Friday, June 29, 2012

Glass Fusing Results

I picked up our fired glass from Sharon Strong this week. Picking up the glass turned out to be a dull point in our week. Later that day the guys installing a sprinkler system in our yard cut the gas line. We were evacuated from the house for several hours while the fire department and gas company came to cut a hole in our alley and shut off the line. The gas company was here all day yesterday replacing the pipe and digging extra holes in our yard and the alley.

our alley yesterday

But, anyway, on to the glass.

Looks like we made a lot of stuff.

The results were fine. The jewelry, in particular turned out better than I expected. None of our glass had any obvious flaws like cracks or distortions. I was surprised to see a texture difference between some of the pieces. The orange tile in the center is more matt than the two orange glass pieces on the left and right. I assume the two had clear glass on top of the orange and the one had orange on top of clear. I didn't take precise enough notes to be sure, but I could go check the images.

Good Results

 Of all our pieces, my mom's blue explosion with red frit was certainly the "best." The tile kept its shape and the colors are vivid and strongly contrasting. The contrast in "texture"or pattern of the frit compared to the cut blue pieces also makes this piece stand out. Though I didn't take pictures, the best of other people's work also seemed to be the simplest. Contrasting colors and not too many layers made the pieces square, regular and highly visible. Unlike some of mine.

I suppose my best tile piece is the one made without a plan, though I don't like the matte texture of this orange as much as the other shinier tiles. I also like my spiders, mostly because of the green shimmery background with the orange stripes. 


Sharon put earring and necklace findings on some of the pieces, which was very nice of her. Of my work, she chose these earrings and large "pendant" which she had to cut down because it melted into a much larger piece. I've already worn the earrings. I happened to be wearing an orange and black NCECA t-shirt the day I picked them up.

She picked this piece to turn into a pendant for my mom. It probably looks better when I don't take the picture in the bright sunlight of my studio in the afternoon. The picture to the right is the blue pendant before firing.

Weird Results

One of Mom's explosions turned into a clown man. It looks like an explosion from the right angle, but the face is too evident if you spend much time with it. My daughter pointed it out almost instantly. 

I think my mom also got a swap in the deal. I didn't realize until I got home, but I'm pretty sure the piece on the bottom right in the before and after pictures is not the same.

What I Learned

Glass melts. I suppose I should have realized that, but look how much the piece below melted out of its original shape. It is more of an hourglass shape instead of a square. I had to prop up the piece for the picture because my variegated used of green striped clear and green glass doesn't show up without a backlight. The orange frit looks good, though. I noticed several other people had warped shaped work from layering too many pieces on top of one another. Sharon indicated that sometimes people cut them down after firing. I might just tie a doll's belt around the middle of mine.

The stringers that were to make up my net (above) melted thicker than I expected. I noticed, however, that the skinny lines in the bottom laters of glass didn't get any wider. I wonder if it has to do with how much glass is below the skinny piece.

It also didn't occur to me at the time that the clear glass wouldn't show up against the glass below it. I was picturing my bird's wing as being distinct from the rest of the bird. I guess that doesn't happen. The stripes below my fish (on the orange) also didn't show up against the orange either.

And for most of the jewelry, the shape didn't hold. Most of it seemed to turn blobby or round. I don't mind, but it took a while to figure out which was which. The finished ones below are arranged as they were before firing, including orientation.

If I were going to do it again, I'd say "simplify, simplify, simplify." Not surprisingly I was trying to do things that were too complex for the medium--or my understanding of the medium. However, If I didn't care about the overall shape and I had a little more control of the colors available, maybe I could translate the shapes into what I wanted, especially now that I have a better understanding of what the glass will do. I haven't decided yet if I want to try this on my own at home.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Clay & Glass: Teacher & Student

Teaching Mom to Throw

Last week my mom visited from Wisconsin. On Friday I taught her to throw. Oddly, she'd never thrown clay before, though she has been involved in art through me and through Whitewater Arts Alliance for years. She's helped me install and set up my sales booth, pack and unpack, write my artist statement (all the less-fun stuff). She's even blown glass in Japan and cast bronze but somehow I never showed her how to throw pottery on the wheel.

So, we rectified the situation last week. She said she enjoyed it and she took to it well.

It was unusual teaching just one person and also strange teaching my mother. I found myself automatically saying all the things I say quarter after quarter to groups of students I've just met, but it felt odd to say these things to my mom. On the one hand, what I was saying was what she needed to know, but on the other hand, I guess I have turned the directions into a bit of a performance. I felt like I should just be talking to my mom normally, but the introduction to throwing directions no longer feel like normal speech to me. 

In my "speech" I explain how body weight and leverage work. I explain that we call the step "pulling up the walls" but really we are squeezing the walls as our hands move up. I explain why it is important to keep your hands on the back right corner of the wheel (between 3 and 5 o'clock on the wheel head) so that your body weight stays braced and stable. All of this is important and true, it's just that I've become so efficient at saying it all that I felt like it was a rehearsed speech instead of one-on-one directions.

Mom's first trimmed bowl
Despite my not-quite-discomfort at the way the directions came out, my mom was able to throw three decent bowls and trim one. We could have spent more time in the studio, but lunch and a search for really good chocolate ate up part of our afternoon and I was tired. Though it was nice to show my mom how to throw and it was fun to see her throwing, teaching throwing still feels a bit like work and I haven't quite gotten into the studio enough this summer to feel like I want to teach throwing again. Odd, since I've been done with classes for a while, but what with cleaning the studio, trying to adjust to Apple's move from MobileMe to iCloud and a series of meetings over the last couple weeks, I seem to just be digging out of all these "chores."

Learning Fused Glass

For our other activity this weekend, my mom and I took on the roles of students together at Sharon Strong's Glass Fusing Workshop for Larson Gallery (I linked to Sharon's website, but I don't think the glass on the site is a great representation of the work she does--the work in person is better). The workshop was scheduled for all day Saturday and we were to learn to fuse glass. The description of the workshop indicated that we would each make 2 tiles, though the process ended up being so quick that most people made at least two before lunch. I made five total. Mom made four.

My first pieces. The two on the top were based on bugs (or fish).

 This one was really just a random arrangement of scraps as I was cleaning my mat.

I finished four pieces before lunch. The last was based on this ad from a Yakima magazine. I like the texture of the net over the fingers gripping the fish. I replicated the net with black stringers. I will be curious to see whether the stringers stay put as the glass melts.There are three layers of glass on top of the two based layer (clear-clear-green-clear with green-orange) and the stringers are on top of the orange or the clear with green layer). Will these melt and slump? I don't know, the workshop didn't address these sorts of questions.

Mom's first three pieces. Apparently she was feeling explosive.

Though I enjoyed the process of cutting and placing the glass and designing the tiles, I was disappointed that the workshop ended up being more of a "make-and-take" than an educational introduction to the process of working with glass. The instructor provided flat squares of glass on which to make our tiles and lots of colored pieces of glass, stringers (long thin strands of glass) and frit (tiny bits or grains of colored glass--you can see them at the back of the photo below). Sharon also provided tools for scoring and breaking glass. We got to take a lot of stuff home, including the scoring tools and pliers and we got to make a lot of pieces which we will pick up after they are fired. She even indicated she might have jewelry findings for the jewelry pieces when we pick them up. Generous.

My mom arranging her fourth tile design. The tools to her right were used to score and break the colored glass pieces in front of her. Stringers are visible on the mat to her left, colored frits in jars to her right.
Unfortunately Sharon's instructions tended to tell us what to do or how to do it without explaining why. The woman next to me got instruction on correcting her method for scoring the glass and we were told to use a thick and a thin sheet of glass as the base for our design but we weren't told why we needed both pieces of glass. We were told that the thin sheet of glass shrinks more than the thick, but since we could stack them in either order, I'm not sure why both were required. What would happen if we used only the thick sheet? What if we used two thin sheets (I suspect it would shrink more)? Why couldn't we use two thick sheets?

A view of the interior of the kiln after we loaded some of our work. 

After lunch we worked on jewelry. At first I was excited, but I found the process frustrating. We were told to start with a rectangle or flat topped triangle. We were to cut a thick clear glass piece and a slightly larger thin piece in the same shape. We were to arrange up to 5 layers of glass on top of the thick sheet and then glue the thin sheet on top of the whole stack. As you can see below, the results look terrible at this stage, but the glue will burn out and presumably the layered arrangement will look better later. More on this later.

My finished jewelry pieces and the two tiles that didn't make it into the kiln in the first round.

My mom and I had trouble understanding why we were doing what we were doing, which made it harder to make "good" designs--or at least to have any confidence in our design choices. The instructor wanted us to add lots of pieces and especially to use dichroic glass. Since I wasn't overly excited about the dichroic glass, I didn't know how to use it. Mom was frustrated at this point because our teetering towers of tiny glass bits seemed unstable and unorganized. Later she said she didn't particularly like the look of the example piece and this may have been why we didn't like the jewelry part of the class.

Mom arranging one of her jewelry pieces. She has some cut pieces of colored glass and some black frit in a pile. I like the random arrangement of glass triangles. Wonder if we could fire that? We may never know.

Though I had to ask several times, I finally got a partial answer to my question of why we needed a clear glass layer over the top of our precarious stack. Apparently its function was to make the piece smooth. Since I have a lot of rough and irregular jewelry, I guess I don't see the value of the smooth top layer. My "earrings" below don't have a top layer. It would have been difficult to balance a top layer over these irregularly stacked pieces. Sharon had some pieces in her own examples that didn't have the top layer, which makes me even more surprised that she seemed to require it for her students. I think that my experience of the afternoon part of the workshop suffered from the disconnect between the instructor's vision and student's vision. I was attempting to make the jewelry look like the tiles, Sharon wanted us to make jewelry that looked like her sample piece.

I've never been great about following directions in art making if they aren't explained to me. I get an idea, think I can do it and I want to try it. For better or worse, this tendency has been reinforced in me by a pattern of success where others think the idea will fail. My high school art teacher told me my teapot wouldn't work because it was too thin. I disagreed and proved that my way would work. The teapot helped me win an art scholarship. My college clay professor didn't believe my plan for a wall installation of 100 pieces would work, so I did it anyway and the installation was a big success in my senior show. I sold the whole wall and then some and was asked to do the installation twice more. In college was told I couldn't double major, present my senior show and graduate in 4 years if I spent my junior year abroad. I double majored and completed the college honors program, had a successful senior show in the spring, graduated with honors and spent 10 months studying in Seto, Japan. All this is to say that it was difficult for me to be told that we had to make the jewelry this way but without much reason behind the directions. 

As a kid I used to make jewelry from pieces of friendly plastic. I would cut the flat strips of colored plastic, layer them on top of one another and melt them at low heat. I see a lot of similarity in process and design possibilities between this fused glass and the friendly plastic pieces. The jewelry I made back then was much more similar to the tiles we made at the beginning of the day than the jewelry we made at the end.

Mom's jewelry pieces and two tiles that didn't make it in the kiln yet.
After the jewelry making session, Sharon Strong took the workshop participants through her home to view her glass and her collection of other art by herself and other artists. The tour was interesting. Sharon's home was designed by her brother and was impressive in its use of glass bricks and cutouts between spaces. All around her home she has stained glass, fused glass, collages, paintings, ceramics, sculptures, woven baskets and other art. It was interesting to see the work she makes, including slumped and "woven" looking glass and the space where she works (since we were working on folding tables in her garage for the workshop). Her own work seems to exhibit a tendency to "break the rules" or try things that were beyond the scope of the workshop. Since I had seen this work before, I think it further contributed to my surprise that the workshop was more rigid.

our work space
I still have some unanswered questions about the fused glass process. I will pick up the finished work tomorrow so maybe some of my questions will be answered then. Sharon had a few example pieces that might give us some idea what to expect as results, but it would have been nice to either see more examples or get more explanation of what happens and why. When my mom and I got home, I looked up some information on glass fusing and learned a bit more about the types of glass, temperatures, etc.

One interesting bit of information was on "scum" or "devitrification" that can happen when glass is dirty. This was particularly interesting in light of the partial explanation we had received earlier in the day. Sharon had told us to wash off the marker guidelines we drew on the glass to guide our cuts. We asked what would happen if we didn't wash of the marker lines but Sharon indicated she didn't know. As you can see below I was too curious about what would happen to wash the marker lines off of every piece. I did wash some, though for most I didn't use the marker and just free-handed my cuts. According to my fused glass research, oil from scoring the glass can contribute to the "scum" or devitrification on the glass that occurs during firing. When I read this I realized that maybe all the glass should be washed after cutting since every time we scored it we left oil along the edge. Maybe Sharon's habit of washing the marker lines means that her glass is also cleaned of the scum-causing oil. Or maybe not. Perhaps I will know tomorrow when I see my scummy marker-line edged jewelry.

Or perhaps all this not-knowing will eat away at me and I will have to buy my own glass and try the process in my own clay kiln at home so that I can teach myself about about devitrification and coefficients of expansion and annealing.

Though I wasn't completely happy with the second half of the workshop, I did enjoy the first part. It was fun to put together the tiles and I am excited to see the results. I hope that Sharon considers the sorts of questions that the participants asked at this workshop so that if she does this again she can have more thorough answers. I don't know if she has done workshops like this before, but I would guess she probably has not. I am also scheduled to take a workshop next month. I am curious to see how that instructor structures the "class."

Friday, June 15, 2012

Buffer Week

This week is my buffer week, the week between the end of the academic year and the start of my summer studio time. I like to reserve this week for non-work. This week isn't for working at school, for grading or for working in my studio. Sadly, it has almost come to an end and I have done too much of all three prohibited activities. I feel the summer slipping away, already.

Sunday I fired a kiln while I unpacked art booth equipment from my car. I didn't get around to actually putting much of it away until Monday and have barely finished now. I spent time at school helping to take down the student exhibition at Larson Gallery and cleaning up after the last firing in the clay studio. I uncovered both my desk and home and my desk at work, but, sadly, I still have to actually deal with the stacks of paper that are now sorted and awaiting filing, finishing or other attention.

I made some little pieces, in part to try out some clay that was given to me in "payment" for borrowing my wheel for a few hours. 

During June Art Fest people seemed particularly interested in little critters with eyes and legs, so I made a few more. This was about all my attention span could handle.

I made a few little critters with rattles inside, since my daughter thinks the rattle pieces are the best. She helped me pack and put away some of my work. These pieces seem to take her the most time, since she insists on rattling them for a long time before she will actually wrap them or put them away.

I halfheartedly returned to my neglected box of inspiration hints from my mini-sculpture project. This is a "turtle" from a dream I had. I've been reading a book about a woman who is in disguise as a man. She ties something around her chest before donning men's clothing and I keep picturing actual ties as the binding material, though I don't believe that's what she used. My memory of the dream is a little fuzzy, but I or someone in the dream was in disguise. it wasn't a turtle, or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, as this one appears to be (from this angle) but the sculpture turned into a turtle.

For my birthday my mother-in-law picked up some odds and ends from Seattle Pottery for me, including a "dragon scaler"--evidenced above on this strange thing and on the TMNT--and some half circle stamps and a mini clay extruder (below).

After I unloaded my first home studio firing of 2012, I arranged my 80 mini-sculptures on the newly cleaned and replaced table and started sorting them (for fun, while I talked with the woman who was using my wheel). These sculptures above are the most irregular in form. Some are my more literal translations of an inspiration hint, others are inspired by forms I've made before or something I was actually seeing while I made the sculpture.

The pieces below are probably my least imaginative sculptures, though there are elements within this group that I like. Several towards the back simply annoy me and I wish I hadn't fired them. I only had one piece in the group that had some sort of structural instability. Nothing exploded in the firing, which means I was careful and consistent in putting in an air hole, but one little guy lost his spines. This may have been one I made outside and didn't use slip to attach the spines in the first place. Dropping the piece after the firing likely didn't help.

This last set is of those pieces I am most happy with, they have more complex forms or surface decorations, including multi-part forms attached together and a combination of hollow circles and other attachments on the surfaces. Included here is also my "flux capacitor." my "egg" with writing inside and my very first mini-sculpture project piece. 

The pieces are all bisque, which makes them less attractive, in my estimation, but soon I will be able to start under-glazing them. (I spent yesterday cleaning the dead flies and year's detritus from the counter where I usually do all my underglazing.) For several pieces have plans that require the work to be fired and/or glazed before the idea is complete.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mini Sculpture Project: The end of the 80 days

The school year is officially over, grades are in (though I got my first post-grading e-mail asking whether I'd forgotten to grade something) and my summer has begun. I'm taking about a week to recuperate from this weekend's windy June Art Fest at Chalet Place in Yakima. My studio is a disaster, since I took down all my shelves and tables to be part of the June Art Fest booth setup. I'm going to attempt to put it all back today. 

Last week I didn't do much in the way of mini-sculpture making. I took some clay to June Art Fest but there was too much to do and too many people coming through to leave me time to work. Maybe next year. 

What I do have is some pictures of work made before finals/packing/grading week and one piece made Sunday.

Really, I have no idea what I was thinking with this one. I think I made it while waiting for a kiln to finish firing at the start of finals week.

This one too. I used a school stamp (actually a stamp I made for my daughter's day care clay demonstration but then brought to school and left for my students. This one is smaller than most of my pieces.

Coincidentally, I pulled "Renee Adams" as my inspiration hint on Sunday or maybe Tuesday after visiting the Ellensburg Artist Home Tour. This is (sort of) a mushroom like the ones she had on her wall in her studio. Her's had all sorts of cool textures on the surfaces, soft and fuzzy.

underside of mushroom

shell (in the kiln)

another shell, not in the kiln

Sunday's contribution (during nap time while I watched Bones for the first time in months).

Lookie, I loaded a kiln! As of last weekend when I loaded the kiln, I had 82 pieces. I have maybe 85 today.

During June Art Fest I sold quite a few small pieces. I priced them pretty low, between $10 and $25 for pieces this size and smaller. I think people who didn't feel they could afford big work still wanted something and this was within their price range. I also sold a lot of "critters," my mini-sculptures with legs and/or faces. I had been thinking of this mini-sculpture project as mostly a me-thing. I wanted the satisfaction of making stuff during the school year and I wanted to challenge myself to make stuff following arbitrary rules (inspiration hints) and I wanted to keep my hand in a a bit while I couldn't make more complex or larger sculptures. I hadn't really been thinking sales.

I also realized this weekend that my mind-set is different from the last time I did art fairs (2005/2006). Then it was a significant part of my income. Now it isn't. My motivation in making the stuff isn't sales (though its hard to say how much it was in 2006) and I realized I would make the stuff regardless of whether it would sell. Selling now is more a way of making space for the new stuff.

Did I mention it was windy this weekend?