Saturday, July 14, 2018

New Gallery in Yakima

Last weekend I was riding my bike home from the Folklife Festival and saw a sign advertising a new gallery in Yakima. The gallery, Artebella, had just opened that week. We stopped in to chat with the owner, Pamela Searcy, who invited me to show some work in the gallery.

small sculpture now at Artebella

I brought some work over this past week and she now has it on display. The gallery is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10-4 and is located at 1111 West Spruce St #33, in the medical office building area south of Yakima Regional/Astria Hospital.

small sculpture now at Artebella

The gallery is quite small, but the owner seems to be competent and conscious of what she's doing and why. Unusually for a small gallery, she had a contract ready for me and even emailed to set up a time for me to bring my work by. As of right now she has some small sculpture of mine, functional pottery by Mike Hiler, and paintings and bronze sculpture of her own. She also is working in the space. 

small sculpture now at Artebella

So, you should stop by when you get a chance. How about next weekend?

map of Artebella location

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Text & Symbols on Bulbs

second amendment

I've been using text on my bulbs since last year. This year I wanted to use text again, but I wanted to address how difficult it is to read a whole surface of text, especially since the surface that I wanted to cover with text curves. Last year I had used the first amendment and the declaration of independence on the surface of different bulbs, but I found that during the year, when I showed these bulbs, I couldn't quickly identify the source of the text. The text looked just like a pattern.

first amendment list

This year I was thinking of the first and second amendment in contrast to one another. I was thinking about how factions in the political world of today latch on to one or the other of these amendments as their favorite or their rallying cry. I decided to add a rifle over the text of the second amendment to provide a visual clue to the content of the text, and I broke up the themes of the first amendment into bullet points instead of writing out the whole text. I also considered highlighting these terms in the whole text with contrasting color to help viewers quickly see the topic.

protest signs

I've used some hand written text as well. The signs I did earlier this summer are lettered by hand instead of using stamps. I wanted the text to look like marker on a poster board sign, rather than the fancy serif font of my text stamps.

"please vote"

I am trying to complete 30 (ahem, or 60 or 90) pieces for this Art a Day project and using text, and especially text stamps, helps speed up the building process for those pieces that use text. I had been trying to think of how to think of how to capture the amorphous and by nature slightly invisible issue of women being left out of the room in the current administration. We keep seeing rooms full of old white men with nary a woman or a person of color in sight. The small size of the bulbs doesn't really leave room for detailed drawings where one can discern gender, so I decided to go with symbols of gender.

"gender inequity"

To do this, I decided to cover the surface with identical circles, but mark very few as women and most as men. I used stamp for the circles, but chose a fairly large one. I then used a carving tools to draw in the arrows and lines for the male and female symbols. My first attempt ended up with very crowded looking symbols. I obscured these and used a thin line coming off the larger circle for my second attempt. I am still considering replacing this one with a version that uses a narrower and smaller circle stamp.
The white marks are corn starch that was used to keep the stamp from sticking.

I also tried to create a contrast of the two sides. On one side, all men with one woman barely visible, on the other side, a nearly equal split of the genders. However, the shape of the bulb makes this difficult because the symbols on the bottom and sides can be seen from both side of the bulb and the curving surface means that down on one side might be up on the other. 


In a second attempt to visually capture the issue of silencing women's voices in our culture, I wanted to use text to stand in for mansplaining, though I'm not sure how familiar a general audience is with the "well, actually..." phrase. 

"hate speech"

And, the final sculpture this week that incorporates text is this one that also incorporates an open mouth, a motif I've been playing around with lately. I have been thinking about this image for months, but I lost the sketchbook in which I initially drew this. I had to think of it again before I made it. The items coming out of the mouth are meant to be reminiscent of flames, snakes, or vomit. The words, of course, are a tiny selection of the many, many nasty names and allegations that have come out of our president's mouth in the last year or two.

ready to fire

Friday, July 6, 2018

Faces and Hands on Bulbs

my screaming face and some hands holding money and bills

I've found myself making a lot of faces and hands this summer in my bulb forms. Last week I made some bound hands, and a face with no eyes. This week I made several pieces with hands and one face with another in the works. 

the start of my screaming face
On the weekend I did some sketching because I wasn't feeling full of ideas at the end of last week. Among many others, I ended up with an image of a woman in a MAGA hat screaming angrily. In the photo, she was screaming at a protestor or someone who wasn't a fan of Trump. I can't remember, can't find the original image I was looking at, and only sketched the angry woman.

my sketchbook with a screaming lady surrounded by abstract bulb ideas
I decided to try to to capture that scream in the bulb. I've used the bulb form as a head before and was fairly happy with the results, though looking back at it now, it seems much less lively than the ones I've done this summer. 

my face from last year

When I started to sculpt the screaming face, I realized I had a sketch from the side and needed a frontal view. I did an image search for "woman screaming at protestor" and similar phrases to try to find the image I had been looking for and was actually pretty disgusted with what my search results showed me. The vast majority of the results were pictures of a bunch of nude women who had stripped to protest violence against women in Argentina. I don't mind this being among the search results, but it dominated the results for a variety of searches, none of which included references to nudity or gender based violence. I also found images of a woman who apparently was turned into a meme after protesting at the inauguration in 2017. I wasn't able to find the image I had seen the day before, even after searching a variety of different phrases.

the "colorblind" face from last week

Since I wanted an angry, hateful facial expression, and not a crowd shot of women's bodies, I changed my search terms to simply "screaming woman" and later "yelling woman." Perhaps predictably, the first results are images of women who are frustrated, scared or pretending to be screaming in a not-very-convincing way. When I changed my search to "screaming man," I found the angry facial expression I was looking for and had seen on the woman reproduced in my sketchbook. 

Apparently stock men scream in anger and stock women scream only in exasperation or fear. It reminds me of the difference between a female painter's depiction of female violence and a man's depiction of the same subject. (I've linked to Gentileschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes and Caravaggio's depiction of the same event. Look how physical the act is in the former and how distasteful and uninvolved the women seem to be in the latter.)

my screaming face, drying
Once I had the reference images, I found the mouth fairly easy to get right, but the eyes were tough. Part of the trouble is that they are scrunched up and in shadow in the photos, whereas the mouth is relatively large and well lit. I actually had to remove the eyes entirely three times before I got them looking how I wanted them. First they were too big, then the bottom lids were too large and the pupils were pointing in the wrong direction, then the top lid was angled in surprise rather than anger. I finally got them close to where I wanted them and let them dry for a while that way, but I made the mistake of cleaning them up a bit once they had dried some. I think the roughness of my penultimate draft is better than the final version. 

the rough draft of the scream after I revised the eyes three times

I know I want to make at least one more face, but I intend to cover the eyes in that one. Now, looking back at my photos in progress, I want to make another attempt at these angry eyes. I figure the practice will be good for me anyway, though I'm also aware of an impending deadline this month. (Aaah!) As of today, I have finished 24 of the abstract bulbs and 26 of the political bulbs. This week felt much much better than the previous two weeks. On Wednesday, I did no studio work and basically just read for the entire day. I felt especially good about the work on Thursday and Friday.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Politics Bulbs, Year Two

 The impressed text is a swirling repetition of "Thoughts and Prayers." 

My intention for the upcoming Art a Day project for Columbia Center for the Arts was to make work for my Resist/Politics/Protest bulbs. I showed this work earlier this year and talked about it at NCECA. I also sold some of the pieces at the various shows. I was fairly happy with the work and felt it was important to keep going in this direction.

The signs say "yes," "no," and "maybe.

I thought making the pieces would feel important and cathartic, similar to last year, but so far I've found making this work to be excruciating. Last year I felt compelled to make this work; this year I am depressed to the point of inaction by the constant barrage of terrible news and my inability to do anything relevant or useful. I find myself questioning the work as I am making it or just after it has been completed. I haven't decided whether I should push through this mental block or give it up entirely.

A brick wall wraps across this piece.
I knew I wanted to make a wall piece and reference the various protests with signs on sticks. There are some images that I have some confidence in as both images and as references to important issues. I also wanted to keep some ambiguity in the work, or at least in some of it, so that viewers will see the issues, but not necessarily a one-sided perspective on it.

My plan is to add a rainbow of colors to the stripes on the face. The original idea was colorblindness, but I also like the idea that it will suggest LGBTQIA issues, and blindness thereto.

However, some of the issues don't lend themselves to multiple interpretations. There are some "issues" that seem blatantly, clearly, unambiguously wrong, hateful, racist, and evil. Strangely, I feel both confident and stupid addressing these issues. No one in their right mind is in favor of children in "cages," but the simple fact that it is so wrong makes me worry that it is a dog whistle being used to rally protestors or distract us from something.

I will add the text "I really don't care do u?" in white underglaze.

How could the first lady wear that coat with that message and not intent to insult, offend, or breed hatred and animosity? I saw a lot of references to it at the immigration protest I attended this weekend and I am having difficulty seeing how the coat could be accidental or unintentional.

The jail/cage will be covered with bars and the bottle and pacifier will be inside.

But the coat, like the image of children in jail, is a strong visual image. I'm confident in the pieces themselves, but have a sort of dread of some of the conversations that might arise from these pieces, or others where I've made more of a clear statement, letting my feelings color the imagery.

The stop sign says "Civility" and there are dead stick figures on the ground behind and under the kneeling figure.

As I write this blog post about these bulbs, I find myself writing about or at least referencing events, controversy and politics much more so than process, materials, and art making. Ironically, in the first draft of this blog post, I felt like curling up in a little ball of despair on the floor instead of finishing this work, but upon revising, I feel like I might have found a way through.

This is a bag of skittles and a can of iced tea. I am really unhappy with the lines in the iced tea.

This Art a Day project asks the artists to write about their work and their thoughts during the project. Maybe my way forward is to include a little biography of each piece in which I address the issues that are so upsetting to me. The work acts differently when each piece is alone, compared to when they are together, and with text, that might add another layer. I also might try to remind myself that not everyone seeing these pieces will know all the backstories, is that possible? I assume everyone knows about skittles and iced tea, about Melania's jacket and calls for civility, but maybe not, or maybe their take is different from what I know.

These hands will be bound with a zip tie after firing.

At the end of last week, I did decide to embrace that feeling of impotence and dread in the work itself, at least a little. This week I plan to try to work some more on these pieces. I went to a protest at my congressman's local office, calling for the reunification of families and there were some things there I saw and heard that I'd like to process for this work, if possible. But first I am going to finish the abstract bulbs because those make me feel ok, even energized, when I make them.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Abstract Bulbs for Art a Day

bulbs drying
After a lackluster beginning to my summer studio time, I got moving a bit better early this week. Since my brain wasn't fully engaged last week, I decided to just concentrate on making some abstract bulbs this week. My goal was ten finished pieces to make up for the fact that I only made four last week. I finished the eleventh piece today, meaning I now have 15 abstract pieces and am halfway through the making of these pieces for the project if I decide to just do the abstract pieces.

one half of a press mold with slip

The process of making the bulb forms themselves is pretty fast. I have two plaster press molds that I use, one I made in college and one I made later to speed up my process. I press wet clay into each side of the mold, score and slip the edge of the clay, and press the two molds together. The wet clay inside the mold dries a bit as the porous plaster absorbs the moisture, the scored and slipped edges adhere to one another, and after 10-20 minutes, I can pull the completed bulb out of the mold.

my assistant helping press the molds

I have been using different clay bodies for the different types of bulbs. For the political bulbs, which are darker in mood, I use a dark mica clay. For the abstract bulbs, which I intend to finish with bright layered underglazes, I use a mixed up clay body that I recycled last year from whatever clay was around the studio over the past 10 years or so. This clay has some stoneware, some low fire, some sculpture and raku clay, and even some red clay. The clay is a bit of a mystery as far as vitrification temperature and durability, but it works fine for low fire sculpture.

a bulb partially removed from the plaster mold (you can tell this is an old picture from before I started using the red mica clay)

I started on the abstract bulbs last week just using sprigged decoration. I have drawers full of sprigs that I've made over the years, and these are what I think of as the main work I do and most of the abstract bulbs. They use of sprigs and impressed repetitive texture from various tools allows me lots of room for layering various underglazes. I usually cover the sprigs and the background with two different colors, then fire those on. Then I add a wash of two top colors, leaving those second colors visible in the indents or low areas of both textures.

last week's bulbs

Last week I ended up using a couple of sprig molds that were not ones I made myself. One set was a silicon mold of flowers that I bought at Michaels, the other was a plastic hemisphere mold from a set from one of the booths at NCECA

adding cornstarch to a plastic sprig mold

The plastic and silicon molds don't come absorb the moisture from the clay like a plaster mold or a ceramic sprig does, so the pieces tend to stick. I ended up getting a small cup of cornstarch and a paintbrush and brushing the cornstarch into the sprig molds before putting in the clay. This approach works really well and I only have to add the cornstarch ever other or every third sprig I mold.

sprigs done with a plastic mold and cornstarch

After making a bunch of pieces with sprigs, I wanted to look for a different texture. I have a few new stamps I made from some silicone mold last fall, so I used one that was fairly shallow to press into a molded bulb. The bulb was too soft and tended to give way, not capturing the middle texture. It would probably work better if I were able to press the clay against the sprig from the inside. I decided to activate the surface in a more interesting way by adding little clay spikes onto the surface. These spikes can later be colored in contrasting underglaze.

impressed and added textures

With the political mugs I have barely started, I've been thinking about having two contrasting sides. This was the original intention with the bulb installations as well. When I first made them, I glazed the two sides with contrasting colors. The idea was that the bulbs could be hung facing either way and the orientation could change the feel of the bulbs. I wanted to get back to this idea a bit with the abstract bulbs, or at least with some, so I applied contrasting sprigged textures on several.

two types of sprigs meant to create two contrasting textures

The tricky part about contrasting textures with sprigs is the shape of both the sprigs and the bulb itself. I tried this on several bulbs, but generally one texture bleeds into the viewable area of the other side because the bottom and sides are visible regardless of orientation.

the front and back of a bike-part sprigged bulb

I also wanted to get back into incorporating other materials into the bulbs directly, since a number of these pieces have sold from my recent installations of this work. I made one bulb with a cut out for a bike chain. Though it looks fairly rough right now, I think it will look better once the chain is obscuring the cut away section.

a groove for a chain

I also looked around the studio for stuff I hadn't considered before and found a bunch of small slip cast hands from a mold I may not even own anymore. I decided to plan to attach this random little hands onto one of the bulbs.

slipcast hands in their future positions

I like to add texture to all my bulbs both because it allows me to layer underglazes to make a more complex color palette, but also because the underglaze is less likely to have trouble adhering or flaking off after firing. Again I was looking around for something I hadn't used before and decided to use a chisel to create a patchwork pattern on the surface of the hand bulb. The pattern works fine across the bulb's front, but get's odd as it moves around curves. The pattern is much less regular on the back.

using a chisel to add a patchwork texture

I was trying to do something different and decided I wanted to incorporate a thrown flower form that I used some last summer onto one of the bulbs. Because I didn't want to sit down to throw this clay and make just one tiny piece, I made several closed forms for the flower. I used one as intended, by cutting the top and curving back the "petals." This bulb is really large on the front, and is more similar to some of the political bulbs that have entire sculpted parts coming out the front.

a "flower" added to a bulb

The extra thrown parts I ended up using to further altar the shape of another bulb. I tried to roll texture onto this bulb, but it was a bit dry when I began the process. I'm not sure how I am going to glaze this piece, but I know both of these bulbs with thrown additions will only be able to hang on the wall in one direction.

thrown pieces to altar the bulb shape

After a slow start last week, I am feeling much better about the pieces. I've still got quite a ways to go on them in just about a month. I need to make as many again as I made so far, and I need to get started on the under-glazing process fairly soon.

white clay abstract bulbs with a few red clay politics bulbs in back

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Summer Week 1: Bulbs and Lethargy

abstract bulbs in progress
Last week was the first week of the summer break and my home studio work time. I found it really really difficult to get started. The week in the studio felt lethargic and I felt apathetic. I am hopeful that the malaise of this first week and my difficulty getting excited about working is a combination of our odd schedule the first week off and the change in momentum after finals week. My spring was extra busy at work and mentally exhausting to boot. Maybe when I've regained some motivation and energy I'll write about it.

my studio helper doesn't know that this bag is not a toy  
Realistically, at least a part of my lethargy is probably due to my mind going in several different directions about how I should be spending my summer work time. My goals for this summer are a bit different than usual. In a typical summer, I try to focus on work in my home studio in preparation for shows during the year. This summer I do have one show coming up, for which I need to make work and fairly quickly, but I also intend to spend some of my summer making some fairly significant changes to my YVC classes.

one of the politics bulbs in progress

The upcoming show is at the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, Oregon, where I have been showing a lot in the last couple of years. The show, which opens in August, is called Art a Day and the idea is that the exhibiting artists making one piece each day for a month. My initial plan was to make 30 abstract bulbs. I got excited, in about March, about doing 30 political bulbs, like the work I had installed most recently at the Columbia Center for the Arts and Boxx Gallery in Tieton.

one of the abstract bulbs in progress

And then I got thinking about making 30 political mugs that would hang on the wall and have contrasting political views decorating the opposing sides, so that the piece could be installed with one perspective, flipped to announce the opposing view, or intermixed to show some of each. Needless to say, I've overcomplicated my plans for the show and given myself an exhausting project (3 projects) to try to complete in the allotted time.

a politics bulb piece in progress

The abstract bulbs are pretty fast and easy to make compared to the political bulbs and the mugs, and the abstract forms take a lot less mental energy to make, but the political pieces are more exciting and more meaningful and the mugs are intriguing because they are a new idea.

a politics bulb piece in progress

This week's work time was, actually, fairly productive even though it didn't feel that way. I threw, trimmed, and attached handles on maybe 8-10 mugs (I'm too lazy today to go check) and molded about 13 bulbs, 8 of which I finished building. The reason I'm reluctantly calling this productive is that my work time was very interrupted during the week. My daughter attended two different camps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon and I needed to drop her off at 9, pick her up at 12, drop her off at 1 and pick her up at 4, which meant driving across town three times every day and taking a lunch break that was a bit longer than an hour. Granted, driving across town in Yakima doesn't take that long, but still. Lunch with her every day was actually nice, but didn't contribute to my studio motivation.

a politics bulb piece in progress

I also had an all morning meeting on Monday, she had an appointment Wednesday morning, and the first camp had an hour and a half long event Friday morning, all of which cut into my work time. Tuesday I did an all day project outside of the studio. Coming back to the studio after each of these breaks took just a little bit of energy to get back in the swing of the work.

a politics bulb piece in progress

I started the week with the mugs and press molding the bulbs for the political pieces. I finished the mugs on Wednesday, then focused on the political bulbs. By Thursday I was feeling uninspired (and just exhausted) on the political front, so I started on the abstract bulbs. As I said, the abstract bulbs require much less mental energy and proceed a lot faster.

my studio helper, she really enjoyed sticking her head in the slip, throwing water, and clay recycling buckets

Next week I have only one appointment and no meetings and my daughter will be at camp from 9am-3pm including lunch. My daily work time technically won't be longer, but it will be much less interrupted. Hopefully I will be able to sustain my inspiration through a week's work of work (or three week's, based on what I actually want to do.

a piece for one of the politics bulbs in progress

I am supposed to be making one piece a week, this week I made four of each type of bulb in 5 days and took the weekend off entirely (except for some clay recycling that was time sensitive). Theoretically I will have had almost a month and a half to get the work done, but the work also needs to be glazed and fired before the drop off day in late July.

pieces for the politics bulbs in progress
I think the best advice for making studio work is to just work, even if one isn't feeling inspired. So I applied that suggestion as best I could last week and I am applying the same idea here with the blog. I don't feel like talking about the work, but I can talk about not wanting to talk about the work. Hopefully next post I'll want to talk about it.