Sunday, March 29, 2015

Installation Preview, Spring Break Base, and New Work at Oak Hollow Gallery.

This last week I installed my work in a window on Mercer in South Lake Union for the Storefronts Program. It will be up until July, so I'll write about it later.

my installation (in progress)

Before I left for Seattle, I finish a base for another piece that will eventually have a bike wheel on it, maybe even a tree. Right now it's just a base. 

base in progress

I also fired some work for my installation and took some functional stuff (mugs and plates) to Oak Hollow Gallery.

base in progress later

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Schedule Planning

This week is spring break for YVCC. I don't have a much of a break myself, since I am installing work for Storefronts in Seattle (on Mercer in the South Lake Union area) on Thursday and Friday. I'll also be working at CORE Gallery this coming Saturday for the last day of the current show.

Yesterday I spent most of the day at YVCC working on curriculum with my department, so today and tomorrow are the only days I can get my classes prepped and spend some time in the studio.

Today I am firing a kiln (which doesn't look very exciting) and preparing for spring quarter classes which start next week. Next quarter I will be teaching an alarming sounding six classes, several of which overlap with each other in time. I teach overlapping classes so that I can offer upper level classes for students continuing in clay. This quarter I will be teaching Intro to Clay, Intermediate Wheel, Intermediate Hand-building and two sections of Functional Pottery, as well as a handful of Independent Study students.

The only class I haven't taught before is Intermediate Hand-building, though I taught an experimental version of it a few years back for a student who was technically registered for Independent Study. One of my most daunting tasks today was putting together a calendar for the various classes. I like to keep a calendar posted in the clay studio so that students know what to expect for lectures, demos or due dates on a given day. It also helps me keep track of which classes are doing what on which days. Especially with two sections of the same class and two sections of overlapping classes, it helps me to not forget a demonstration or assignment.

Usually I can just recreate the previous quarter or year's calendar, but this spring's schedule has a few extra surprises I need to factor in. I have the new hand-building class and I'm going to miss a few days for various things, but I want to make some changes to my Intro to Clay class schedule. The class is relatively new (this will be the third time I've taught it) and though I was generally pleased with the class last fall, I didn't feel that the students had enough time on the wheel.

Additionally, with the Intermediate Hand-building class meeting at the same time, I need to leave enough time for introductions, demonstrations and discussions with students in both classes. With only 2 hours of class per day, I don't have much room for error if I'm going to cover all the material I wish to cover.

The schedule looks a bit messy in it's current draft, but I'll be revising it tomorrow when I go in to school. My work time today is already almost over, since the kids are on short days for conference week. If you'd like to take Functional Pottery, I still have room in my classes.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Molds & Cleaning

This weekend went by pretty fast with family activities and a textbook I'm trying to read for class. I got into the studio for just about two hours total. I did some cleaning, made a plaster mold (that still has to dry before I try it out) and used all the molds I made earlier for almost the first time.

my new box with molds (and other stuff)
The biggest achievement, I suppose, was vacuuming the studio, but that never looks very exciting. I also used some boxes from my mother-in-law to set up a little raised station for the molds I plan to be using in the near future. Getting that counter space cleared off took some doing, too.

The slip mold that failed (it was the slip's fault)

I had mixed up my casting slip pretty well a couple weeks ago, but it had already settled pretty badly. I tried casting with it but mostly made a mess. I probably need to find a funnel and a better way to get the slip remixed; the thick stuff on the bottom of the jar is too deep for my immersion blender.

press mold before smoothing seam

The press molds worked fine. I need to make a little more slip to go with this type of clay, but that shouldn't take long after I let some of the clay dry.

press mold during the smoothing process

A week or two ago I had fired a load of my bulbs and the kids' bells. They're waiting for spring break to be glazed and refired. I'm hoping to get a few done before my installation goes up in South Lake Union on March 26 and 27.

box of bulbs waiting for glaze

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Salmon Bells

A few weeks ago, I visited my daughter's elementary school class to make bells with the kids. The kids are studying salmon and are raising alevin (baby salmon) to later release. 

bells in the kiln after firing

I've done bell projects for two or three years running at another elementary school in town. In that situation, I just show the kids how to make bells. With this class, I had coordinated with the teacher ahead of time and I knew what the kids were studying, so I was able to integrate the lesson with their class a little more carefully.

my example bell and a student bell

It made a big difference that this class had roughly 20 kids, whereas the other group has about 75. I brought 3 students from YVCC to help with the project and they were able to station themselves with a group of students to help the kids with their projects. 

a student's fish

Apparently one of the student-teachers at the elementary school, who is Native American, brought a type of bell with him to class to show the kids how they traditionally shake bells when they are catching salmon (I think I got that right--it came to me second-hand). So the bell project fit in quite well with their class experience.

a student's bell with fish and eggs (or water bubbles, but I'm guessing eggs, based on the conversations)

I also knew the class had been discussing scientific observation, so I started out their lesson by having them handle wet, dry and fired clay and tell me what they noticed about how it felt. I then had them drop the dry clay in a cup of water and observe what happened (the clay released bubbles of air and eventually fell apart--the clay term is "slaking").

another student's take on salmon

After making observations, we made salmon together (the kids and the teacher had to help me get the right amount of fins in place) and then I led them through the process of making a bell with clay balls inside to rattle.

this fish has a lot of character

I took the bells home to fire, then back to school for the kids to paint with watercolor paints. They will shake the bells when they go to release the salmon they've raised.

a couple kids at one table made wiggly handles like this (water plants, I'm guessing)

Though the kids were fairly young, they were all able to build a functioning bell with at least one fish on it. My students helped avoid a few squish-mistakes, but mostly the kids followed along well.

two girls had their fish under their handles. one explained that the salmon was swimming under a rock

It is always fun to see how the kids approach their bells differently. After the flat bottom and pinch pot top, the kids were able to add fish, drawings, handles and other decorations. It is clear sometimes that a few kids saw each others and put on similar decorations, but there is also a lot of variety in approach.

my kid's bell with eggs, fish, tree, water plants, and more

After the lesson, it was also fun to watch the kids clean up. They clearly have a routine and classroom rules. They had no trouble adapting their approach to our tools and the clay mess on their tables.

another side of her bell with the waterfall/tunnel and water plants
After we got home, I let my daughter continue working on her bell (like I had a choice). She had already included eggs and fish on her bell at school, but the end result includes a waterfall, salmon and alevin and an estuary. Alevin and estuary were her words, not mine.

Friday, March 6, 2015

One Show Down, One Show Coming Up in Seattle

Last weekend I drove to Seattle to take down my show at CORE Gallery in Seattle. I also met with a representative from Shunpike's Storefronts program. I will be installing my next "show" in Seattle later this month.

My work will be featured in a storefront on Mercer Street in the South Lake Union area of Seattle. I plan to show a wall installation of my sculpture. I'll install the work at the end of the month and it will be up for three or four months. I'm not sure how long, but I know it will be up in May because there will be a first Thursday art walk in early May.

I was hoping to make some new work for the show, but I'm not sure I'll have time at this point. The first week of March (and the last week of February) seem to have slipped by me fairly quickly.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mold Making

I'm planning to make a great number of these sorts of shapes for an installation I'm thinking of doing. To help speed up the process, and because some of my students were curious about the process, I thought I would make some molds for casting the shapes.

Wheel-thrown forms

I started by throwing an example of the shape I wanted. For the first mold I made, I fired the form in the bisque kiln. For later molds, I used a leather-hard form I made the day before.

wet clay form in half a plaster mold

I made the first side of the first mold at school so I could show my students, but didn't take pictures of the process. I later broke the bisque form I was using and had to replicate it in wet clay to make the second half of the mold.

leather-hard clay forms in wet clay bases

To make the first half of any of the molds, I inset the leather-hard or bisque form into a flat base of wet clay. I tried to place the form so that widest part was exactly lined up with the top edge of the wet clay. I did this so that the mold won't have any undercuts that make it difficult to remove the cast form.

ready to cast the first half of this mold (except for that puddle of oil soap in the key)

I then pressed the end of a round tool into the wet clay base to create indents that will eventually be keys for the two-part plaster mold. I rolled out a slab of clay and wrapped it around the wet clay base with the inset form to create a well into which I would later pour plaster.

making a mold for slip casting

I want to try slip casting with one of the molds, so I created a hump of clay to take the place of the opening through which I will eventually pour the slip. I haven't created a slip casting mold before, so I'm not sure if my "sprue" will be wide enough.

second half ready to cast

For the second half of the mold I created earlier, I wrapped a new wet clay slab around the already-set first half of the plaster mold. I then brushed both the plaster and wet clay surfaces of all three molds with Murphy's oil soap so that the new plaster will come apart from the old plaster and clay.

Earlier in the weekend, I had left my oil soap at school and decided to use baby oil as a replacement. That is apparently a terrible idea, as it didn't act as a release at all. The baby oil experiment led to an incredibly strong attachment between the fired clay and the set plaster. Even smashing the bisque form with a hammer didn't break it apart from the plaster mold. 

bisque form stuck in the mold

After the clay molds for the plaster were made and coated with an effective release agent, I mixed the plaster. I found that coating a bucket with a plastic bag is a nice idea and helps make cleanup easier only if one uses a bag without a hole in it. An unnoticed hole results in water dripping mysteriously onto the poured plaster and confusing the mold maker for a while until she noticed the puddle under the bag.
easy plaster clean-up

The plaster sets fairly quickly and then the clay can be peeled off easily. Ideally, the plaster and fired clay both come apart easily, too.

plaster setting in molds

The plaster needs to be thrown away after use and any clay with plaster stuck to it should also be thrown away since plaster looks like clay then bursts in the kiln, leaving a hole in the side of whatever was being fired.

the first half of the slip casting mold, set and almost ready for the second half of the mold

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Throwing Lots of Bulbs

This weekend I managed to get a bit of time in the clay studio. Partly I recycled some clay and cleaned up after the pre-show frenzy of January, but I also got to throw a little.

throwing bulbs

I made some bulbs on the wheel for my 3rd attempt at a spinning bicycle wheel piece.

recycling clay: by which I mean slaking clay on the first day,  drying it out in an arch on the second day, and wedging it on the third day

I also threw some bulbs to be used as a part of a new installation I'm thinking about doing for next year.

throwing bulbs off the hump on the potters wheel

The bike wheel bulbs each have a set of holes in them so that I can thread the fired bulbs onto the bike spokes. I played around with the placement of the holes in these bulbs so that I can control how and where they land on the bike spokes.

bulbs with spoke holes, drying
I think I'll throw some more pieces in some different sizes so I have more options when I start to build the next piece. Maybe I can even find a small bike wheel for smaller bulbs.

the "wrong" way to attach bulbs to a bike wheel (epoxy)
The wall installation bulbs each have a hole in the back so that they will hang on the wall in a particular orientation. I need to spend some more time planning the installation before I'm quite sure how it will all come together.

bulbs for installation, drying

The holes in the bulbs are each made to have a narrower section at the top so that the screw head can slide into place  with the bulb in the correct orientation. I have used this type of opening for hanging for most of my recent work with good success. I'm less sure how it will work for small pieces of this shape.

the back of a wall bulb (with texture from a new tool)

My "Mechanical Botanicals" show continues at CORE Gallery in Seattle through February 28, 2015.