Sunday, May 14, 2017

Protest Bulbs in Progress

new "protest" bulbs fresh from the kiln

Earlier this year I was invited to participate in an as-yet-unscheduled "Nasty Woman" art show. I had just installed my bulbs at Yakima Maker Space. I had recently been given some clay that looks good without glaze, and I was trying to squeeze in some studio time before the end of the academic year.

First Amendment and Family Planning bulbs

I also had bought some new tools and my daughter wanted to spend some time in the studio with me. So I started thinking about how I could make bulbs (which are fairly quick to build) be a canvas for political speech and political imagery. The ongoing idea of the bulb installation is that it is flexible and adjustable and open to interpretation. Many of the bulbs can be hung facing either way. I used to glaze them with contrasting colors on either side so that they could be rearranged and re-hung.

"Mother of All Bombs" and "Women's March"


These pieces are mostly one-sided (or one correct side), but as I was building them, I was debating between keeping the imagery open to flexible interpretation or making the message blunt and inflexible. I decided, on most, to try to include imagery that was easily recognizable and referenced specific issues that capture the political climate of the past year. I tried to choose strong graphic elements that would translate to the small scale of the bulb form.

unfired bulbs before loading

I found or developed imagery that referenced women's health, the environment, freedom of speech, healthcare, and the military. I want viewers to recognize in the imagery, issues where the Trump administration has taken actions to remove protections for regular people. I also want to reference financial inequality, systemic violence in the police force, immigration rights, and the school to prison pipeline, but I have not yet made the bulbs and am less sure of the imagery I want to use.

Resist fist after and before firing, the dark and white on the right bulb is a paper template. The slight discoloration on the left is the residue of the paper after firing.

This type of art making is decidedly not an area in which I feel comfortable. In part because of this discomfort, I have some concerns that some of the imagery that can be interpreted in more than one way. I both like and dislike this openness and the vulnerability I feel in putting this work out there. On the other hand, I don't feel comfortable being vocal and active in only my private life and not, in some way, in my professional work. 

Pill Bottle bulb after and before firing (I must have painted on slip with light clay and probably handled the wet bulb with dusty hands before firing.

I unloaded my bisque firing today. Some of the work does not look how I want it to look at this stage. I was hoping I could get away with not glazing the pieces (so I can get them in a show within a couple weeks), but I made a mistake by not mixing fresh slip using the dark red mica clay I used for the bulbs. The result is that several pieces have smears or smudges of light colored clay that distracts from the imagery.

I used too much white slip to attach the smoke and the smokestacks on this EPA bulb.

I haven't decided, yet, whether I will try to hide the smears of light slip, replace the bulbs that don't look as nice, or add bright underglazes like my usual work. (I also haven't decided how large I want the installation to be in a few weeks.) On the one hand, glazing these pieces like my usual work brings the imagery and the effect more closely in alignment with my usual abstract work. On the other hand, keeping the color palette monochromatic requires the focus to be on the imagery and, in some ways, communicates the depressing tone I intend the pieces to suggest. 

My installation at Makers' Space with abstract bulbs.

One additional issue is that the current plan is to incorporate some non-ceramic materials into some of the bulbs. Obviously if I am going to do this, I will be committing to either a glazes or unglazed, bright or dull surface. And by bringing in mixed media, I am bringing in color. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

DoVA Student and Faculty Exhibition 2017

Intermediate student work at DoVA

This past week the Department of Visual Arts Student and Faculty Exhibition opened at Larson Gallery. The exhibition features artwork by YVC students who took art classes during the Spring, Summer, and Fall quarters of 2016 and the Winter quarter of 2017. The exhibition runs through May 27, 2017. Larson Gallery is open Tuesday - Friday 10am-5pm, and Saturday 1pm-5pm.

student pottery on display at DoVA

The exhibition features work from drawing, painting, design, printmaking, digital photography, digital design, and clay classes. The ceramic works come from students in beginning levels of wheel pottery, hand-building, and Intro to Clay, as well as intermediate and advanced students in these classes.

Best of Show

Best of Show this year went to a ceramic sculpture, Mother. There were also several other ceramic specific awards as well as awards for other media, purchase awards, and awards sponsored and selected by YVC's president, the faculty union, the Associated Students of YVC board, and others.

work by students in intro to clay, I believe

The faculty picked some awards last week. I enjoy picking out award winners with the other faculty because it is fun to talk about what the students did and hear from other instructors about what media specific skills or conventions the students used (or failed to use).

Boston tea
As usual, our reception was pretty packed. The exhibition is easier to see when it isn't so packed, but it's fun to have an event where students can show off their work, see their instructors and classmates from a previous quarter, meet some of the Larson Gallery folks, and, of course win accolades for their work.

student work at DoVA

Much of the work in the exhibition is for sale at very low prices, though more of the ceramic work could be for sale if I could convince my students to part with it. Every year I suggest that students could have their work for sale, every year most students refuse, and every year I bring back some leftover forgotten work to be stored in the art building indefinitely.

Janice Buckler's fountain during DoVA

This year's exhibition had a sad tinge, especially for me as I was getting the work ready and bringing it over. Janice Buckler, who passed away early last month, has helped with the show and exhibited work in it for years. She has two pieces in the exhibition, which were displayed prominently, and we funded an award in her name in an inadequate attempt to remember her when I'd rather she just be there.

faculty work at the DoVA show

Of course it is the student and faculty exhibition, so the art faculty had work in the exhibition as well. This year's faculty contributions are a little more entertaining than usual, as one of our number had her work hung in an entirely different section of the gallery from the rest of us, one of our number showed as a student, too, since she took a class this year, and one of us had work which elicited a literal shriek during the show when his student realized that the subject was a cat. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Yakima Celebrates International Sculpture Day

Join me at Yakima Maker Space and The Seasons Performance Hall on Monday, April 24 for International Sculpture Day.

Last year, I learned that rules are apparently optional for artists, so this year, after the organizers created and printed their fliers for the event, I decided to change my title. So, join me at the Seasons at 5pm for my talk "Evolution of the Bulb." Where I talk about my wall installation at Yakima Maker Space, my sculpture, and my fascination with the "bulb" form that shows up in both.

"bulbs" on the wall

Attendees at the International Sculpture Day events will get to see the early iterations of my sculptural and installation forms, including raku fired work from 2002 and the tactile sensation that was my wall installation in 2005 (it was so enticing, it had to be moved so that people would stop touching it). Also on view during my talk: the gradual improvement of my ability to operate a camera from 2002 to 2016.

work that *might* be finished this summer?

My talk is only 10 minutes long, so be there or miss out on all the fun times. If you can swing it, join Carolyn Nelson for an exclusive walking tour of downtown Yakima sculpture and public art starting at North Town Coffeehouse at 4pm. The tour will end at The Seasons in time for the artist talks.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Janice, at a raku firing in 2011

This week I lost a friend and the studio lost a long time and influential member of our community. Janice Buckler passed away early this week. 

One of Janice's several successful raku pots from this year

Janice has been a fixture of the clay studio at YVC for years, since at least 2011. Recently she has been acting as a community member with studio responsibilities for firing kilns, among other things. For several years, informally at first, and this year in a more official capacity, she has helped beginning throwing students learn techniques and adjust their throwing. She alway has an impressive array of tools and because she has the time, in the studio, to throw large work, she's the go-to student for me when I want to show a more advanced student techniques for centering larger work, bracing one's body, and pulling up the walls of a form that is taller than 6 or 10 inches.

Three of Janice's raku pots from this year

This quarter I was looking forward to working with Janice on number of projects, including redoing the insulation on the raku kiln--something I've been putting off, but Janice seemed interested in doing, experimenting with some low fire decals I brought back from NCECA, and making plans for how me might use a 3D clay printer in the studio. Even though I knew about her death, three times on Thursday I had to remind myself that she's gone. Only my way out of the house, I started to grab a new mug from NCECA to show to Janice, because we had talked about the artist in March. Reminding myself that she wouldn't be there, I started to grab the decals I bought so we could plan where they'd fit on some mugs we made last quarter. I reminded myself again that she as gone, and realized I'd be redoing the raku kiln without her help. And then I got in the car and immediately passed a painted mural of Scooby Doo, know I won't hear her ring tone in the studio again.

two of Janice's pots from this year

There are so many little things in the studio and in a teaching day that mark Janice's influence. Over and over again, as I talked to my throwing students, I started to make a suggestion, point out a tool or technique, or remind people to clean up after themselves. Over and over it was a jolt to me to remember that Janice wasn't there to share her tools, make a suggestion, demonstrate a technique, or be annoyed when students didn't clean up to her standards. 

more raku, I really like this one

Her death was a shock to me, and most of the people in the studio. My plans this quarter included her and while I was at NCECA, I was thinking about things that she'd find interesting or entertaining or useful in her work. She had plans in the studio. She made some of her best work last quarter, but she had more to do. I thought I'd be joking around with Janice in the studio five years from now, and running into her at shows in Yakima in ten years.

Janice's mug forms were particularly nice this year

I went looking for some pictures of Janice the other day because I wanted to post them on the YVC Clay Facebook page. I know Janice has worked with,  influenced, and even taught many students over the years and I think they'd like to know. Moreover, I'd like the studio to officially acknowledge her contribution and her loss. In looking for pictures, I discovered that while I have lots of pictures of Janice's pottery (and other students' pottery), I have far fewer pictures of people. I take pictures of the work because I can share it online and because the work tends to leave the studio more quickly than the students. However, it was surprising to realize that the face of someone I see every day barely shows up in my photos.

a view of part of the table for the end of quarter critique of Janice's work this March

I didn't take pictures of her, in part because I didn't think she'd be leaving. And I didn't realize how much I had come to take her presence in the studio for granted. I wish I had paid more attention the last few times I saw her. I was talking to her last Thursday, the first day of class, and I was distracted with making sure my beginning students were on track. I remember that Janice was talking to me about a couple things, but I also remember thinking that I shouldn't let my attention be distracted from the class. And when the class was over, Janice was gone. 

Janice kept me company at a middle school college night in March when we mostly found ourselves entertaining the younger siblings of middle school students. Janice came just to keep me company and I appreciated it.

And then Janice was gone.

photo by Jane Gutting

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Installing Ericano Bulbs for Yakima Maker Space Sculpture Show

the bulbs shortly after installation at YMS

The first part of this week was spring break, so after returning from the NCECA conference in Portland, I broke up the monotony of writing my online class by installing a set of works for Sculpting the Valley at Yakima Maker Space. 

my "canvas" on the floor after the hooks were in, and a bright orange bulb on its own

Yakima Maker Space is hosting this sculpture show, curated by Andy Behrle and Carolyn Nelson, in association with International Sculpture Day on April 24. That day there will be special events including a sculpture tour and artist talks by some of the exhibiting artists. See the Yakima Maker Space Gallery page for more information. 

the installation at YMS

The work I installed for the show is a different iteration of my Ericano bulb installation that was on display for Windows Alive last year. Yakima Maker Space didn't want me to put 100 holes in the wall as I have done for previous installations, so Andy Behrle made a nice long board (with a French cleat) for me to put the holes into. 

a detail view with my favorite in the middle

I liked working with the board off the wall, because I was able to set up the grid very quickly. The last time I had a tight time frame in which to install this work, I made a paper template for quick set up. This time I wasn't able to make a template ahead of time and the old template wouldn't work for the new shape of the installation.

spacing the bulbs before beginning to drill

Since I knew I would be installing on two boards end to end, I didn't want to have funny gaps at the middle or at either end, so I laid out the bulbs once I got to the gallery. After I had the bulbs spaced out in a way that seemed to work visually, I measured the space between them and adjusted the bulbs so that they were evenly spaced. 

the four tape measure system works better on the ground than on the wall

The best thing about having the boards on the floor was that I was able to use a system of four tape measures to measure and plan the spacing of the screw hooks. I lined up the long tape measures at 4", 11" and 18" from the top of the board, then lined up the shorter tape measure at 9.25" increments along the width of the board from the center. I marked the intersection of two tape measures and drilled holes at those marks. 

another detail view of the installation at YMS

Including planning time, I was done with the installation in about an hour. I had to come back to put the bulbs on the hooks after Andy finished with the backside of the board, but that set up was very fast. It would have been faster if I hadn't stopped to chat about 3D clay printers for a while on my way out.

there are lots of bulbs, so there are lots of pictures

You can see the show, featuring sculpture by an eclectic mix of Yakima sculptors in various media, on Saturday, April 1, 2017 from 6:00PM to 9:00PM. My work will be for sale individually, so come get your bulbs. The YMS gallery is only open on Saturdays, so if you'd like to see the work, the opening is a good time to go. If I don't see you then, hopefully you will join us for the International Sculpture Day festivities on April 24.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Student Sculpture from Winter 2017

This reclining lady, whose body and face are covered with leaves, is actually incomplete, according to the student, and may have more color when next seen at the DoVA Student Exhibition in May.

Last week was finals for winter quarter at Yakima Valley College. I had four clay classes, two of which were hand-building classes, the others were wheel classes. We had glaze critiques for both groups and I remembered to take pictures of some of the work that was finished. 

These two portrait heads were some of the last pieces finished building, but both survived with minimals cracking during the firing.

The end of a hand-building class is fun because we get to see such a wide range of work. This quarter I began the class with a portrait project. It was fun to start this way, but the project was more challenging than my usual beginning project using coils. The class, overall, did fairly well building the portraits, but we encountered more trouble* with thickness, air pockets, and cracks or blow-ups during firing than usual.

These three heads show the range of damage: the grey lady's chin and mouth hid an air pocket which exploded during the firing, taking of her chin, but also cracking her head from her shoulders, Dwight from The Office had less extensive damage, most of which was repair before critique, Kanye was well crafted and very thin so that he survived the firing with not even a superficial crack in his head or body.

The higher than usual breakage may have been because we started with such a challenging project and the students didn't fully understand why the pieces had to be as thin and I told them or it may have been because they had trouble making the pieces as thin as I instructed. Many, though not all, of the sculptures had to have some sort of repair done after firing to deal with cracks, exploded parts, or parts that broke off before or during firing.

These two very different approaches to dog portraits were also finished very differently; the one sitting up was painted with underglaze and some low fire glaze and fired, the one on the left was painted with acrylics.

During the last weeks of the quarter, I gave several epoxy demonstrations to show students how to repair cracks or breakage, smooth seams, and fill gaps left by the explosions. I demonstrated three types of two part epoxies: some simply two-ton epoxy gel, some PC-11 epoxy paste, and some epoxy putty for filling gaps. I also demonstrated and discussed how to hide or fill cracks, make the epoxy less visible, and match the glaze color and texture with paint and gloss medium.

This cat is hard to photograph because of its shiny black glaze, but the form is interesting in person.

Despite several demonstrations and explanations, a significant portion of the class had trouble understanding that epoxy and acrylic paint cannot be fired with glaze in the kiln. I eventually started keeping count of how many times I had to repeat the explanation or reminder that epoxy will burn off in the kiln (I repeated it 9 times, though, to be fair, the last several reminders were to individuals).

This small portrait suffered from an unexpected underglaze reaction that turned the face bubbly and rough and perhaps darkens the character, but the expression is still effective.

I am actually a bit concerned that so many of the students seemed not to grasp the basic physics of firing and the processes that impact shrinkage, glaze melting, and the process of turning clay into ceramic, not to mention the difference between clay and epoxy, paint and glaze. I feel that I spend a significant amount of time talking about not just what students need to do to keep their sculpture intact, but why. I'm considering, next time I teach this class, firing a sacrificial piece in the kiln to show them what happens with epoxy. I may also switch the assignment order back to what it had been--easier project first.

This peacock meant to hang on the wall survived building, firing, and glazing, only to suffer damage from rough handling on the day of the critique. The break is minimal, however, and the peacock should show up in the Spring DoVA show.

Because of the structure of the 10-week class, much of the work is not completely finished until the last week. The first three projects in the class are building projects which we critique when the work is wet, dry, or bisque fired. The final critique is a glazing and finishing critique, in which we see the first three projects again, this time with glazed and/or painted surfaces.

One challenge of photographing in the classroom without a photo setup is that some of the angles don't show the full sculpture. This carefully repaired and painted elephant has an interesting pose from multiple perspectives.

The good thing about this setup is that the students get lots of time to start glazing their first and second pieces. The bad thing about this setup is that students sometimes run out of energy and enthusiasm at the end of the quarter, meaning that sometimes glazing on well-built projects is poorly executed. 
This elephant, too, suffers from the poor quality photo, but his extensive repair was particularly well done.

This quarter I had one student, in particular, who had two well-built projects with poorly executed glaze. The glaze on one was so thick it ran extensively, permanently attaching her sculpture to a biscuit of clay placed underneath to prevent damage to my kiln shelf. Another of this student's pieces had very thin glaze that ended up obscuring the texture of her sculpture rather than highlighting it. 

These two sculptures are actually pieces of three separate works that were damaged during firing. The end-result combines  raku and cone 10 reduction firings, as well as epoxy.

However, I also had one student who managed to resurrect some sculpture that had been almost a total loss because of an explosion during firing. This student's work had lots of damage during firings, but he spent time carefully applying epoxy and paint to repair one piece in such a way that the damage was hard to see at the critique. He also brought several broken parts of other works together with various glaze applications to create a new sculpture. 

This mermaid platter was painted with underglaze but not glaze for critique. The photo angle doesn't really show the depth of the piece.

It's lots of fun to see the stuff students finish, especially when they take the time to make the repairs, but it's disappointing when students don't finish their work. Similarly, it is disappointing to grade that last test and realize that they never did understand a fundamental concept from the class. Last week I had a few of these disappointments, but I also had a few of the best grading experiences: when the last test was better than all the previous tests, or when the discussion at the class critique revealed that the student knew their glazes and could explain exactly what they did to achieve a certain visual effect.

A tree with blue snake and a totem pole with a blue snake.

* The basic rules for a safe bisque firing are to make sure that the work is dry, make sure it isn't too thick (I usually tell students to aim for a quarter to a half inch or no thicker than their thumb), make sure there are no contained air pockets (because hot air is bigger than cool air), and make sure to fire the kiln slowly (with a preheat or candle). Most, if not all, of the cracking this quarter was due to thick walls and/or contained air pockets that exploded.

This poor turtle suffered from air pockets and thick walls.