Monday, October 20, 2014

Art Club & Guest Artist

Art Club
Last year some of my students started an art club. This year the club membership is almost entirely different because several active club members graduated. The new group met last week to elect officers and complete the official paperwork for the club and already had roughly 30 students express and interest in the club and sign up for our e-mail list.

The students are planning guest artists, matting workshops, visits to local galleries and more. They are also looking to reach out to schools, and connect with artists and art organizations in the community. Last week we started a Facebook Page for YVCC Art Club. "Like" the page to keep up with our events and happenings, or just to show your support for YVCC art club.

YVCC Art Club Page
Guest Artist (October 27, 1pm, Palmer 106)
Next week, October 27, YVCC Art Department and YVCC art club will be hosting Alexander Chitungo, Shona stone carving artist from Zimbabwe. He will be meeting with art and humanities classes in the morning. At 1pm he will be demonstrating and talking to the art club about his work room 106 of the Palmer Art Building. We welcome visitors to the afternoon presentation.

Palmer Hall on YVCC's Campus (the round building next to the clock tower)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Sometimes an idea keeps coming at you from various angles as if the world wants you to take notice. Or maybe you've taken notice of an idea, so it just keeps coming to your attention. Anyway, this week that idea, for me, has been failure.

Wait, that sounds awful. It sounds like this has been a terrible week. And it absolutely hasn't. I'm talking about the good kind of failure.

the bad kind of failure (because it breaks my kiln)
In my throwing classes, in particular, I encourage failure. For years, I have started class by telling students they need to make mistakes to learn about the clay. This quarter I'm either saying it more, phrasing it differently or just noticing how frequently I say it. Regardless, I was feeling pretty good this weekend when, twice, my methods were supported by outside sources.

learning to throw
First, my mother-in-law sent me a link to an article, "How Failure Molded Spanx's Founder." The Business Week interview with Sarah Blakely focuses on her successful undergarment company, but her answer to the third-to-last question was what caught my mother-in-law's attention and what caused her to share it with me.
"When I was growing up, [my father] encouraged us to fail. We'd come home from school and at dinner he'd say: 'What did you fail at today?' And if there was nothing, he'd be disappointed. It was a really interesting kind of reverse psychology. I would come home and say that I tried out for something and I was just horrible and he high-fived me."
My mother-in-law must have read more than just this article because, as she explained it to me, Blakely talked about her father working with her on each failure to improve for the next attempt. The idea here isn't that she should be bad at stuff, but that she should try stuff she isn't (yet) good at. She needs to be willing to take the risk and then, later, willing to look for ways to improve so she can try again.
a bowl with beginner mistakes
Sunday morning I was listening to the TED Radio Hour via an NPR app. The interview with Sir Ken Robinson sounded interesting because it had to do with teaching creativity, or, more accurately squashing creativity in school. I started listening to hear what he had to say about encouraging creativity in school. (Another recurring class issue for another day: why do students always tell me they "just aren't creative"?)

cutting off the mistake on a beginner bowl
The interview on NPR included segments of Robinson's TED talk. Around the start of the second minute he tells a story about a girl drawing in class. He explains that kids aren't frightened to be wrong and then identifies the value of taking these sorts of risks: "If you are not prepared to be wrong" he says, "you will never come up with anything original."

the beginning of something original?
He continues to talk about valuing creative pursuits in school rather than looking at them as dead-ends, soft options, or "easy" classes. Robinson talks about the hierarchy of subjects with STEM and language at the top, humanities and bit lower and the arts in the basement. I particularly like the way he phrases this academic focus "...and then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side."

I'm sure I'm not the only person reading who will sympathize with students being steered away from certain subjects. My high school guidance counselor told me I should take fewer art classes in my senior year because I was "smart". I reacted by asking to see a different guidance counselor. It might be funny that I reacted this way, and ironic that I ended up as an art instructor at a college (I think about going back to tell her sometime), but the incident reveals more about what a privileged kid I was--I knew I could get away with asking for a new counselor.

yuck, my mistakes
The TED Radio Hour interview and the TED talk are both interesting and worth a listen and both talk about more than just the failure I'm focused on, but I keep noticing this theme of being wrong and failing and making mistakes as paths to success later on.

I learned about the underglazes after making these mistakes

So back to my clay studio classroom: When throwing pottery on the wheel, student naturally make mistakes that lead to the clay collapsing, in sometimes dramatic fashion. Lumps of clay fail to become bowls because the wheel is spinning too fast, or too slow, because the student pushes too hard or moves her hands or leans the wrong way. There are lots of ways to fail on the potters wheel.

centering the clay is the most difficult part of the process
There are also a few ways to avoid failure on the potter's wheel. I always tell my classes about two students who took my class years and years ago. The two would sit together, chatting about everything and anything. Their wet hands would hover over the lump of clay and the lump of clay would spin and spin and spin around the wheel, never changing. The girls would use just one piece of clay the entire class period and would never break through a wall. Because they never actually touched the clay enough to make a mistake. They didn't make much. They didn't improve and they didn't "fail." (Obviously I mean their pots didn't fail. I wouldn't discuss their grades even if I could remember). They safely passed the time in my class chatting while the wheel spun.

centering the clay
On the other hand, the students who come in a throw and throw and throw and end up with a lump of broken bowls on the side of their wheel are the students who, suddenly, in the third or fourth week are making lumps of clay into shapes that look just like bowls. They know what they need to do to make a bowl stand up because they've tested all the limits. They know what it feels like to spin the wheel too fast and too slow. They know what happens if they push too hard or move their hands or lean the wrong way. Now that they've tried all the ways to fail, they can also find the space in the middle: the right speed, the right pressure, the right angle and the right position.

yea for failure!
I tell my students if they aren't making mistakes, they aren't trying hard enough. And it seems there's some other successful folks who agree with me on this method. It applies so directly to clay. I wonder how it applies to other disciplines, or if, like Robinson suggests, it applies more to the arts than to the academic "core" subjects.

*After writing about failure this weekend, I showed a DVD to my Art Appreciation class on Monday morning and realized that even it (a film I show every quarter) illustrates the value of failure for an artist. Rivers and Tides documents Andy Goldsworthy building his temporal sculptural installations in various natural locations. The segment from about minute 18 to 26 shows Goldsworthy building one of his seed forms out of stone. We watch him build it over and over again each time it collapses, while the artist talks about how, each time, he understanding the material a little better.

(sorry if the video goes bad, I can't believe the whole thing is available on YouTube right now)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Shows Coming Up, Shows Coming Down

Today is the last day of the 10x10x10 show in Tieton. The Mighty Tieton website says there is an artists' reception from 12-5pm today. I'm not sure if that means artists are taking work home today, too, but I plan to check it out. It'll be the first time I get to see the show.

My piece in Tieton
If you're out and about today in Yakima, there is a reception from 2-4 at Oak Hollow Gallery for the new show, featuring work by Duane Heilman and Jane Fassel. Jane took classes with me a while back and then took at least one workshop with nationally recognized raku experts. Her naked raku has moved beyond what I can do and is worth a look. 

Jane Fassel's "Naked Raku" (I borrowed this picture from Josie Fast at Oak Hollow Gallery. Thanks!)

I also got word that my work will be in the Central Washington Artists Exhibition at Larson Gallery. I have two pieces in that show. The reception will be held from 3-5pm on November 1.

"Scylla Bionica" for the Larson show

Early next year I will have a show at CORE Gallery in Seattle. The show is scheduled for February, but I don't yet know the dates. I'm still waiting to hear when my Storefronts show in Seattle will be; I may only know a month ahead of time.

"Charybdis Bionica" for the Larson show

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cleaning, Purging, Writing and Glazing

This week I finally got a chance to get back to cleaning my work office. I didn't make much progress on the floor (though I did give some hanging files a new home in the adjunct office), but I did clear some work surfaces. In fact, the desk and the table haven't been this clear in the entire time that I have had ownership of the office. Several of the jars of pens, pencils and Xacto knives came with the office, as did an old scanner. I felt pretty good about actually wiping down the surfaces of the desks for the first time in my experience.

clean office desk (I gave away the folder on the desk the next day)

When I came to the office, I brought my computer and printer, but inherited the scanner. I didn't know how to hook it up and Tech. Services didn't do it for me. After six months of stacking papers on it, I realized that I can't be bothered to figure out how to install it, so I finally moved it to a shelf. Since I can easily scan documents and images in other ways, and since I've only ever scanned about three things at work in my entire career, I don't think I will regret the move.

massive stack of books I don't need and, apparently neither does anyone else

I also tried to clear some shelf space in the office. A book buyer came by to buy old textbooks. I was optimistic that he would help me purge my office shelves in preparation for the move to the new building--and, let's be honest, in preparation for putting the things on my floor onto the shelves. Unfortunately, the buyer bought 4 books. The remaining stack is roughly the same height as the desk itself. Maybe I can use the books as seating for guests to my newly cleaned office.

editing process for my essay

I don't have much to show for my other accomplishment of the week. I finished writing about a friend's photographs for his upcoming show catalog. I don't remember all the details for the show and I can't really publish my essay here, but my part is now complete. I'll talk up the book and the show when the time gets closer.

oh, that's the second layer? looks a lot like the first

I did spend a bit of time in the studio this weekend (after the Pirate Plunder) applying underglaze. Almost all the work I built over the summer now has one layer of fired underglaze and another brushed on. The next step is to wash away the top layer to reveal the fired layer underneath. Both steps are tedious so I prefer to run in muddy races, read strange books about Danish cartoonists and do almost anything else before I start to glaze. I managed to force myself to spend an hour in the studio this weekend (with the help of a good audiobook about the history of education in the US) before I was called away. Somehow I will have to get myself in there for a couple hours a week if I think I'm going to finish anything this year.

they will all be yellow soon

Sunday, September 28, 2014

First Week of Classes

This week got away from me. It was the first week of classes at YVCC, but it somehow managed to feel like the first month. One of the dubious advantages of taking over as head of the art program is that there are lots of little things that need attention and this year they come to me. None of these things are particularly difficult, but we had some issues this week with keys and classrooms and textbooks. Most of the minor issues were addressed this week and things are going well. I'm not complaining, but it was interesting to see how all these little issues managed to eat up the time available.
New art building (Palmer Martin Replacement) on Nob Hill Avenue

This quarter my schedule is such that I have three classes (six hours of class) on Mondays and Wednesdays and only one 50-minute class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Naively I thought that I might clean that pesky office on Tuesday, or at least on Thursday. I did a lot of useful things on Tuesday and Thursday but cleaning my office wasn't one of them. I did, however, manage to move a stack of Art Appreciation textbooks off of my desk and onto my shelf late Thursday afternoon.

The sign of a strong art program?
The YVCC art program is in a wonderful position this quarter of having three new faculty teaching six or seven of our classes (or twelve if you count right). I am happy to have new faculty and these folks seem to have the energy and the enthusiasm to make the classes enjoyable and challenging. Good classes, by extension make for a strong and energetic program. A side effect of new faculty with enthusiasm is that things are getting done and the faculty need some help with some of the paperwork and with navigating the system. I am happy to do this, but its also a bit exhausting.

Art club president, Shannon Hoptowit, guest and local artist, Leo Adams, me (club advisor) and art club founder, Mike Hiler
Already, at the end of week one I have people working on new curriculum for digital photography classes and printmaking classes. Next week we hope to start reforming the YVCC Art Club for the new year. Last year our art club was active, bringing in guest artists, visiting galleries and art programs nearby and helping out at Larson Gallery and in the local schools. Quite a few of the art club members graduated and transferred at the end of last year, so we have lots of room for new folks to get involved.

kids' projects from clay/art visit to a local elementary school

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.