Friday, November 29, 2013

Panic and More Audiobooks in the Studio

Sometime this week it occurred to me that my sabbatical is almost over. It came as something of a surprise how little time is left. Somehow I hadn't been entirely aware of all the holidays and days off from school that happen in November and December. Since my moment of awareness, I have been spending my nights panicking about how I am going to get all my work done this year. I start my evening panic after an hour or two of glazing in the studio after my daughter's bedtime. Then I wake up in the morning to glaze before I wake her up.

Realistically I have been working as many hours a day as I would teaching. I have made a lot of work and done tests and built pieces and planned and written about my process. Unfortunately I am still worried about getting all the work done in time to be ready for my show in January. Ironically, I originally wrote my sabbatical proposal for two quarters and I would certainly be ahead of schedule if I had another three months to work.

As my brother points out, I always panic near the end of a project or work time, so it may all work out. On this Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful for my mother-in-law cooking the turkey and her and the rest of the family playing with my daughter so that I can glaze during the day.

And, because I started this with my last post, I bring you some more short audiobook reviews:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
The fourth book is not my favorite of the set, but the screwts are pretty cute.

Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy
Yes, I listened to a book about rabies. What of it? It was actually an interesting book about the history of rabies in science and its cultural influences. After reading it, though, I was abnormally afraid that bats would fly into the house. I wanted to make sure my family would tell the doctors about the Milwaukee Protocol for treating rabies.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I chose this because its a classic, but I wasn't overawed by it. Classics seem to be like that, sometimes I'm amazed everyone isn't reading it (Middlemarch was great) and sometimes I don't see the appeal. Of course I'm not a big fan of monster movies and stories in general.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
A fellow artist recommended this and he was right. The book is dense and long and very well done. It actually made me feel better about modern politics. These old guys were jerks.

The Long War by Terry Pratchett
I read everything I can of Terry Pratchett's. The Discworld books are my favorites, but his other stuff has been quite good. The Long War is actually the second book in a series, but I preferred it to the first, The Long Earth. The Long War seemed to have more action. Or maybe I listened in a better mood.

Visiting Tom by Michael Perry
I also read everything I can by Michael Perry. He's from small-town Wisconsin and his writing is detailed, funny, sad and always interesting. I was roaring out loud at his description of trying to not get a change made in the end of his street. He perfectly captures stupid bureaucracy.

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer
Heyer books aren't exactly memorable. Probably something silly happened and some people got married at the end. It was nice to listen to, but hardly sticky.

Machine Man by Max Barry
I think I read this because I enjoyed the first Max Barry I read, Lexicon. This one started out kinda funny and would have made a good short story, but by the end I was annoyed because the main character wasn't appealing. The plot revolved around a man designing and incorporating more and more prosthetic parts into his own body. I picked it because of the connection with the mechanical parts in my sculptures.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
I just didn't enjoy this. There was nothing wrong with the story, I guess, but I found the main character whiny and weak. Terrible things happened to her but she just kinda let them. I guess it was important to the story or something. I didn't care by the end.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
This was amazing. Wow. The book examines the migration of African Americans from the south, plantations, and Jim Crow laws to the north and west. (One of the locations mentioned a few times is Beloit, Wisconsin where my family lived when I was little.) The book is so well written. The history is compelling on its own, but the writing is particularly good. The author focuses on three people's stories. She interweaves the three main stories and fills them in with quotes, anecdotes and statistics from a whole range of other interviews, published works and studies. This was perhaps the best book I read all summer.

The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins
This was supposed to be about this murder and how it was covered by and influenced journalism at the turn of the last century. It did this in the most boring and gruesome way possible. Don't read it.

Redshirts by John Scalzi
I stumbled upon this book with no expectations. I just loved the idea of the story. It's not too hard to anticipate what is going on in their spaceship, but I enjoyed listening to the characters figure it out and then deal with it. Unfortunately, Scalzi can't write dialogue. Every quote is followed by "said _______". It gets very repetitive.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
The story was kinda interesting and the setting was completely new to me. Overall it was ok.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer
See The Convenient Marriage above.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I didn't want to read this because it sounded sad, but reviews all seem to love it. And once you read it you will also understand why this book is so good and why it is not a "cancer book." Also, you should really read it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Audiobooks in the Studio

During the summer and my sabbatical the soundtrack of my studio time is audiobooks. I subscribe to Audible and I check them out from the library. I also own a few books on tape and CD, though I only really re-listen to the Harry Potter series. I keep track of the books I listen to so that I can go back and see what I liked and find authors I want to listen to again.

This summer and fall I have (so far) listened to about 43 and a half books. During the first part of my sabbatical, I was building work and thinking about forms while I listened so I had other things to write about (and to think about). During the last few weeks, I have been applying coat after coat, layer after layer of underglaze. If it weren't for the audiobooks, the mind-numbing repetition of glaze application would have already driven me mad. I don't want to discuss the tedious under glazing process again (or even thing about it), but I can write about the books that have been my primary companions in the studio for the past five months.

So here they are, the first ten audiobooks of my sabbatical:

Winter of the World by Ken Follett
This is the second book in the Century Trilogy. I really enjoy Follett's historical trilogies. This one isn't quite as good as the first trilogy, but it's still pretty decent. And its better, in my opinion than the suspense/action books that make up the rest of Follett's oeuvre.

1984 by George Orwell
Ok, maybe it's weird that I never read this before, but I was only four in 1984 so it would always have been outdated. I thought the book was mostly forgettable. All I really remember is that the author was so obviously male; I don't believe a woman living in the conditions described would have this unexplained need to put on make-up and a dress and prance around for the author's enjoyment. Gag.

Lexicon by Max Barry
I stumbled across this story by accident. It's a fast paced, action sci-fi story about folks with extraordinary powers. I enjoyed it.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
This book was highly recommended by a college classmate on Facebook. She owns a bookstore and the recommendation was sound. The book is for kids, but thoroughly enjoyable for adults. I have since shared it with my daughter.

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Not my favorite Steve Martin book of the summer (that was "Born Standing Up") but not terrible. It's only sorta about art. It's mostly about relationships, if you like that sort of thing.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
The only audiobooks I generally listen to multiple times are all written by J.K. Rowling or Jane Austen. The first Harry Potter book isn't my favorite, but sometimes you gotta listen to the whole series in order. Anyway, my least favorite Harry Potter is still better than most of the books out there.

The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould
This is an older book, published in 1996, but still full of interesting information about historical and even relatively recent methods of "testing" for intellectual abilities. Listening, I was repeatedly appalled by the assumptions and policies made by uneducated or biased people made back in the day. And then I'd realize these things are still happening. This book made me think differently. I highly recommend it.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
See Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Ok, we can argue about whether Prisoner of Azkaban or Order of the Phoenix is better, but everyone must agree that PoA is at least one of the two best Harry Potter books, right? My daughter and I are reading it now. I'm so exited to share it with her.

One Man's Initiation by John Dos Passos
This must have been free or a very low price on Audible. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever read, it was just depressing and pointless. It rambled. I did not like it.

And now I must go glaze and glaze again.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Glazing, Glazing, Glazing

At a wood firing workshop in graduate school, I remember discussing the division of potters into two groups: makers and pyromaniacs. The theory is that some people make pottery so they can fire it (play with fire) and for other potters the focus is building the work and firing is something that has to happen later. I put myself firmly in the latter category. 

first three coats of green underglaze and first coat of yellow on sprigs

I love to build work. I pretty much hate the process of glazing. That doesn't mean I don't care about glazing. My work would be completely different if I wood fired it without glaze or just poured or sprayed on any old glaze. Color and its controlled application are both important in my work. I just wish I could wish or command the colors into place instead of having to go through the tedious process of actually applying them.

first coat quickly applied to surface of sprigs

Oddly, I don't ever wish for shortcuts in building the forms. When building I feel like the process is creative and interesting and fun. The clay moves and I react and adjust my plans for the form. Other artists in a wide range of media (Dale Chihuly, Jeff Koons and Judy Chicago) outsource the fabrication of their work or hire assistants to help execute their designs. I wouldn't want other people throwing or forming my work, but I can certainly imagine hiring an assistant to do my glazing.

second coat of underglaze carefully added to edges of sprigs

Part of the problem is that my underglazes require three full coats of color to become opaque after firing. One or two coats generally look opaque when first applied, but I know from experience that skimping on the third (or fourth for some colors) coat of underglaze will result in colors that look streaky or blotchy after the final glaze firing.

yuck, looks like I needed at least another coat of yellow

In order to help myself keep track of how many coats of underglaze have already been applied, I often draw a pencil line on top of the dry underglaze so I can keep track. If I don't do this, I lose track of which sprigs or which sections have already had three coats of underglaze applied, since the dry, unfired underglaze looks the same with two or three coats. The pencil line burns off during firing but is covered by the freshly applied underglaze. If I can't see the line, I must have already added the second or third coat.

pencil line marking first coat of light colored underglaze on sprigs

It is important to me to make my pieces vibrantly colorful and to highlight the surfaces of my pieces with contrasting colors. Unfortunately, this means that a given piece might have three base colors (with three coats of each color) which are fired once to make them stable, and then three top colors which are applied and then sponged off the surface to highlight depressions in the surface texture. (The fired base coat doesn't wash away when I sponge off the unfired top coat.) Each of these color applications needs to come right up to a boundary edge but not drip or glop past the edge.

this piece has three base colors (blue, yellow and red) and will have at least two more colors applied after firing to highlight the sprigged surfaces

Sometimes, to save time, I apply the color on the largest surface of the piece quickly and it spreads onto the sprig surfaces. When this happens, I usually use a sponge to wipe off the raised sprig surfaces before applying a different color onto the sprigs. It is important to wipe the messy bits of base color off the sprigs because six layers of underglaze can begin to obscure the textures of the sprigs. Also, if the sprig color isn't applied in three full coats, the base color might still be visible underneath the sprig color.

messy red underglaze on sprigs before wiping

Usually you can't see through three coats of underglaze before firing, but the underlying color can show up after glazing and firing. At that point it is too late to fix the initial application. I have learned this the hard way, too many times.

a simulation of what it might look like after firing if I don't wipe away the excess red underglaze on the sprigs before adding the next color

What this all means is that taking a whole month of my sabbatical to apply underglaze is both tedious and essential. I need to be careful and thorough. I need to to paint right up to the edges with small brushes and a steady hand. I need to carefully wipe away drips, overlaps and spills. And I need to keep track of how many coats I have already applied. Unfortunately, I don't actually enjoy it much. Does anyone want to take over?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Biomorph at Esvelt Gallery

Join me and a bunch of local artists today at Oak Hollow Gallery from 12-4 at the reception for Art for the Holidays.

Also, mark your calendars for my upcoming show, Biomorph, in January at Esvelt Gallery in Pasco, WA.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Post-break: Underglazing Marathon Begins

Last week I wasn't in my studio at all. Instead I flew to New Hampshire to visit my brother, his wife and their new son. It was a lovely trip and I did nothing related to my studio work. It was a good break, though I feel a little guilty just admitting that I didn't work while away. We went to help with the baby and babies generally don't like their caretakers' attention divided.

stack of fired work waiting to be underglazes

I love my new nephew and it was great to see my brother and sister-in-law for more than a few days. It also made me think about how much more flexible my work time is as a mother of a school-age child than as the mother of an infant.

first layer of underglaze read for the second firing

This week I am back to work in the studio to begin the long process of applying underglaze layers on my pieces. I have a few pieces left to bisque fire from the week before we left. I don't anticipate having time this year (2013) to build any more work.

underglaze bottles brushes and sponges are replacing sprigs, plastic and bits of dried clay as the detritus of my work space

I didn't quite have time to finish the last few pieces I was building in October. My daughter got sick right before we left, which curtailed my last day and half of building time. I wrapped the work up tightly before our trip, but I may never finish those pieces. Glazing is now the priority; that and responding to a few show related e-mails and doing some writing for my sabbatical.

pencil marks on the second layer of red underglaze remind me I have one more layer to add before firing

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Award of Excellence

Last weekend was the opening reception for the Central Washington Artists' Exhibition at Larson Gallery. I was in a plane, so I was unable to attend, but my piece did win the Bruce Simpson & Denali Granholm Award of Excellence. I found out on Facebook, actually, when I saw my piece in an article from the Daily Sun News.

Cyclical Adaptations

I made it over to see the show yesterday and liked what I saw. The work is varied and some of my favorite artists from the region are represented. If you'd like to see my award winning piece in person, this show is your last chance, as the piece has sold. The Central Washington Artists' Exhibition will remain up at Larson Gallery through December 7.

Central Washington Artists' Exhibition 2013

In fact, most of the work will still be on display during Larson Gallery Guild's upcoming "Santa's Workshop" event on December 8 from 1-3pm at the gallery. Santa will be there to take pictures with kids and adults. There will be an art sale featuring affordable art by local artists and homemade baked goods. There will be also be art projects and cookie decorating for kids and adults. Bring your family, your kids, your grandparents or your neighbors. The event is free, but Larson Gallery always graciously accepts donations and support from its members and friends.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Though it is always a bit sad to stop building, there is one form I'm ready to be done with for a while. I made just over 100 bulb forms this summer and fall (and last summer). They are taking over the studio in at least 4 boxes and stacks around the studio. Of course 100 bulbs built does required 100 bulbs to be glazed, ah well. 
a tumble stack of bulbs ready to glaze
another tumble stack
As I've mentioned before, I experimented with mixed media in a few of the bulbs. Some are made of only clay, others have non-ceramic materials to be added after firing. For a few I included metal or glass before and during firing.

glass and bolts before firing

glass and bolts after firing

Eventually the bulbs will be hung in a grid on the wall. I have an old iteration of this on my wall at home. Anyone who came for the Tour of Artists' Homes and Studios would have seen the smaller installation on the way into my studio from the house.

bisque fired bulbs from summer
partially glazed bulbs from early summer

Monday, November 4, 2013

Last Building for Sabbatical

Last week was the last week for building and finishing shaping and surface textures for my sabbatical. I finished a couple small pieces for the wall and pieces for one large bike fork piece. 

One of the wall pieces has an imbedded bit of glass that is meant to melt out of holes in the piece during firing.

The bike fork pieces will attach to the top of a bike fork which will be supported on the bottom. There are also some inserts that go inside theses top parts.

I also finished some end caps. I should have plenty of these little guys. I feel like I spent a whole week just attaching sprigs to the end caps.

end caps

This was my last week to build but I have plenty of work to finish in the coming weeks. I will start the somewhat tedious cycle of underglazing, firing, applying a second layer of underglaze and glaze and then firing again. Hopefully I will have enough time to put all the pieces together before the end of December.

finished work stacked and waiting to be glazed