Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Student Sculpture from Winter 2017

This reclining lady, whose body and face are covered with leaves, is actually incomplete, according to the student, and may have more color when next seen at the DoVA Student Exhibition in May.

Last week was finals for winter quarter at Yakima Valley College. I had four clay classes, two of which were hand-building classes, the others were wheel classes. We had glaze critiques for both groups and I remembered to take pictures of some of the work that was finished. 

These two portrait heads were some of the last pieces finished building, but both survived with minimals cracking during the firing.

The end of a hand-building class is fun because we get to see such a wide range of work. This quarter I began the class with a portrait project. It was fun to start this way, but the project was more challenging than my usual beginning project using coils. The class, overall, did fairly well building the portraits, but we encountered more trouble* with thickness, air pockets, and cracks or blow-ups during firing than usual.

These three heads show the range of damage: the grey lady's chin and mouth hid an air pocket which exploded during the firing, taking of her chin, but also cracking her head from her shoulders, Dwight from The Office had less extensive damage, most of which was repair before critique, Kanye was well crafted and very thin so that he survived the firing with not even a superficial crack in his head or body.

The higher than usual breakage may have been because we started with such a challenging project and the students didn't fully understand why the pieces had to be as thin and I told them or it may have been because they had trouble making the pieces as thin as I instructed. Many, though not all, of the sculptures had to have some sort of repair done after firing to deal with cracks, exploded parts, or parts that broke off before or during firing.

These two very different approaches to dog portraits were also finished very differently; the one sitting up was painted with underglaze and some low fire glaze and fired, the one on the left was painted with acrylics.

During the last weeks of the quarter, I gave several epoxy demonstrations to show students how to repair cracks or breakage, smooth seams, and fill gaps left by the explosions. I demonstrated three types of two part epoxies: some simply two-ton epoxy gel, some PC-11 epoxy paste, and some epoxy putty for filling gaps. I also demonstrated and discussed how to hide or fill cracks, make the epoxy less visible, and match the glaze color and texture with paint and gloss medium.

This cat is hard to photograph because of its shiny black glaze, but the form is interesting in person.

Despite several demonstrations and explanations, a significant portion of the class had trouble understanding that epoxy and acrylic paint cannot be fired with glaze in the kiln. I eventually started keeping count of how many times I had to repeat the explanation or reminder that epoxy will burn off in the kiln (I repeated it 9 times, though, to be fair, the last several reminders were to individuals).

This small portrait suffered from an unexpected underglaze reaction that turned the face bubbly and rough and perhaps darkens the character, but the expression is still effective.

I am actually a bit concerned that so many of the students seemed not to grasp the basic physics of firing and the processes that impact shrinkage, glaze melting, and the process of turning clay into ceramic, not to mention the difference between clay and epoxy, paint and glaze. I feel that I spend a significant amount of time talking about not just what students need to do to keep their sculpture intact, but why. I'm considering, next time I teach this class, firing a sacrificial piece in the kiln to show them what happens with epoxy. I may also switch the assignment order back to what it had been--easier project first.

This peacock meant to hang on the wall survived building, firing, and glazing, only to suffer damage from rough handling on the day of the critique. The break is minimal, however, and the peacock should show up in the Spring DoVA show.

Because of the structure of the 10-week class, much of the work is not completely finished until the last week. The first three projects in the class are building projects which we critique when the work is wet, dry, or bisque fired. The final critique is a glazing and finishing critique, in which we see the first three projects again, this time with glazed and/or painted surfaces.

One challenge of photographing in the classroom without a photo setup is that some of the angles don't show the full sculpture. This carefully repaired and painted elephant has an interesting pose from multiple perspectives.

The good thing about this setup is that the students get lots of time to start glazing their first and second pieces. The bad thing about this setup is that students sometimes run out of energy and enthusiasm at the end of the quarter, meaning that sometimes glazing on well-built projects is poorly executed. 
This elephant, too, suffers from the poor quality photo, but his extensive repair was particularly well done.

This quarter I had one student, in particular, who had two well-built projects with poorly executed glaze. The glaze on one was so thick it ran extensively, permanently attaching her sculpture to a biscuit of clay placed underneath to prevent damage to my kiln shelf. Another of this student's pieces had very thin glaze that ended up obscuring the texture of her sculpture rather than highlighting it. 

These two sculptures are actually pieces of three separate works that were damaged during firing. The end-result combines  raku and cone 10 reduction firings, as well as epoxy.

However, I also had one student who managed to resurrect some sculpture that had been almost a total loss because of an explosion during firing. This student's work had lots of damage during firings, but he spent time carefully applying epoxy and paint to repair one piece in such a way that the damage was hard to see at the critique. He also brought several broken parts of other works together with various glaze applications to create a new sculpture. 

This mermaid platter was painted with underglaze but not glaze for critique. The photo angle doesn't really show the depth of the piece.

It's lots of fun to see the stuff students finish, especially when they take the time to make the repairs, but it's disappointing when students don't finish their work. Similarly, it is disappointing to grade that last test and realize that they never did understand a fundamental concept from the class. Last week I had a few of these disappointments, but I also had a few of the best grading experiences: when the last test was better than all the previous tests, or when the discussion at the class critique revealed that the student knew their glazes and could explain exactly what they did to achieve a certain visual effect.

A tree with blue snake and a totem pole with a blue snake.

* The basic rules for a safe bisque firing are to make sure that the work is dry, make sure it isn't too thick (I usually tell students to aim for a quarter to a half inch or no thicker than their thumb), make sure there are no contained air pockets (because hot air is bigger than cool air), and make sure to fire the kiln slowly (with a preheat or candle). Most, if not all, of the cracking this quarter was due to thick walls and/or contained air pockets that exploded.

This poor turtle suffered from air pockets and thick walls.

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