Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Since We Couldn't Raku, I Underglazed

My clay students' raku firing was cancelled this weekend due to a burn ban that was in place because of the stagnant air in the valley. This gave me an unexpected five or six free hours, which I used to good advantage, finishing up some underglaze application on several pieces in my studio. 

I was stuck on this piece for a while. I think the green inside the red will make me happy.
I used the actual time I would have been raku firing to rest and read, but later I got myself into the clay studio while the rest of the family was away. I was happy to discover that the heater in my studio turned right on and I didn't have to go through the rigamarole of relighting the pilot before I could get to work. I did have to wait a few minutes so my hands wouldn't freeze.

Small guys with about four underglaze colors each.
I finished up most of the small, loose pieces that needed their last coat of underglaze wiped away or needed a touch up of color. Most of the work I made this summer is now ready for a spray of clear glaze over the underglaze layers and then it can be fired.

The kid's owl with custom mixed grey.
On Sunday my daughter joined me in the studio for a while and put glaze on some pieces she had made during the summer (or before). The older she gets the more fun she is as an under glazing companion because I don't have to open all the jars for her and fish the chunky glaze coated brushes out of the jars for her.

Grey underglaze painted on the red base.
She mixed more grey than she needed for her owl, so I used the rest as my second glaze layer background on one of my base pieces. It worked out well. I needed a color to relate to the black on the already made top section, but black seemed like it would stain the red base color too dark. 

Wiping away grey underglaze.
After wiping away the grey underglaze from the red fired underglaze on the base, I am happy with the color. I still need to add some extra color or colors to the blue gear sprigs. Hopefully I will have a chance on Wednesday, since we don't have classes at YVCC that day.

Grey underglaze highlighting the textured surface of the red base.
I can finally see the light at the end of the horribly long and dull tunnel that I call applying underglaze. Spraying on the clear glaze should be fairly quick once all the pieces are ready and then I can fire the work and start to attach the bike parts (hopefully I can remember which bike parts I planned to use on which pieces). I also need to get a new roll of detailing tape so I can finish preparing the rest of my mugs for glazing. With any luck, my summer work will be fired before 2014 ends.

Mugs and other pieces waiting to be finished.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

CORE Gallery & Sabbatical Presentation

It has been a busy week. Last weekend I had a meeting at CORE Gallery, where I will be a member starting in January. CORE is a non-profit gallery for mid career artists located near Pioneer Square in Seattle.

CORE Gallery's November website


Our meeting last weekend was to introduce us to the gallery and get to meet the other 19 artists who will also be a part of the gallery. I am excited about becoming a member of the gallery and getting to know new artists and a new art community. I have enjoyed been a part of the Yakima art community for more than eight years, but it will be interesting to talk with different people about my art, particularly people who haven't been watching my progression. 

A sculpture from my sabbatical

In February I will have a solo show at CORE, featuring my sabbatical work (and this summer's work if I ever get any of it finished. The February show will open February 4th with a First Thursday Reception February 5 from 6pm-9pm. (Now all I need to do it finish work, make postcards, update my website, advertise my show, get myself to Seattle with all my work and pedestals and get the show installed.)
The wall installation I'm thinking of doing in Seattle

Speaking of daunting tasks, this week I also presented to the YVCC Board of Trustees on my sabbatical and a trip I took to Milwaukee for the NCECA Conference. I heard later that the presentation was received well by at least some, but it was one of about 300 presentations that afternoon and I was asked to stop a little before I got to the end of my images. I think I was asked to stop early because there was quite a lot scheduled. Regardless, I think it went well, but I also found it fairly stressful. Strange, how talking in front of a group of 35 students every day can be perfectly normal, but presenting in front of 7 officials can be completely exhausting.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Creativity = Time?

It's critique day, the students have their work lined up on the tables, ready to present. They were all working on the same assignment, though they may have taken vastly different approaches. They all had the same amount of time to work on the project (usually 2-4 weeks in my clay classes), but during the critique, several students explain that they ran out of time to make or finish their work.

I can't think of a critique I've led where someone didn't mention that they ran out of time on the project. Of course some students have legitimate challenges on their time: kid (and adults) get sick, tests and jobs interfere with studio time, and accidents happen, causing clay to collapse or dry too quickly. Throughout the class, different students experience busy weeks or difficult days at different times.
The progress of this flowery sea horse was as interesting to see as the final piece.

Last week, I wrote about banning the phrase "I am not creative" from the studio. I've been thinking about my reasoning ever since. In that post I argued that creativity is closely linked with time spent. I was thinking of my own experience, but also looking at examples from current and past classes.

In my (generalized) examples from just this quarter, I had students with more or less confidence (both students who identified themselves with a phrase like "I am not creative" and students who probably do consider themselves creative) spend significant time on projects that were impressive for the unusual approach, extra effort, impressive size or extra level of detail and consideration put into the piece. I would say that "creativity" is a reasonable, general term that encompasses all of the items above.

I banned the phrase "I am not creative" before our most recent critique, and again there were impressive pieces, creative pieces, that came in from different members of the class, though no one specifically identified themselves as not belonging to the creative group. The most creative (challenging, impressive, interesting) pieces were not necessarily done by the same people who put forth the extra effort in previous critiques. What the impressive pieces this time did have in common was that they were larger, more complex, more carefully made, or more challenging in construction than other works.
I'd be curious to know what people think this heart amidst trees, buildings, cars and tree stumps is meant to communicate.
It's tough to precisely identify the "effort" that students put into a work. I try to track how much time each student spends in the studio and at home, but it isn't always precise. I also try to approximate an assessment of the elusive "effort" each student puts into an individual piece with a section in my grading rubric about "challenge" (i.e. did the student challenge him or herself in this project?) but this can be subjective.

Though I may not be able to find a perfect algorithm for grading effort on a particular project, the students who share the studio space see who is working hard, who is in the studio all the time, and who is struggling. They also notice who is not in the studio. So on critique day, the students are presenting their work to the teacher for a grade, but they're also presenting their work to their classmates, who've often been observers for much of the process.

I like to let the students lead the critique. With a good group, in particular, the critique can be more interesting, more helpful, and more dynamic without the voice of authority interrupting the discussion and giving everyone the "right" answer. The best, most interesting, most fun and most rewarding thing to see in a critique is when the student have something interesting to talk about.

This work was inspired by an artist: Grandmaster Flash

The thing about having something interesting to talk about in an art critique, is that we've got to have something interesting to look at so we can talk about it. Those students who have put in the effort, who have tried to make something, generally have something interesting to talk about. Even students who show broken work or other evidence of mistakes, can show their classmates something interesting and worth discussing. The hardest critique discussions to lead are those where the students have done the bare minimum (or less) and don't have much to talk about.

I have an idea of who in my classes might consider themselves creative and who might not. But when I go to grade individual projects, I don't necessarily see much correlation between the "creative" students and the creative work, or, for that matter, between the "I am not creative, but..." students and the boring work.

I do, however, see a great deal of correlation between the students who are in the studio a lot and the creative, challenging work. I also notice a correlation between the students who have some sort of temporary time challenge (illness, work or family problem, etc), and work in a given critique that is smaller, less finished, less challenging or less interesting than the rest.

the assignment here was to persuade the viewer.

I'm still leaning towards a fairly simple definition of what makes someone creative: that creative people spend (more) time on what they create. However, I would also suggest that students who see themselves as more creative (or are viewed as creative or  rewarded and praised for creativity) may be more likely to choose to spend more time, sometimes vast amount of time, on a piece. A student who identifies as being creative may also be more willing to try a new approach, rebuild when the piece collapses or even scrap their original idea and start over entirely.

One piece of information I seem to be missing, or guessing at, is the students' opinion. I wonder if they'd agree with me. Maybe I should ask them.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Banning the phrase "I am not creative."

After our last class critique, I decided to ban two phrases from use in the clay studio. I banned the phrase "I am not creative" and I banned the phrase "I am not artistic."

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

These phrases show up during critiques, usually followed by "...but" and then an explanation of what the student created for his or her art project. In part, I dislike these statements because they generally aren't true, but they also cause further problems.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

Immediately, in the critique, a statement like this is used as a shield to protect the speaker from judgment or criticism of their creative or artistic pursuits. No one wants to point out a structural error in a sculpture made by a person who just said it wasn't any good. But these statements cause trouble outside of the critique as well. The student who says this is reminding herself (as well as her classmates) that she is not going to be successful in this type of work. He is reminding the instructor not to expect much from him. And if students hear these reinforcements enough, even from themselves, they are likely to start believing them.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

Initially I hadn't made a big deal of this little verbal tic. When it showed up in critique, I would shrug it off and move the discussion on. Occasionally I would gently negate it, telling the student that he or she could do the work, but I didn't strongly or loudly react to the statement. I think that was a mistake. I'm starting to think I should have made a big hairy deal out of it right away and addressed the issue head on.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

I've been thinking about this for a while now. I've been thinking, also, about my role as the instructor in this conversation. I need to run a safe and supportive studio. I need to teach the students how to work with clay. Somewhere in there, I should be encouraging the students to challenge themselves, try new things, express themselves, and take risks.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

In short, I should be teaching the students to be creative. Of course I should; it's an art class. But like "art", "creativity" is a word that gets used with the assumption that you already know what it is. I don't remember being taught a pat definition of creativity (or "art" for that matter) and I don't remember specifically sitting down to be taught creativity in class.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

I took plenty of art classes when I was in school, but mostly I remember being taught how to mix paint and how to measure for perspective and how fast the wheel should spin and what settings to use to control the focus on the camera. So much of what I specifically remember learning in art classes, from first grade through graduate school was how to manipulate or control a particular medium. The creativity that was taught, was mixed right in with the course content and the techniques and was never identified as a separate thing.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

There is a popular belief that creativity is something innate; that you either have it or you don't. I don't get the impression that that view is backed by much actual research, but it is a stereotype and I see the evidence of the stereotype's strength in my classes. There is the idea that some people are creative and some are not. Some people are artistic, some are not. Like it's a black and white issue, like there is no middle ground. And students who think they are "not creative" like to identify themselves right away, for some of the reasons mentioned above.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

I remember, as a kid, being praised for being creative. I suppose I learned what creativity was by doing whatever it was that got recognition. But when I try to think of a specific instance, I keep coming up with examples of things I worked really hard at. I drew this dragon in elementary school. My dad ended up framing it and it still hangs in my parents house. I worked hard on that dragon. I took so long on it, Mrs. Buckingham had to assign Derek Johnson to help me color in the cave in back so we could move on to the next project. (You can always tell a story's importance in your memory when you know the people's names 30 years later.) Derek colored with the chalk on its side, which basically ruined the cave. The cave was ruined, however, not because Derek lacked creativity, but because he took a shortcut that I wasn't willing to take. And it was a perfectly logical shortcut, one that Mrs. Buckingham, no doubt, approved of because she had a class to teach.

The famous dragon, still on my parents' wall. Dragon by Rachel, cave and volcano by Derek.

A few years later, I discovered this stuff called Friendly Plastic and started melting plastic jewelry and selling it to people at my parents' workplaces. I made a lot of these jewelry pieces because I liked making them. I kept trying new combinations and cutting new shapes because it was fun. My parents gave me free reign of the stovetop for these projects and people praised my work. Was this creativity, or the logical effect of time and effort?

Four cranes folded from one piece of paper. I used to do this but with, like 9 cranes together.

One last example from my own biography. I used to do a lot of origami. I followed the directions for making cranes and boxes and cats and people. Eventually I went through the basic origami books and started doing these origami crane sets cut from a single sheet of paper. I spent a lot of time, but I certainly wasn't being creative; I just had a more advanced book now, and it showed me how to make the connected cranes. Increasing the number was simple application of knowledge and a level of comfort with the basic skill.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

I was encouraged in my "creativity" by teachers, parents, whomever, and I was encouraged and allowed to make a mess and get more materials and take more time and leave tiny cranes in every single corner of the house and van. But I think a lot of my students have a different experience growing up. I think a lot of kids are told, at some point, that they are not creative. I simply hate the idea that any kid could be told he or she is not creative. It just seems pointlessly mean. But I also think adults can communicate a similar message by criticizing kids for doing things that are not standard: painting an orange sky, for example, instead of blue.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

A friend of mine was just telling me about a teacher complaining, in a class of early elementary school students, that the kids' drawings were too sloppy. Why anyone would ever criticize the drawing of a child is beyond me, but it seems like a good way to make a kid dislike drawing. Another friend told me she remembered, when she was a kid, being told that her mountains were wrong because she colored them purple. Just think about that for a minute (while humming our America the Beautiful).

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

So based on early experience, adult influences send kids down two paths. The creative, praised, artsy kids (who are really just the kids with strong support for this sort of thing) get handed Friendly Plastic and are offered cave painting assistance and allowed extra time to make stuff, while the not-creative, not artsy kids with purple mountains (majesty), orange skies and messy drawings, get, I don't know video games and a mop? Math homework? Uh, Barbies? I don't actually know what they get. But remember, the creative kids also created sloppy drawings with purple mountains and orange skies, they were just allowed to draw some more.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

So now we come back to the present and the adult (sometimes teenage) students in my college-level clay classes. These classes include the kids who grew up with praise and support and the identical kids, in my opinion, who were corrected and steered away from certain colors and certain approaches. The first group has learned that they are creative and may be more comfortable taking risks, trying new things, and expressing themselves. The second group knows they are not in the special creative group that is allowed to take these risks, try new things and express themselves. In fact, the simple act of signing up for the class might already be outside their comfort level.

Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

While at first I thought my concern about the use of phrases like "I'm not creative" was just a minor semantic issue and not worth addressing in class, I am starting to change my mind. I am starting to think that the semantic issue might capture a big part of the heart of what I should be doing in that class.
Artwork by a student who may or may not be creative.

I suspect that these statements, and the underlying beliefs that undergird them, are much more difficult for students to work through than technical difficulties that have to do with handling the clay or the potter's wheel. I think I'm going to have to ponder further, how to address these issues in class.
"...a genuinely creative accomplishment is almost never the result of a sudden insight, a lightbulb flashing in the dark, but comes after years of hard work." -Mihaly Czikszentmihali
I also see important connections between creativity and failure (which I wrote about a while back). And I'm starting to consider the relationship between whether someone considers herself creative or artistic and how much time she spends on a task. When art is assessed, we often consider quality, effort and a creative approach. I wonder how often the first two overshadow or obscure the latter. I guess I'll write more about this later.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween Art Party


I know, Halloween is a couple days gone by now, but it's been a busy week and I had to advertise the Central Washington Artists' Exhibition. Last weekend we had some friends over for a halloween art party. Last year we had a skull decorating party, which was part Halloween, part Dia de los Muertos, and part Rachel's on sabbatical and has been slip casting with her skull mold. 

Paper Jack'o lantern skeleton door greeter.

This year's party included collaborative mural drawing, with stickers for those who didn't want to draw. In preparation for the party, the kids drew a house, road and forest on a large sheet of paper. At the party kids could "help us haunt our house" by drawing ghosts and witches and spiders on the mural. They could also add ghost and pumpkin stickers to the mural. The kids seemed to enjoy it, though by the end of the day the mural paper was blowing off the wall. As I reminded the kids and parents, art (for kids) is about process, not product. The mural did not survive the weekend.

For some reason they kept adding pools of blood, on the road, on the house, etc.
Our monster slime supplies (and a candy spider).

We also had the kids make monster slime based on this recipe I found on Pinterest. It's like flubber or gak or other slimy goo that kids make. I think I made it in girl scouts years and years ago. Clear glue was really hard to find, so we tried blue Elmer's gel and that seemed to work ok. We let the kids add food coloring, so several batches were a horrible red color.


 
Kids mixing slime, clear slime with pumpkin and "boo" confetti

The kids mixed the slim and added Halloween confetti. They had fun and kept the mess pretty contained. Later, while the kids were playing and drawing, the adults enjoyed playing with the slime they'd left behind. The slime gradually flattens out if you leave it on the table, but then it can hold its shape when you pick it up, fold it or mold it.

"bloody": bat slime

Some of the kids also made spiders or cut out spiderwebs or sets of faces, skulls or cats in a circular pattern. There were also some skull drawings to color (because coloring calms adults, too).

Sucker spider and pipe cleaner spider

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Central Washington Artist's Exhibition 2014

This weekend is the opening reception for the Central Washington Artists' Exhibition at Larson Gallery. I have two pieces in the show, both created during my sabbatical last fall. I had a sneak peek at the work on Friday, when I delivered my pieces at the last possible moment, and there's some interesting stuff this year. There's always good eats at the reception, too.

"Scylla Bionica" & "Charybdis Bionica" (work created during my sabbatical)

Come join me for the reception at Larson Gallery on the YVCC Campus (corner of Nob Hill Boulevard and 16th Ave) from 3-5pm on Saturday, November 1, 2014.



Update: You can also see my work (the second set of work featured) on this video from KVEW TV.

Update #2: I just got the call that I've won an award in the show. I guess I'll know what it is at about 4pm.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Essay for M R McDonald's Catalog

A few weeks ago, I wrote about writing an essay for a friend, photographer M R McDonald. The essay has been finalized and published. You can view it here. The catalog is for McDonald's show at the Esvelt Gallery in Pasco, WA at Columbia Basin Community College. The show features his photographs and wood pieces turned by John Barany. The wood pieces include collaborations with other artists in various media including McDonald's photography, glass by Sharon Strong and others.

my catalog cover

The show opens Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 1pm. The reception is early to encourage CBC students to attend, but it makes it a bit tough for the rest of us to get there. (I have a meeting that will prevent my attendance). The photographs in the show include ones I discuss in my essay. The specific photographs I discuss are also included in the catalog itself, which one can buy online directly from blurb.com.