Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yakima River Diaries

Before Christmas I installed some work for an upcoming show. Yakima River Diaries opens January 10, 2013 with a reception at 4pm (yes, that is a Thursday afternoon). The show will be in the Sarah Spurgeon Gallery at Central Washington University. The show features artists whose work relates to water and specifically to the Yakima River. The other artists are John Clymer, Robert Fisher, Justin Gibbens, Anna Hoover, Louis Kollmeyer, Cynthia Krieble, Nickolus Meisel, Greg Pierce and Derek Young. There will be an associated exhibition at the Museum on they CWU campus.

I haven't seen any of the other work yet, as I was the first to install. I believe the other work will be installed during the first week of January (this week). I do know several of the artists and am familiar with others with the work of others. Bob Fisher teaches drawing and painting at Yakima Valley Community College with me. Greg Pierce is a ceramic instructor at Columbia Basin Community College and I have a print (of the Tieton River Canyon) by Justin Gibbens in my dining room.

My section of the gallery. We moved the TV.

The show is set up so that each artist is in a different section of the gallery. Bob Fisher's work will apparently be in a temporary room built for the show. When I was at the gallery his room was in the process of being built and painted. 

Unfortunately when I was there to install my work the light was not great. My area was actually quite dark, but the curator and gallery staff will set up the lights before the show opens. I was able to install my work, though the lack of light made it a little tricky to determine color relationships in the installation. When I looked at my photos later I realized that the existing lighting made my photos look indistinct and dull.

My installation work laid out as I began to plan the installation.

Before I got to the gallery, I knew I was going to put up an installation on the wall similar to my installation last year at Larson Gallery, but I didn't have a great sense of the gallery space until I arrived.
I brought all the work I still have from the Kekino installation in the "From the Ground Up" show last winter as well as some pieces I made this summer. I sold several pieces from the previous installation but, anticipating that I would make a similar installation eventually, I made a few new pieces designed to hang on the wall. I was asked to participate in the "Yakima River Diaries" show in October of this year.

"Kekino" installation from February 2012.
When I arrived at the gallery the curator suggested that I might consider wrapping my installation around the corners. Since this sort of flowing arrangement was something I had wanted to try anyway, I took his suggestion and planned my installation accordingly. I discovered, however, that it is harder to plan a bending wall installation than a flat wall installation. Normally I lay my work out on the floor in a similar order to how they will be hung on the wall. It is then just a matter of picking up the work and hanging it vertically in the same arrangement as it was in on the floor.

My work on the floor arranged for installation.
With an installation that comes out at you, it can't just be laid out on the floor because it will bend toward the viewer as it moves onto the second wall surface. It is harder to gauge those sorts of relationships because laid out on the floor doesn't offer that third dimension for planning. I also discovered that the pieces look different when viewed from a 3/4 angle than when viewed from straight on. Though I have photographed my installations from an intense angle, the side view is not the standard view of the work.

This installation moves from wall to wall around the corner.

Despite the lighting and spacial planning challenges, I think I am happy with the finished installation, though I neglected to get a picture of the finished installation. The planning and set up took closer to 5 or 6 hours to complete instead of the 2 or 3 hours I had hoped to spend. I set up and installed work for a while before going for lunch and then I installed for several hours when I returned. It was exhausting in an unusual way, since the actual lifting and hammering wasn't difficult. I felt anxious every time I hammered in a nail or set a piece on a screw. I also felt anxious every time I made a placement decision on the wall. By the end of the day I was getting tired and I forgot to be anxious when hammering in a final nail. As a result of carelessness, I shook a piece loose and it fell and broke on the floor. That was about the time I decided I was done.

This installation relates to the pedestal piece on the right (poorly lit in this photo).

Besides the wall installation, I have some work on pedestals. The pedestals weren't placed or out when I was up there, but I was able to move in one to get a sense of the relationship between my standing pieces and my wall installation. My plan is to go back at the end of this week to bring a few more standing pieces, make some placement decisions and take some pictures.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Packing and Shipping Work

A funny thing happens every time I get ready to do a show. Shortly before the show, as I am planning for it, I start to worry that I don't have enough work or anything worth showing. A day or so before I am to set up or install the show, the worry turns to mild panic. Then I start to pack up the work for the show. And after a while, I realize that I actually do have a lot of work and I start to be more concerned with whether I have enough packing materials or space in the car.

It used to be that I kept an audience for this spectacle. During those times of my life when I didn't have a large enough permanent residence in which to store the work, I would store the work at my parents house and I would voice my worry, panic and relief to my mother. Who would mostly just laugh at me.

Now I keep my work in my studio which isn't nearly as remote or solitary as my parent's basement, though it tends to be colder. Today as I progressed through an accelerated version of worry/panic/relief, my daughter and husband orchestrated a Angry Birds piggie attack on my studio. I had to use a space eagle to save my ceramic eggs.

hide your eggs!

I was packing up work to take to a show up at Central Washington University. Tomorrow I will be installing a version of last winter's "Kekino" installation at the Sarah Spurgeon Gallery. The show, "Yakima River Diaries,"will feature work inspired by water and specifically the Yakima River.

My "Kekino" installation at the "From The Ground Up" Exhbition 2012
SRAM Gears, made this past summer, will be in Bremerton next month
I also have work boxed up to go to Bremerton for "The CVG Show" at Collective Visions Gallery. "The CVG Show" is a juried exhibition. I am shipping my work, which saves me a trip, but it is much more difficult to pack work that will be unpacked and repacked by someone else. If I am driving work up, I tend to pack it more casually.

the top of my sculpture, partially packed

When I am packing work to ship, I liked to double box it so that it is less likely that something will punch through a double layer of cardboard box and break my piece. I also tend to put a layer of some kind of padding between the inner and outer boxes. This provides extra space and extra cushion in case something does poke through. In high school I had an oil pastel drawing at the state art show. It won an award and was subsequently shipped to the national show. Unfortunately, the show shipped there and back and I didn't have any contact with the piece or control of how it was handled. When it was returned to my parents house, I was there to accept it. The delivery man came to the back door and handed me a wide, thin cardboard box with a hole in it. We repaired the drawing, but I was not impressed. 

labeled unpacking directions for the top of my sculpture

This particular show banned packing peanuts as a packing material for shipped work. I used pieces of foam and egg cartons to cushion and support the piece and keep it from moving around inside the box. The bike part pieces are harder to ship than my usual work because they have more bits sticking out of them. I had to cut a space in some of the support foam for the largest gear to fit. I also taped the foam pieces to the box so that the work could (hopefully) be repacked to be shipped back to me.

foam taped on lid of interior box so that it is easy to open, unpack and repack
To take my work up to Ellensburg where I will unpack it, I've just wrapped each piece in a towel and stacked them in a couple laundry baskets.

Friday, December 14, 2012

IBEST Linked Classes

This week was finals week. In a grading break this morning I met with come colleagues to plan for the linked classes we will be teaching next quarter.

One of the exciting things about doing a class with other instructors is how much the experience improves one's own teaching. Just going through the process of planning the class helps me improve. Today I was trying to explain why I do particular assignments the way I do. My initial reasons for the assignments were good and I still feel confident in the assignments, but just articulating the intent of the assignments helped me identify a couple pieces of the assignments that could be streamlined or altered to be more clear to students.

The class I will be teaching next quarter is part of an IBEST model. It's too late at night for me to remember what IBEST stands for (Integrated Basic Education Some Thing), but it means that we are putting a cohort of students into a set of classes that includes developmental and college-level classes. My Art Appreciation class is the college-level class and my colleagues are teaching developmental reading, adult basic education writing and study skills. The same group of students who are taking these classes in the winter will move on to college-level drama, developmental writing, and ABE reading next quarter. The idea is that by the end of the two quarters these student will be at college level in their English and will already have 10 college level humanities credits. Most of these students would not yet be eligible for my Art Appreciation class because of their English scores.

Another exciting element of the IBEST class for me is that I am able to give some of the non-art related teaching tasks to my reading, writing and study skills colleagues. My usual Art Appreciation class requires students to be at almost-college-level English. Because they are not college-ready, I cannot expect them to write a college-level paper with citations. Since I think that writing this type of report is a reasonable expectation for a college-level Art Appreciation class, I help them build the writing and the citations throughout the quarter. This coming quarter, however, I will not be required to teach them to do citations because my colleagues will do that part.

I am also looking forward to my colleagues helping the students learn to navigate their textbooks and build their non-art vocabulary. I don't really have time to help the whole class understand what is meant by the word "describe" as opposed to "identify" in a test question. I also don't have time to make sure they understand all the terms from their research. Today, while reading a paper, it became clear to me that at least one student did not know what it meant to "impersonate" someone. But I don't think that my class time is the appropriate place to develop that vocabulary. When I have to decide between teaching the content of the class or trying to build the students skills and understanding up to college level, something gets lost.

Next quarter will be an interesting opportunity to discover how much content I can move through if I don't have to spend time with the other stuff. It will also be interesting to see how this cohort of under-prepared students does in the class compared to my typical group of slightly more prepared students who are not taking the set of connected classes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Science week in the studio

For the past week it seems that the studio has been a place for science demonstrations.

During our clay class critique one student was asked about her mug and its interesting handle shape . Her explanation was that the piece was inspired by the lower intestine, including the appendix. The handle shape was visually interesting, but after I knew the inspiration, I thought differently about it.

In the design studio students were finishing their book project (they create a book that involves actual and implied time and motion examples). One student was expressing her frustration with the Design class. She said that design doesn't come easily to her and that to relax, she does her microbiology homework.

Later in the clay critique another student was showing her teapot. She had attached a thrown handle onto the side like a small Chinese teapot. During the discussion, her classmate pointed out that the shape of the rounded teapot with the two tube shaped spouts looked like it was almost the shape of a water molecule. She suggested adding another tube. Perhaps the second student had been studying the night before.

Of course the clay studio is always a good place for a practical physics demonstration. The other day we unloaded a glaze firing. Usually there are a few pieces glazed too thickly. The glaze runs down and sticks to the shelf or fuses the lid in place. This quarter we actually had very few problems with glaze running, but we had a couple in the last firing.

last glaze kiln ready to be unloaded

We also had a couple pieces warp during firing. The kiln reaches temperatures hotter than 2300 degrees Fahrenheit by heating it up with gas and forced air. This is a turbulent atmosphere and pots can warp or subtly change shape during firing, usually an open round shape can become oval shaped at the top while the base stays round. We usually combat this by firing lids on their pieces (as long as the glaze doesn't run, this isn't a problem). The lids and pots either warp together or the lid prevents the base from warping. In this batch I had a student fire her piece with the lid beside it. The top warped differently than the base and the two no longer fit right.

We also fired our first bisque firing in the gas kiln (which is usually used only for glaze firing). The electric kilns fire efficiently and can be fired without a lot effort by the instructor. We can set a firing program or we can do simple turn-ups each hour. I also have several students who know how to fire the electric kilns and they can help. However, this quarter I had two students make work too tall for the electric kilns, so we fired a gas bisque. I did a preheat (called a candle) overnight with just the pilot lights lit, then I turned the kiln up to low on one side, waited several hours and turned it up on the other side. Despite this very slow, gentle firing, all four pieces had some damage from the firing. Two pieces cracked at the seams and two had pieces blow off the sides during the firing.

large pieces after firing

Usually damage like the latter comes from the piece being too thick. Some part of the pot has a contained air pocket or moisture which expands as it is heated and forces the clay to move. The cracks in the former pots usually come from weak seams or a fast firing, or both. The gas bisque was a faster bisque than normal. Also, the pots were made from several different pieces thrown, then attached together and worked some more. I recommend that my students use overlapping seams where the top piece sits not just on, but in the wall of the lower piece. This student did not take that extra precaution. I would be curious to know whether the firing or the joining method were more at fault. Regardless, I can't fire the gas kiln much slower than I did.

Our last physics lesson came during the most recent glaze firing. I tell all my students to bisque their work before glazing. This first firing chemically changes the clay to ceramic and makes it stronger. As ceramic, it is porous enough to accept glaze but it won't break or slake (dissolve) if accidentally glazed incorrectly (i.e. dropped into the glaze bucket). Assuming that all my students were following this rule, and assuming that they would tell me if they somehow glazed greenware (unfired work), I didn't worry much about it.

On Friday we were firing the glaze kiln and I noticed that a piece had exploded during firing. I could see the broken pieces as I looked into the kiln. I was surprised that something had broken, since this very rarely happens. One of my students found a piece of the explosion that had fallen out of the back hole of the kiln and onto the floor. She picked it up and discovered that it was still clay. It had not been bisqued, but had been glazed. Of course what must have happened is that someone didn't bisque their work, but somehow still glazed the work and put it in the kiln. They were either confused or were trying to move more quickly. Neither I nor my student helper noticed as we loaded the kiln on Thursday. I fire the glaze kiln faster than a bisque kiln, since I have to get it hotter. Not knowing their was an un-bisqued piece in the kiln, I fired normally. I expect this morning will be interesting as I open the kiln and find the damaged piece and the neighbors that were also likely to sustain damage.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Inventory Cards

On our furlough day before Thanksgiving, I cleaned my studio. I spend most of the rest of the weekend cleaning the house, playing, making a pinata and sewing a (not-yet-finished) puppet theater for my daughter. 

homemade cupcake piñata and a hanging puppet theater (in progress)

The other thing I accomplished over the long holiday week and weekend was to get my studio inventory to a functional state.

my inventory box: portable, flexible, non-digital

I had originally planned to purchase a database program. That is, after a colleague laughed at my Microsoft Word table-with-a-tiny-thumbnail inventory method, I planned to get a database. But I wasn't sure where to begin to look for a database. Also, I keep thinking I will get a new computer, so I should somehow wait to get the database.

Regardless, indecision contributed to inaction and last week I determined that I needed something, immediately, to function for me as a list of what work is currently in which show and the dimensions of works I plan to enter in shows. Running out to the studio each time I am preparing an application to measure and check on pieces is silly.

My new method, as I mentioned previously is decidedly low tech. But after spending a good part of my afternoon writing assignments and presentations on the computer, using a kinetic, physical tool is my preference. I can add too, annotate, and quickly modify the information on the cards. I can stack them into groups according to size, show, medium, color, or whatever I need to do. Physically moving the cards also helps me think about what I need to do with the actual works. 
some of the finished works I have on hand, ready for shows

The new approach consists of index cards in a box. The cards each have one picture of a work and written info giving dimensions, year completed and cost. If the firing or medium is unusual (i.e. not low fire ceramic), I list that. I also list the shows the work is in or has been in. In some cases I identify a work as part of a set or installation or note that a work needs repair or I want to make changes in the surface or color.

After I got all the cards made (mostly, there are a few new works I haven't photographed yet), I grouped the cards together into useful categories and binder clipped them. I have a set of works currently in shows, a set of works I have tentatively promised to a show in January, a set of works that need repair, and a set of works that are ready to be entered in shows. This latter is the most important set of works because applying to shows is high on my priority list for this winter. Applying is harder, however, when I don't know what I have available and I have to go track down the stats on the work (run out to the clay studio and measure it or look it up in my awkward computer inventory document). 

work for shows, holiday shows, and installation stacks

I also have a set of works that have sold recently or were given away. I need them in my card database because I tend to forget they sold and try to find them in the studio. I have a few cards for works that are missing and I can't remember if they sold or are packed away. I will keep these cards clipped and available in case I discover any new works in boxes next time I clean or start to repair work.


One of the extra advantages of my new (portable) file system is that I can refer to it without going out to the studio. (I can also take it out to the studio with me to make updates.) I tend to forget how much work I have in the studio. When I have a show coming up, I get panicky, thinking I don't have anything to put in the show. I have to go to the studio and start counting works on shelves or actually group work together on a table. A clipped stack of index cards has a reassuring heft that tells me I do have work. I can enter that show. And I don't have to go out to the cold studio in December to check.

missing works: did someone buy them?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cleaning Furlough Day

Today was a furlough day for faculty. I took my daughter to day care, after letting her sleep in, and then I cleaned my studio. Sadly, I thought I could both clean my studio and clear off my desk, but I will have to be content with one clean space per free-day.

As you can see, the space was pretty terrifying. The annual catastrophe that is the start of the school year and then end of the summer occurred once again, taking me by surprise and leaving an array of half-finished projects, half-recycled clay, boxes of returned work or packing materials from work that has gone out to holiday shows, glazing tools, and epoxy around the studio.

I had dirty towels in a box because they'd never made it to the laundry room (approximately 4 feet away) and a pile of sculpture parts on the floor because I only finished the work moments before I had to be somewhere else. There were things in the room that came from other parts of the house or yard but stopped in the studio and somehow never moved on to a more appropriate location.

One relatively untouched corner of the room includes the same stash of partially glazed work that was sitting there in September and probably in August, too. Now that I can actually enter the studio, maybe I will be able to glaze the work soon. What? Don't laugh, maybe I will. Finals are three weeks away!

One advantage of my prolonged absence from the studio is that my bowls of dirty underglaze rinsing water has dried to chunks of underglaze that I can put back in a jar and reconstitute to a (dirty brown) underglaze.

I also chose to remove the massive pink blow up chair from the room. During the summer I sometimes sat in it but mostly it just takes up tons of room. I have moved it to a place where it will take up tons of room and get in the way of the person who caused it to be in the house in the first place. I can now open my tool drawers, a fact which was helpful in putting away the various types of epoxy that seem to have multiplied around the studio.

I did get sidetracked at one point, by a set of drawers and a box of papers. As everyone who keeps too much stuff is probably aware, paper materials can be a major time suck in trying to clean and organize. I go down memory lane and get emotionally invested in finding a proper home for each paper and, generally, keeping too many of them. But, I figured, since the papers hadn't been touched since we moved into the house in 2007, I was allowed to tackle them. They did suck time, but I was also able to get rid of some that needed to go, including a whole box of old business cards with a Wisconsin phone number and a few stacks of postcards from old shows. I will offer the business cards to my daughter, who likes to cut up small papers, and I will keep the postcards as give-aways for the Tour of Artist Homes and Studios this Spring.

That's actually a small piece of my motivation to clean extensively today. Obviously it needed to be done, but I also know that I will have people in my studio before summer and before I can really work in the space. I expect I might be able to glaze or clean the house again before April, but I don't expect that I will have very much time at all before then. Carpe Furlough Diem!

And I did make pretty significant progress. I can close the cabinets, I can see the floor, I have at least 3 surfaces on which I can put things and I have a visible, navigable path to my storage shelves. I even eliminated all of the dusty slip and underglaze bowls and dirty chai cups I could find in the studio (only one old chai cup, but it was a little scary).

I did actually sneak in one other errand this morning. I bought my daughter's birthday present. She's been asking for an easel (she saw one in the window of The Bindery a month or two ago) for quite some time now. I think she will be excited. It has a chalkboard, a whiteboard and a roll of paper that she can pull down to paint on. I also got her some chalks and whiteboard markers to augment her paint and crayon stock. The only problem will be waiting patiently to see her open it up. Her birthday isn't until December. I've hidden it under a towel in the studio, so don't tell her about it.

In the meantime she and I will have to be content painting and decorating her cupcake piñata. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

YVCC clay events: Raku and Clay Sale

This was a busy week for clay at YVCC. We had a clay sale and raku firing, started a Facebook page and unloaded our first glaze kiln of the quarter. And this was a short week with a holiday on Monday!

Clay Sale
Thursday we held our biannual clay sale. We had lots of work, due to prolific Spring and Fall 2012 classes, but I hadn't advertised the sale well, so we didn't have great attendance or sales. The quarter got away from me and I didn't get posters made or e-mails sent or advertising done online.

I had lots of help from students on the day of the sale and I probably should have looked for a way to get help from the students in the advertising for the sale. However, If I had had room in my brain and my scheduled for formulating a request for help, I probably could have just advertised the show myself.

At the request of my students and based on suggestions from sale patrons we will be having another sale around Valentine's Day. I already have reminders in my phone for what needs to be done ahead of time to advertise and prepare the sale and I've even started some of the preparations.

At the end of the sale we had plenty of time and lots of work to box up, so students packed similar work together for storage. Our usual approach is a mad rush to stuff everything into boxes and storage before all my student help needs to run to other classes. This time we grouped the mugs and plates and bowls together. We collected the bad work examples that made it into the sale so we can fix or remove them from future sales and we also collected the lidless pieces and the spare lids.

The clay sale is composed of my work and student work that has been donated to the sale. Some of this work is intentionally donated to help the studio raise money. Some of the work is donated because it isn't wanted by its maker and some of the work is donated halfway into the next quarter when those students haven't come to pick it up. The result is that some of the work is high quality and some is, well, left-overs. More often that I would anticipate, left-over clay work means lids without bottoms or vise versa.


Besides adding some reminders to my notes and my phone's calendar and grouping work to be repaired, eliminated and presented together next time, I also thought that an increased social media presence might be useful at this stage, both for the clay sale and for the clay studio and clay students in general. I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends but also to advertise and talk about my work, post updates on this blog and I am an administrator for the Larson Gallery Guild Facebook Page. The LGG Facebook page has a great deal of "likes" and people can find out about shows and events through their regular feed once they have "liked" the page. The YVCC Honors Program also recently created a Facebook Page for similar reasons.

YVCC Clay Facebook Page
Yesterday I created a new Facebook page for YVCC Clay. Join us for updates on clay events, classes and clay sales. I am hoping that students will "like" the page so we can stay connected in an official class way and I will have an appropriate and quick place to post updates. I usually put links up for them on the Quick Links for Clay Classes page of this blog, but they don't necessarily check this page all that often and I have to remind them that the links are up there. The links, videos and information on the YVCC Clay Facebook page should show up directly in their feed sometime during the thousand times they obsessively check Facebook between classes and after school. (And I'm not trying to pick on students, I know faculty, including myself sometimes, who check Facebook over and over each day.)

Students can post their own pictures of events like the Raku firing and clay sale or post pictures of work they want to share with classmates or with me. We can also encourage community members to "like" the page to receive updates about our clay sales and other events.

Raku Firing
It was raining when I woke up Saturday for the scheduled raku firing on campus, but being Yakima, a forecast of rain all day doesn't necessarily mean what we think it means in Wisconsin or Iowa or Michigan or Seattle. Yakima rain might be an all-day on-and-off drizzle. So I packed up the stuff and went in to the studio.

When I arrived fifteen minutes early, several students were ready and waiting to go. I thought they might be leery of the rain, but the hard-core students were anxious to start and throughout the morning we had about nine students show up.  They also brought sustenance. Somehow we weren't going to starve during our 4-hour firing with two boxes of donuts, two bags of bagels, bananas, Little Debbie snacks, nuts, cheesecake, a veggie plate, coffee, juice and cider.

We started the smoke firing barrels and began loading the cone 10 glaze kiln while waiting out the rain. After loading a few shelves of the big kiln (inside), the rain had let up to just a sprinkle and we decided to hope for the best. We attached the fiber blanket insulated top of the counter-weighted raku kiln and put some kiln shelves on top of it to try to protect the fiber from the rain. We discussed a better option, though, honestly, this is Yakima and rain is not going to be a persistent problem.

We did the first firing with shelves on top, but rain had basically stopped by the second firing and we proceeded as usual. The first firing went well. We unloaded five pieces with no damage and good glaze. 

I didn't bring my camera, thinking we might not fire, and my phone storage filled up quickly, so I have limited pictures of the work. I'm hoping my students might send me pictures of the work I didn't capture in my five photos. We had two clear crackle glazed pieces--they look white because the clay is white when fired and they have black lines in the surface where the glaze cracked after firing and the smoke was absorbed into the unglazed clay--and two copper glazed pieces. The copper glazes react to the reduction atmosphere in the kiln and in the post firing reduction chamber and turn green, red, blue and a coppery brownish color.

I also had one student use commercial underglazes underneath his clear crackle glaze. The results were bright orange and black with crackle lines, but I don't have a good picture of that piece.

I had imposed a new rule this year that work needed to be glazed by Friday afternoon before the Saturday firing. This rule was added due to explosions from wet work being fired too quickly in previous quarters. If fired work has absorbed moisture from applied glaze and hasn't had a chance to dry before being loaded into the raku kiln, the water inside the piece expands when heated and causes the piece to break or explode. This potentially damages other pieces in the kiln. 

Everyone who had work in the first load had followed this new rule, unfortunately, every who had work in the second load did not follow this rule. We loaded the second batch while the raku kiln was still hot. The wax on the bottom of people's pots caught fire and created some dramatic flames inside the kiln before we lowered the top of the kiln and relit the burner. Then the moisture inside the two pieces farthest from the burner caused them to explode.

An explosion inside the kiln is immediately evident. It sounds like several pops and everyone outside knew immediately that work had exploded. We shut off the kiln and opened it to remove the damaged work. I reminded students why the Friday afternoon rule was imposed and we tried to find work that had followed the glazing requirements. Other late-Friday work was put into an electric kiln inside to preheat for an hour before being loaded into the fourth (or fifth--if you count the explosions) raku load.

The second and third (or third and fourth) batches of work in the kiln included some pieces that were not glazed. These pieces were fired using a horse hair effect. The pieces were heated with the rest of the work, removed when red-hot, like all the other work, but instead of being put into a reduction bucket (a bucket filled with leaves or shredded paper) to smoke, these piece was set on a shelf and horse hair was applied to the surface of the naked (unglazed) pot.

Upon contact with the hot pot, the horse hair starts to burn. Where it touches the pot, the burning hair leaves a trail of carbon or smoke permanently absorbed into the clay. This is the same principle as the post-firing reduction buckets (or, indeed, the smoke firing barrels) but instead of having burning material completely surrounding the pottery, absorbing into any exposed clay, the horse hair method leaves most of the clay unaltered and smoke-free. The contrast of the smoked lines from the hair and the raw white clay body creates the beauty in these pieces.

The advanced student who was using this technique was using hair from a horse that had died. The late equine's owner had commissioned the ceramic pieces to commemorate her horse. One of my students posted a video showing a snippet of the process on the YVCC Clay Facebook feed. You can also see more pictures of the horse hair raku process in this raku firing blog post from November 2011.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


A few weeks ago we sent my sister-in-law a gift for her birthday that included one of my sculptures. The sculpture is one of my favorites, but hadn't gotten a lot of love at galleries or shows. It is a simple form, a distillation of my typical work. The form is bulbous with applied and sprigged textures covering the surface. 

My brother mentioned that the work looked like me. I can't remember exactly what he said, but the sentiment dovetailed with something I had been thinking about for a few weeks: the idea that an object can be so familiar that it triggers that feeling of recognition when you see it.

A recent example of this strange feeling of recognizing an object was something we've all probably experienced. I was at a conference and I noticed "my" purse across the room and realized I had left it by mistake. Then I remembered it wan't mine, I had left mine at home, but the purse was identical, made by the same artist, and I had the immediate reaction of familiarity (and forgetfulness). It is a handmade purse, different enough from store-bought purses that I felt this strange feeling of it being unique to me (even though I know someone locally who has the same purse in a different color).

The more interesting example of this feeling of familiarity came the last week and the weekend before and related directly to my work. The background is a little odd, but basically I need a database for keeping track of the work I have in my studio or in shows and I haven't gotten one so I made one using index cards. 

I'm not sure the index card system is ideal, but I was able to do it quickly and it was relatively cheap. Index cards have the advantage of being tactile, in that I can sort them on the ground in front of me and add to them when away from the computer (say, in my studio). 

I printed pictures of various works I have in the studio (not all of them--yet) and I glued them onto cards with the vital stats (size, title, price, year) and listed the shows the works were in along the right side of the card (with room to add more shows). I also marked if the work was sold or needed repairs.

What I found interesting was that as I flipped through the cards, certain pieces seemed familiar, like old friends, while other pieces seemed just like objects. Some pieces seemed like "me" or like my family, in a strange way, while others just didn't. 

And its not like I haven't seen all the works many many times. Most of them are sitting on shelves in the studio and few of them were made this year, but still, some pieces seemed familiar and some did not. 

I have discovered in the past that some pieces trigger bits of stories for me, since I listen to books on tape while I make the work, some fragments of Harry Potter or a linguistics book seem connected to a particular work because I was listening to that book while making the work. This isn't the same feeling, but it is an infusion of another idea into or onto the work itself.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

SRAM pART Project: New York

The big project of my summer was preparing for the SRAM pART Project in New York. The SRAM pART Project website is now up with pictures of all the works in the auction and biographical information about all the exhibiting artists.

The work will be exhibited and auctioned on November 29 at the Cedar Lake Theater in New York City. You can buy tickets for $268 (the cost of two bicycles). The event is a fundraiser for World Bicycle Relief. Apparently the work and the venue were both unharmed by Sandy and the event will proceed as planned.

I spent some time looking at some of the works by other artists. I think there is more variety this year than last. I suspect the requirements are a bit different than those for the Velo Village show as those works had fewer bike parts. The requirements for the New York show were simply to incorporate at least 25 of the provided bike parts. We received a box of parts. When I called with a question about some of the small parts, I was told that all the artists' boxes had the same parts, but looking at the works, I suspect that information was not entirely accurate. Many people included chains or links from chains. Obviously they could have added their own chain, but since so many included them, I'd guess that they were provided.

My work: SRAM Supported Botany

Looking at my work in company with the other works on the website, I feel confident. I think my piece looks like it belongs in the family of my usual work but it also incorporates the bike parts in a logical and interesting way. I think my work is well-crafted and visually interesting. I am, of course, biased, but  SRAM Supported Botany is one of my favorite works in the group.

Other Favorites
Below I have included my choices for the other strongest works in the show.

Jeffrey Van de Walker's SRAM Field Collection

I've always liked works that suggest ideas about scientific collections and scientific study. This piece makes me think of a 18th century cabinet of curiosity created by an eccentric explorer in a land of dinosaur cyborgs. I was thinking of cyborgs and the intersection between biology, technology and science fiction in my work as well. The piece makes me want to read a story about what is contained inside the box.

Elyse Harrison's The Bike Path

My favorite of the collage works (the prospectus indicated that we could make collage or sculptural works with the bike parts) are those that integrate the bike parts with the other media, rather than adding the bike parts onto the work. In fact, integration of materials is the main characteristic that I believe separates the strong work, both sculpture and collage, from the ordinary work in these shows. 

Clare Murray Adams' Hidden Assets

This work does an incredible job of both integrating the bike parts and having the parts "function" in the composition. I also like the tension and use of visual grouping and open spaces to create a composition that would work in any 2D media, not just in this mixed media relief.

Valerie Fanarjian's Circular Logic

The arrangement of this work is nice and pleasing, but what I particularly like is the use of semi-transparent papers, like tissue and dress patterns to transform the surface of the gears. At first I thought the metal was rusted or artificially aged, then I looked more closely at the large gears in the bottom center and recognized the patters in the paper. The transformation of surface texture interests me, especially given my previous use of mulberry paper to transform my surfaces.

Melissa Vandenberg's Aid Myths: Coming and Going

Interestingly, for a project that is expressly about charity and aid to developing nations, this is probably the only work that directly refers to charity and aid. I find the form visually interesting, but I would like to read or hear more about the artist's intent. She incorporates feed sacs, cowrie shells and a US flag. The piece reminds me of woven handicraft, a cornucopia, a seed pod and a damaged piece of mechanics all at the same time. This is one piece I would also like to see in person.

Lewis Tardy's Free Wheeling

Lewis Tardy won the top prize in the 2011 Chicago SRAM pART Project. The piece, Powerglide, was similar in approach Free Wheeling. In both Tardy transforms the rigid mechanical parts into a dynamically moving human form. I am impressed by the skill with which he combines the pieces to make a proportional and elegant body in motion.