Friday, September 27, 2013

This Week: Allergies

The only thing I can remember doing in the studio this week was sneezing, but I have pictures to prove that I made some stuff, too. 
base with gear overload
This week I was working on two main pieces. The largest single piece is a base onto which I will attach a larger bicycle fork (and some other bike parts). I haven't decided whether there will be an extension below the base gear. I started building it, but haven't gotten far. 

end caps inside the start of a base piece
The top of the bicycle fork will have several pitcher plants with more varied attachments than the last batch. Somehow I didn't take pictures.

pitcher plant with an organic attachment

Besides the pitcher plants for the top, I have also built some end caps to add onto some of the bike parts that adorn the exterior of the base. (It's funny how a memory of a sound can attach itself to a physical object. In the studio I was listening to an audiobook of The Tiger's Wife while I worked. These end caps remind me of one particular part of the story.)

end cap in progress

I finished the large base and the pitcher plants and the end caps this week. I also made some bulbs for my wall installation. I did not finish the last larger piece on which I was sneezing working. This piece reminds me of Peter Clines' "14" though nothing links the two conceptually. It's just another memory of an audiobook randomly attached to a physical object that was being made while the audiobook was playing.

broken keyboard "sprigs"

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New Website Design Trials

I'm trying out some new website design options. Apple will no longer support iWeb, so I need to make the move soon--before something breaks and before my website looks too terribly obsolete (like, with old dates for the exhibitions--oops, too late). 

my old website-destined for obsolescence

I spent a couple evenings playing with SquareSpace to put together a website design. It appears I cannot just replicate the old iWeb website design I already have. I tried and the results were comical. So I tried a couple of their templates. They don't allow you as much flexibility as I'd like, but I think they'll do. Particularly if I stop worrying and just put the site together. 

before I discovered the color controls--my name is my maker's mark (stamp for clay)

So tell me what you like? Obviously I need some color, right?

why can't I delete my location (top line)?

Is this template more attractive? Any suggestions from you website pros?

a line of pictures is good, I guess

Friday, September 20, 2013

Post-Firing Fit Test

A week ago I was working on some pitcher plant forms that would slide onto the front fork of a bike. I have since fired them and have been able to test the fit. I haven't fired the base, so I can't check that yet.

last week's pitcher plants being formed and drying

Unfortunately, my wet-clay measurements did not translate into an easy fired-clay fit. One of the forms fit perfectly. The other two forms did not, though they were very close to fitting. I suspect one or both of them may have squished a little during drying, since the width of the opening is fine but the depth is just a touch narrow. One fits halfway down the metal rod and then gets stuck on a small section of ceramic which would have been easy to remove or alter when it was wet.

one of the pitcher plants starts to slide onto the metal fork

Luckily, the extra space I have on the width of each piece means that I could fix this problem relatively easily; I needed to bend the metal so that it is not round. (I could also grind the metal or the clay down, but this would be more difficult.) To alter the shape of the metal tube, I started with a couple clamps and tried to squish the tube out of round. This approach mostly resulted in pinched fingers and banged knuckles when my grip slipped.

trying to use a C-clamp to distort the metal (the metal is being supported inside a plastic bin with several bags of clay)

There is an insert inside the metal tube which helped to make the clamp less effective. When my husband came home, he helped remove it and then got out the heavy tools to help me beat the pipe into submission. When I say help, of course, I mean he beat on the pipe until I said it was the right shape. 

heavy tools to be used for delicate metal alterations

After he beat the metal on the sidewalk for a little while all three pitcher plants fit on the pipe just fine. And, because my husband doesn't like to do a job halfway, he also polished the surface of the metal after beating it. It is now shiny and smooth instead of rough and covered in clay. (Yes, I am well aware of the advantage of my husband's skills and tools.)

stacking option one, very little space left on top of the metal pipe

I can now put the pitcher plants on the bike fork a couple of different orders. The largest needs to be at the base, because it has the only round opening, but the other two can be stacked either way, so long as their oblong openings match up with the direction in which the pipe has been squished.

stacking option two, enough space on top to add a pod shape to the end of the metal rod

Before firing I was unable to see the three pieces stacked on the bike fork. I knew there would be gaps between the clay pieces where the metal would be visible. After I finished building these pieces, I thought of several ways in which I can make the pieces fit more regularly, obscuring the metal from view. I may try this approach for future iterations of the project, but I believe I will leave the metal visible for this piece, especially now that it has been polished.

view inside the pitcher plant where the bike part will attach

The only pieces I haven't yet formed for this sculpture are the attachments that go inside the pitcher plants. A small bike part attaches inside each large opening, but I plan to add a clay embellishment to that. Before the piece is complete, I need to fire and glaze and attach the bike parts to the ceramic parts, but my second bike-part sabbatical piece is essentially built.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


This week, my sabbatical officially starts. I am not teaching at YVCC this quarter, but instead am working in my home studio, exploring a relatively new direction with my work (sorry, if you've been reading a while it may not seem all that new), and doing some writing. I have been meaning, for some time, to post about what my aims are for my sabbatical. My official sabbatical proposal was 5 pages long, and I don't expect anyone wants to read all of that, so I have here included an edited version of the proposal. The timeline has changed a little since my first proposal, so I cut out the specifics, but my goals are pretty much the same as they were meant to be.

summer "sabbatical" work

Sabbatical Proposal
I have three objectives for my sabbatical time. I plan to extend my studio practice, developing a body of work that addresses issues of media integration and technological or man-made support of biological forms. I plan to create this body of work to show as a group in an installation setting both in a traditional art gallery and in a less traditional gallery setting.  I plan to use some of this time to write and develop an article for publication that discusses my integration of technology and mechanics into my sculpture and art making processes.

This past summer I was invited to participate in something called the SRAM pART project. This project was a fundraiser for world bicycle relief. Artists were given a box of bicycle parts and were asked to incorporate the bike parts into their artworks. The works were then auctioned as a fundraiser for World Bicycle Relief. The bike parts project came at a fitting time for me as I had already determined that I wanted to spend my summer studio time concentrating on the problem of incorporating different media into my work. I had been easing into this incorporation for some time and the impetus reaches back to my graduate experience and was urged along by questions from my students.

SRAM pART Project 2012: "SRAM Supported Botany"

Students often ask me about incorporating other media into their work. Ceramics students are generally interested in what happens to metal or glass when it is included in a piece during firing. Since glaze includes glass-forming silica, students make the assumption that glass can be used in clay, but shrinkage and fit prevent regular glass from adhering permanently and safely to raw clay alone. Students also ask regularly about planning for and adding non-ceramic elements into ceramic forms after firing. Clay shrinks during firing so measurements need to be adjusted to incorporate unfired elements such as handles, attachments and inclusions that will be added later. I am able to help them understand shrinkage rates, but I have more limited experience including less regular elements after firing.
This past summer I was spent some time test firing non-ceramic elements to determine shrinkage and fit, but I was not able to experiment with firing non-ceramic elements as intentional inclusions in ceramic structures. Through the SRAM pART project, I was able to experiment more extensively with non-ceramic inclusions added after firing. I executed three bike part pieces, one of which I donated to the project, the other two I kept. 

I have an exhibition lined up for January 2014 at the Esvelt Gallery at Columbia Basin Community College. This venue is an unconventional gallery space that will be an interesting and challenging space to utilize. However, I would like to develop this show for installation in a more accessible space with a larger audience. I would like to spend some of my sabbatical time finding and arranging for a show in such a space. My plans at this time are for the exhibition to be family friendly, encouraging visitors to interact with the work directly.

"SRAM Gears"

I also plan to write about my work during this sabbatical experience. I feel that the SRAM pART project in general and my mixed media work in particular is interesting and worth expanding on in a more formal venue. I have been keeping a blog about my studio practice, my teaching and my thoughts on both. I believe it is time to expand my writing into a more professional and accessible venue.

The writing process, writing about one’s own work and one’s own process, is something I try to encourage in my highest level students. I have required my independent students to blog about their work, write artist statements and discuss their work verbally. I always encourage critique discussions for all my clay and design students because they discover something about their work by putting their visual ideas into words and presenting them.

I write about my work and my process on my blog and encourage students to use the blog as a supplemental resource. I discover new ideas about my work and my approach by writing and I think it is healthy for their artistic and intellectual development for students to see me do this and try similar approaches in their own work.

The next step is for students to see their instructor write a more formal account of a more formal process. I still have students tell me about seeing my Faculty Lecture because it is a new way for students to see and learn from their instructors. 

"Big SRAM"

The entire project, from the conception and execution of the work to the written account of the process and ideas will provide students and the campus at large with a view of art as problem-solving. I believe that art which tackles technical and engineering problems beyond the standard throwing and forming, and artistic and conceptual problems beyond the pretty and functional, gives students a new way to think about what art can be.

I have long viewed art as a framework and grounding for exploring information from other disciplines. I understood chemistry better when I applied it to glaze formulation and testing. I see my students go through the same cognitive process when they recognize and explain the glaze recipe they are testing in chemical terms from another class.

I try to give my students a grounding in physics as they learn about ceramic shrinkage rates and the firing process. I see them return to me with information from their math and geology classes. The technical aims of this project are further explorations of those interdisciplinary connections that I can then share with my students to enhance their art and academic experience.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Getting Started and Revising Plans

Last week I was working on a particular piece and feeling a little stuck and uninspired. I had a bike part I wanted to use. The part is a broken front fork that is relatively narrow and could serve as the intermediate element of a sculpture with a ceramic base and ceramic top.  I made the base and determined the fit, but started to feel like I was making a glorified planter for the base. I worked on it during the week and all day on Friday.

possible placement of a gear attachment on my boring planter base
I finally decided to just pause where I was. I stopped because it was time to go pick up my daughter from school, not because I had made much progress.

alternate placement of a gear attachment
It wasn't until I was driving home from picking up my daughter that something finally clicked and I was able to see a different solution to the problems of design I was experiencing. I hurried inside to sketch some more appropriate bases, and ended up turning the piece upside down and making some significant changes to the base and top. My sketches were for several different versions of the piece.

"duck feet" sketches
I had already built most of my single base, so I won't be able to use the "duck feet" on this fork piece, but I have three more forks with shock absorbers. These forks aren't broken so they will be a better fit for the "feet."
plans for the revised base I was working on Friday

It felt really good to change my approach to the project partway through building. Taking some time to think and sketch can be an interesting intermediate step in the process when things aren't moving along quite right. One of my impulses is to work hard and fast during the day so as not to waste any time. I was feeling frustrated on Friday afternoon, but by the time my daughter and I were back at the house, I was feeling great. Last week I was moving along making things, but this week I have felt like I have more ideas than time to complete them. I much prefer the state of too-many-ideas/too-little-time to the alternate state of not-enough-ideas.

Monday's additions to the base 
I completed last week's base on Monday, combining elements as I envisioned them on Thursday and early Friday and adding and changing elements that became clear in my sketching session (or car ride) on Friday afternoon.
with Friday's gear 
The top pieces really need to be fired before I can be sure about how they will function together. Because of the strength (or lack thereof) of wet clay, I didn't feel comfortable putting the three unfired top pieces together as I intend them to be after firing. I am only able to guess and estimate their eventual relationships on the fork at this point.

placing a "pitcher plant" on the bike fork to get a sense of proportion

I threw and formed each of the top "pitcher plant" pieces into the shape I wanted and then chose to add a kind of ring to the back of each one so that it will fit on the metal of of the bike fork. I checked the fit of the rings by forming the rings over the metal and then sliding the mostly finished piece back over the metal, but I held onto each piece for support as I didn't trust the rings to hold the weight of the clay before firing. Clay can be stressed when it is wet or during the drying process, or really anytime before it is fired. Since each piece has a joint that would take the brunt of the stress when holding up the clay, I thought it best not to push my luck and risk cracking that seam before firing. Sometimes stresses in the clay while it is wet don't show up as cracks until after firing (and after it is too late to fix them).

one of the pitcher plants, drying

The upshot is that I have to more or less imagine howe each of the rings will fit together after firing. I would have liked to make the attachments more organic, like the skinny bending bases of real pitcher plants, but after working on the forms for most of 2 weeks, I felt it was important to finish, fire, and eventually test my attachments. I have other pieces in mind to build and I can consider a different top attachment for a later piece. After these pieces are fired, I can check the connections and learn from any mistakes or weird relationships in the stronger fired pieces.

measuring for the ring attachment
Though I've planned to squeeze in quite a bit of work during my one-quarter sabbatical, technically the quarter hasn't started yet, so I feel I can afford a tiny bit of room to experiment before the pieces need to be perfect. Last week I was unsure what I would be working on for the next few weeks. This week I feel like I have plenty of work to make and lots of options to play with. Other artists* have said it (and if I could remember how it was most beautifully said, I might be able to look it up and attribute it to the right artist), but I repeat it for my students and now reinforce it for myself. Sometimes an artist just needs to start making work and the inspiration will come.

ring attachment after cleanup
After next week's firing, I'll post pictures of the new pieces on the broken fork. I'm off to sketch now before the weekend break.

Edit: Picasso said it, of course, "Inspiration does exist but it must find you working."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sculpture in Pieces, step by step

Integrating bike parts into ceramic sculpture requires parts, planning and conceptualizing the clay building process in pieces. Some of the parts I build are sketched before I begin and then I build them much as I sketched. The design for others needs to be revised partway through the process.

bike part

In the assortment of sketches below some are being built much like I planned, others have not been started. The sketch at the bottom right is based on the bike pedal part above. I have started to build this part and it has gone much as I originally planned.

planning sketches

I threw several bulb shapes off the hump on the pottery wheel. Once I shaped the bulb base to be round, I pressed the bike pedal part into the bulb where I wanted it to attach. With the metal pushed into the wet clay, I wiggled the metal back and forth, up and down to create an enlarged impression in the side of the clay. I then cut out a hole to accept the piece of the metal that sticks out. I cut a second, smaller hole to insert a bolt through the metal into the clay. These metal parts and bolts will be attached after firing and glazing.

bulb with place for attachment

I also made some ceramic bolts (seen in the background of the picture above). I don't know if I will use ceramic bolts or metal bolts, but making them allows me the option to use either. The ceramic bolts can be shaped exactly how I want them and can be glazed but they are weaker than the metal bolts.

how the bike part will fit

I threw the base form for this piece as well. The sketch shows a soft, low bulbous form, but the form I threw is taller, though still soft and curved. While the form was wet I pressed the bike pedal parts into the soft clay to create an impression. I enlarged this impression just like I did with the bulbs. I also cut a hole for a bolt or possibly a rod that will connect both pedal pieces to the clay after firing. 

placing bike parts

I created impressions of some small metal pieces I have in the studio. These impressions were likewise enlarged and the metal pieces will be attached after glazing and firing. I added ceramic sprigs made from small molds of bike parts. I attached sprigged bolts and drilled holes for real bolts to be added later. 

sprigs and spaces for later additions

Though the pieces are separate now, and missing much of their character, I hold the vision in my mind of how they will later attach. I have to wait for the pieces to dry and be bisque fired to check that they clay has shrunk without warping or getting too small to fit. I can then hold the parts in place, but I won't attach them until after glaze firing. I can't tell for absolute certain that the pieces fit correctly together and hold each other well until I begin the epoxy process. I don't plan to begin epoxying pieces until late November or December this year.

Friday, September 6, 2013

End Caps

Last time I worked with bike parts, I ended up making a few "end caps." I could use these pieces to cover the open end of a bike part and add a little more visual interest, color and texture to that area of the sculpture. I made extras of these pieces, not knowing for sure if I would use them until after the piece was mostly completed.

detail of "Big SRAM'" sculpture from last year.
This time around I seem to have many pieces that might lend themselves to being embellished with similar end caps. I started making a few last time I threw. I measured the end caps to fit in sets of gears. I have quite a few sets of gears and the end caps could fit in them right side up, upside down or on the end of an extension sticking out of the gear stack.

bike gear
In preparation for throwing I measured the opening of the gear stack, though I have quite a bit of flexibility in how the end caps sits in or on the gears. I have to account for shrinkage during firing, so, though I measured, I need to add about 10% onto that measured size when I throw the form.

measuring the attachment size with calipers
I threw several end cap shapes and several bulb forms "off the hump." The end caps can be simple bowls forms or more complex bowls with lips. The advantage of the lip is a tighter fit and, more importantly, more surface area on which to apply the epoxy when attaching the forms to the metal or plastic of the gear stack.
throwing "off the hump"
An additional advantage of a lip is that it allows more room on either side of the measurement if shrinkage isn't exactly 10% at this temperature--or if my measurements aren't accurate.

measuring the attachment size
I cut the bowls off the hump so that I could throw more pieces with the clay remaining on the wheel. The same day I also threw a bunch of extra forms to work with during the coming weeks. After the end cap bowls dried for one day, I trimmed them and then embellished their surfaces with stamps and sprigs.

undercutting the piece off the hump

trimming a round shape
The end cap doesn't (and shouldn't) fit while it is wet. It will shrink during drying and in the kiln. It should fit after it is fired. I made several different surface textures, but I will probably make additional matching pieces in case I end up using the end caps as sets for one sculpture, as I did last year.

a wet end cap, too big to fit inside the gear stack
After the end caps dry and are bisqued, I will layer underglazes and fire the pieces again. The end caps will be added to the sculptures relatively late in the process. Several end caps will be interchangeable so that I can eliminate pieces that shrink too much, aren't glazed well or just don't seem like the best option.
various end caps

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cleaning Parts and Sketching

The other day I picked up some bike parts from Revolution Cycles. This summer they've been collecting parts for me from damaged bikes that came in to be repaired. There was a whole box of parts ready for me when I walked in. Thanks, Revolution Cycles!

bike gears in the sink with the cleaning products and tools
The difference between being sent parts by SRAM and getting parts locally, is that the locally recycled parts came off the greasy working elements of the bikes and went directly into the box. When I got the box home, I had to weed out some energy bar wrappers and receipts, and then start cleaning the parts.

fishing clamp

I've been spoiled so far; other people have cleaned the parts for me. My mother-in-law got me a couple of crazy old fishing pole clamps for Christmas last year, but she cleaned them thoroughly before she gave them to me. They fairly shine. A few months ago my husband took apart a bike and a shredder and cleaned everything before we put them into storage in my studio.

parts coming out of the dishwasher
they look clean, but...
To get the parts clean I just needed to remove the grease and oil. I started by laying out the parts in the tub, spraying on Simple Green and going after them with a brush. This method had the dual disadvantages of being very slow and making the tub very dirty. It was also uncomfortable to lean over the side of the tub to scrub. I eventually loaded up about half the parts in the dishwasher, and ran a pots and pans cycle. When I opened the machine, the pieces looked clean, but they were still smudging my fingers with grease when I handled them.

brushing grease off a gear
clean bike parts

Besides leaving a trail of grease in my wake at every future show and during the entire building process, I have concerns that the grease residue would prevent the epoxy from securing the bike parts to the clay, so I cleaned some more. I moved the cleaner parts into the sink and went after them with dish soap and Simple Green. After literally hours of scrubbing, my fingers were wrinkly from the water but I had a basket full of clean bike parts ready to join forces with my clay.

half a basket of clean parts, ready to go

Now that I have finally cleaned all the parts, I should be ready to start the real sabbatical work of building complex ceramic forms with bike parts integrated into the design. I need to have a design at least roughly in mind before I begin. Though I regularly sketch design ideas in various sketchbooks and on the side of meeting agendas and the backs of envelopes, it's difficult to conceptualize this type of work without the parts on hand. How do I design a form around an unknown part? So my sketching really had to wait until the parts were ready.
sketches utilizing bike parts

bike part (seen in the sketch above: bottom right)

Last night I sat through a bit of a Bones marathon on Netflix with a box of bike parts laid out on the table before me, a stack of botanical books next to me and a sketchbook on my lap. I was looking for inspiration in botanical forms that might logically be supported by something in the parts box. Bones is a perfectly brainless background for such a planning project. I believe the entire show would work nearly as well as a radio program, as I rarely look at the screen. Unlike an audiobook, which works well as a backdrop to repetitive glazing, forming and surface decorating tasks in the studio, Bones works well as a mindless backdrop to creative development of ideas on paper. One can become absorbed in the drawing and planning, miss half the plot, and end up just as content at the conclusion of the episode as if one had actually paid attention.

books and inspiration images
Besides the books and parts, I also looked back at some of the collected sketches of the previous year for ideas. Ironically, I thought, when I went to link to the website for Bones, I noticed the background for their page is similar to the design advertising the SRAM pART Project's call for entries last year. Maybe there is something sneaking in subconsciously while the show is on in the background.

old sketches
new sketches based on old
This week, the real sabbatical work begins!