Art School: Semester 7: Week 9

Greetings everyone. The rubber is really very much directly encountering the road at the moment. The term is something like four or five weeks from over, depending on the class, and time is definitely running out.

I was asked yesterday if I was panicked about ceramics classes. My answer was that I was on the borderline. Details below, as always.

Advanced Ceramics

The details:

  • Top Left: The photo doesn’t show it, but this is a complete failure. It was sitting on tiles in the kiln to keep the white glaze from dripping onto the shelf. Sadly, I placed it incorrectly on the tiles, and one of them is now permanently glazed to the bottom of the platter as a result. Even worse, in the heat of the firing the platter warped very badly. If I were to remove the offending tile, there will be way too much wobble to be usable. And on top of all that there is the obvious, large split in the glaze and a discolouration or two. After crit, this one is suitable only for the garbage. That’s a shame. I like the bubbly blue glaze I got. This is the second attempt to make use of it, in fact.
  • Top Right: This is the one I will use for the food I am bringing to the crit. The orange colour on the horses isn’t bright enough, but they are still vaguely recognizable as Dala horses — a Swedish wooden toy. But the glaze defects in the handle on the right bother me a lot. This was the maiolica glazed platter, and I am not all that impressed. Interestingly, though, many maiolica glazed platters broke in this firing. I have no idea why mine did not. Just lucky, I guess. (Oh, yeah. I am bringing Limpa to the crit — a somewhat sweet Swedish rye bread.)
  • Bottom Left: This is probably my favourite, and it has a storied history. It came out of the kiln several days ago, but it had a couple of issues. There were many sharp edges in the blue, splotchy area, and a couple of problems with the white. I applied more glaze to certain areas of the white after sanding a mess off, and refired it. Now the blue area is pretty smooth, and the worst of the issues in the white are fixed. But there is a drip on the bottom that gives it a wobble. I may be able to sand that down on the belt sander in the shop on Monday morning. I will have to try that, even if it’s a bit risky.
  • Bottom Right: This one has only one relatively minor glaze defect (in the lower left corner in the photo) but I am not happy with it. The clay is more yellow than white, so it looks like badly yellowed polyurethane on the surface. Still, this platter is hefty and solid, and the handles feel good. It’s usable, even if it’s not as pretty as I’d like.

By the time I had glazed these four platters I was out of ideas. The fifth is going to be really ugly as a result, but I was pretty much beyond caring. Time will tell.

With this project being critiqued on Monday, it’s done. All that remains in this class is the final project, and that will be a crazy one. I forgot to photograph the jig I have built, but several people — including the instructor — have given me the side eye as I moved it around. It’s pretty weird looking, I have to admit. I promise to have photos of it next week, along with at least one work in progress. Unless it is a total failure. Who knows.

Wheel Throwing

Plates start out as shallow bowls, and then the rims get pulled down once they have firmed up a bit. Then they firm up a lot more, get removed and flipped over, and then a foot gets trimmed into them. On the left is the bowl form for a smallish plate. In the middle I’ve pulled the rim down half an hour later. On the right is the bowl form of a larger plate. I didn’t photo the bigger plate when I had the rim down. I left campus and went home to sleep, I think.

Last week I used the word “bat” in the post and I was asked what a “bat” is. You can see them in all three of the photos above. A bat is a removable surface that is attached in some way to the top of the wheel. Using a bat you can remove the thing you are throwing from the wheel without distorting it. The object stays on the bat, but the wheel becomes available to use again, perhaps by putting a different bat onto it. In the cases above, the bats are plywood disks stuck to the wheel with clay.

Note that those photos are from last weekend. In the week since I was informed that these plates are to be exercises in non-optional surface treatment or decoration. I was not thrilled about that, so I went off and tried something on Wednesday afternoon to meet that requirement. I put different designs on the surfaces of the two plates, and came back Saturday morning to find the plan had not worked at all. I had created a mess, so I completely removed the designs, trimmed the feet into the plates, and then went off to apply slip (coloured, liquid clay) in a Jackson Pollack like manner, but while the plates were spinning on the wheel. The results are interesting:

I did the one on the right first. I started with white slip followed by some watered down black slip. Then I applied some blue and turquoise over those. The first two were dripped/poured from a plastic beaker; the second two were squirted/dripped from a squeeze bulb. And it was with the turquoise slip that I noted an interesting line/pattern. “ah ha!” I thought.

When I did the larger plate I planned to do a very similar thing: starting with black and moving on to other colours, but this time all were to be applied with the squeeze bulb. As it happens, however, I applied three squeezes of black slip and decided it was done. More would have been too much.

Both plates are drying now. The eventual plan is to fire them and apply a simple, clear glaze over the top. Or so I think. This is all subject to change.

This coming week I will acquire clay for my final project in this class. I have a couple of early ideas, but I don’t know if any of them will work out. Perhaps there will be photos next week. Perhaps not.

Public Art

Top Left: The cut pieces of steel that are the artwork itself.

Top Right: One of my very exciting tasks: creating square bits of metal that bolts can be welded to.

Lower Left: Some bolts that have been welded (by Jessica) to said square bits of metal.

Bottom Right: Jessica in the act of welding these things together. She’s TIG (that’s Tungsten Inert Gas… a form of arc) welding, and she’s extremely good at it.

Since these photos were taken there has been some more progress, but the first piece of steel has not yet been attached to the frame. That is coming, probably on Monday. I will have photos of that, since an in-process photo of the project needs to go off to the company whose building this thing will hang on, and soon.


I have treated all of the negative space with a repoussé technique, and I am reasonably happy with the rest of the finishing. It’s time to stop.

Last week I asked if I should announce the code I put into this work. The consensus was a clear yes, so…

It’s binary. One dot is a zero and two dots (one above the other) are a one. They are in groups of four bits (nibbles) with two nibbles making up one byte in each of the eight “leaves” in the negative space. And if you’re nerdish enough, you might note that they all have a zero in their first bit, meaning these are essentially seven bit encodings of something. Those in the know will immediately head for an ASCII table, and will quickly discover the following arranged around the whorl starting at about the 7:00 position:

0100 0000 = A
0100 1010 = J
0110 1110 = n
0110 0101 = e
0110 1110 = n
0110 0110 = f
0110 0101 = e
0110 0110 = f

Disentangling those (by ordering them according to which shape of leaf they are in) you get “Anne” and “Jeff.” That is, my wife and me. Cute isn’t it?

Here’s a group shot of all the poured whorls so far:

The bottom centre one is not oval. I don’t know why it looks distorted in the photo, but it’s not in real life. These made for an interesting display, and we all have more time to work on them if we want before the final crit in the class.

I won’t be doing that because:

That’s my final project. On the left, the actual art is the brown, wax bit at the bottom. The red tubes (sprues, gates, and vents) connect it to the pour cup and base at the top. In the photo on the right, it’s been turned upside down and covered with the first of nine layers of refractory compound that is the investment.

As with the spindle whorl, the investment is painted onto the wax, then the entire thing is turned upside down (as on the right, above) and a torch is pointed at it, melting all the wax, which flows out the bottom, leaving an empty shell into which molten bronze will be poured.

But that’s some ways off. Given my commitments, there is no way I can have all nine layers painted on before Wednesday, which is what would need to happen to give it 48 hours of drying time before the burnout. Thus, my burnout will be more than a week away, and my metal chasing time will be greatly reduced. Oh well. Nothing I can do about that.

And In Conclusion…


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

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