Art School, Week 11

Week eleven began with rain. I am not complaining, mind you. Not yet. (That happened on Wednesday morning. But I am getting ahead of myself.)

Anyway, the weekend. The highlight was a lovely dinner with a neighbour, whose company we continue to enjoy. She’s looking into new jobs, at least some of which might result in her moving, but time will tell.

Monday arrived and with it we had significant wind from an unusual direction, and that caused something we had not previously encountered: jets taking off right over the house. In hindsight it wasn’t as bad as it could have been — it’s winter, after all, so all the windows are closed and the house seems reasonably well insulated — but it was different and loud enough to remark upon. Thankfully it’s pretty rare — the prevailing winds go from west to east or east to west, which keeps the planes away from us — but there are apparently times when the planes take off to the south east, and fly pretty much right overhead. Once the weather passes, though, it’s back to the usual flight pattern.

On Wednesday I signed up for classes for next semester. I’ll talk about those in a future post, probably once this semester is over.

I also dug up the results of the English test I took as part of worrying about getting Permanent Residency. I did really well. I even beat Anne’s score, which I will probably hear about for the rest of my life once she realizes I wrote about it here. So there’s that.

Anyway, back to the usual class specific discussion format. (Remember, there are only two weeks left in the semester, plus one final exam, so there will be a break from this format soon. I beg your patience.)


This was the expected light day in ceramics class. We loaded the kiln with our slab built projects for glaze firing, and cleaned up some nits in our wheel thrown projects. As it happens. my slab built project has come out of the kiln now and I have a couple of blurry photos:

Assembled Neo-Geo Project
Disassembled Neo-Geo Project

I’m not 100% certain about the turquoise glaze on the square one, but it’s at least OK. I am very happy with the black lines, which are nice and crisp. Overall these are good for a first effort in slab building.

We’re supposed to have a title for these. Mine is: E.M. and J.B. Early Efforts. If you figure out what it means, comment here.

Wheel thrown things go into the kiln next week, get glazed fired a week after that, and then we have critique, so this class goes a week longer than others, I think.

Art History

Actually, before I get to art history, let me mention the rain we had on that Wednesday morning, the rain I alluded to at the start. We got up and stumbled through the morning routines and then had to walk the dogs. When we headed out, the heavens opened up. It poured. We were wearing rain gear, but anything that was not covered in Gore-Tex was soaking, including pants starting where the coat ends and going all the way down to the cuffs. And of course this was a requirement: certain idiotic boy dogs have to be walked every morning or they can’t do the needful.

Anyway, we stumbled back into the house and I got ready to go to school. I actually put a spare pare of pants in my backpack, since I was so wet and I thought I’d continue to get soaked on the way to the bus and walking from the train station to campus.

But, on leaving the house, it wasn’t raining anymore. At all. It wasn’t sunny — this is still Vancouver, after all — but the storm cell that had caused me to reconsider both owning dogs and moving to Vancouver while stumbling around a single block, still half asleep, had moved on to darken someone else’s morning. I changed pants anyway when I got to campus — that first pair was sopping wet, still!— and went on about the day.

I also ordered a new, longer and warmer raincoat, and bought some new waterproof gloves. A single storm cell will not get me down.

But back to class. We had a lecture this week on Art, History, and Memory, discussing how art can be used to help memory, commemorate events, and propagandize the masses. Two more lectures remain — including a guest lecture by a first nation’s representative — and then we have the final exam. Also, see the section at the end for links that I found interesting, as there are two art history related items in there that I shared with my instructor. They just aren’t directly related to the class itself.


Class this week was a work session on our final projects. Recall that we’re doing a series of three paintings that will all be presented and critiqued at the same time on the last day of class. Also recall that I really don’t consider myself a painter. In light of that, I hope you’ll appreciate the fact that I am going to share with you two early shots of the first painting in the series.

Final Painting 1 — after two work sessions
Final Painting 1 — after a third work session

The photos aren’t stellar, but they do show some of the changes. A few small things are coming that will add meaning to this painting — for me anyway — and then it will be done. That is acrylic paint, just watered way down with water, not medium. It works a bit like water colour as a result, with all that implies. I’d first intended it only as an under painting, but after a couple of hours of working at it I liked it enough to decide to keep it as is.

The second painting in the series has been sketched in on the canvas and some paint has been applied, but it was then over painted so there isn’t much to show yet. Maybe next week. I have the beginnings of an idea for the third painting as well, and need to refine it this weekend, and perhaps get it started.

As for the theme, it turns out these are all going to be about walls or barriers and ways out. Or so I think.

Next week we have another work session in class, then critique the week after, and that’s it.

Finally, my instructor has yet to watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, but I’ve provided him with links. I hope to hear back from him on that one of these days.


As I mentioned in the previous post, the last graded project in design class is constructing an artistic form out of foam, based on the design language of a product line of our choice. This week we did presentation and critique of those forms. Here’s the form I presented again:

Foam Sculpture based on Marantz Reference Series Design Language

The presentation went well, and I expect an excellent grade, again. (We got grades back on the previous project as well — the pavilion design — and I got an A+ on it, so this design class seems to be my sort of thing.)

Anyway, since I put up the past post, I’ve been asked by a stone carving student how I got the foam so smooth. As with a disturbingly large number of things in life, the answer is sandpaper.

Working that foam is entertaining. Coarse cuts — far from the final surface — were done with a knife and a straight edge. Or just a knife. But such cuts leave rough, damaged surfaces.

Closer in, you can use a Surform file that will remove a fair bit. But it will also leave a rough, damaged surface, and the foam wants to tear in small pieces as well, so you don’t get too close to the final form that way.

After that it’s all done with sandpaper. Coarse sandpaper gets you pretty close to the final shape, and then a “fine” sandpaper (120 grit or so) will get it looking pretty good. Apparently the folks at Emily Carr sand to 320 grit. (As a stone carver, I polish stone to 3500 grit, so I have plenty of task relevant experience. And I really don’t think of 120 grit as “fine,” but whatever.) But honestly there is a step missing here. The instructor tells us that in industry once you get the form pretty smooth it is usually covered with drywall mud, sanded, and painted. That process would result in a really great surface if you’re patient and careful, but in a 13 week design class, we simply didn’t have the time.

The knobs were made with a hole saw (with the centre drill bit removed) and a drill press, saving the plugs and sanding them smooth. Shaped pieces are glued together with water based contact cement — a very odd thing — and you can use bits of wire, toothpicks, or skewers to help hold things in position.

I should mention a thing: a friend and fellow student in the class — Jess — told me she came in at some point to work on her project and saw mine in the back, ready to go. She said something like “it looked so perfect I just wanted to smash it.” And apparently a number of others were present there as well, asking about it. She told them it was mine. I’m not sure how many friends I have left in that class now. Thanks Jess!

That foam is a horrible material in a number of ways: it doesn’t degrade or break down, and sanding it creates a fine dust that is statically charged and gets into everything. (I’m still finding it a week later.) But it is an industry standard material that gets used building mock ups. It’s actually sold as sheet insulation, and is both readily available and cheap, as well as being light and relatively easy to shape.

The other thing that had to be presented was our idea board. I’ve mentioned this before: an 11x17 sheet showing images that explain what inspired and informed the thing you’re presenting. I created mine— composed in GIMP — and tried to print it the official way. But that didn’t work. My prints all vanished. The instructor could print, though. He was there testing the process while I was trying to use it for real. His prints came out as expected. I gave up and had the print shop do mine again, but apparently something got changed and on critique day it was possible to print via the official method. Maybe I’ll get to do that next year.

Next week we get a quick introduction to RhinoCAD as we build a model in the computer of the object we first drew in the design class. That should be simple, and I am looking forward to it as stress relief, really.


This week’s assignment was to draw a self portrait as seen in a spoon. I am not exactly thrilled with my portrait skills, but I gamely tried the assignment and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Today we did critique of these portraits and after seeing them all up on the wall the instructor said she was giving us all perfect scores, as they were all so good. And she was right… there wasn’t a dud in the place, and once again they were all so different as to be astounding.

As an experiment, here’s a series of pictures showing what I did.

Initial Layout
Partially Filled In with Charcoal and Pastel
The Final Drawing

I need to explain a few things, including the halo. First off, I can’t really explain the colour difference between the first photo and the others. I use Google Photos to store and edit these images, and the automated colour adjustment software didn’t do a great job on that first one, possibly because there was no good white reference in the photo. Ah well. You get the idea.

Drawing like this is interesting. You can choose to edit things in or out, and doing so can make or break a drawing. In this case, for example, there are two lamps — on either side of the table I was working on — that I didn’t include. They created bright white splotches that were nonsensical to the viewer, so they’re gone. I also dropped out a filing cabinet as it would have been impossible to recognize in it’s distorted form. Other things just got blurred together, as in that upper left side. The shape of the ladle caused a lot of distortion out near the edges.

Oh, right. Ladle. The assignment said “spoon” but that was a bust. All our spoons are pretty scratched up, and seeing myself in them was like looking through gauze.

Also note that the side of the spoon/ladle makes a difference. If you look into the bowl of the spoon — the concave side — you see yourself upside down. At least one person in class drew themselves that way — in sharpie! — and it was perfectly fine. I, however, didn’t like the view of the interior of the ladle, so I used the convex side.

This drawing got very meta. After laying it out I had decided that all the skin tones would be left in the raw brown of the paper. Just charcoal to draw in the shapes & shading. But other surfaces weren’t as sure in my mind, and I worked at it gradually. The weird place is the large brown area, bordered by white and black, starting in the bottom centre and swirling up and to the right. That is the drawing paper itself as I was laying it out. The white around it is a piece of heavy paper I keep below it to smooth out the lousy table top. And the black is the table top itself.

Imagine what your brain does as you start adding colour to the drawing and picking the ladle up to reference check things. What is on that brown paper is changing. I had to keep reminding myself not to put any colour in there.

Now, about the halo. No, I am not divine. I don’t think of myself that way at all. Here’s the thing: I went to lay out the drawing and in addition to the two lights that I simply edited out of existence, there was also a ceiling lamp. And because it was just off to the side of my head, it was really bright and made looking at the ladle and seeing details almost impossible. So I adjusted my position such that my head blocked the lamp from view, but that left the halo effect that appears on the ceiling around the light coming out around my head. I laughed and put it into the drawing. Here’s a reference photo I took in the process of doing layout. You can’t actually see the ceiling light, but you can see the light on the ceiling that it is putting out, by my head and the phone. Also note the white splotches to the sides. Those are the lamps I disappeared.

Spoon Drawing Reference Photo

Amusingly, the class spent a lot of time on my drawing, trying to figure out the story it tells. There really wasn’t a story in my head as I drew it, just an edited — and strategically positioned — view of reality.

By the way, there were quite a few spoon drawings that were much better than mine. Much better. Jess — mentioned above — created one of them. She started it the night before and apparently had so much fun doing it she stayed up way too late finishing it. She has a command of the medium that I will never have, and her drawing has such expression to it. I wish I had a picture to share. (I’ll email Jess a link to this post and see how much trouble I can get into with her.)

Today’s drawing class included another session of life drawing, this time working on speed and concentrating on the torso. I did better than I have before, and I am happy enough with some of the results to have taken these two pictures before recycling it all:

Torso Focused Practice
3 Poses In 1 Drawing

I won’t ever claim to be great at drawing, but I can do it, at least at times.

Speaking of which, at one point during a break I walked around the room and another student had drawn a bug eyed monster at the bottom of her paper and labelled it “I Can’t Draw Today Monster.” It was wonderful! I hope she saved it.

The other thing we worked on today was facial features: eyes, nose, mouth, etc. And the assignment for next week uses that and takes us into the surreal: we’re to create a “feature creature.” That is, we’re to draw at least ten facial features on the page, then surround them with a body of some kind, add legs, arms, or whatever, and put them into some sort of surroundings. Anyone who’s played D&D will already be thinking “Beholder!” and you have the idea. For those who have no idea what I am babbling about, here’s a link to some images of Beholders and another of information about them. Yes, I am that kind of nerd. Sorry.

I think that ends the week at school. There is homework, of course: reading for art history, painting, and drawing, so the weekend will be far from empty.

Last week I included a couple of links to articles that I found interesting and I’m going to do that again. If you have interesting articles that I should share, please email them to me.

And finally, here are this week’s dog pics for Nicki:

Cruzer sleeping directly behind my chair, as I wrote this
Yin Yang dogs, again sleeping behind me

Cheers all!

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

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Jeff Powell

Jeff Powell

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

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