the sun was up I saw lights looming to the west of the SeaBus, but something about them felt off. I kept looking and realized that the ship in question — the MSC Arbatax, though I only figured that out later — was a strangely shaped container ship. She’s strangely shaped in that the tower where the bridge resides is not at the rear of the ship as it is on all the others I’ve seen, but is rather a bit forward of midship. That explains why it felt funny when I saw it in the darkness: all the lights were in odd places. If you want to see photos and understand that more directly, click on the link in the ship’s name above, and there you’ll find some photos that will help explain my confusion.

Other than that, it’s been another quiet week in Vancouver Harbour as far as I know.

And In Conclusion…

Some of my American readers might find this amusing:

My Canadian readers might wonder at my thinking this is funny. For you, it’s important to know that in the US the “DEA” is the Drug Enforcement Administration. They enforce the controlled substances laws in the US. Why they would have an education centre in North Vancouver, well… they don’t, but that’s what I think when I see this sign.

Hmmm. And now I wonder if I already included a similar photo sometime in the last eighteen months. If so, I apologize!




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

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Jeff Powell

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