Friday, June 15, 2018

Fourth Grade Clay

my daughter's vase with five glaze colors


Last week I visited my daughter's 4th grade class and had the students make coil pots. Most of these kids had done at least one clay project with me before this. Here are the results of the project.

fourth grade coil built pieces

Most of the kids these year were in the same class last year because they looped up with their teacher, so most of them were in the class last year when we made critters from molds. Some of the kids were also in the class the year before when we made wind chimes (which is not my favorite clay project, and apparently I didn't even write about it in the blog), and the year before that when we did Salmon Bells and the year before that when we made plaques of the life cycle of a butterfly.   

the bottom coil on the front piece is slightly lighter clay than the clay of the top coils

I used to go to my daughter's pre school and do clay projects, like this simplified bell project and a super fun version of a name plate (Derek's still makes me laugh), but none of these kids were in her preschool. I also used to do a second grade clay project at another school every year, but their organizers changed and chose not to do the project this year.

both hearts were glazed in clear with some colored glazes highlighting the interior textures

So this year's group had lots of kids who'd had one or two or three or four years of doing clay, albeit once a year. The district elementary schools don't have art in the classroom or as a "specialist" class like music or PE, so the kids don't get to do much art ever. Strangely, their report "cards" have a spot for art, but I'm not sure what they measure. Maybe my clay project is it.

many of the students put handles on their coil built shapes

I figured that kids at this age with or without much clay experience would be dextrous enough to build with coils and could listen to directions well enough to to make a structurally sound vase or mug in about an hour. I think the vast majority of the kids would have like to have more than an hour, but they were all basically successful. 

this student was very careful about adding different textures to each coil, so we decided to glaze each with different colors

One student had a base that came detached from the walls of the piece, but I was able to reattach it using glaze as a adhesive. Another student had a decoration come off the wall of his or her piece, but that accident was helped along by one of my adult students who was loading the kiln and bumped the dry piece against the shelf.

some students added decorations to their pieces that seemed to call for contrasting colors

It would have been nice to have the students glaze their own pieces, but in just an hour I wanted the students to concentrate on building, not adding colors. Also I was a little concerned about students getting glaze on the bottoms, or getting their just-built pieces so wet from the glaze that the walls became soft and fragile.

the angel is glazed in clear with another color on the coils

Obviously if I had the students in class on a regular basis, they could have built and glazed their work over the course of several days (or weeks). Next year I might suggest a project where we come back and have the students glaze. 

the coils in the mustache mug were done with clear over a wash of another glaze, the eyes on the other mug were hard to see before I highlighted the eyebrows. I think the cup on the right had its base reattached with glaze.

I ended up glazing the pieces myself with help from my daughter. It seemed a little heavy-handed to glaze the work for them, but I also thought the students would enjoy having glossy pieces. I initially planned to just glaze everything with a simple coat of clear, but when it came to it, I discovered I didn't have much clear. 

this student added little balls of clay under some of the coils, they were fun to highlight with another color glaze

I did have a variety of glaze colors in pints and smaller sizes. I don't use these glazes a lot, so I figured we could use them on the students stuff and maybe use them up. I had some glazes that would highlight textures, but I also used some to highlight different pieces the kids used in their coil building.

this mug had so much going on that we tried most of the glazes on it


My daughter also helped glaze some, she especially concentrated her time on glazing her own, but she helped on a few of her classmates' pieces as well.

the piece on the right is the only one that is has a permanently closed top

The pieces were bisque fired first, then glazed with several cone 05 commercial glazes from Amaco and Mayco. Then I fired them in my home electric kiln and was able to get them back to the kids before school let out this week.

this one has stars all over the inside which we tried to highlight with Copper Averturine

We used Amaco's Clear Transparent, Deco Gloss Mocha, Artist's Choice Green Float, Camel and Burnt Orange, and Mayco Elements Copper Aventurine and Malachite. The Camel and Burnt Orange don't really highlight texture, but I was hoping the Aventurine would. It showed variation with application, but was also a bit distracting, at least the way we applied it.

I think this one also has Copper Aventurine

The Burnt Orange was really dried out, so we added water, but it didn't want to mix. I ended up using a wash of Burnt Orange under a coat of clear gloss. This was one of the more successful glazes, actually, because it highlighted the texture of the coils. Basically I just got as much color in the water as I could and then made sure to cover it with clear so it would be glossy.

on the mugs with smoother surfaces, we tried using some of the more opaque glazes like Mocha

All the pieces were made with some recycled clay from last year which is a mix of whatever I had around the studio. The mature or vitrification temperature of the clay is unknown. Additionally, I didn't realize this until we were in the middle of the project, but some of the clay in the bag I brought was slightly redder in color due to what was recycled. This may not have been a bag of the clay the kids recycled with me, it may have been some I recycled in a pillowcase later in the summer (the link is not where I learned this originally, but that may have been a Facebook post).

this footed bowl has mocha inside and probably Aventurine outside
Anyway, the two color clay didn't impact the attachments for the pieces or the color of the glazes, but it did show up as a very subtle different under the clear glaze in one instance where the student made the bottom coil with the lighter clay and the top coil with the redder clay.


the bowl on the left has Copper Float on the outside, I believe

One of the risks of working with kids is that they apply too much glaze or get it on the bottom. I carefully cleaned off all the bottoms before loading the kiln, but we also glazed the handles and walls all the way to the bottom, meaning that if I set the pieces right on the shelf, the handles were likely to stick and the glaze on the walls might melt down and stick, too.

drips on the bottom of my daughter's vase

To prevent that kind of trouble, I fired everything on stilts and was glaze I did. Only two dripped, but one dripped from the inside right through a faint crack in the floor and would have stuck to the shelf. My daughter's also dripped slightly down the walls and onto the bottom. Because we stilted it, it didn't stick and now sits nicely on the table.
drips running through the floor of Giselle's mug

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Washington Clay Arts Association "Bountiful" Show in Ellensburg

installing my work in Gallery One

This weekend lots of clay is happening in Ellensburg. I just got back from installing my Ericano bulb installation at Gallery One for the Washington Clay Arts Association juried exhibition, "Bountiful."

a detailed view of this installation in Seattle

The Bountiful exhibition opens Friday, June 1 with a reception from 5-7 and runs through June 30. Bountiful is in the second floor gallery space, while downstairs is another clay show, featuring work by the Dirty Canteen, a collective of military veteran artists. I read about work by three of these artists in the most recent issue of Studio Potter. One of the artists, Ash Kyrie, was at U-W Madison as an undergrad when I was earning my MFA there.

my planning grid on the wall, ready for drilling

The Bountiful show is a juried show of work by Washington state ceramic artists. I entered the show because the theme seemed a good fit for my installation work. Before I'd heard about the show, I had titled my most recent sculpture "Bounty."  Of course I forgot to bring Bounty to Ellensburg when I drove up today today.

"Bounty" (the piece I forgot to bring this time)

I drove up this afternoon after my office hours. I needed to be back in Yakima for something by 4pm, and this is a busy week with the holiday, the installation, raku firing tomorrow and the fast-approaching end of the quarter. I was paying careful attention to timing today and making sure I had everything with me to do the installation fairly quickly so I could get back in time. I brought my paper grid, pencil, ruler, level, tape, drill, drill bit, and L-screws. I confirmed ahead of time that I'd have access to a step stool. I dropped off the kid, went to work, left school basically on time, and got about halfway to Ellensburg before I realized I had packed everything for the installation, but not the second sculpture.

my work and other pieces partially installed

So, I installed the wall work and promised to bring the sculpture before the opening on Friday. The installation went fairly quickly--I had a little less space than usual (less height than I'm used to), so it took a moment to figure out how to reduce the installation, but once we'd figured out the location, I was able to hang the paper grids, drill the holes, and screw in all 80 L-screws in a little over an hour. I then brought in the boxes of bulbs and started hanging them. It took about an hour and a half to bring the stuff in, get set up, install, and bring stuff back out to my car. It was warm in the gallery space, so I remembered to take pictures early on in the process, then forgot entirely to take a picture of the finished product because I was anxious to get to a cooler area.

Part of this installation at Yakima Maker Space

If you'd like to see the work installed, or if you want to check out all the other ceramics in the gallery, join me on Friday from 5-7 for the reception. Friday is also the Ellensburg First Friday Art Walk. The Dirty Canteen artists are doing an artist talk at Gallery One on Saturday. The shows will be up through the end of June if you'd like to visit later.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Spring Cleaning

clean floor, clean under table spaces (don't look on the tables yet)

This was a long weekend, almost at the start of summer and we weren't traveling, so on Saturday and Sunday I finally finished cleaning my home clay studio. I started this big project in January on the first three-day weekend after the quarter started, then did some more work on a three-day weekend in February, and didn't get much done for the busy months of March, April, and most of May.

I ordered clay, because it  is almost summer throwing time!

My studio gets pretty messy over the course of a regular school year, because I only use it for storage and for packing material while classes are in session--and with out the separate heater on it always seems to cold to clean up after myself. I throw and build and glaze during the summer and not much during the year except around Christmas. The big clean this year addressed the regular mess as well as messes that have been accumulating for up to a decade.

clean cabinets and countertops

In January and February this year, I went through the extensive process of cleaning out the upper and lower cabinets and drawers in the clay studio. The upper cabinets basically hadn't been cleared out since 2008. I had a lot of old stuff stored up there that I no longer used, but I also had some packing material that might be useful if I knew where it was.

underglazes stored in an organized fashion!

My main goal was to clear out and clean up the countertop and to make the cabinets and cupboards useable space. I bought some pull out drawers to keep my many, many bottles of underglaze accessible but sorted and out of the way. I can now pull out each tray of 8 underglaze pints and then slide the tray right back when I am done, rather than needing to pull out a large heavy box or each pint one by one as I had before. I also marked the packing material boxes in the upper cabinets so I can remember where the packing material is when a show comes up.

the aftermath of packing for a show and clearing out the cabinets, aka the before picture

Once the counter was clear and the cabinets were organized, I was a bit overwhelmed to look at the rest of the studio, so just looked at the cabinets for a few months. To add to the usual mess, I had shipped some large work to California in March. The packing was done in the middle of the clay studio (really all of the clay studio), and the packing material had left bits and pieces all over the floor. I then packed work for shows and shipping a couple more times, meaning that I had gone looking for boxes and packing material in its usual storage spot under the main work table. The boxes never really got put back correctly.

the space under the tables makes me really happy, organized rather than cluttered, and no dust

This weekend I removed all the stuff from under the tables, reorganized it, tossed the junk, reduced the quantity of boxes I am now keeping, and replaced it all after vacuuming the floor and removing the rugs and plastic. The floor in my studio is ridiculous. The studio had wall to wall carpeting as well as all over the walls carpeting (you can see a picture of my ridiculous walls in this post). Back in 2007, I had laid down plastic sheeting over the carpet to protect it from clay, glaze, spills, etc. I had then laid rugs over the carpet. Carpet and rugs are both bad flooring to have in a clay studio. It is better to have surfaces that can be wiped up with water, so that clay dust doesn't end up in the air. 

the carpet under the plastic actually looks pretty good, better than the stuff we've been walking on for 10 years

Back in 2007/8, we weren't ready to rip out the carpet, deal with the walls, and replace the clay studio floor, so the solution we found was good for the floor and easy to clean up, but less good for clay dust abatement. The nice thing about the rugs is that they can be washed in the washing machine, taken out side and hosed off, or otherwise cleaned wet, but they also can trap dry bits of clay until they are cleaned. If they get walked on, this can produce airborne dust. In theory, the plastic sheeting would have been easy to clean, but it practice it moves around and ends up trapping clay bits in the wrinkles after it has shifted, which is then difficult to clean. Lately I have been vacuuming with a long hosed shop vac positioned outside the closed exterior door and it appears that I can get the carpet cleaned more efficiently and quickly than with the earlier set up. Ideally I would rip out all the carpet and put in tile or laminate.

lawn cleaning in the shade

Of course one of the things that comes up in a big clean is that every surface and storage space had stuff in it, especially since I haven't done this in years. I had lots of jars of dried slip, lots of trays with  dried clay on them, jars of dried glaze, and one jar of flies, for some reason (I didn't put them there). My studio helper volunteered to do some cleaning, so she set up in the yard and washed and washed and washed. It actually took two separate cleaning sessions to get through all the stuff.

cleaned tools and containers drying after cleaning

We did eventually get all the containers and tools cleaned and I found lids to go with the ones I'll be keeping and tossed the broken, lidless, and strangely shaped containers and tools. There are still about two boxes more lidded containers than I actually need, so I'll be taking them out of the studio this week.

two boxes of clean and lidded slip and glaze containers

It felt like a lot of work, but my studio space is now set up and ready for summer (3 weeks left counting finals). The previously dirty studio areas are now clean and sustainably so, I think, and the tools are clean and ready for the summer. I had fresh clay delivered last week and my work spaces will be cleared off soon now that the tools and containers have dried. I even found some partial bags of dried clay that I had forgotten about. The clay is currently in the process of being recycled.

clay pieces I found when cleaning under one of the tables

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Grapes to Glass Gala 3D Printed Centerpieces

3D Printed form printed, altered and glazed by Humberto Urrutia-Jr

This weekend the Yakima Valley College viticulture (wine) program held their Grapes to Glass Gala fundraiser event. Earlier this quarter, I was asked if my clay students could make centerpieces for the event. The idea was that I would make the forms with student involvement, donate them to the viticulture program, they would be used for the event, and then they would be auctioned off with proceeds going to scholarships for students.

printed vase altered at the top and decorated with underglaze and two glaze colors

At the start of the quarter, I thought this sounded like a reasonable thing for our class to do. They were asking for 10 centerpieces, which isn't that much to make, especially with student help. After a bit of discussion, we decided to use the 3D printer to make the forms, which could then be altered and decorated by student in my spring pottery classes.

the 3D printer in our clay studio

One of my goals for this quarter was to use our 3D printer and get to the point where I felt comfortable controlling some of the print parameters. (This sounded eminently do-able in April and was, in reality, harder than it should have been.) I figured that agreeing to print a bunch of things with the printer would give me practice and make me better with the printer. 

the basic 3D printed form before decoration

My plan sort of worked. Agreeing to make the centerpieces did get me practice using the printer. Given how one's time tends to fill up with all the things that could be done to improve a class, I might not have made the time in my schedule to use the printer, had I not agree to do this. On the other hand, I spent basically all my 3D printer time printing these forms and trouble shooting the printer, but I didn't really spend any of that time adjusting the print settings in the software, which is what I really need to spend some time doing to improve my control of the printer.

underglaze surface with sgraffito carving

All in all, though, the printing was fine and it was what I agreed to do. The thing that ended up being a surprise was how much extra work became attached to the project. I don't blame the organizer, but I think there were several people involved, and the plan kept growing. After the prints had been printed and the students had started their work, I was asked for photos of the students and brief bios or descriptions of the process. A little bit later, it turned out that we needed permission to use the photos and I needed to get the students to sign a release. Then, of course, some students didn't write the bios, so I needed to write general descriptions myself. 

flower decoration on a vase altered by Danielle Littlefield

By the last day or two, I discovered that I didn't know who had decorated which form. I was able to mostly identify the work, but the work was still in the kiln when I last saw the students, and their descriptions were sometimes too vague to be useful in identifying the work. By Friday morning, as I was writing the last of the bios, I discovered that I had probably lost one of the pieces before the first firing.

top and interior view of Danielle's vase

After the pieces were initially printed, I offered extra credit to students to alter and decorate one of the pieces. The printer prints very wet clay, so all of the pieces had varying levels of workability when the students first encountered them. The neat thing, in my opinion, about this printed form, is that it is fairly thick and also so wet. Because of this, the clay can be stretched without danger of ripping the walls. In my example piece for the students, I used a rib on the inside of the print to stretch the walls. The texture stays visible but the shape of the vase changes. The student who originally made this print in the winter quarter also stretched the walls using a rib.

Exterior view of my stretched vase

This quarter students mostly didn't alter the walls by stretching, but several cut into the walls to change the shape of piece itself. Some students left the printer lines visible on the surface, but others smoothed the interior, exterior or both. Some also used sgraffito or carving through colored slips to create a different surface texture.

two views of a vase with cut wall, and underglaze layered under two glazes

Students also added clay in the form of sprigged decorations of leaves, butterflies, or hand-built flowers or coils. One student used a texture roller on the smoothed surface. Most students used colored underglazes (because I put them out during that class). 

short glazed form, I wiped the glaze off of the surface of the leaf sprigs

The original student and I both attached coils to obscure the one side of the print that was a bit rough. 
When the printer changes directions, it leaves a bit of residue at the change location. I'm not sure why the printer won't going in one direction through the whole print, but that's pretty much why I need to spend more time with the software. 

 
printed form with rough seam and coils attached to obscure the seam

I ended up glazing most of the students' work, simply based on the timing of the project and how much work was required. The deadline for firing the work came just after the deadline for our clay sale on campus. The student work wasn't dry enough to get glazed and fired in the firing we did before the clay sale, so we glaze fired twice this month.

piece textured with two texture rollers and then glazed with a runny glaze that ends near the bottom third

An additional complication came up the week the work was supposed to be picked up. I glazed and loaded the kiln on Monday, but Monday night the breaker tripped. We discovered the problem on Tuesday morning, but it took about 4 hours to get the breaker reset. Lights had been flickering on and off all over the building on Monday and the air conditioning was operating in every other room, so I guessed our power issue was related in some way. Once the breaker was reset, the firing restarted. Wednesday morning the breaker had tripped again, so the entire kiln was unloaded, the stuff was moved to another kind and that one fired fine. The kiln was too hot to unload Thursday evening, so I unloaded it Friday morning, minutes before the works were to be picked up.

sgraffito glazed form before and after glaze and biscuit grinding

Everything would have been fine, but one of the vases had damage that I tried to repair with glaze. I used too much glaze and the glaze dripped down the walls, onto the biscuits, and onto the shelf. I spent an extra 20 minutes grinding the base on Friday morning before I could send it on its way to the Grandview campus.