Friday, April 27, 2012

Working Alone

I don't know if this is the kind of week in which I can handle a change in Blogger's interface (Where is everything? Why is it not where I think it should be).

Trying to Work
Today there was no class, which was a welcome break, but I had to go in anyway because I was pretty far behind on my grading. Quite a few other faculty were also in today, though we officially had the day off.
I was able to work in my office with the door closed and my music on during the early morning, but by the time I started hearing other voices and seeing shadows walk past my door, I got nervous and tense and couldn't stay still and grade. I think I was afraid that someone would find me and interrupt me and I would have to "deal" with something. In my office my desk chair rolls and when I get anxious or uncomfortable or ready to leave, I start moving around and standing up and kneeling it in at rolling it around. I suppose this doesn't help.

I went for lunch (because it was lunchtime) thinking I could grade a bit or read a bit as I waited for my lunch. Unfortunately I was seated uncomfortably close to a pair of young women who wanted to talk about their boyfriends. I am sure they didn't appreciate me so close and I certainly didn't want to hear their conversation, so, though it might be rude, I dug out my iPod to block their gossip. I tried to grade but the chair was very low and soft and uncomfortable which also made it hard for me to sit still. The table was too high to eat or grade comfortably.

I had a couple errands to run and then ended up with my computer, a sundae and some iced tea at McDonald's. McDonald's was actually the perfect place to get some work done. They had on music I couldn't hear because of the machines beeping and grinding. People were chatting and ordering and calling out instructions, but so many were doing this at the same time, I couldn't make out anything but a dull grey haze of sound. For a short while a mother yelled at her kid from the 50's car-shaped booth across the aisle from my plain booth, but the grinding, beeping hum all around us prevented even this from being clearly audible enough to be annoying. Also, my booth seat was wide and hard and stationary and the table was at the right height for sundaes and for typing. Also for large iced teas.

The best part about McDonald's, though was that I could be alone in public. I wasn't working at home because my mother-in-law is visiting. She wouldn't try to interrupt me, but she would probably just have one thing to tell me, and then one more, and one more. Or, she might have brought my daughter home from day care and she would certainly interrupt me. Even after promising not to. But even if noone else were home, I might interrupt myself by "just doing a little bit of laundry" or just fixing a little snack or just taking a quick break for...whatever.

To adjust the intent of the Cheers theme song, "Sometimes you want to go where no-body knows your name." In a place where no one knows you, they can't possibly have something they need you to do, and politeness will prevent them from talking to you if you look like you are working. There's also no other "work" you can do except the work you are supposed to do. Also, Hot Fudge helps with writing. Everyone knows that.

Why I Was Writing
The thing I was trying to write was an application to be part of the Humanities Washington Speaker's Bureau next year. I don't have any idea how competitive it is, but someone suggested I try and so I did. The application was a series of short answer questions about what I do and why. They also asked for a video of a 5 minute sample of my presentation. It had never occurred to me to record my presentation, so I gave part of the presentation to a room full of empty desks one afternoon.

Giving the presentation to a room of empty desks wasn't that strange to do, since I sometimes practice out loud--usually not in an actually classroom--with no audience. But filming it was odd. Rather, filming it made me realize how ill-suited my presentation is to filming from a stationary position. The presentation is a PowerPoint with images of me working and I also do part of the demonstration on the document camera so people can see my sprigs up close. So I filmed the screen with the Powerpoint and I talked over it. What a strange video to watch: a series of still images with a disembodied voice-over.

I don't think this is a flaw in the presentation, however. I suppose I could add video or animation, but then the real me ends up watching a video of the digital me in real time with the audience. I can't figure out why I would present that, might as well e-mail the video and save the gas. But in real life, what the stationary video camera can't capture is me walking around, gesturing, reacting to people, being alive. (It is especially hard to capture audience interaction with not audience.) I tried to capture we walking around pretending to talk to people with video, but the camera can't get wide enough to really fit me very well. The view then had to include empty desks and ceiling lights. It was dark and small and, not good.

What I Was Writing
Besides the video, I had some questions to answer about my work and the presentation. One of them got me thinking beyond what I expected to think. Usually artist statements are pretty similar and I describe my work and my plan and my inspiration, etc. But one of the questions asked why I like to do this stuff (my words, their meaning). I started to answer that I just have to do it. It is late April and I am ACHING to get into the studio and work and be alone. But "this stuff" is also the teaching element. Why am I going through the trouble of applying to be part of this speaker's bureau? I like teaching. No, that's too weak. I need to teach too. I once tried to "just" make art but I ended up teaching anyway.

So I started thinking about the contrasts between teaching and making art. Making art, as I said above, is a solitary undertaking. At least it is for me; Dale Chihuly may disagree. Teaching, on the other hand, is necessarily a social and cooperative effort. Perhaps some proponents of teaching through online modules would disagree, but I don't have much faith in solitary teaching methods.

It is interesting to me that in April (or May or June) I start to get antsy for alone time in the studio, but If I were able to be alone in the studio for an extended period, I would have the urge to talk and share and... well, write to a wider audience as in this blog.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Daily Mini Sculpture Project: Half-way home

When I originally outlined my plans for this daily project, I planned to make work starting in the last week of winter quarter, continuing through spring break and the 10 weeks of spring quarter and then finals. After that date, I would be free to work all day in my home studio (ooo! I can't wait!). Planning for a few missed days, I would have completed 80 pieces by early June.
I counted yesterday and I am at 40 pieces (plus a few odds and ends), so I guess that means I'm halfway to summer!

Here are my latest additions.

 The inspiration hint for this day was to make something underwater. This is, therefore, a fish. Sort of a cartoon fish with anatomy like a disney fish.

I made a similar piece that is actually a set of two pieces that fit together face to face, concealing a fount object inside. I have been thinking of several things, rock-like objects that can be lifted up, revealing some other material underneath, objects that snap shut together somehow in the center (though I have no idea what the connecting apparatus would be), and sets that relate a clay impression to the non-clay impressed material. 

 The idea in these two objects (and the two previous) is far from worked out at this point, really more of a sketch or a trial.

Today's hint: something from your favorite movie. (Actually, it might have just said "movie" but I picked my favorite). This is a flux capacitor, of course.

No hint today, just sticking mechanical pencils in clay.

Today's hint: was to use clay in a way you have never done before. So this is clay straight out of the slake bucket, unwedged, unscored, unpaddled. Will it fall apart? I'm not sure.

I must have missed a day or gotten out of order because I think I made this piece the same day. I know I made it from clay I took out of the slake bucket (though I hand wedged and paddled it first). The inspiration hint was "sustainability" I have plans to someday use recycled paper for surface texture/decoration, but at the moment making something minimal allowed me to sustain through the week and go to bed early because I was exhausted.

And the end of the week, just making stuff. 

Actually, the entire week is a blur. I had some issues with a student that made things a little difficult, I was tired all week and I was starting to run out of clay last night. I am working on an intimidating project that isn't for school (at least not exactly) and I'm feeling really ready for a break and the end of the quarter. Can I just sleep and read and eat ice cream for a week straight after the quarter ends?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sustainability & Critical Multiculturalism

At the start of April I went to a Faculty Learning Community retreat on Critical Multiculturalism (you can see me in orange in the top picture). I went as part of a team of YVCC faculty representing a larger group of campus faculty interested in incorporating sustainability ideas into classes and in raising the profile of sustainability on campus and in the broader community.

The week before I was at the NCECA (clay) conference in Seattle where I talked with several groups about sustainability in teaching ceramics and in individual studio practice.

A month or two ago I went to a conference in Ellensburg put on by the Washington Center as part of their Curriculum for the Bioregion Project. The focus was sustainability across the curriculum and focused on the bioregion.

As you might guess, these three conferences/retreat had interesting overlaps as well as slightly different focuses. I have been thinking hard over the last few months (or few years) about how to incorporate and integrate theses related ideas into my own teaching and my own work.

I prefer a definition of sustainability that includes the "three legs" of Environmental, Economic and Social Sustainability, alternately phrased as social justice. Elsewhere I have heard it referred to as Heathy Communities, Healthy Economies and Healthy Environments. In an interesting article in one of the latest editions of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the author argues against the too frequent working definition of sustainability that overlooks the social or social justice aspect of the cause. He essentially says that overlooking healthy communities makes Sustainability into a cause for middle class whites. A colleague referred to it as "that hippie thing."

Especially where I work, I think sustainability is too often seen as a buzz word and an initiative that doesn't really mean much to folks on the ground. I am constantly amazed at the casual ignorance of simple action like recycling. I want to be clear that recycling isn't sustainability, though sustainability sometimes is reduced to the old slogan, "reduce reuse recycle" that many of us learned in school (at least we did in the late 80s where I grew up in Wisconsin).  But I think recycling is an indicator of attitudes about the environment and even about social justice. I have students who regularly choose to walk 5 feet in one direction to throw a soda (or Monster) can in the trash instead of walking 5 feet in the other direction to throw the can in the recycle bin. Why? I think it is sometimes actual animosity towards recycling. Again, why?

I believe increasing awareness and practice of environmentally sustainable practices is the only logical approach to the problems of climate change, but I also think there are obvious social problems in the country and in my immediate community that require a sustainable approach. I see an important element of my role as an educator as both introducing these concepts and helping students see how they might be able to be a force for good in their community. I don't see my role as giving students a solution. For one, I don't have solutions, but for another, a top-down enforced solution isn't one that is appropriate or likely to take hold on its own.

As an example, in the YVCC clay studio I was able to make some changes that decrease our water usage and allow us to reclaim slip as clay. We have deep, wide sinks with PVC pipe extensions on the drains. These extentions allow us to keep standing water in two of the three sinks for washing tools and hands. The throwing slip and slurry from tools collects in the sinks, students can wash and rinse in the sinks without constantly running the water. Once the clay has settled, the water can be drained and the clay collected, dried and pugged into newly usable clay.

This studio change was relatively easy to implement. I educated my work studies, explain the situation and the requirements and advantages to new students at the beginning of every quarter and usually they understand and follow the new system. They can understand that we don't want to clog drains and overflow toilets and they can understand why washing tools and hands and towels in clay water first works as well as cleaning it just under a running tap. They aren't much affected but are able to be studio sustainable. The work studies embrace the change because it makes sense for their job requirements of recycling the clay and cleaning the studio.

There are other changes that I would also consider implementing but they have a higher transition cost. If we were, for example, to switch to a lower temperature firing, there would be glazes to change, firing schedules to adapt and students who were used to the old firing might be resistant. I would prefer to undertake this sort of a change with the support and cooperation of a class for the goal of saving money or or reducing our environmental impact (or both). Undertaking this change with a class has the added advantage of helping a group of students understand some of the considerations behind studio practices and some of the glaze chemistry and physics of firing.

There are, undoubtedly other changes that could be implemented in the studio or, more broadly, other programs that we could look into or develop that would also increase our environmental sustainability, our economic savings and could have a positive impact on the community in general. Though I have some ideas, I would love to see what motivated students could come up with once there is a built-in process for exploring other options. Social Justice or "Healthy Communities" in particular I find myself unprepared to tackle in a classroom setting except on the micro scale.

In the studio every quarter and every year I stress the importance of the studio environment. A "healthy" studio atmosphere does wonders for the progression of both the class as a whole and students individually, and this "healthiness" occurs on several levels. First, the classroom is physically healthier for students when everyone contributes to cleanup. The clay dust is kept to a minimum and people aren't breathing in the silica and putting their lungs at risk. Students who take responsibility for daily studio cleanup also decrease the cleaning portion of the work study students' job, allowing them to focus on clay recycling and other projects. A messy studio encourages students to be lax in daily cleanup. Besides the things I have mentioned above, when students are lazy about cleanup, we end up with tools in the wrong place which can become a physical hazard. Sharp needle tools in the sinks stab the work studies as they clean up, broken glaze left on the counter can cut people and chamois and small tools left in the clay can be recycled through the pug mill, damaging the machinery or, more often, ending up wedged into someone's clay, ruining their bowl or mug.

But the "healthy" studio atmosphere also has to do with the effort and supportiveness of the students. In a quarter when several students work hard, challenge themselves and spend a great deal of time in the studio, their work ethic infects other students and more and more students (not all) also work hard and challenge themselves. This quarter is starting out to be a good example, students had more work than required at the first critique, students are working later into the day, discussing their work together and helping each other with techniques.

Likewise, students who complain can also poison the studio atmosphere for a quarter, encouraging other students to complain and find excuses for not working. I have had a couple of quarters when this has happened. I can sometimes work to stop the rest of the students being influenced by the grump, but if the students are friends or are loud, I can't always stop their influence. A small class can have a similar affect; since there aren't many students in the class, the studio seems empty and people are less likely to come in on their own. I have fewer students but also less work from each students.

The YVCC faculty group who attended the sustainability conference and the critical multiculturalism retreat are developing a website resource with "best practices" for faculty to incorporate sustainability ideas and teaching into their classes. More on this later.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I'm Famous!

Of course by "famous" I mean that my work is on someone else's blog: Check me out on Noah Scalin's Blog, Make Something 365.

Also I've added a page for the Daily Mini Sculpture Project to make it easier to find quickly.

Yesterday was the opening for my show at Oak Hollow Gallery in Chalet Place on Summitview in Yakima. This month's show features my sculpture and Jack Roberts' paintings and mixed media work.

I sold a few things at the opening last night and partway through the event Josey, the owner, asked if I had some lawn ornaments, so called my husband and had him bring in a basket. I have a lot of work at the show, much of it small, but some pieces from the From the Ground Up exhibition at Larson Gallery last month.

Also coming up at the beginning of June I will be showing my work in June Art Fest at Chalet Place (between Inklings and Wray's, generally). More details to follow.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Daily Mini Sculpture Project: Katsup Edition

I have about 4 posts partially written but apparently I can't find the time to finish them. Being gone two weeks in a row sure messes with a schedule.

The weather has been nice and I've been spending time with my family outside preparing the garden, pulling weeds and watching my husband pull apart our fence (he wants to repair and replace parts of it).

But I did get my daily mini sculpture pieces done (that's something).

This piece was one I made while waiting for my daughter to take her bath. I used some of the underglaze she had spilled a few days ago.

Today's hint was to make something with an ethereal material like bubbles or smoke. I had already chosen my medium, so I decided to make  something the represented bubbles.

This set of two pieces fit together. Inside is a small metal item we found when I was walking to the park with my daughter.

Today's inspiration hint was "eye." I was thinking of the very basic symbols of an eye, an almond or oval shape, a bulging eyeball and exaggerated lashes.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Daily Mini Sculpture Project: NCECA Edition

I've been out of town at two conferences for part of both of the last two weeks. I made some work during the time I was gone but also missed some days because of the conferences and the work that piles up when one is gone. Click these links if you want to know what my Daily Mini Sculpture project is or how it started.

This is almost the last piece I made before I left for the NCECA (clay) conference in Seattle. It has been so long I can't honestly remember if it was supposed to be a inspiration-hint piece or just one I came up with. I believe it was just one I was playing with. The form is similar to one I've worked with before.

The night before I left for the conference I decided to whip something out in about 15 minutes. It is a flatter piece than I usually do with just one claw and an impression of some plastic thing I had in the studio. I think the inspiration hint was to use a stencil, which I translated into using a stamp.

 At the NCECA conference I planned to steal some time to work between events or in the evening. Traffic, meeting up with folks and pure exhaustion prevented this form happening until the morning of the second full day, but when I arrived early for Yoga for Potters (drive time with traffic was hard to judge ahead of time), I made a couple pieces in the car. The first one I finished before yoga, the second one was partly done. I used a banana peel for the texture. I had forgotten that my inspiration for the previous day was supposed to be "potato prints" but really, I wasn't going to make a piece that used a potato print directly, especially not from the parking garage of the Seattle Convention Center.


This piece with the banana peel print didn't do as well when my daughter sat on the bag with the clay, but with a little repair it seems to have regained its form.


Back at home I managed to make some pieces in some stolen nap moments and in the evening while watching TV. I didn't, however, managed to document my work very well at the time, so I can't recall the inspiration hints.

Surface is an impression from rolling the ball around on a texture mat. I think I was tired when I cranked this one out.

I think Sean was watching a show about airplanes while I did this one. maybe I was craving cheerios, too.


By the time I left for my second conference (a SBCTC Critical Multiculturalism Faculty Learning Community retreat in North Bend--a mouthful), I realize that no clay work would get done after long hours and in a lodge room in which I might have a roommate (I didn't).

I save the work for when I got back. Today I made an "instructions" piece. I can't remember the entire prompt from the book, but the one-word hint I wrote down just said "instructions."  So this piece is illustrated with instructions for making this piece. Meta, huh?


I pulled two hints (to account for the ~three days I missed) and the second was "pens." I have several old pens and pencils as studio tools so I played with them on both of the next pieces. The back end of the dried out red pen makes a nice round indent with a raised center bump. 

Part way through the first piece, my daughter cancelled her nap and came down to the clay studio to ask me to open underglaze jars and to mix the underglaze into a muddy mess. (She has her own underglaze set so that I don't have to be upset when it all turns brown). I insisted on continuing to work and since the heat was already on and Daddy was napping, she tolerated it.

This piece has the same indents from the back of the pen and also marks from the pen tip. They cover one side and fade out on the "back" because there is a limit to four-year-old patience. Interestingly (at least to me) the piece below makes me think about children learning the meaning of the world "mother" as a metaphor for scientists learning the meaning of their scientific definitions and theories. I was listening to "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (at least I was listening when I wasn't being asked to open jars). Often pieces of audiobooks or songs stick to a work I am making because I was listening when I made the work. This piece of information stuck because it related to two other bits of new information from the last couple weeks.  In Seattle I went to the Gaugin exhibition and learned, among other things that children in Polynesia are/were raised calling more than one woman "mother" because...well, I guess, "it takes a village." The equivalent of godparents were more integral to raising the kids. And, after the Critical Multiculturalism retreat I was talking with my mother about how cultural biases might impact sciences. (Did you know that scientific research on chimpanzees is often done on only male chimps? Even if the research will then be used for drugs or treatments for both males and females.)

We also got up to the Chimposium at the Central Washington University Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute today, so I guess Chimpanzees are on the brain too.

Monday, April 2, 2012

In which I see a lot of clay and it rains

Last week was the NCECA conference (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) in Seattle. I drove over on Wednesday to catch the keynote and then stayed through Saturday. I ran into people I knew from college and graduate school and I saw a lot of ceramic shows and heard some lectures.

I thought this year's conference was okay but I didn't get really pumped about the work I saw until the last day when I went to the NCECA Invitational show at Bellevue Art Museum (BAM). The museum had at least three "clay" shows and some other exhibits and all were quite good, but "Push Play" was easily the best. The quality of work was strong throughout and there was a great deal of variety. I tend to prefer installations and larger work and I'd usually rather look at sculpture than functional work in a museum setting, so this show was to my taste.

Thinking I would have a catalog to refer to, I foolishly failed to get a name for this, my favorite work in the show. I also failed to get a good picture of the whole thing, and the website doesn't have one. Sadness.
The reason the above work by unknown artists was my favorite

I also simply liked the museum. They won me over with kids' activities. When we entered, my daughter and her grandmother went over to the clay activity tables while I went through the museum. After I'd seen everything, I took them for an abbreviated highlights tour. This allowed me to read and take photos and be slow in my visit and also to share the show with them.

I think kids are a good gauge of quality when it comes to art. The best show I saw last year was one where my daughter kept asking to look at one work (something by Jason Briggs). This year she had to see one particular installation 4 times. She kept asking to return to it. I think that's a good sign that there is something compelling about the piece.

This is one of my photos of my daughter's favorite work, "The Captains Congress" by Anne Drew Potter. I'm disappointed in my pictures and those available on the BAM website. I didn't take better ones because I planned to buy the catalog. The exhibition had a catalog in the room and a sign that said it was available to buy. LIES! (They were sold out and didn't plan to reprint). 

Anyway, Potter's work was a group of distorted children making faces and, according to my daughter, yelling at each other. One of the children had apparently walked away from the "game" and was sitting apart from them. She escaped the bodily distortions when she escaped the game. The group of figures was down about her height which may have made them more appealing but so was the first piece I mentioned and the work by Cavener Stichter (below). My daughter spent significantly more time with this group of figures.

I went to the show planning to enjoy Beth Cavener Stichter's work and I did. My daughter did too, but, as you might imagine from a young girl, she was interested approximately half of this work. Cavener Stichter's statement said something about the wolf as her alter ego coming to grips with her femininity. It makes me think that a young girl must whole-heartedly embrace her femininity. Having to come to grips with it comes later.

this was the girl's favorite part
this was my favorite part (no, actually I liked the whole thing)

Bellevue Art Museum had other good shows upstairs but they didn't allow photography. Luckily they have some photos online--at least temporarily. One of my favorites was "Labyrinth" by Motoi Yamamoto (which does have a picture). It was made of salt and looked intricate and interesting and impressive. My daughter guessed it might have been made of snow (you can see why) but it was an installation of salt. Currently on the BAM homepage you can see a picture of Yamamoto installing it.

There was more work in the gallery that I found interesting but I don't see pictures on their website and I wasn't allowed to take any. Suffice it to say that you need to go. Bellevue isn't that far away, just 20 minutes north of downtown Seattle. They have a decent bookstore and the city seems pleasant. Go.

Caroline Cheng from Shanhai. I saw here work at another show at the Seattle Design Center.

Close-up view of Cheng's work.

Carol Gouthro. Her work was everywhere. I have a new favorite ceramic artist.

To see more of Gouthro's work (I certainly will), visit her website at