Art School: Semester 7: Week 7 (sort of)

“Sort of?” I hear you ask? “Really? You used ‘sort of’’ in the title of this post?”

Yes I did.

That’s because this past week was reading week, or spring break, or winter break, depending on who you ask. Technically no classes met, and we were to use the time to catch up on things. I did that.

I also dealt with what my friend Jessie once called “the overhead of life” but that doesn’t matter. It’s the boring stuff. Instead of writing about that, I’ll tell you about my various classes. (Assuming that’s OK with you. And if it’s not, well, this post won’t be very interesting or well received. Sorry to those who feel that way.)

Advanced Ceramics

I spent a ton of time in the ceramics studio this past week. Gobs of it, in fact. It was the single biggest time sink. As of Saturday morning, though, I am caught up with this class, I believe. Technically, in fact, I may be slightly ahead, but who knows. I can’t predict anything given the way the schedule moves around.

Anyway, the project currently in process is the platter project. Here are a couple of relevant photos:

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On the left are two, bisque fired platters. On the right is the third platter, dry and awaiting bisque firing. Two more are drying as I type this. Five are required for the assignment, and that’s what I’ve done. They vary in all the required ways, I think. The things that were to be done to the basic slab of clay pulled off the plaster hump mould include:

  • Sprigs on the inside. The horses on the bisque fired platter meet this requirement.
  • Sprigs on the outside. There are also horse sprigs on the underside of the leftmost platter, so that is done.
  • A lip treatment. The platter on the right, while clunky and ugly in my opinion, had a lip modification made to it. A coil was attached all the way around and (mostly) smoothed out. The two platters that are still drying also have a similar lip treatment.
  • A foot, or feet. All my platters have one of two styles of feet. Sorry these photos don’t show them.
  • Modification. The handle holes achieve this in three of my platters. Oddly, it actually isn’t clear the instructor requires this. She said it once, but the requirements keep shifting and it seems to have gone away, which is a tad frustrating. Also, don’t feet and a lip qualify as modification? Sprigs, too, for that matter. Oh, and she has also said that the lip treatment doesn’t actually require adding something, but rather just being sure to “pay attention to the lip.” So what is and isn’t required is a bit vague.
  • Majolica glazing. This will be done to the platter with the horse sprigs on it. I have a couple of test tiles with majolica glaze on them awaiting a firing so I know how best to proceed with that requirement. If I like it, I could do it on other platters as well, but I have my doubts about that process. That glaze is very finicky, and I suspect I will really mess it up.

All of that said, I cannot claim to be happy with any of these. They are all warped in various ways, the work is rough and obviously hand made (which is fine, but not really what I envisioned), and there are problems that need to be resolved. The most obvious are the cracks in the horse sprigs in the platter above. When I attached them, the platter body had already dried quite a bit, and as a result it sucked the water out of the sprigs very quickly. The cracking you can see in that photo is due to that, I believe. That platter will be glazed with majolica, though, and it may hide the cracks. I am not certain, but that glaze is very thick, and might obscure the problem. Or not. Time will tell.

The other physical project in this class is the “make something” project. I am already working on the jig I need to hold the clay. At this point it’s a bunch of wood cut & drilled in weird ways, but not yet able to be assembled into a usable form, so I have no photos to share. Perhaps next week, but I am not certain of that.

Finally, we have a couple of written things still outstanding. My group is leading a discussion of a brief reading tomorrow (Monday) and I am done with my prep for that already. There are two papers due as well. The first I have already written and will turn it in tomorrow. The second is due at the end of term. That one will be based around an artist talk, and I have a possible approach to it baking in my brain already.

Wheel Throwing

As with advanced ceramics, I spent the week being sure to get all the currently required assignments as done as possible. At the moment, we have the following items to be shown to the instructor on Wednesday:

  • Ten mugs ready to be glazed.
  • Two to four pitchers (depending on size/height) ready to be bisque fired.
  • Two lidded forms ready to be bisque fired.

Here are photos of those items:

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That’s ten bisque fired mugs, awaiting glazing. These have the revised handles that are harder to break while setting them down. My plan is to glaze the interior a light blue and the lip, handle, and some of the outside a white that will let the iron spots in the clay body show through. I am not yet certain of the glaze firing schedule, so I will probably spend time this coming week getting these glazed up and ready to go.

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Pitchers. On the left is the first one I threw. It’s thick and chunky, and the handle isn’t stellar, but it works. On the right is a series of three oddly shaped things I am calling “chicken pitchers” because they kind of look like chickens from the right angle if you squint a bit. The bottom two are dry and ready for bisque firing. The top one is still drying, which explains the colour difference. The shapes all vary a bit, and I have no idea if they will really work or be at all comfortable to use. Unfired clay is really fragile, so I have to treat them carefully for now.

There is a fifth pitcher ready for bisque firing as well, but it seems I have no photographs of it handy. It’s a simpler, more classic shape with a pulled handle. As with all of my thrown work, it’s too heavy and thick, but it’s a start.

Finally, we have the lidded forms:

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The top row is two photos of the first pair of lidded forms I made. They have been bisque fired and are awaiting glazing. The bottom row is the last one I threw. Note the difference in the lid style, which is why I did it. That last one required a ton of trimming to make it work, but it’s done and I am happy with it, or at least I am as happy as I will get. The opening isn’t quite perfectly centred on it, so if you put the lid on in the wrong orientation it sticks out (or is inset) just a tad. That’s not great, but it’s only the third time I’ve ever done it, so how much can you really expect?

As with the mugs, I have no clue when the pitchers and lidded forms are going to be fired or glazed. I expect we’ll bisque fire them this week, but after that I have no idea. All of these items will be reduction fired in the gas kiln, which means there is basically zero control over temperature or resulting glaze colours. (I know, I know. Others will argue that I overstate the issues with reduction firing. But so far, in my experience with the gas kiln, it sure looks like they are both completely unpredictable and uncontrollable.)

The remaining projects in this class are:

  • The plates/platter project.
  • The “make something” project. That’s right, another project with no criteria, but this time based on using the wheel, somehow.

I think we get the details on these last two projects on Wednesday, and I will probably get started ASAP once I know what is going on. Given that clay projects require a ton of time and fiddling, I am nowhere near off the hook in this class (or the advanced ceramics class) yet.

Public Art

Despite this past week being a break week, the shop was open a couple of days and most of the public art class was there on Wednesday morning to work on the project. We added a piece to the sub-frame that was missing from the drawing we’d been working from last week, and we ground and filed a number of pieces of the art itself. Oh, and Heather cut a bunch of stand offs to length. All of that took about five hours.

I had hoped to do some more work on Friday myself, but the foundry class took over and sucked up the entire afternoon, so that didn’t happen.

I have no new photos at this point because other than a trivial change to the sub-frame (which I shared last week) all that’s available is a pile of steel pieces that still need to be worked on.

Foundry

Here, things are moving slowly. First, here’s the current state of the spindle whorl project:

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As you can see, I have started chasing it with limited success. I have also applied a black paint to the various indents, to make them show up better.

I like the paint, but the chasing has been challenging. There’s a lot left to do, and I believe we have only two weeks before we’re to be done. That’s asking a lot. I’d really like to get the negative space — where the dot patterns are — smoother, but tools to do that are a bit hard to figure out. The positive space — the salmon — is OK, but the cast is rougher than I anticipated. Some of that is due to my (mis)treatment of the wax original, I am sure. But the rest of it is either due to air bubbles or debris inside the investment mould, I think. I suspect these salmon are just going to be fairly beat up fish in the end. I can’t put metal back in to clean up edges in the details and in-cuts, and I cannot sand away all the other imperfections, so at some level it will be what it is.

In other foundry news, we’re starting the second project. This one will be cast in bronze, not aluminum, and we get to make our own original this time.

I spent far too many hours last week — most of them on Friday afternoon — working on getting my original ready. First, I had to melt down the wax to create a sheet of relatively uniform thickness:

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That’s a heat gun, a lump of wax, and a containment field. The resulting sheet was about one quarter inch thick, and I turned it into this:

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As you can see, it’s still a bit rough around the edges. But at the time I set it down I had been working on it for something like six straight hours. I hope to clean it up a bit before class on Friday. Oh, and the grid lines you see will probably not survive onto the final object. I am not certain of that yet, but they are an artifact of my initial work with the wax slab, rather than a deliberate adornment. For scale, those grid squares are two centimetres on a side, and I was generally — but not always — working with four centimetre squares as I did the assembly.

I am sure the instructor is going to tell me I am nuts, and the sprues, gates, and vents needed to get bronze into all of this thing will be ridiculously complicated. I have no doubt that I am in for it on Friday in class as a result. But such is life. It will be an interesting learning exercise even if it is a complete failure.

And In Conclusion…

Before I go I want to encourage you to consider participating in the typo hunt. I have a stats page that I keep updated, and I have reports from a number of readers over the last few months. Typos are evil and must be stamped out, along with any other editing blunders I’ve missed. Amusingly, last week I learned that two of my readers have almost diametrically opposed views on comma usage. That was fun to sort out.

There is some famous quote about editing the text of others being the strongest desire there is. Give in to it, please. Tell me where I have messed up.

I think that’s it for this week. For a “break” it was a long, tiring slog. Of the past nine days, I’ve been on campus for six, and worked on homework the other three. Not much time off, really.

I can’t see the end of the tunnel yet, but I know it’s out there. I will keep pushing until this term is done.

Written by

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

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