Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

It's been a busy Halloween season. Working in the studio I found time to make some pumpkins and skulls from some molds I already had. The skulls are slip cast (and fragile), the pumpkins come from a press mold I made myself years ago from a gourd.

A few weeks ago we had friends over to decorate skulls. We had quite a few left over, so my daughter and I painted some too. A couple of the paints glow in the dark I am looking forward to hanging them or setting them out for the trick or treaters.

The kids also made beads for necklaces out of glow in the dark Sculpey.

Of course we carved some pumpkins too. The big one has a bit of a multiple personality problem with it's Cheshire smile and Harry Potter scar.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What it takes to be an artist and a parent

A lot of people who take sabbaticals go away for at least a portion of that time. Many travel abroad, others go to workshops, conferences or residencies in another part of this country. For what I wanted to do during my sabbatical leaving my Yakima studio didn't make a lot of sense, but last week I could understand the advantage of getting away.

Missoula Children's Theater was in town and my daughter asked to audition. After she made it clear how much she wanted to do it, we agreed to let her audition and she was cast in a small part. Yakima Schools so far haven't impressed me with their ability to communicate with parents, so I shouldn't have been surprised that the communication broke down between MCT and the school district. The directors scheduled practice during school (and inconveniently the play is happening at a different school than the one my daughter attends). When I pointed this out to the director, he indicated surprise that the kids had school at 2:30 during the week, but it was too late to adjust the schedule.

MCT backdrop
I'm glad my daughter got the opportunity to take part in the production. To my surprise, she loved just about every bit of her experience. However, because of the schedule, I had to leave my studio early three days last week and start my day late once to transport my daughter to and from the rehearsals. To be fair, I had a couple other commitments outside of the studio that interrupted my work time as well. My husband helped when he could: when rehearsal started after the end of his work shift.

The advantage of taking a sabbatical in town is that my time is flexible. I can transport my daughter (and others) to and from various locations during the day when other parents are working. However, the risk of having (and admitting to having) flexible time, is that it sometimes is interpreted as free time.

My pet peeve during the summer is the assumption that since I am in a room attached to my home, I am not working (and am therefore available to do other things). I cringe when I am asked, "Since you aren't doing anything today, could you...." I am doing something and am therefore not free to do something else, though I have varying levels of success getting other people to understand this. Because I view my art making as a job, part of my career, and not as a hobby for my spare time, I am pretty strict about setting aside hours for work and hours for not-work. During my sabbatical, I work from the time I drop off my daughter at school until she gets home. If I pick her up, my day ends earlier than if my husband picks her up. This has generally been my summer schedule as well.

When I am teaching, I try to keep work at work and not bring grading or planning home too often. Just the same, when I am working in the studio I try to be done when my daughter is done so I can spend time with my family. It is, of course, harder to work with my daughter home and tends to cause problems like forgetting to cover my work (so it won't dry out).

When my daytime work schedule is interrupted I find it frustrating because it makes the entire week less productive. If I can't get as much done in a week, I run the very real risk of the clay drying out too quickly. Early in the week I threw some work, but then I lost almost 8 or 9 hours of scheduled work time to transporting kids and other appointments. There are entire pieces I didn't touch all week. Friday I had to spray some with water and wrap them tightly in plastic in hopes that they won't dry out before I can get to them this week.

thrown work, unfinished

The missing studio time makes me feel a bit worried about getting everything done on time, but it is a passing comment from another parent that was annoying me all day Friday. The other mother assumed I had spent my entire day sitting at the school watching the kids rehearse. I'm sure the other mother didn't attach a value judgement to her assumption, but I am so accustomed to the attached value judgement that I am quick to react, at least internally, to comments about how I spend my time during the day on sabbatical or in the summer.

There is this perverse bit of mommy guilt that I think a lot of moms today experience. This nagging voice tells me, "since I could be watching my kid, I should be watching my kid." The logical part of my brain (the part that knows what it takes to craft work and to keep on schedule for an upcoming show) reassures me that I need to put in the hours in the studio to get the work done on time. However, that little sliver of guilt rubs at the surface, speaking in the voice of older parents who assure me that "this time goes by so quickly." And annoyingly, frustratingly, against my will, I notice that sliver more each time some other parent or friend or family member assumes that my studio time is less a real job than if I walked into a different building at a set time. There seems to be an assumption that time spent in the studio (in anything besides an essential, daily, hourly JOB) is less important than any hours or minutes I could spend with or near my daughter.

some work I did finish last week

I wrote this post out of a sense of frustration. Ironically, once I had written that last paragraph, I felt much better, having just gotten it out there. I haven't cut the cathartic paragraph and I now include this self-reflective epilogue (of sorts) because I find three things worth sharing in this post: 

1) Other moms (and maybe dads) may share my feeling of not being "allowed" a life outside of the kids. We need to allow ourselves to be individuals separate from our kids, even if just for a short time.

2) Writing about  frustrations can be cathartic. Whether it is for an audience or not, the process of writing has helped me identify what is bothering me and brainstorm a solution (on more occasions that this one). Writing is good for us as artists and as people. (Students, I'm talking to you!)

3) Future artists and friends and family of future artists, please try to be aware that making art takes time. If you want to be an artist, you must allow yourself time to make the work, as well as time to plan and fail and try new things and think about your work. If you want to truly support your artist friends, acknowledge that their work takes time to make and accept that they cannot blow it off, even if no one is watching. If you pressure them to abandon their studio time, it is just the same as pressuring them to skip class or call in sick to work. The result may interfere with their ambitions and their career opportunities.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nearly Finished Building

As I near the end of the building time for my sabbatical, I have pieces of sculptures and bike parts all over the studio. In a couple weeks I will start to glaze and fire the ceramic elements of the sculptures and clean the bike parts more thoroughly (somehow they all have clay on them now). After firing, glazing and clean-up the ceramic and metal and plastic parts can finally be put together. 

standing sculpture in progress

base and top for standing bike-part sculptures

I counted up my work a few days ago and, I believe, once pieces have been put together I will have about 7 or 8 standing pieces that incorporate more than a few mechanical parts each. It is a bit difficult to count up my pieces at this point because several pieces could be combined with various bike parts in different combinations. It is also a bit difficult, at this point, to decide what I still need to make, as I haven't entirely determined which ceramic bases will eventually be connected with which bike parts and which ceramic tops. Regardless of what I make this week, I expect to have at least 6 or 7 coherent multi-part standing bike pieces. I may also have some random unattached parts that don't make the cut.

standing bike-part sculpture in progress

standing bike-part sculpture in progress

Besides the larger bike part pieces I've been forming during my sabbatical this fall, I probably made 12 to 15 smaller pieces this summer. Some of the smaller pieces will be part of my wall installation, others may be free-standing sculptures. Most of the small pieces also have bike parts that will be added after glazing and firing.

small wall piece with two bike parts

attachment to small piece (above)

I've had a few conversations over the past few days with Mary Dryburgh who runs the Esvelt Gallery at Columbia Basin Community College, where I will have my show, Biomorph, in January. She has asked for 15 pieces, including my two wall installations. I plan to show a mix of pieces from my sabbatical and earlier pieces that do not incorporate mechanical elements. 

"Minimidori Kuraa" (non-mechanical sculpture)
"Kekino" at Larson Gallery
Both wall installations will have mostly non-mechanical elements and a few pieces with mechanical parts. I like the idea of transitioning in the show between mechanical and non-mechanical pieces, all of which are related to each other visually and conceptually. One wall installation will be much like the installations at the Yakima River Diaries show in Ellensburg and at the From the Ground Up show at Larson Gallery. This installation will be irregular in form and will incorporate 15 to 30 individual forms of varying shape and size.

bulb installation from 2002
bulbs for one of the wall installations
The second installation is a re-envisioning of a much older installation I first created in 2002. This installation is a wall of 100 bulbs, all roughly the same size. The bulbs are cast from a mold, then decorated on their surface with various additions, both mechanical and organic, made from clay sprigs or added after firing. The bulb form derives from the shape of a flower bulb or closed blossom. It is also a shape used by the Laura Ahola-Young, the painter who will be sharing the gallery with me in Pasco.

bulb with bolts
bulbs with mechanical part sprigs

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another Piece in Progress

The last set of work I completed closely followed some sketches I had made. This doesn't always happen; I sketch a lot, but often the work changes considerably from the sketch while I am building. Sometimes I sketch, then when I begin to build I sketch a revised version based on what I am building. Anyway, a few weeks ago I looked back at a small sketchbook page with four sketches and I decided to make three of them. Two of them I already wrote about.

sketch with two arms and one gear
This third piece changed relatively little in form, though the surface of the base was altered to incorporate more mechanical parts after firing. I threw the base and the three long arms on the wheel. I also threw the bulbs at the top of each arm.

thrown elements for "arms"

arms drying

While building, I decided to use bike chains as the “tail” element coming out of the back of the base. The single gear “neck” of the form is now a three-level gear set and, instead of two “arms” coming out of the gear area, I made three. 

base with gear "neck" mechanical decoration 

This was one of the hardest pieces to plan and execute in wet clay because the long “arms” couldn't hold themselves up when wet. I built five small pieces that insert into the spaces of the gear set so I could plan for the weight of the arms to be supported by the gear set after firing. (The gear set is held onto the base with a clay insert the fits in the middle.)

gear set with clay pieces for positioning and weight distribution

I took the gear set and the small pieces off of the base and set it flat on a board where I could plan the position of the arms. I used foam pieces and other supports to hold the arms in place while I aligned them and then attached them to the small pieces inside the gear.

view of "arms" from below with placement pieces 

I removed the arms and little inserts from the gear and reinforced their attachments. When the arms had stiffened a bit, I balanced them upright in the gear again to be sure they fit. Since the pieces weren't completely dry, I could make some minor adjustments in angles and fit. Of course I also have to account for shrinkage during firing. The inserts will be smaller, meaning they will fit inside the gear more easily, but the space between two inserts on one base will also be smaller, so I need to leave extra space between them. 

checking fit and angle

While the pieces were wet, and even after they dried, I couldn't confidently balance them on top of the base at the angle they will eventually be attached--I would have to hold the pieces in place and I could cause damage if any pieces slipped or fell. I won't be able to put the whole group together until after firing, and even then I will need some support while they epoxy sets. 

the eventual angle of the arm

After bisque firing the work, I should be able to test the fit of the arms, but I won't epoxy them in place until after they have been glazed. I won’t be absolutely certain all the parts will stand up correctly until December. 

base and other pieces drying

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Movements, bulbs and melting glass

A full table of drying sculpture helps me feel a sense of accomplishment. This week I finished three multi-part pieces (each piece has four or five completely separate clay sections that each need to dry and be fired separately) before Friday. 

table of wet work from this week (plus one dry pitcher plant)

I don't like to start new projects on Friday, since the clay will dry over the weekend. I also didn't feel like throwing today because I'm trying to let my broken pinkie finger heal (I don't think throwing is exactly recommended with a damaged digit).

kids flossers in a bulb
I have been making bulbs for my installation regularly all summer, but I cranked out a few extras this week. It's a little hard to keep track, but I think I've now built 85 (out of 100). My self-imposed deadline for all studio building is Halloween. After that I will glaze for a month.

flosser bulbs in back

After 80 some different bulb surfaces, I start looking for a little more variety. The more recent bulbs are a bit more mechanical in feel, probably at least in part influenced by the big work I am building when the bulbs are cast. This week's bulbs included 5 with non-ceramic additions that I plan to add after firing. They don't look like much while they are drying, but they should be interesting once complete. Hopefully they won't look too wacky as part of an installation.

holes for glass to drip out during firing

Instead of diving into a new set of big work on Friday, I decided to do a few experimental pieces. Friday afternoon I mostly worked on small pieces to test movements or experiment with glass inclusions. The glass pieces are harder to show when wet, since they aren't so much pretty as experimental and results are reliant on the glass melting during firing. I had intended, as part of my sabbatical, to test some non-ceramic materials. I have tested some, but I still have a few ideas that I would like to work through.

base to catch glass drips

I think an obvious extension of mechanical inclusions in clay is to create movement with the finished piece. I have previously made interactive pieces in graduate school and as part of my senior show in college, but I wanted to look into a movement that is fully integrated into the piece itself. Last night as I was pondering this issue again, I realized that I had a bike part with ball bearings in a box in my studio. It's small, but the movement is smooth. I decided to try a test piece at a small scale. The top will be attached on the outside, the base fits inside the piece and the bike part provides the movement. 

base and top of "ball bearing" piece

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Twisting Gear Form

I threw some clay parts the other day based on sketches I had done earlier in the year. The pieces are relatively simple stacks of gears, similar to a piece I built last year with gear parts.

I drew some of the sketches right side up, then changed the orientation of the others

Last year I was focused on getting the parts to fit together and incorporating enough bike parts. This year I am more able to focus on the form because I am more comfortable with the additions. (I feel like I should knock on wood about that last statement, since I haven't actually put the pieces together yet.)

last years gear stack

Incidentally, last year's piece, "Cyclical Adaptations", will be in the Central Washington Artists Exhibition at Larson Gallery next month. The CWAE opens November 2 with a reception from 3 to 5pm (though I'll be on my way to see my new nephew).

thrown parts for three forms

This year I threw enough pieces to build three of the four pieces in the sketches. The thrown pieces are mostly flexible tubes and bulbs. I measured the top and bottom openings of each piece based on the size of the gears I plan to use for the eventual sculptures.

gears and internal supports for stacked pieces

The size of the thrown pieces was about right, but I altered the angles of the pieces and their ends to create more movement in the pieces. First I roughed in the new shape, then I needed to add inserts to help connect the pieces after firing.

starting to alter the form of the sculpture

Unfortunately for blogging and picture taking, I can't balance the finished pieces of a twisting form without risking the whole thing collapsing, so after double checking opening measurements and finishing the surfaces, I had to let the pieces dry separately.

finished pieces drying

The finished piece should look similar to the form I originally drew, though the surface is different. I am still working on the other two pieces for which I threw parts.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

New Website and the Effects of the Government Shutdown

New Website
It took some doing, but I now have a newly redesigned website hosted on a site that I hope won't become obsolete in the next year. For years I had designed and managed my website using iWeb on my Mac, but they recently stopped hosting and supporting websites. Before that a student at UW-Madison helped me build my site using html and I still don't really understand what she did. I like things to be immediate and visual, hopefully tactile too (like clay). Squarespace is pretty direct, though I could have done without the previous 3 days hassle trying to get Squarespace to talk to my domain.

Regardless, the website is now live at the correct domain name. You can visit my site at or by clicking the little sculpture picture on the top right of this blog. (Please do tell me if I've missed a typo or a dead link or something.)

new website designed on Squarespace

Government Shutdown
Speaking of things not working the way they are supposed to, I was surprised to discover, this week, the unusual way in which the government shutdown impacted me, personally. I have been trying to update my website for the past few weeks. I was looking for information about a show in which I currently have work. The show is called "Paradise Lost? Climate Change in the North Woods." The show is a reunion of a show of the same name which traveled to sites in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan from 2006 to 2009. The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway wanted to revive the show and since my work was still stored in Wisconsin, it was relatively easy for me to participate. (Thanks, Mom!)

Anyway, I was looking for images and dates for the show to update that information on my end, but when I googled the show and clicked on the link to the opening at the St. Croix Riverway, this is the site I found:

St. Croix is a National Park, so obviously the park is closed, but I was surprised that the website was down too. I assume having the website down is more about awareness than actual cost. And having the information available on my website wouldn't help anyone anyway. The exhibition ends October 6 and the park will likely be closed until then because of the shutdown. 

Dark Clay
In the meantime, I threw 25lbs of Midnite Black clay (while waiting for my new white clay to arrive). Midnite Black is a funny dark red clay when wet, but nice to throw.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fitting a new batch of fired work

I fired some more pieces this weekend, including the first base for a pitcher plant piece. The bike fork fits well into and onto the base. The short leg of the fork is damaged (thus it is short) and I may alter the base because of the metal is bent, but the changes aren't absolutely necessary.

bike fork in place (temporarily) on base

Unfortunately, the other area of the base, where I planned to anchor a bike part, appears to have warped or may have been measured incorrectly. I tested the fired fit with a different gear stack than the one I used originally, but I believe the interiors of this type of gear stack are all the same. The original gear stack is hiding in my messy studio somewhere.

gear held in place on wet clay

I can't tell from the wet clay pictures if I am holding the gear in place because it doesn't fit or because it is too heavy for the wet clay. The wet clay should shrink during drying and firing, allowing for about 10% reduction in the size of the piece after firing. A piece that almost fits wet should shrink to fit after firing, though I can't tell if that happened here.

different gear held in place on fired clay (because it won't fit)

The clay attachment is no longer perfectly round, an error I seem to be encountering with some regularity. The piece may have warped during drying or firing--or, again, I might have not accounted for shrinkage very well. Regardless, I should plan for less shrinkage on small elements like this in the future.

the broken bike fork pictured here illustrates my intent, even if I don't plan to use this particular part

I can proceed with the result of this particular error in several ways. If I absolutely want to maintain the original design, I could grind down the exterior of the clay attachment or the interior of the bike part to make up for the small size discrepancy. Or, I could put something inside the attachment which also goes inside the gear. This places the gear farther from the base itself, but still attached in a similar way to the original plan.

broken bike fork holding up the gear that wouldn't fit on its own

Another option is to revise the design, replacing the intended gear with a different, wider gear and a clay end cap. Or I could replace the gears with some other element all together. 

large end cap holding on larger gear

I could attach an old faucet handle

Of course, I don't have to make all these decisions quite yet. My plan is to build the bulk of the work early in my sabbatical, then glaze everything at once, and then put everything together after glazing. If I attach all the bike parts after all the clay parts have been made, I can trade some of the pieces between one sculpture and another. Though this approach is foreign to a pottery, it seems the most reasonable approach for this group of works. I expect to collect some more bike parts before the project is complete. I expect that I will get more of what I already have (more gears, more chains, more of certain small parts), which means I will be able to choose between similar parts later on and may find a slightly larger gear set or a slightly different fit.
one of the second batches of pitcher plants, testing fit on the bike fork