Sunday, February 19, 2017

Student Sculpture

This winter quarter I am teaching my annual hand-building class. Usually when I teach this class I begin with a coil-building project, but this quarter I decided to switch things up. I had the students begin by creating a solid portrait sculpture on an armature. 

large turtle/tortoise just loaded into the kiln

This process is one of the more challenging processes I have the students do, because they have to build the work, then cut it apart and hollow out the interior. In most cases, they build the sculpture on an armature, though some forms can be built completely solid. They shape the form, with the support of an armature, address some of the surface texture, then once the exterior has dried to a leather-hard stiffness, they can cut the work apart and remove the armature.

frog with attitude waiting to be loaded into the kiln

In advance of this quarter, I ordered a batch of armatures for the YVC studio, so that every student could have one for their project. The armatures are designed for heads of people (busts), but many students chose to make portraits of animals, and some chose to make forms that required quite a bit of variation from the armature structure.  The cat and turtle armatures, for example, were bent over at quite an angle to provide support for the curve while building. The cat also had a stick supporting its raised leg.

quirky cat drying on a kiln shelf

The end results for this first project were pretty fun. We had a range of animals including two dogs, a cat, a fish, two elephants, a frog, and owl, and a turtle. We also had several people, including Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction, Dwight from The Office, Kanye West, Jigsaw from Saw, and Sloth from Goonies.

koi fish drying in the studio

Since I adjusted the order of project in the class, these large scale sculptures had more time to dry before firing, but the students were also the least familiar with clay techniques and limitations, so we did have some pieces crack or explode during firing, mostly because the pieces were too thick and had air pockets trapped inside the thick sections. My plan is to show the students how to work with epoxy before the end of the quarter so that some repairs can be made before the works are finished.

flower petal nesting bowls during critique

The second project this quarter was working with slabs. The project requirements were that students would make stacking and/or lidded forms. These pieces also ran the gamut from nesting bowls, candle holders, and boxes, to more castles, caves, and a container made from leaf shapes.

stacking "bento" boxes during critique

It is sometimes hard for me to compare the overall quality of the work made in a hand-building class from within the quarter because the work can vary so drastically both in terms of skill and in terms of creativity. This quarter's throwing class had a particularly strong showing in terms of tall cylinders, but with them I'm comparing cylinders to cylinders, whereas with the hand-building class I'm comparing cats to trees. 
dragon drying in the studio

I hope that the students energies will continue strong through the end of the quarter with glazing and repair so that I have some exciting work to show in the Student Exhibition in the Spring at Larson Gallery.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Top Pottery Blogs of 2016 Honorable Mention

It looks like I got an honorable mention in Pottery Making Info's top pottery blogs of 2016 listing.

(honorable mention)

I'd say that's pretty great given how little actual sculpture I created last year. So, go check out their website and their blog. There's lots of links to interesting things. I like the shirt they've got listed, but hopefully they'll have sculpture based design soon, too.

One of the 6 pieces in the Hood River show

As 2017 begins, it looks like I will have six sculptural pieces in an upcoming show at The Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, Oregon. The Beauty of Clay opens March 1, 2017. I also plan to put something into an upcoming sculpture show at the Yakima Maker Space for International Sculpture day. The YMS show also opens in March.

another Hood River piece

Monday, January 16, 2017

Teaching Online

This past fall I taught an online class for the first time since 2008. Teaching online, at least for the first time, is a lot of work, but I am now teaching online for the third time ever, and the work is starting to feel like something I can handle.

Teaching Online with a New Baby

The last time I taught online, in 2008, I decided to pair the brand new online format with a brand new baby, because no one thought to tell me that this was a terrible, horrible idea. Teaching online during the first months after bringing a newborn home is a terrible, horrible idea. New mothers should take time off from work after they have a baby--real time off.

"Why are you teaching online right now?"

In 2008 I taught Art Appreciation, which I had been teaching regularly for 4 quarters before the maternity "leave" online quarter. Immediately before I taught the fully online class, I taught a hybrid section of the same class, meaning that the class met three days a week in the classroom and students were expected to do 2 days worth of work online. Mostly they just did three days worth of work total and in aggregate that class suffered compared to the daily section I taught during the same quarter.

It's hard to remember exactly what was so bad about the 2008 teaching experience itself, since mostly I remember being exhausted and not knowing how to make the baby stop crying. I vaguely remember that students had trouble trouble with the technology in a way that annoyed and frustrated me. I specifically remember I had to teach some students how to attach files to an e-mail and that there was some confusion over saving things as .doc or .docx. It's hard to know now whether their trouble and mine was because online was tough or simply because I was tired and impatient. At roughly the same time I also found leaving the house to be challenging. I broke into tears on my first excursion out of the house without the baby and I had to be told that I could take the baby outside even if it was cold outside. I also had to be told she was old enough to ride in the stroller. Basically, I am saying that being a mom didn't come naturally to me.

Teaching Online 8 Years Later

Based on my previous experience, I was not exactly looking forward to teaching online. I am not teaching online this year because I chose it, so much as because students sign up for online classes.

In teaching online and in scheduling courses for our program, I can see that students sign up for online classes and online classes fill better and more quickly than similar in-person classes, but as an instructor, and in talking with other online instructors, it also seems clear that a significant proportions of those who sign up for online classes find the format to be more challenging than in-person classes. I have some theories about why this is, but there isn't an elegant way to get that information to those students before the quarter begins.

This time around, however, quite a few things were stacked in my favor compared to last time. In 2016, though I have only taught these particular Art History classes once each, I have significantly more teaching in general under my belt, which makes it easier to know how to deal with or preempt a certain class of question from students. Having been at YVC longer, I also know who to ask when I don't know why the technology won't work. Back in 2008 not only did I not know who or how to ask, I'm not sure the person in that role was as helpful as the current folks.

Technology and online resources have improved since 2008. I barely remember the setup in 2008, but  I do know that Canvas in 2016 feels much easier to operate and modify. Canvas might have its flaws, but coming into it with the nightmare memories (my overtired baby-brain stored memories of that time as nightmares) from my previous experience made the current interface look something like an online idyll.

Teaching Online without a New Baby

Of course, this time I don't have a newborn demanding my attention and I am not trying to learn how to keep a tiny person alive at the same time as I am trying to discern whether this college student has e-mailed me before or after reading the directions. This year, the bulk of my online course related activities are done at work and then I can come home and be a mom. The kid also keeps herself alive for hours at a time without parental intervention.

"What? You're busy, mom? Ok, I'll just make a thousand tiny pieces of doll furniture while you're working."

All this is to say that this time around was much better, but fall was still a lot of work. And unfortunately, the online course I am teaching is a series, meaning it changes every quarter, so once the fall section finished, I didn't get to revise, improve and teach the same thing again. Instead I spent a solid week after finals putting the Renaissance to 19th Century Art History topics into an Ancient and Medieval Art History shaped box. It was a whole lot better than starting from scratch, but a not-insignificant amount of work remains to be completed and will be done this winter while I try to stay two steps ahead of the students.

Comparing the Courses

It's hard to compare two different courses, two different course operating systems, and myself at two very different times in my career and my life, but I suspect the fact that I'm teaching different courses has very little to do with the difference I feel with year's online experience compared to the previous online experience.

I take advantage of quite a few online tools that I didn't use extensively in 2008, either because they didn't exist or because I didn't know about them. My course now has an online textbook that works fairly well, a collection of online resources like YouTube Videos, Kahn Academy videos and articles, interactive sites like this and this and tools in Canvas to help keep students on track. I have a larger repertoire of online resources, the textbook has more stuff online, and I have colleagues who direct me to useful resources as well.

As for the change in me, its fairly obvious that at 10 year veteran teacher has a more complete sense of how a class needs to be organized and what sorts of questions and problems to expect from students, as well as what kind of workload students can be expected to sustain than someone who has been teaching college for just over a year. Going into the quarter expecting problems probably helped me plan more thoroughly ahead of time, too.

Fall vs Winter 2016: Organization and Accountability

In the fall my focus was on making sure things were organized and clear within the course. I made sure that requirements and due dates showed up in at least three places so students knew what to do when. What surprised me was that students responded to the clear and sometimes redundant organization and explanation by skipping steps. I introduced the chapter requirements one "Overview Page", where I also had links, but I also added in the links as separate pages so that students could click through to each requirement in sequence instead of coming back to the "Overview Page" each time. I borrowed this organization from a course I took online because I found it to be helpful myself.

My plan was that students would read the Overview page, click through to the chapter and begin to read it, then click through to the worksheet, videos, discussion, quiz and writing assignments, in order, as they progressed through the chapter. My main goal was to make sure they could find everything easily. However, my plan backfired when students began skipping the carefully crafted introduction and just clicking through the series of requirements. That meant that the one time I accidentally left out a page link (it was included in the Overview Page but it wasn't included in the click-through pages), the students didn't necessarily make the effort to get to it. One student told me she didn't know the quiz was due, since she didn't see the link. Though each previous chapter required a quiz, the due date was listed in the Canvas calendar, and the syllabus indicated that each chapter had a quiz.

The other thing that surprised me was that even though the requirements were laid out for each chapter, most of the time when I required them to watch a video, a significant number of students didn't bother to watch the video (or watched less than 2 minutes). The underprepared students missed points on quizzes and assignments, of course, but either they didn't notice, didn't care, or they didn't understand why they missed the information.

This quarter I added checks on whether they actually watched or read all the required videos and lectures. At the start of the quarter, there were two required videos. One ended with a 3 question quiz and the second ended with directions for a brief, but required activity: to earn the points, they needed to e-mail a response to me. The simple requirement to e-mail me has seemingly paid off (we're early yet) because it seems to have broken the ice and made students feel more comfortable e-mailing me directly with follow-up questions related to content as well as to organization and assignment requirements.

Changes for the Future

The list of things I want to add and change in last quarter's class is as long as my arm, but I am also able to recognize what I can handle and what I can get done during the quarter and what I simply cannot do in the midst of grading and planning classes and writing tests and running the clay studio as well. My biggest long term goal is to get rid of the textbook in favor of a free online version, but the textbook I am using right now, published by a big textbook company is customizable, includes video playlists, images for me, and quizzes (ok, granted, the quizzes are so bad as to be nearly worthless, but still good for practice and the occasional question) and I've already read it and prepped assignments based around it. The online options all require more work from me to get started and I haven't yet felt confident enough in the whole class to devote that amount of time to assessing and integrated an online text. I hope to be ready to start the change over in the spring.

This weekend, the first weekend since before Christmas that hasn't been crammed with activities and travel, I had time to simply think about planning, structure, and changes. I had time to think about how I might organize the content of the spring quarter and fit that content into a Renaissance through 19th Century Art History shaped box (which is itself a variation on the fall class). I also had time to research some online resources and even think a bit about how I can pare down the content from Ancient through Medieval Art History so it fits a little more neatly into a 10 week quarter next fall.

Allocating Time for Planning and Changes

At the start of the summer, knowing I would be teaching online this year, I knew I should organize the classes but didn't have a clue where to start. In August, I took a short online class that helped me figure out how to organize the day-to-day of how students would navigate the class. In September, I was fairly sure that the class would function, more or less. In October I couldn't figure out why students wouldn't watch the video and why they couldn't access GoogleDocs. In November I stopped rushing immediately to look for my error every time students e-mailed to say they couldn't find the assignment. In December I started assuming those students just hadn't looked very carefully, and before Christmas I was pretty sure the winter class would run more smoothly than the fall class. This weekend I've been thinking about how to organize the spring class--that's more than two months away. I'm ahead of schedule.

The past few months has been extremely educational for me, in that I now have a much, much clearer sense of what Canvas can do and what I can do within Canvas to help students be successful, and more than that, to force students to operate in the class in a way that will make them more successful. I have a fairly solid idea of what I need to get done, what I can get done, and what I simply have to set aside to be done in a future quarter.

I write about work-life balance sometimes on this blog, and this is one of those times when I think I have developed a realistic approach to balancing the demands of the teaching job with healthy limits on how much time I devote to one class. I haven't been in my home studio since November, but I have spent time with my family and I haven't been tied to the computer for grading or prep like I sometimes was during the fall quarter. Special bonus, as I finish writing this, my school-age child is standing patiently so that I can finish.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Glaze Firing with Oddballs

Last weekend I had a chance to do some glazing and firing at my home studio for the first time since summer.

newly glazed lidded forms

I had a couple pieces that I had glazed this summer but never got a chance to fire. Actually, I forgot them when I was loading the last glaze firing. I also had a few pieces I had made late in the summer and hadn't glazed until last weekend.

glazed oddballs before firing

All seven pieces were fired to cone 6 in a small kiln load. I glazed them with the same glazes and approach as much of the functional work I did this summer. The forgotten mug was a "storytelling" mug from the series I did earlier this year.

storyteller mug

For the newly glazed pieces, I didn't go to all the trouble of doing storytellers. I just did some simple slip trailed decorations so that I could finish them before December. I added some color on the handles for a little change. Both the simple slip trailed pieces and storytellers are at Oak Hollow gallery for the Holiday show. 

a couple of mugs

Among the oddballs was a funny little teapot I think I made in the summer of 2015. I hardly ever make teapots (a fact made fairly clear by looking at the teapot). I was describing to my daughter what it was I liked about this teapot and she pointed out that what I like is the mug. The lid is an odd shape, too wide and quite possibly made for something else. The opening of the spout is too wide and the spout itself is a little low. The teapot is quite small, and a funny shape for a mug, but also a funny shape for a teapot.

oddball teapot

I like the glazing of the body, specifically what I did with the spout. Usually I make teapot pieces during class but get too distracted helping students to actually finish my own teapots. I could certainly use some practice, but I don't get very excited about the form, so it's tough to make myself practice making them when I am home. It is tough to find time to finish such a complex form at work (Seriously, I can finish bowls and the occasional mug, but something that takes more than two steps usually takes more time than I can manage at school--without shirking my teaching or grading duties.)

pitcher plants with underglaze, in progress

Though I haven't gotten them to a kiln yet, I also continued under glazing some sculpture from this summer. These pieces still need a second and third coat of the red and something in the interior, plus a few touch ups on the blue. Estimated time for completing these pieces is probably well into 2017.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Award and Ongoing Exhibitions at Larson Gallery and Oak Hollow Gallery

Larson Gallery's Central Washington Artists' Exhibition opened November 5. I won an award, the YVC President's award, for my Pedal/Petal sculpture.

The exhibition is open Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm and Saturday 1-5pm through December 3, 2016. The show has quite a bit of variety and is worth seeing for work from the usual suspects and some newer artists in the area. Larson Gallery is located on the YVC campus at the northeast corner of Nob Hill Ave and 16th Ave.

I also have work at Oak Hollow Gallery for the Holiday show. I have lots of functional work at the Oak Hollow Show and other artists have ornaments, functional work and other small pieces. Oak Hollow Gallery is located at 5631 Summitview Ave near Wray's and Starbucks. The Oak Hollow Show is up through December 30, unless all the work sells sooner.

I finally got over to Oak Hollow on Friday to see the show. I especially liked the wood ornaments by Pat and Karen Miller, Eunsil Kim's yarn bowls, and Bernadette Crider's new ash glazed work. My daughter especially liked the crushed glass ornaments and the ornaments in the form of little girls made out of beads and wire.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Art Exhibition Receptions TODAY & next week


The Central Washington Artists' Exhibition opens at Larson Gallery from 3-5pm today. I have four works in the exhibition and according to the call I received yesterday, I will win an award for one of them.

functional work at Larson Gallery's CWAE

The Central Washington Artists' Exhibition runs today through December 3. The reception usually has good food, so I hope to see you there. Larson Gallery is on the YVC campus on the corner of Nob Hill Boulevard and 16th Avenue.

sculpture at Larson Gallery's CWAE

Oak Hollow's holiday show opens next week with a reception Saturday, November 12 from noon until 4pm today. Oak Hollow Gallery is in the Chalet Place Mall at 5631 Summitview Ave. The gallery is up the little hill from Starbucks, a couple of doors over from Wray's.

I have functional work in the Oak Hollow Gallery for the holidays. I just brought new work in last week, so if you've been to the gallery in the last year, this is new stuff. Prices are low, lots of artists, stock up for holiday gifts or those November/December birthdays.

Bowls from this summer, at Oak Hollow's Art for the Holidays show.

And if you meant to buy or see the work at the Boxx Gallery last month, you're in luck because I brought the pieces that didn't sell in Tieton to Oak Hollow. (Also opening today, John Barany's show at Boxx Gallery in Tieton.)

More functional work from this summer, at Oak Hollow.

And if you were hoping to buy work that has been at Oak Hollow for a few months, call or e-mail and you can buy direct from the artist.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

I Broke A Pot

During a glazing demonstration this week I broke a pot. It simply slipped out of my hands and smashed on the floor.

I really wanted to "quote" an image from Ai Wei Wei here, but I felt too conflicted about copyright and ownership to pull an image from another source, so I quoted a video.You all know these photos are by Ai Wei Wei anyway, right?

The pot I was demonstrating with was an old friend, one I have used as an example at least twice per quarter every quarter I've taught at YVC since 2006. I figure I've shown students this pitcher and told them about its features 60 times at least.

the pot is broken

This pitcher was so perfect. It was so bad, and in so many ways. It was heavy and large and awkward, and best of all not made by anyone I knew, so whenever I talked about its shortcomings, I wasn't criticizing a real person. Not only was it perfectly bad, it was a pretty good bad pot. It was large and its walls were even, and its handle was strongly attached. It survived more than 10 years without any cracks or chips. Until this week.

I have no picture. You'll have to imagine it.

I am so sad that I broke this pot and I won't be able to pick on it in class ever again. I don't even have a photo of this piece. But, I do have video! I recorded a whole bunch of demonstrations this summer for my clay classes. The video in which I discuss handles includes this amazing pitcher to illustrate how not to fit your handle size to your pitcher.

You can see the pot in question starting at 3:32.

This pitcher's handle was too large, forcing the hand far away from the weight of the pot and it had a skinny part that make the handle look weaker than it was. But, unusually for a bad pot, the handle was well attached to the body of the pitcher. After I smashed it into roughly 20 pieces, I noticed that the handle had broken in the middle, and the pot had broken, but the handle had not broken away from the the pot.

this artist's rendering of the most important qualities of this ex-pot

Besides having this ridiculous handle that strained the wrist and caused the heavy pot to tip forward, this pot also had a badly made spout and it was glazed badly. I was using it in the glaze demonstration because of the latter issue. Much of the glaze was applied too thin, leaving the interior and bottom half of the pitcher rough and brown. The glaze that was applied more thickly was dribbled down and across the side of the pitcher. I always use this pot as an example of what happens if you tip the pot up before the glaze is dry. The glaze will not just run down the pot, it will run sideways while the pot is being tipped through 180 degrees.

Why aren't there gifs of pottery breaking and pottery falling on the wheel? I'm going to have to learn how to make gifs.

The fascinating thing is, though I've made fun of this pot for years, it isn't a pot I can easily replicate. For those of us who have been throwing pots for some time, it is difficult to throw badly. But it is also  tough for a beginner to throw this large. Someone who knows how to pull handles, will naturally pull a more even handle, but someone who doesn't know how to pull handles will have trouble pulling such a large handle. This pitcher was a fascinating intersection between developed throwing skills and underdeveloped knowledge of form. I will miss this pot. I'm thinking of offering extra credit to anyone who can make me a replica that recreates the size, quality, and lack of quality of this amazing ex-pitcher.