Thursday, January 31, 2013


I decided to bring home this piece to work on over the weekend so I could try a few techniques in my spare time. I rarely build sculpture at work, since the majority of my classes are throwing classes and sculpture takes significantly more time than thrown pieces. This quarter I am teaching a hand-building class and wanted to work on this piece while the students were coil building to show them some steps in the process. 

my coil built piece after the weekend work

After I built the piece, I wanted to finish it to an acceptable level, though I had run out of class time and had limited hours in the studio outside of class. I decided to experiment with a couple of stenciling processes to see if they would work on this scale and with a high level of detail. 

detail view with some paper stencils adhered to the surface

I had originally intended to buy some large stickers that had delicate lines and patterning but I was unable to find any. I searched Michael's and eventually found some decorative punches in the scrapbooking area. I bought a large daisy punch by Martha Stewart because it was on sale. The pattern it creates is delicate and visually interesting and If you line up the paper differently when starting to punch the second row, you can get a twisting design as opposed to sets of circles. 

daisy punch with twisting paper "stencil"

The punch is easy to use and cuts evenly on regular paper if you put enough pressure on it. My daughter had trouble getting the leverage to get it to punch through, though she may have fared better on a lower table. I punched some used copier paper, some junk mail and one of my daughter's sheets of construction paper to use as clay stencils. I then wet the surface of the clay slightly and pressed the paper on. The paper stencils stick to the surface best if they are wet and are then pressed on. I used a paintbrush at first to wet the clay and the paper, but the thin lines of the paper started to rip so I switched to using a damp sponge and pressing gently onto the paper instead of brushing or wiping with moving strokes. 

stencils on clay surface after wiping with a wet sponge

Once the paper was stuck to the surface, I used a damp sponge to wipe away the exposed surface of the clay. Wiping the clay with a wet sponge washes away the clay and leaves a rough surface. The sand or grog that gives our class clay its grit and texture stay while the clay is washed away. The clay under the paper should be protected from the wet sponge and not wipe away. I have used this technique many times in a class demonstration, but I usually use just one relatively small, thick stencil of paper. The paper stencil, when removed, leaves a raised smooth area of clay the size and shape of the paper stencil. 

wiping in progress

I had never tried the technique on a large scale or with such delicate stencils as these. I punched several strips of stencils out of the different papers and adhered them to the leather-hard clay surface with a sponge. Once wet and pressed into the clay, the stencil stuck to the clay so I was able to wipe the surface with a sponge and not risk the paper stencil moving.

the white stencil section has not been wiped yet

The technique seemed to work relatively well, but the thin paper tended to rip and it was difficult to know how much I needed to wash away the clay surface to leave a visible texture change. I ended up hedging my bets and applying white slip inside the daisy stencils before removing the paper. If the paper stencil does not function well to protect the surface from the sponge wash, at least there will be some surface decoration that comes from all the effort of cutting and applying the stencils.

white slip has been added inside some of the daisy stencils

I have not yet removed the paper stencils, but when I do I will be able to see both the white slip decoration and what is visible of the texture change from wiping the clay surface.

In an effort to try several things on this test piece, I bought a second paper punch this weekend and used the contrasting cutouts as white slip stencils on a second area of the sculpture. I bought the second paper punch at Craft Warehouse but it was a different brand. I was disappointed that it didn't punch all the way through the paper and I had to cut out the center section of each stencil. That's 12 small snips on each piece. It gets quite repetitive and annoying.

paper stencils adhered to the leather-hard clay

I punched the stencils from paper that was in our recycle bag. I used a SpaghettiOs label and some used copier paper. I placed the labels and used a damp sponge to press them onto the clay. Once they were adhered to the clay and as flat as I could get them, I brushed white slip onto the surface of the area, covering the stencils and the exposed clay.

paper stencils with initial layer of white slip

After the slip was dry enough to touch without smearing, I used a needle tool to peel away the paper. The copier paper ripped as I peeled it off, but I was able to get the slipped top layer off. The remaining paper should burn off during the firing  or I can pick at it as the clay dries. The shiny SpaghettiOs label peeled away in one piece, leaving a perfectly clear line. Both papers leaked a little, letting slip bleed over into the decoration. When this happened I scraped away the extra slip inside the lines of the stencil with a needle tool or small carving tool.

slipped area after removing stencils

I still have some more work to do the piece, but the going is slow. Once it is finished, I should be able to glaze both areas in such a way that the clay color difference and the surface texture both remain visible or are even highlighted and made more visible.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bremerton Show

This weekend I went to Bremerton for the first day of The CVG Show 2013 at Collective Visions Gallery in Bremerton. I hadn't heard of the show or the gallery before I saw the call for entries on (CaFE). I didn't even know where Bremerton was before I applied.

The gallery is good sized and the city is both larger and much harder to get to than I realized. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the show and how broad it was in media, subject and style. I was also surprised by how strange and seemingly poorly organized the events were on Saturday. Just to be clear, I don't actually think that the events were poorly organized. There was clearly money and planning and time that went into the event. I just couldn't figure out why the events would be set up in the way they were.

I believe the big draw of the day was the juror's lecture. I certainly went to the show in large part because of the juror, Alfredo Arreguin. I was curious to see what he chose for inclusion in the show and I was curious to hear him speak. I assume others who traveled from the east came for similar reasons. The show is a statewide show with no media restrictions and no pre-determined theme (unless you count the juror's tastes). The show seemed to be more heavily comprised of Seattle area artists, but the state's population is concentrated in this area, so that seems reasonable. There were at least a handful of central Washington artists in the show, myself included.

"Gears" by Rachel Dorn

The show itself was probably worth the trip. I thought the quality of the work was consistently good. There were almost 130 pieces in the show and I can't remember more than one or two pieces I thought were questionable. However, the events of the day were odd. The first hint that the reception was organized differently from those I usually attend was when we were asked to pay for guests and to limit those guests to only 2 or 3 people. Since the main event and the main draw was the juror's lecture, I see the reason for the limit, but I was sursprised that the reception and lecture were both capped rather than having a drop-in reception and a limited audience for the lecture. The second surprise was that the week of the show we were informed via e-mail that if we hadn't already RSVP'd we couldn't come. I suppose those who didn't RSVP could have stopped by the show that afternoon before the reception moved up the street.

Regardless, I reserved my spot in time and got myself to Seattle. I worked out the ferry system, more or less, and arrived at Bremerton only an hour later than Mapquest and the online ferry schedule suggested and a few minutes before 5. I went in to the show and made my way around the gallery before heading over to the reception a few blocks up at City Hall. The gallery was crowded but navigable and the downstairs had plenty of room.

The "reception" was held in a different building, presumably to afford more space and room for everyone to see the speakers. Once I found the spot (from the language of our e-mail I was expecting to walk up the street, not several blocks), I walked in the doors and stopped immediately behind a wall of people. Being not extremely tall, I stood behind taller people for a while before the wall distinguished itself into two lines. I was standing on the left waiting for something while others on the right were waiting for something else. I waited a while longer and scooted my way to either side to determine that I was in a food line and the other line was for tickets. I had reserved a ticket but had yet to pick it up. I was pretty hungry and there was clearly a huge line and minimal food and I had come up a bit late. On the other hand, I probably needed a ticket to be allowed into the lecture hall.

I switched lines. The shorter ticket line moved relatively quickly. Once I reached the front I told the woman my name. She handed me a ticket but before I had touched it, she took it back, explaining that she keeps it. I considered the four open glass doors behind me, the throng of people filling the whole space shoulder to shoulder, the set of doors on the far side of the hall and the food line that extended directly to the door and realized that an RSVP might be optional after all and switching lines was probably unnecessary.

I returned to the exterior door and the end of the food line. The hors d'oeuvres were evidently designed by someone whose previous employment was setting up gags or stunts for Candid Camera. There were the obligatory tiny plates and napkins and the start, followed by small toast slices and tiny lamb meatballs, each with a little toothpick. Tiny and a bit strange, this was normal reception fare. Next came a small bowl of chicken, tomato and olive salad. I scanned the table for forks, but, finding none, I scooped some salad onto my already-filled tiny plate anyway.

The next hot tray contained a few lonely bits of pork and no visible means for removing the pork from the tray and transporting it onto one's own tiny plate. I considered for a moment and, with the end of the food line imminent, and a 2 hour program to follow, I decided I needed to eat. I pulled a toothpick out of a lamb ball and attempted to stab a hunk of pork. The pork promptly fell apart. I tried another, but the first pork chunk was indicative of the lot. I collapsed the next pork chunk before dropping my toothpick into the tray. I could have abandoned the lost toothpick, secure in the knowledge that no one else would be retrieving pork from this tray either, but I didn't think.

As I was trying to fish out the toothpick a caterer appeared. I asked how one might obtain tiny bits of pork without using one's fingers. I didn't mention my failed attempt with the lost toothpick which was abandoned in a thin layer of pork goo at the edge of the pan. The caterer walked back to the front of the line, picked up a tiny toast and scooped me some pork, depositing pork and tiny toast onto my tiny but now highly stacked plate. The answer being that forks were, apparently not an option at this venue. Now that I think about it, maybe the forks were really, really tiny to match the tiny plates and tiny toast and tiny meat. I should have looked under the napkins.

I decided that the mental flexibility required to acquire and then eat one of the baked tomatoes in the next hot plate was too much for me, now that forks had been eliminated as a possible tool in the premises. Unfortunately soggy tomatoes were the last food option before wine. I don't particularly like wine, but as I looked around for other drink options, all I saw was a table with a stack of empty cups next to an array of flowers in a large vase. Perhaps one was meant to scoop the water out of the vase with the cups or maybe just to carry the cups to the bathroom sink. Or maybe the cups were the answer to how one was to consume the baked tomatoes. I decided not to attempt any of these methods but try wine instead. And who knows, perhaps at fancy tiny parties after long ferry rides I might like wine.

I didn't like the wine, but it did lend a beautiful impossibility to the performance art experience of eating soft food with a toothpick while balancing a tiny plate on one's knees and sitting in a snug space in the midst of total strangers.

After collecting my tiny food and wine, I realized that there were no tables or really any place to stand, so I went into the auditorium area with everyone else (and I mean everyone). Since the city hall didn't afford any other place to be, people were sitting in seats lined up for the upcoming lecture. It was about 5:30 when I sat down and awards weren't scheduled until 6. I was one of the last people to sit down and I claimed one of the few remaining seats in the middle of a row between two groups of friends. I had dressed warmly in reaction to the cold ferry and found brief entertainment in removing my coat while balancing food, drink and program and not knocking into any of my neighbors. Luckily I did not have a fork. I suspect a fork would have thrown off the entire operation.

One smart choice by the organizers of the event was to set up a large screen and project a continuous slide show of all the pieces in the show. While we couldn't actually look at any of the work in the exhibition during the reception, we could look at pictures of the work. And, as it turned out, some of the work was easier to see projected about 100 times larger than real-life. The top prize in two-dimensional work was a tiny embroidered portrait by Azalea Rees (the link is not a real site for her, but, sadly, I couldn't find better) that was amazing, but much easier to see and appreciate on the screen than in the gallery with a crowd.
"Silvan in Thread" by Azalea Rees

I was also lucky enough to grab a seat with an excellent and unobstructed view of the screen. After dumping my tiny plate (I gave in and just ate with my fingers) and my unfinished wine, I was able to watch the pictures for 20 minutes before I started reading a book on my phone.

"Life Support" by Steve Parmelee
The awards presentation at 6 was as exciting as any awards presentation in a distant city can ever be. A lot of people I've never heard of were thanked for their generous support. A handful of locals received local awards and the local crowd loved it. Besides some local awards, the The CVG Show gives three awards each in photography and digital media, two-dimensional, and three-dimensional work. There is also a Best of Show. The awards, like all the work in the show were picked by the juror, Alfredo Arreguin. I liked his choices for almost all the work. My pick for "people's choice" was the first place pick in the three-dimensional category, "Life Support" by Steve Parmelee.

"On his Ridge the Earth Gathers" by Kristen Michael

One of the nicest things Alfredo Arreguin did during his juror talk was to give honorable mentions to several works in each category. During the juror talk he showed images of each honorable mention and award winner and talked a little bit about why he liked the works. He gave an honorable mention to an excellent Yakima artist, Kristen Michael and to a ceramic artist, Sandi Bransford, who has work in the Emerging Artist Exhibition at Allied Arts in Yakima.

"Adorned" by Sandi Bransford

Alfredo Arreguin's juror talk focused primarily on the artists' work, especially the winners and runners up. He was funny and charming, but my favorite thing he said was towards the end of his talk. He told a little story about himself as a young artist, studying with Jacob Lawrence. I don't remember it perfectly, so I may have a few details off, the gist is the same. Jacob Lawrence and a couple other professors were in the process of jurying a show. They saw young Arreguin and told him he should apply because they liked his work. He did and was subsequently rejected from the show. That night, after the bar closed, the depressed Arreguin called them up to complain about not getting in the show. He called the first professor who told him it was 2 am and hung up on him. He called the second professor who yelled at him for calling so late and hung up on him. Then he called Jacob Lawrence who talked to him for 2 hours. Lawrence's advice to Arreguin was to focus on his art and don't worry about not getting into shows or not getting awards or not having everyone like him.

As an artist who had just sat through an hour and half of other people's awards, I appreciated the reminder that awards don't matter. I plan to focus on my work and not worry about what other people think. Well, at least I'll try to do that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More show stuff: Yakima River Diaries pictures and upcoming CVG show

Yakima River Diaries
This weekend I made it up to "Yakima River Diaries" to take some good pictures. 

Each artist in the show has a section in the gallery, most divided by temporary walls. The three walls make my area immersive for the viewer, but make it hard to take a photo that shows all three walls and the visual relationships between each work.

My concept for the show is that the wall pieces form a flow or movement from one wall to the other to reference the flow of the river. I also wanted the work on the pedestals to continue the sense of movement off the walls and around the space.

The standing sculptures in this show include work from my summer bike part project as well as work I finished this year after winter break and right before classes started. I also had some older work among the pieces. 

Collective Visions Gallery
This coming weekend I will be going to Bremerton for the opening reception of the CVG 2013 show at Collective Visions Gallery. The show opens Saturday at 5pm with a reception that costs $10 for the public. The show is up through February 23 and there is People's Choice voting through February 2.

The Juror is Alfredo Arreguin, a really excellent Washington artist so I am looking forward to hearing his juror's lecture on Saturday.

my work at CVG 2013 (also from the summer bike part project)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Opening Receptions This Week

I'm exhausted. This was the first week of classes and I've already been to three opening receptions on Thursday and Friday with one more on, Saturday. I was hoping to post wonderful new pictures of my installation in Ellensburg but I really need to get in there with a tripod and an empty gallery. The opening reception was too busy to take good images.  

Yakima River Diaries
my installation piece
The exhibition at the Sarah Spurgeon Gallery in Ellensburg had a nice write-up in the Yakima Herald this morning. They included only four pictures and a short video of Nickolus Meisel installing his work, but still it's nice to have press. I am mentioned and without any inaccuracies, so that's nice.

The show is up through Feb 8. The card indicates that the gallery is open weekdays 10-3 and weekends 1-4. I am going to try to go up again this weekend with a tripod to get good images.

my newest work (finished a week ago)
work from this summer (at Yakima River Diaries)

Voices of the River
After the reception at the Sarah Spurgeon Gallery most everyone walked over to the Museum of Culture and Environment to see the related exhibition, Voices of the River. The curator of "Yakima River Diaries" had installed a replica salmon stream in the lobby of the museum and had orchestrated a procession of wooden fish and children with balloons to walk over to the museum from the art gallery.

Abaya and Beyond
Larson Gallery in Yakima hosted a reception for its first show of 2013, Abaya and Beyond. The artist, Dr. Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield, taught art to women in Kuwait for five years and the paintings and photographs in the gallery are mostly from her time there.

It was a bit of a rough exhibition for her. On the way back from Kuwait to the US her box of paintings was run-through with a forklift, damaging frames and glass and ripping through canvas. She has spent at least the last year repairing the damage in anticipation of the show. Then, just a week ago she fell, managing to break one foot and the other leg. She was at the reception in a wheel chair with both legs held straight in front of her in casts.

"My Student" by Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield

Emerging Artists Exhibit
The exhibition I haven't gotten to yet this weekend is the Emerging Artists Exhibit at Allied Arts of Yakima. This exhibition opens Saturday (today) from 11-3pm. I don't know most of the artists, though yesterday I was disappointed to hear that they aren't local artists. I saw the call for entries a few months ago but it was unclear what Allied Arts meant by "emerging artist." As far as I could tell from the prospectus, I could apply. But I certainly don't consider myself an emerging artist in this community.

The Yakima Herald Republic also gave this exhibition some press earlier in the week.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mulberry Paper Day

Somehow I ended up with a Friday with nothing planned. With Christmas over, my extended family back in Wisconsin and New Hampshire and Seattle and my classwork prepared for the start of the quarter next week, I didn't NEED to do anything right away. My work is mostly installed for Yakima River Diaries at Central and I made plans to go up with more work on Saturday. Friday became a bonus day for me (shh, don't tell anyone). I decided to spend the day how I wanted to, finishing work from summers ago while watching a Bones marathon on Netflix.

I have a box in my studio that was completely ignored all summer and all year. I believe I packed it in 2012, but it may have been 2011. It has cobwebs on top. I can barely remember some of the work, like this piece below, and I don't remember when it was all made.

Progress on the pod piece after green paper was added but before purple. I don't appear to have a picture before the whole piece was started. I have no idea when the piece was originally built and fired
All the work was in the box because there was something wrong with it. The piece on top (which I didn't get to) was simply not finished. I had intended to add some parts after firing but never got around to it. The pieces on the next level were damaged, repaired or had glaze chipping problems. All the pieces in the box required either mulberry paper or epoxy additions. None of the pieces in the box were actually broken, though they may have had chips or may have had broken pieces repaired previously.

The underglaze application on this piece does not please me. As I covered more with mulberry paper, I wanted to alter even the colors on the interior pieces.

The pieces I chose to work on this time around were ones that I wanted to put mulberry paper on. The last was one I had always intended to put paper on. I made it this summer and was looking for the right paper (thanks Mom and Dad). Several pieces in the box had glaze flaws that I wanted to cover. The pod above one had an epoxy seam I wanted to cover as well as some sub-par glazing.

I think the mulberry paper adds an interesting textural contrast to the hard ceramic and shiny glaze, but I have only relatively recently begun planning its use while I build. Most of the work in the box predates my conscious incorporation of mulberry paper and other materials into the design from the beginning.

An additional motivating factor for doing mulberry paper today was that my parents got me some mulberry paper for Christmas. They got me quite a lot, actually, including some bags of scrap papers and some large sheets. It is a bit hard to find mulberry paper in Yakima, but my parents live right near NASCO's Arts and Craft store and its amazing catalog leftovers room.

I have organized the scraps by color groups in these boxes. It feels better than scraps wadded up in a shoe box.
One of the advantages of someone giving me paper is that I am forced to work with what I have. I knew that I wanted to cover the outside layer of this pod and the top bulbs or buds, but my limited choice in purple scraps forced me to consider making each bud a different shade or texture of purple. In the end, I think the variety is better than making each one identical in tone.

I used four different types of purple paper scraps from my Christmas gift.

Actually, I think part of the appeal of the applied mulberry paper is the variety that comes from the handmade paper. The paper is textured and has longer, thicker or different colored fibers visible within the paper. It would be terrible paper for writing evenly with in, but it is interesting to look at. It seems more natural in a way that, I think, highlights the almost-natural look of my forms.

The opposite is true, too. Not all the paper I have has as much variation. In one lidded box I covered entirely in light blue scraps, I am disappointed with how uniform the surface appears. The box suffers the triple problem of having more uniform paper, more transparent paper, and a large surface to cover. I ended up layering the mulberry two or three times but have lost most of the minimal fiber variation in the process. I am considering another approach to add some variation. My daughter has suggested I paint pink lines on the surface, but I may not take her advice in this instance.

These blue scraps are nice, but make the box look oddly like a fuzzy cloud. I'm not sure this piece is finished.