Saturday, September 20, 2014

22 Year-Old Candy Canes, An Enormous Room (Unfinished), and Some Wet Clay

What a strange week. On Wednesday, after some of our convocation events were over, I decided to tackle cleaning my work office. I moved into the strangely shaped room in Palmer Hall last February after the painting and drawing instructor retired. He left behind drawers and shelves full of old paperwork, equipment and files. 

I didn't take pictures in my office (too scary), but it looked kinda like a paperwork version of these trays of recycled clay.

Cleaning out someone else's old stuff is not exactly a priority during class time and in June I wanted to get right into my clay studio. Even this week cleaning out someone else's stuff didn't sound appealing, but it would be nice to be able put things away and use my file cabinets. So I turned on my audiobook and started the project.

Deciding to recycle the course catalogs and schedules dating back to 1983 was easy enough and quickly freed up one whole file drawer. Next I moved on to the hanging files with information about the department, the renovation of Palmer Hall (in the early 90s, I think) and old course outlines. The drawings of the proposed renovations for Palmer Hall were most interesting and I kept them just for fun.

The office cleaning process was as exhausting but less sticky than scooping up the partially dried clay to wedge.

For those of you who haven't been in Palmer Hall, its a funny building. It is round--in fact I usually give directions by telling students to find the round building. It used to be a library before it was repurposed for the art department, print shop, mailroom, security and media services. A few years ago media services moved to the newly renovated library, but the rest of us remained.

The art department has about half the building in three studios with exterior entrances and two offices in the center of the building. The very middle of the building is a series of rooms and halls that make it difficult for students to find the part-time office. The part time office is absolutely tiny and shared now by four faculty who literally cannot all sit in the room at once.

During the week I didn't get my studio work done at home. This weekend I had to try to salvage some clay I was trying to recycle. Some of it got too hard so I sliced the chunks of clay up and stacked them, interspersing dry and wet slices before re-wedging them.

As a contrast, yesterday the art department (and a few extras) took a tour of the replacement Palmer Martin building being constructed on the south side of Nob Hill Avenue. A three-person part-time office in that building is at least four times the size of the current four-person office.

The tour of the new building was fantastic. We had to wear hard hats and stand in the blazing sun for a while as we gathered, but we were taken all through both floors of the new building. The walls and windows are mostly in place and they are working on flooring in some areas. None of the rooms have sinks, cabinets or other built-in furniture, but there are visible electrical and plumbing connections that give clues as to the eventual use of the rooms.

Unlike my studio, where I have to reclaim my clay by slaking, drying, cutting and wedging by hand, the new building will have a dedicated clay storage and mixing room.
The clay studio looks absolutely immense. Of course we will fill it pretty full with tables, wheels, carts, sinks, shelves, and cabinets, but it is still impressive. The other faculty were teasing me about having the biggest space, but there are two large studios for drawing/painting and design, a lecture room, a computer studio, and another studio/classroom space.

The hallway down the middle of the first floor will have an enormous, long painting by Robert Fisher and a central area for a small student "gallery" space. The office area is downstairs and similar to, though smaller than, the Glenn-Anthon office space. For those of you out-of-state, understand that the office area is just really nice. 

I was able to finish recycling and wedging my clay on Saturday. Unfortunately I was not able to finish cleaning my office during the week.

And our public art installation in the entryway should be beautiful and inspiring. The building should be ready for us to start moving in this summer and classes will start next fall. I absolutely cannot wait. Which is why I have to clean my office. 

I spent all day Wednesday cleaning my office and in the early afternoon realized that I wasn't just cleaning the detritus of one other instructor. In the third drawer I discovered grades and old files and memos from the instructor who was in the office until about 2006. (I wasn't in Yakima at that time so I'm a little unsure about the timeline.) The odd thing is that when I came in 2006, I inherited whole shelves of books and a stack of files from that earlier instructor myself. She managed to have so much stuff that she left it stored in two offices. And I got to clean them both.

I spent Thursday night comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of four new (to me) Art Appreciation textbooks

The cleaning effort was eased somewhat by the discovery of entertaining oddities and bits of history. The strangest was found in a file of grades and old communications from 1992. Filed there with the old letters and test scores was an aged candy cane. I did not try it. Guessing that we had passed the date that people would need to reference the candy cane, I threw it away and shredded the grades. 

Unfortunately the most workable of the new texts has a sadly plain front cover--at least there's a cut-out. 

Unfortunately, I was not able to finish organizing my office this week. I had every intention of spending most of Thursday and Friday cleaning, but Thursday morning brought a surprise in the form of textbook troubles which took two days to sort out, more or less. Classes start Monday but I am still hopeful that I might have a chance to at least clear some surface space early in the week before students come rushing in with questions and things that need to be graded. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making Sure They Remember Class Content a Year Later

I know most kids have been back at school for at least a week or two, but summer is just now coming to a close for me. Yakima Valley Community College has a week of convocation activities to get us back in the school mode and to introduce us to changes and initiatives for the new year. Next week fall classes commence.

glazing. the point at which I stopped for the weekend
I have spent this week watching enrollments in art department classes (apparently I find this more interesting than glazing) to make sure my new adjunct faculty have enough students registered for their classes. The art program has mostly full classes, though there is still plenty of room in our evening Art Appreciation class if you're looking for a few credits or an interesting class.

glazing. boring.
I am getting excited about welcoming new faculty to YVCC art. This fall we have a new full-time instructor and two new adjunct instructors. In fact, almost two thirds of our classes will be taught by faculty who have been at YVCC less than a year. These new faculty are coming to us from Seattle, Idaho and Tennessee and should bring new perspectives and new ideas to the program.

Palmer Martin Replacement building on Nob Hill Boulevard

I am also excited about the coming transition to the new Palmer-Martin replacement building.  The building, on the corner of 16th Ave and Nob Hill Boulevard, will be ready for us to begin moving in at soon as spring, though we don't plan to offer classes in the new spaces until fall of 2015. Already the view of campus coming from the East is markedly different than it was a year ago.

The entry of the new building
As usual at this time of year, my thoughts are beginning to shift from concerns and ideas about my personal work and my home studio to thoughts about my classes and that inevitably leads to thoughts about curriculum changes I might want to make. Typically I also have a few panic dreams around this time in which I have arrived at the first day of class with no syllabi, no idea what I am teaching or, in one case, no pottery wheels. In that last dream the students had to throw pottery on spinning dinner plates. I'm not sure how well that would work.

could we at least get one of these wheels?

While I lay awake at night, unable to sleep because of the fear of missing course materials and pottery wheels, I think about how I can better prepare my students to do well in my classes. The thing I probably worry about most (when I am awake) is how to keep a class interesting and fun while also making it rigorous and ensuring that students learn something or improve their skills.

I don't honestly worry much about pottery class. There the equation is rather simple. I tell my students every quarter: if you practice throwing pottery a lot, you will get a lot better at throwing. If you rarely practice, you won't improve much. I suppose the general idea isn't that much different in an Art Appreciation class, but studying effectively is harder to visualize than throwing pottery effectively. Your notes don't physically collapse when you make a mistake or miss an important concept like your clay does if you position your fingers incorrectly.

um. really, this is the best falling pot image I could find. I guess I'll have to take some pictures myself--without ghosts.

I believe many of my fellow educators worry about their classes and how to best challenge and support students. We have so many interrelated goals for a given class and want to squeeze all our excitement about the topic into just 10 weeks of lessons.

It is difficult, too, to know just how successful a class has been. One metric is the test scores and assignment grades. That tells me something about how well students understood and were able to explain the concepts of the class. There are instructor evaluations that sometimes tell me what students liked or didn't like in the class, but just as often tell me that students didn't like the parking options or filling in bubble surveys.


However, occasionally, I hear about my classes in another way. Last week I ran into a student who had taken my Art Appreciation class a year or two ago. We talked a little and the student told me that she found my class hard, harder than she expected, but that she still remembered a lot of what she learned in my class. Yep, that's basically my goal. My class should be challenging but you should learn stuff. So this week my short term goal is to make improvements in my classes that will encourage students to be challenged and learn stuff. Also I need to clean my office.

If you didn't get to the Larson Gallery on Saturday for the Many Waters (Artists from Walla Walla) opening, you missed this big pink guy. Sad for you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Keep Calm and Glaze On

My glazing method requires many, many layers of underglaze to be applied many, many times. Last week I  finished putting the first coat of underglaze on most of my summer work and fired a kiln load of this work. The last few pieces had underglaze applied this week and will be fired tomorrow.

a kiln shelf of work with the first layer of underglaze applied.
The first layer of underglaze usually consists of two or three contrasting colors highlighting different surface areas or textures. Each color of underglaze must be applied in at least three even coats to prevent streaky results after firing.
The first three layers of underglaze (light blue, red and light grey (on sprigs) on this base.

Usually I apply three or four coats to the background then wipe away any accidental color on the sprigs before carefully applying the second set of three coats to the sprigs. I repeat the process for bulbs or other raised surfaces and small details.

The second layer of dark blue has been applied and washed away from the highest areas. The second layer of yellow has been partially washed away. 

After the initial bisque firing, the first underglaze layer is permanent and won't wash away when I apply the second layers of color. The second layers of color will be wiped away so they only need to be applied thickly in the lowest areas where they will remain. I use a wet sponge to wipe the surface areas of the background first and later the raised sprigs.

These piece, once underglazed, sprayed with a clear glaze and fired again, will be attached together with bike parts.

Sometimes I need to go back and add coats of underglaze to a fired area that was smeared by neighboring colors. On the multipart piece above, I accidentally dripped dark blue underglaze on the red bulbs. The blue didn't wipe away evenly, so I will reapply several layers of red to avoid a streaky look later.

These wall pieces were shown with their first glaze layers in last week's post

One challenge is that the work might look okay before firing if there are only two layers, but the streaks and irregularities will show up after the clear glaze coat has been applied. 

A bunch of brushes and a bunch of underglaze jars (Amaco and Duncan mostly).

When I glaze all day and all week, I end up with many jars of underglaze arranged on all available surfaces. I have a ridiculous quantity of brushes, but I manage to use most of them when glazing a bunch of work. Since the underglaze doesn't damage the brushes, I let the dirty dried up brushes collect for a day or two before washing them together (this year I try to save them for my studio assistant to clean).

dirty brushes, soaking

I won't be able to finish all the summer work before the quarter begins. I have some other responsibilities that need to be addressed at work and at home before I go back to campus for convocation next week. I am hopeful that I will have at least one more kiln of glazed (not just underglazed) work finished by the end of the month or before classes start.

Most of these bulbs have a partial application of a second layer of underglaze.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Art Class for Kids (sorta)

I glazed this week, so, as everyone knows, I don't have much to report on that front. However, this was an interesting week for other reasons.

I glazed some things.

During the day I applied under-glaze to some bisque fired work and listened to audiobooks so that the boring process wouldn't lull me into a coma.

I was in the process of glazing some things and took a picture.

Of course I also took pictures of what I was doing to share with the world (or the 20 people who read my blog).

I finished glazing a thing. 

I fired some under-glazed work and will apply a second layer of underglaze to most everything. Yawn.

Another thing has been partially glazed (and, apparently, my finger wanted to be in the photo)

But the interesting stuff happened in the afternoon. My kid's school doesn't have Art class, so we have been spending our after school time together having our own "art classes." In the two weeks since her school started, we have made paintings, puppets, sketchbooks, buttons, hair decorations, and lots of things involving popsicle sticks and glue. 

Popsicle stick tree-house. This was the kid's own project

Some of the projects were designed almost entirely by the kid, with me acting as an audience and performing difficult tasks like breaking popsicle sticks in two (over and over and over and over again). Other projects were a bit harder and I did the initial work while the kid helped with simpler tasks like sewing through existing holes in the binding. 



Pony flip book with visible stitching.

We made a small sketchbook last weekend, then, when we saw a princess/knight flip book advertised for purchase, we thought we might be able to do better. I found a creative commons My Little Pony outline without tail, mane or cutie mark and used it as the basis for a Pony flip book. I adjusted the pony outline to be light grey, marked some lines dividing the head from the body from the feet and printed several copies. We trimmed and sliced the pages and sewed them together and added a stiffer (watercolor paper) cover. Now the kid can draw in manes, tails and other "accessories". 

Drawing the helmet on the knight pony.


This week we invited a friend to join us for a couple of our "art classes." The projects were a little more structured and pre-planned. One day we did origami, with the kids making "cootie catchers" to use as puppets or fortune tellers and the adults creating ornaments by attaching several cootie catchers together.

A puppet and an ornament (with terrible lighting, sorry, I'm too lazy to untie it.)

Yesterday we had a clay class and made simple coil animals, pinch bowls and other assorted squishy things. Later I will fire the clay and we'll have a glazing "class". 

Animals, a bowl and a lady.

I'm tempted to invite other kids can join us for the "class," though I am concerned about what happens when we have too many kids all trying to work in a small space together--especially if the kids are there because their parent "signed them up". (The cat's out of the bag with this post, so maybe I'll hear from the parents directly.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Some Wall Stuff

Last week was yet another short studio week. Monday and Tuesday were devoted to school supply accumulation and children's art projects since Yakima Public Schools didn't start until Wednesday but our summer child care ended the week before. I had a nice relaxing week with the kid, but I did finish a few small wall pieces, too.


Two small wall pieces. The one on the right is not quite finished.

Sometime in the next year and a half I will be installing a wall installation in a Seattle storefront. I don't yet know when the work will be installed or where, but I believe I have some time to get a few more pieces finished, glazed and fired.

A slightly larger wall installation piece before firing.

In February I will be showing work at CORE Gallery near Pioneer Square in Seattle. I will be one of two artists exhibiting in the gallery for the month. If room allows, and if the Storefronts exhibition is not concurrent, I may install work on the wall at CORE. I will also have one work on display throughout the year at CORE as a member of the gallery.

A smallish and simple wall piece before firing.

Now that September has arrived, my summer work time is winding down. I'm back to work in the middle of the month, so the next few weeks mean lots of under-glazing time for me in the studio. The challenge is to keep myself interested and focused. I'm not a big fan of under-glazing, so I have a of a tendency to become interested in folding laundry or cleaning my desk to avoid the equally boring task of applying repetitive layers of under-glaze. (I tend not get distracted like this when I am building work.)

Some pieces with the first layers of underglaze, in the kiln and ready to be fired.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Pottery Textbook

I haven't required a textbook in my clay classes in the past, but I have been sorta looking for a good one for a while. It seems like most general clay texts are written with dense technical writing that manages to be boring even to someone familiar with the medium. I've also got several how-to books that have lots of pictures, but no technical or glaze information. 


A couple weeks ago in Seattle I noticed this book: "Introducing Pottery" by Dan Rhode. At first I thought the author was Rhodes, as in Daniel Rhodes who is an famous ceramic expert and wrote the glaze "bible", Clay and Glazes for the Potter, that I used in my technical ceramics course in graduate school. Rhode is not Rhodes, but the book looked good so I bought it to explore further.

The neat thing about the pottery history timeline is how super long the BC side is compared to the AD side. (And it's also weird that that don't use BCE/CE.)

I'm only a couple chapters in, but the book seems pretty useful so far. I was hoping for a brief and clearly written introduction to history, chemistry and technique for an introductory ceramics course. The first chapter is a very brief history of the first use of ceramics in early prehistoric "venus" figures and Jomon pottery through today. I particularly like the timeline which gives a sense of when pottery, basic kilns, wheels, glazes and high temperature kilns were first introduced around the world.


The next chapter gives some fairly simple, but accurate and clear information about the chemical composition of clay and other clay body materials. Later chapters will go into techniques, glazing and firing. I've set myself a schedule to make sure I get the book read before the quarter starts, but I've already listed the book as optional for my Functional Pottery and Intro to Clay classes.

So far it looks like the book closely mirrors what I lecture on in Functional Pottery, but with some more explanation and good visuals. I am hoping to get some feedback from students as to whether the book will be a useful addition to the class. In other classes, like Design, finding a good book and assigning readings has allowed me to limit lectures and use the class time for more in-depth discussion, activities and projects. I'm hoping this book might do that for the clay classes. As a bonus, I bought the book for $30 at Seattle Pottery, which is far cheaper than the price of a lot of textbooks today.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Bit of Work

I again didn't have much time in the studio this week. My daughter was sick for two full days. On the other hand, I did get a lot of reading done in the short bursts of time when she fell asleep on my lap. She's feeling better today, so I have a kiln firing right now with some underglazes work.  

Weekly total: 1 finished (building) piece

Today I finished one piece from the last batch of thrown pieces from early last week or so. This piece took longer than some because I covered almost the entire surface with overlapping sprigs. To contrast with the sprigged surface I created lily-like openings on the end. I added a raised rim around each of the oval shaped openings to add interest, but this process took more time and effort than I expected. 

lily-like end of finished piece

I used tiny coils to increase the height of the larger oval rims and used a slip trailer to add thickness to the smaller rims. All rims then needed to be smoothed with rubber tips on the inside and outside. Later I compressed all the rims with a wet chamois.

Two rubber tip tools, laying on a wet chamois, two hole punches (for the oval shaped holes) and my slip trailer.

After all that fuss, I foolishly decided to add texture to the entire remaining surface with a needle tool. Someday I will learn to make my processes easier and faster, right? I spent hours poking the wet clay with a needle tool.

I started drawing pictures in the surface with the needle tool just to break up the monotony.

Today I also worked on another wall piece from early last week. For this one I used fewer sprigs for the surface and used a slip trailer to add texture dots to the remaining surface. The slip trailer is quick, but also annoying because sometimes the slip gushes out quickly and I have to clean it off the surface before adding new drops of slip.

sprigs and slip trailed dots drying on the surface

I might take an opportunity to finish the work this weekend, though I was considering trying another lily-like end to this piece, so I may not have enough time to completely finish. Kids don't start school until Wednesday, so I won't have a full studio day again until then. In fact, with Labor day coming up, I won't have another full studio week until the second week of September. And the week after that I go back to work. I should probably be wrapping up my building if I expect to finish anything this summer. (slight panic, normal for late August)

I'm tired, so I'm not going to retake this slip trailing picture.