Friday, January 27, 2012

Finishing Work & Running a Studio with More Students

Finishing Work

Towards the end of class today I was clearing out old work, forgotten bats and plastic sheets from the damp cabinet and shelves. I was surprised to find work I had thrown last week, before our surprise snow days. At school I often start projects then get distracted or forget them before I can finish trimming them or attaching handles. In part, this is a factor of the way I work in the school studio. Since I am not making my own work (per state ethics guidelines), I usually throw example pieces for new techniques and as students request to see new shapes. I try to stay a day or two ahead of the current projects so students can see works in progress as they are trimmed, attached and finished.

I forget the work in the damp cabinet or on shelves because students frequently ask for a new demonstration during class. They want to be reminded how to throw a narrow-necked vase but they already know how to trim it. So I have a vase from one demonstration and no reason to finish it during class. After class I need to grade papers or prepare new demonstrations so I can't finish "my own" work.

This quarter, however, I have noticed that I've been able to make and finish more work than usual. I'm in the clay studio for more hours and more days in the week. I've traded a clay class for a design class, hence I've traded that prep and class time, too. The type of classes makes a difference, too. I have 5 intermediate students, 8 beginning throwers and 16 hand-builders at this point in the quarter. A more typical mix has generally been 14 beginning throwers and a handful of intermediate or hand-building students.

The intermediate students have more complex and varied requests for demonstrations and the hand-builders work at an entirely different pace. Beginning throwers need to see bowls and do bowls. Over and over and over again. I'm not complaining, I enjoy the throwers, but the intermediates and hand-builders present a considerable departure from the normal routine. This quarter, only 4 weeks in, I've been able to try out some techniques I don't use very often. I was able to demonstrate coil throwing and building in sections. I spent almost 2 weeks on a coil built piece and I have several slab pieces and a teapot in the works.

More Students in the Studio

There is an interesting disconnect as a professional artist during the summer, and an instructor of mostly begining level clay students during the year. I make sculpture in the summer. I throw pots during the year. As a result of the classes I teach, I get a lot of practice on my bowls and my cylinders. I spend some time with handles and spouts and that's about where my pottery practice ends. When there isn't a student need, I don't find the time to try other techniques or forms. In the summer I prioritize my hand-building and sculpture.

Just last week a student was asking me what was the biggest piece I'd ever thrown. He had earlier requested that I demonstrate throwing a whole "pug" of clay (we cut extrusions from the recycling pug mill that are about as long as the bins we store them in). I explained, that was probably as big as I'd ever thrown. Then I thought, how funny, I've been teaching pottery here for almost 6 years and I've never bothered to push the scale of my pots. No student need.

I've thought and talked and written before about the importance of studio atmosphere for the development of student artists and potters. I've always believed that hard working students (who clean up after themselves) set a good tone for the studio. New students see that there is an expectation for them to practice, ask questions, plan, and take risks. A group of students in the studio who all make these sorts of assumptions about my expectations (or the expectations of the group) translates into more work, better work, more interesting work and a more rewarding experience for everyone involved.

In a studio that expects hard work and interesting discussions, not to mention responsibility and respect, the work is better and the people are happier (and, in a clay studio, healthier since the studio is kept clean). What I haven't thought much about before is the benefit of this atmosphere for me, as an instructor and as and artist.

I am happier and also more challenged in my clay studio because I have more time and I have more varied students. I have more time to plan, more time to prepare example pieces or pieces that can be used to illustrate intermediate steps in the various processes.

One example that captures part of the difference is the example of a surface decoration demonstration I do every quarter. Usually I have a leather-hard bowl and perhaps a dry or bisque fired bowl to work with. During this demonstration I try to show students how to use slip decoration, carving, sgraffito, paddles, stamps, sprigs, faceting, cutting and piercing. Since I am showing so many techniques and I have only one or two pieces on which to demonstrate, the one bowl becomes a tragedy of overabundant adornment.

This quarter, however, I was able to spread out my carving, cutting, sgraffito and sprigs on two plates, four pinch pots, a coil pot and a lidded box. Since all these things were partially made on the day of the critique, I had abundant surfaces to decorate and no hideous Meissen style extravagance as a result.

Hideous Meissen extravagance (picture from Wikipedia)
One of the disadvantages of teaching at a small community college is that I do see a great number of beginning students and I am less often able to work with groups of higher level students. I hesitate to explain, because I don't want to complain; I like what I do. I enjoy the challenge of teaching different sorts of classes. But it does mean that my attention and my time is dispersed.

Working in this quarter's iteration of the clay studio has allowed me to move more in depth into some of the forms and techniques I regularly teach and has given me more practice in working with students on higher level techniques. In fact, I find that I am excited about all the things I can still do with this quarter's classes. And I am excited to see what we as a studio, can encourage individual students in the studio to accomplish.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Still Here

I've got a couple of posts in the works, but they are a little too link- and photo-heavy for me to finish today. This week has been a bit hectic as we try to catch up after our two surprise snow days last week.

The pink on the corner is not my hand; It was snowing heavily, so to protect my new camera, I covered it with a baby blanket, but it was hard to see if I had it up above the view of the camera--and editing photos is not an appropriate use of my time right now.

While I finish a post about my busy studio and another about the upcoming clay events in Yakima, check out what my Art Appreciation students are watching this week. We're talking about the formal art elements of time and motion, so we watched part of the Andy Goldsworthy film, Rivers & Tides. I highly recommend watching the whole thing. I think you can rent it from Netflix.

A few months ago, someone on Facebook shared this video about Theo Jansen's kinetic sculpture. I thought it was perfect way to explain or show kinetic sculpture, since we can't always guarantee that the students will see kinetic sculpture in person during the class. (We had some great kinetic sculpture made of metal and stone by James Lapp in Larson Gallery a few years ago and Renee Adams had some kinetic sculptures made from polymer clay in the Central Washington Artists Exhibition this year.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Snow Day & Advertising Online

Why I'm Home Today

Yakima got about 6" of snow yesterday morning. Yakima Valley Community College cancelled school around 4pm, we came home and played and shoveled but by then it had pretty much let up.

Snow. it looks white. They don't plow here.

I got up early this morning to get some things done (I ordered new media business cards for Larson Gallery) and ended up running just a bit late. As I ran upstairs to wake up my daughter, it occurred to me that I'd better check that her day care was open. I checked the YVCC homepage (which doesn't actually help me find out if her day care is open, since they follow Yakima School District closures) and was very surprised to see we were closed. After checking my e-mail and calling in (since I really couldn't believe we cancelled for 6 inches of snow that fell while I was on campus yesterday), I went back to getting ready and let my girl sleep in.

ooh, ahh. What a lovely (draft) of a new media business card you have there.

It has now been showing since 8:30 or 9:00 am and we've got about a foot total maybe. It was supposed to turn to freezing rain, but so far I've just seen the fluffy white stuff. Hopefully it stays that way. I heard a rumor that Yakima doesn't plow until there's at least 6" of snow, but I've also seen no evidence of snow plows on the roads around here.

I use the truck to gauge snowfall levels.

I have, of course, had a wonderful day home. My daughter and I tromped through the snow to the pharmacy and stopped to write her name and draw smiley faces in the fresh snow. On the way back, we made funny footprints and followed the freshest footprints home while trying to find our old ones that were almost covered in new snowfall by the time we got home an hour later.

Advertising & Marketing (as an artist and instructor)

I didn't do any real school work after I discovered it was a snow day, but in the early morning I talked to my mom, who had seen the new videos I posted on YouTube. I've had the YouTube page less than a month but I'd posted some throwing demonstration videos and some other clay demonstration videos I made this month and in the summer.

I had been envisioning the YouTube page as primarily a teaching tool. I have been thinking of the blog as both a teaching tool and a personal/art journal of sorts. As a professional artist I would direct people to both my website and my blog. As a teacher, I would direct students to the blog as a way to access particular demonstrations or explanations and also as a way to link to other interesting content.

With this school use in mind, I had linked my YouTube videos to my "Quick Links for Clay Classes" page on the blog but I hadn't bothered to include my name or information on the videos. I labeled them as throwing videos and figured they'd be used by just 10-30 students a quarter, depending who did their suggested homework.

My mom suggested that the videos were part of the overall marketing of the "Rachel Dorn Ceramics" brand. Okay, she didn't really say that. But as an artist, its important to remember that my online presence is one important way that the world can see me/my art. I haven't been doing this blog/YouTube a long time, and I certainly don't have it figured out entirely, but I keep discovering, in little "Ah Ha!" moments, that easy little things like labeling can make a big difference. (At least I think they can, I guess I haven't been doing this long enough to know.)

Maintaining the blog, linking to demonstrations, videos, interesting stuff, updating a YouTube channel or a website or a Facebook page, all of these are easy little things to do, but they're also difficult and large and multi-faceted. I remember reading a few months ago that to get stuff done you need to keep something really big and unpleasant on your "To Do" list so that in procrastinating that thing, you'll do all the other things. There seem to be a million little pieces that go into maintaining a useful online presences (I have no idea what half of them are and I haven't gotten around to doing most of them), but just keeping some of the plates spinning seems both exhaust me and give me a great sense of accomplishment when I do some of the tasks (like labeling my videos).

Somedays I would like to just take a personal snow day (or snow week) to get ahead. I'd spend some time linking and advertising and trying to bring more traffic to my new and improved blog and website. But I actually like what I spend most of my time doing. It's nice to have this hungry little monster as a supplement but I suppose if I did give it all my time, it would take all that and more.

One more snow pic: the mailman was here, like, 10 minutes before I took this picture, his tracks are already filling in.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Independent Study Student Blogs Winter 2012

This quarter I have again asked my ART 299 students to create a blog to track their plans, progress and thought about their studio work this quarter.

Students are maintaining their blogs as a part of the requirements for the class. I am sure they would appreciate thoughts, questions and other feedback from their studio mates in beginning and intermediate wheel and hand-building classes.

To access these student's blogs, click the links below or on the right side of my main page. To comment you will likely need to sign in with a Google account (or similar) but I don't believe you will need to join Blogger. Some students also have e-mail addresses linked to their websites or if you see them in the studio, be sure to ask questions or talk to them about clay.

Two throwing students will be continuing to post on blogs they started last quarter:

DJ's Blog

Les's Blog

Mike will be continuing to blog about his hand-building and drum making but at a different address:

Mike's Blog

And we have one new (to ART 299)  throwing student joining us in Independent Study this quarter:

Amanda's Blog

Also, don't forget that I have posted links to videos and clay related posts on the "Quick Links for Clay Classes" page above.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Installation plans

I am planning to include an installation at the upcoming clay exhibition, "From the Ground Up" at Larson Gallery.

I have experience with installation work but I am starting to fret about this one. I'm mostly just fretting because that's what I do at this stage. The work is made, I can't really make any more pieces before the deadline but the installation isn't up yet so I fret. To ease my own fretting, I'll plan, or, in this case, write about installations.

My first wall installation was created for my senior show in college.

The installation consisted of 100 "bulb" shapes arranged in a 10 x 10 grid. The piece took up the short wall of the long gallery. The pieces were pinched and raku fired. Later I recreated the installation with different bulbs, different arrangements, and different surfaces for firing methods. One installation in a window display of Higher Fire Gallery in Madison was hung from strong fishing line with pieces "evolving" onto the floor. 

Later I recreated a version of the installation in my parents' living room.

During graduate school I created several different installations using clay and one using handmade paper and fabric.

My Master of Fine Arts Exhibition was a large installation in the Allen Centennial Gardens on University of Wisconsin-Madison's campus.

One fall I even had my Art Appreciation students create installations after watching Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers & Tides.

I haven't done an installation myself in some time. My plan for this installation is to use a variety of different pieces arranged together on the wall in the gallery. I was expecting to use about 10 or 12 medium sized pieces and several small forms. I laid out my plans on the patio outside my home studio before the works were glazed, but the installation will look different fired and installed on a vertical surface.

Here are some of the pieces I intend to use in the installation.



Ironically, this week when I was preparing to present on my trip to NCECA last March and was going through my images from the conference. I found this picture from the NCECA Biennial that I had forgotten about. 

So, I'm not sure that writing about installations made me feel much better, but it allowed me to think and plan my installation a little more. We'll see what happens in February.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Forming Work

As my 15 hand-builders begin to build their first coil project, I have been thinking about what they need to know about the forming process. I have piece in the studio I have been building alongside them (or alongside those who come in outside of class). I have a few smaller pieces I was using to demonstrate surface decoration. I haven't felt able to spend as much time in the studio as I would like (since I have other work that needs to get done), but I do have images from my summer studio work.


I sketch a lot, though I don't always make what I sketch. I sketch during the year and in the summer, In the summer I sketch ideas I will create soon. During the year (when I am not in the studio as much) I sketch so that I can record my idea and save it for my summer studio time. The sketches give me something to work towards, especially if I am feeling stuck or if I don't have an immediate plan for something to start on.

 I sometimes combine drawings with found images, like the advertising images above or the photographs below.


Most of the sketches on the last page haven't turned into sculptures, but sometimes I come back to a piece of an idea from a sketch and use it later in my work. It isn't always recognizable when it shows up later, but the sketches, which I sometimes hang up around the studio, remind me later of things I meant to get around to making or trying.


I also keep a lot of stuff in my studio to remind me of forms I might want to build or and surfaces I might want to incorporate into my work.

Starting my forms

My sculpture is built using coil, pinch and wheel throwing methods. I started off using mostly coil building because I found it to be the most direct and natural way of working. My building methods evolved to be less strictly coil than a loose combination of squished coils and pinched wads of clay.

After I started teaching throwing classes regularly, I started incorporating the wheel into my sculpture building process. I would throw all quarter and have trouble leaving it when my summer studio time began. This past summer I would throw a bunch of parts one day and then use these parts to build for the next two weeks. My work is too asymmetrical and twisty to use the wheel exclusively. Plus, I'm not that patient.

I sometimes also pinch and coil a set of parts before I begin building or while I am waiting for pieces to stiffen up enough to be worked on. These pinched and coiled forms are also combined into larger forms.

throwing a middle section for a sculpture (hollow to floor)
throw pieces that will be modified off the wheel 
thrown sphere (on "the hump")
Thrown pieces will be kept tightly wrapped under plastic until I am ready to work with them. By two weeks they are too dry to use.

Combining forms

When I use the wheel I usually start several pieces at once. The wheel thrown elements can dry a little but need to be wet enough to be attached to coils or other throwing work.

scoring edge of thrown pieces 

shaping edge of thrown piece for attachment
attaching two thrown pieces together

paddling seam of attached pieces

attaching third thrown section 
piece is laid on its side for more shaping and finishing

Coil & Pinch Building

Some of my work combines mostly thrown pieces (as above), but usually I hand-build onto the thrown pieces and the form of the sculpture develops more organically.

pinching coils onto the open end of a thrown form
I often work on foam or on my lap because pieces don't have a flat base.
the same piece later that day

adding more coils

attaching a pinch formed cone shape

after two pinch cones have been added. The foam and wad of clay are holding up the heavy wet clay as it dries.

closing the coil / pinch form

finished form

Friday, January 6, 2012

Scheduling Creativity, Planning for Effort

One of the most rewarding things I did before leaving for winter break was to redo my course calendar for my clay classes.

This winter I teach 3 classes and several independent study students. For the first time at YVCC, I will be teaching hand-building on a different day than throwing (rather than stacking the classes and teaching smaller groups simultaneously). I have been using and revising the same calendar for several quarters, but the new schedule required me to make significant changes.

The schedule and time change and the split classes required me to rearrange the schedule. I also anticipated that, especially the hand-building class (which filled late), would have a significant number of students who are not college ready. My beginning clay classes have no prerequisites (whereas many lecture classes have a Math or English requirement to enroll). Obviously students don't have to be able to write well or calculate to learn pottery or hand-building techniques, but students who enter college at a low level sometimes also lack the expectation or experience of doing homework, planning their work or preparing for class. With this in mind, I adjusted my hand-building class to include more directed activities.

Instead of 3 building projects and a glazing project (like the throwing classes). I added an extra project to the hand-building schedule and adjusted the projects to each be a bit shorter.

When I was an undergraduate student, my beginning level projects were pretty flexible. I was expected to find a creative answer to the problem posed by the instructor. I was also expected to work hard and challenge myself within the project. The project was left open, in part, to allow for multiple interpretations on the theme. With hand-building classes at YVCC, I have discovered that setting up a relatively large flexible assignment works for some students but can leave some students floundering. Some students don't realize soon enough that a studio class requires a great deal of time. They think art is an "easy" class and don't plan time in the studio. They realize their mistake just before the due date and then try to rush the building. Sometimes their work collapses or has to be redone. They get frustrated and aren't happy in the class.

hand-building student working in clay studio
I find with clay classes that the best way to understand the drying process is to experience it. No matter how many times I say that work needs to be covered so it won't dry out, some students need to come in to find their half-finished work bone dry and impossible to complete.  No matter how many times I tell them to come into the studio to work on their project, students try to put it off until the last minute.

Really successful hand-building students are often the ones who enjoy being in the studio and therefore plan time to work outside of class. Their work is built up a little at a time and the deadline is easy for them to meet. These students are often content to work independently or take the initiative to ask me or ask classmates for help.

coil-built work by previous students who spend time in the studio outside of class 

One adjustment I made to the calendar this quarter was to include two deadlines already this week. Most students were able to get 4 pinch pots made by the end of Wednesday's class, but no one was finished with their three coil pieces by today. I don't think any of the students came in between Wednesday and Friday's class, but several were in this afternoon. Hopefully they all now have a better idea of the time required by the projects.

One additional variable for the students' success in my class is the size of the class itself. The hand-building classes here have suffered from being small and from being combined with throwing classes. I think the students sometimes feel like the hand-building class is a neglected step-sister of the primary class (the throwing classes are generally larger).

I anticipate that the sheer number of hand-building students in the studio will encourage more effort from a greater percentage of the students. They will see each other working and the idea of working, especially outside of class time, will be reinforced. I suspect they will also see students from other classes (beginning and intermediate wheel and independent study students) working in the studio at various times.

Today students looked at some "inspiration" images I brought in. They worked on their practice coil cylinders and had the opportunity to talk a little about what they might like to do for their "real" project next week. Monday I will give them a surface decoration demonstration and I will also require them to practice some of the techniques on their prepared pinch pots. Before they even begin their "real project" they will have had 3 things due and 3 days of class spent working on various techniques and projects.

texture tools to be demonstrated Monday