Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Central Washington Artist's Exhibition 2014

This weekend is the opening reception for the Central Washington Artists' Exhibition at Larson Gallery. I have two pieces in the show, both created during my sabbatical last fall. I had a sneak peek at the work on Friday, when I delivered my pieces at the last possible moment, and there's some interesting stuff this year. There's always good eats at the reception, too.

"Scylla Bionica" & "Charybdis Bionica" (work created during my sabbatical)

Come join me for the reception at Larson Gallery on the YVCC Campus (corner of Nob Hill Boulevard and 16th Ave) from 3-5pm on Saturday, November 1, 2014.

Update: You can also see my work (the second set of work featured) on this video from KVEW TV.

Update #2: I just got the call that I've won an award in the show. I guess I'll know what it is at about 4pm.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Essay for M R McDonald's Catalog

A few weeks ago, I wrote about writing an essay for a friend, photographer M R McDonald. The essay has been finalized and published. You can view it here. The catalog is for McDonald's show at the Esvelt Gallery in Pasco, WA at Columbia Basin Community College. The show features his photographs and wood pieces turned by John Barany. The wood pieces include collaborations with other artists in various media including McDonald's photography, glass by Sharon Strong and others.

my catalog cover

The show opens Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 1pm. The reception is early to encourage CBC students to attend, but it makes it a bit tough for the rest of us to get there. (I have a meeting that will prevent my attendance). The photographs in the show include ones I discuss in my essay. The specific photographs I discuss are also included in the catalog itself, which one can buy online directly from

Monday, October 20, 2014

Art Club & Guest Artist

Art Club
Last year some of my students started an art club. This year the club membership is almost entirely different because several active club members graduated. The new group met last week to elect officers and complete the official paperwork for the club and already had roughly 30 students express and interest in the club and sign up for our e-mail list.

The students are planning guest artists, matting workshops, visits to local galleries and more. They are also looking to reach out to schools, and connect with artists and art organizations in the community. Last week we started a Facebook Page for YVCC Art Club. "Like" the page to keep up with our events and happenings, or just to show your support for YVCC art club.

YVCC Art Club Page
Guest Artist (October 27, 1pm, Palmer 106)
Next week, October 27, YVCC Art Department and YVCC art club will be hosting Alexander Chitungo, Shona stone carving artist from Zimbabwe. He will be meeting with art and humanities classes in the morning. At 1pm he will be demonstrating and talking to the art club about his work room 106 of the Palmer Art Building. We welcome visitors to the afternoon presentation.

Palmer Hall on YVCC's Campus (the round building next to the clock tower)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Sometimes an idea keeps coming at you from various angles as if the world wants you to take notice. Or maybe you've taken notice of an idea, so it just keeps coming to your attention. Anyway, this week that idea, for me, has been failure.

Wait, that sounds awful. It sounds like this has been a terrible week. And it absolutely hasn't. I'm talking about the good kind of failure.

the bad kind of failure (because it breaks my kiln)
In my throwing classes, in particular, I encourage failure. For years, I have started class by telling students they need to make mistakes to learn about the clay. This quarter I'm either saying it more, phrasing it differently or just noticing how frequently I say it. Regardless, I was feeling pretty good this weekend when, twice, my methods were supported by outside sources.

learning to throw
First, my mother-in-law sent me a link to an article, "How Failure Molded Spanx's Founder." The Business Week interview with Sarah Blakely focuses on her successful undergarment company, but her answer to the third-to-last question was what caught my mother-in-law's attention and what caused her to share it with me.
"When I was growing up, [my father] encouraged us to fail. We'd come home from school and at dinner he'd say: 'What did you fail at today?' And if there was nothing, he'd be disappointed. It was a really interesting kind of reverse psychology. I would come home and say that I tried out for something and I was just horrible and he high-fived me."
My mother-in-law must have read more than just this article because, as she explained it to me, Blakely talked about her father working with her on each failure to improve for the next attempt. The idea here isn't that she should be bad at stuff, but that she should try stuff she isn't (yet) good at. She needs to be willing to take the risk and then, later, willing to look for ways to improve so she can try again.
a bowl with beginner mistakes
Sunday morning I was listening to the TED Radio Hour via an NPR app. The interview with Sir Ken Robinson sounded interesting because it had to do with teaching creativity, or, more accurately squashing creativity in school. I started listening to hear what he had to say about encouraging creativity in school. (Another recurring class issue for another day: why do students always tell me they "just aren't creative"?)

cutting off the mistake on a beginner bowl
The interview on NPR included segments of Robinson's TED talk. Around the start of the second minute he tells a story about a girl drawing in class. He explains that kids aren't frightened to be wrong and then identifies the value of taking these sorts of risks: "If you are not prepared to be wrong" he says, "you will never come up with anything original."

the beginning of something original?
He continues to talk about valuing creative pursuits in school rather than looking at them as dead-ends, soft options, or "easy" classes. Robinson talks about the hierarchy of subjects with STEM and language at the top, humanities and bit lower and the arts in the basement. I particularly like the way he phrases this academic focus "...and then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side."

I'm sure I'm not the only person reading who will sympathize with students being steered away from certain subjects. My high school guidance counselor told me I should take fewer art classes in my senior year because I was "smart". I reacted by asking to see a different guidance counselor. It might be funny that I reacted this way, and ironic that I ended up as an art instructor at a college (I think about going back to tell her sometime), but the incident reveals more about what a privileged kid I was--I knew I could get away with asking for a new counselor.

yuck, my mistakes
The TED Radio Hour interview and the TED talk are both interesting and worth a listen and both talk about more than just the failure I'm focused on, but I keep noticing this theme of being wrong and failing and making mistakes as paths to success later on.

I learned about the underglazes after making these mistakes

So back to my clay studio classroom: When throwing pottery on the wheel, student naturally make mistakes that lead to the clay collapsing, in sometimes dramatic fashion. Lumps of clay fail to become bowls because the wheel is spinning too fast, or too slow, because the student pushes too hard or moves her hands or leans the wrong way. There are lots of ways to fail on the potters wheel.

centering the clay is the most difficult part of the process
There are also a few ways to avoid failure on the potter's wheel. I always tell my classes about two students who took my class years and years ago. The two would sit together, chatting about everything and anything. Their wet hands would hover over the lump of clay and the lump of clay would spin and spin and spin around the wheel, never changing. The girls would use just one piece of clay the entire class period and would never break through a wall. Because they never actually touched the clay enough to make a mistake. They didn't make much. They didn't improve and they didn't "fail." (Obviously I mean their pots didn't fail. I wouldn't discuss their grades even if I could remember). They safely passed the time in my class chatting while the wheel spun.

centering the clay
On the other hand, the students who come in a throw and throw and throw and end up with a lump of broken bowls on the side of their wheel are the students who, suddenly, in the third or fourth week are making lumps of clay into shapes that look just like bowls. They know what they need to do to make a bowl stand up because they've tested all the limits. They know what it feels like to spin the wheel too fast and too slow. They know what happens if they push too hard or move their hands or lean the wrong way. Now that they've tried all the ways to fail, they can also find the space in the middle: the right speed, the right pressure, the right angle and the right position.

yea for failure!
I tell my students if they aren't making mistakes, they aren't trying hard enough. And it seems there's some other successful folks who agree with me on this method. It applies so directly to clay. I wonder how it applies to other disciplines, or if, like Robinson suggests, it applies more to the arts than to the academic "core" subjects.

*After writing about failure this weekend, I showed a DVD to my Art Appreciation class on Monday morning and realized that even it (a film I show every quarter) illustrates the value of failure for an artist. Rivers and Tides documents Andy Goldsworthy building his temporal sculptural installations in various natural locations. The segment from about minute 18 to 26 shows Goldsworthy building one of his seed forms out of stone. We watch him build it over and over again each time it collapses, while the artist talks about how, each time, he understanding the material a little better.

(sorry if the video goes bad, I can't believe the whole thing is available on YouTube right now)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Shows Coming Up, Shows Coming Down

Today is the last day of the 10x10x10 show in Tieton. The Mighty Tieton website says there is an artists' reception from 12-5pm today. I'm not sure if that means artists are taking work home today, too, but I plan to check it out. It'll be the first time I get to see the show.

My piece in Tieton
If you're out and about today in Yakima, there is a reception from 2-4 at Oak Hollow Gallery for the new show, featuring work by Duane Heilman and Jane Fassel. Jane took classes with me a while back and then took at least one workshop with nationally recognized raku experts. Her naked raku has moved beyond what I can do and is worth a look. 

Jane Fassel's "Naked Raku" (I borrowed this picture from Josie Fast at Oak Hollow Gallery. Thanks!)

I also got word that my work will be in the Central Washington Artists Exhibition at Larson Gallery. I have two pieces in that show. The reception will be held from 3-5pm on November 1.

"Scylla Bionica" for the Larson show

Early next year I will have a show at CORE Gallery in Seattle. The show is scheduled for February, but I don't yet know the dates. I'm still waiting to hear when my Storefronts show in Seattle will be; I may only know a month ahead of time.

"Charybdis Bionica" for the Larson show

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cleaning, Purging, Writing and Glazing

This week I finally got a chance to get back to cleaning my work office. I didn't make much progress on the floor (though I did give some hanging files a new home in the adjunct office), but I did clear some work surfaces. In fact, the desk and the table haven't been this clear in the entire time that I have had ownership of the office. Several of the jars of pens, pencils and Xacto knives came with the office, as did an old scanner. I felt pretty good about actually wiping down the surfaces of the desks for the first time in my experience.

clean office desk (I gave away the folder on the desk the next day)

When I came to the office, I brought my computer and printer, but inherited the scanner. I didn't know how to hook it up and Tech. Services didn't do it for me. After six months of stacking papers on it, I realized that I can't be bothered to figure out how to install it, so I finally moved it to a shelf. Since I can easily scan documents and images in other ways, and since I've only ever scanned about three things at work in my entire career, I don't think I will regret the move.

massive stack of books I don't need and, apparently neither does anyone else

I also tried to clear some shelf space in the office. A book buyer came by to buy old textbooks. I was optimistic that he would help me purge my office shelves in preparation for the move to the new building--and, let's be honest, in preparation for putting the things on my floor onto the shelves. Unfortunately, the buyer bought 4 books. The remaining stack is roughly the same height as the desk itself. Maybe I can use the books as seating for guests to my newly cleaned office.

editing process for my essay

I don't have much to show for my other accomplishment of the week. I finished writing about a friend's photographs for his upcoming show catalog. I don't remember all the details for the show and I can't really publish my essay here, but my part is now complete. I'll talk up the book and the show when the time gets closer.

oh, that's the second layer? looks a lot like the first

I did spend a bit of time in the studio this weekend (after the Pirate Plunder) applying underglaze. Almost all the work I built over the summer now has one layer of fired underglaze and another brushed on. The next step is to wash away the top layer to reveal the fired layer underneath. Both steps are tedious so I prefer to run in muddy races, read strange books about Danish cartoonists and do almost anything else before I start to glaze. I managed to force myself to spend an hour in the studio this weekend (with the help of a good audiobook about the history of education in the US) before I was called away. Somehow I will have to get myself in there for a couple hours a week if I think I'm going to finish anything this year.

they will all be yellow soon