Saturday, June 24, 2017

First Summer 2017 Firing

close up of pitcher plant pieces out of the kiln

This week was the first week off from school and I fired my first kiln load of the summer. I thought I was ahead of schedule, but then I went back and looked at last year and discovered I'd fired a glaze load in May and work for a commission by June 23. However, that old kiln was smaller than my new Skutt.

my worktable during the under-glazing process

Last summer, what with the Rotary commission and the functional work for Boxx Gallery and the Art on the Wall piece, I didn't finish any sculpture last summer. It was pretty disappointing, so this year I vowed to avoid the functional, avoid the commissions, and focus on finishing some work.

view inside the (dark) kiln while unloading

The kiln I unloaded last night has some work that's on its second of three (or third of four, in once case) firing for underglaze. I also have some work that are essentially done with firing, but have non-ceramic elements that need to be added.

second of three underglaze layers for this piece

I haven't wholly determined whether the blue and yellow pitcher plant forms are done as they are or will have a matte glaze added over the blue. Either way, the plan is to attach them together in one larger structure which may require some serious work now that they are built. I've got a plan, but that plan requires me to work in a way I haven't worked previously. Stay tuned.

pitcher plants finished?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

studio photo setup

the photo setup in the YVC studio

In March, I attended a lecture about student portfolios at the NCECA conference in Portland. The lecture was focused on having students take responsibility for photographing their work and collecting the images in an online portfolio. The lecture made it seem fairly easy to implement in the classroom.

student/teacher collaborative mugs for clay sale photographed in the portable studio

The first step in the process was ordering a photo setup for the studio. After a bizarrely challenging chat with a representative from B&H Photo, I purchased a portable studio setup. It was delivered during spring quarter and I and my students had several opportunities to try it out.

student work in the portable studio with light

The setup is easy to use. It has a light built in on the top and we've taken photos just with our cell phones.  In fall, I plan to implement the second part of the process, actually requiring students to take photos of their work and keep track of them. Another NCECA lecture discussed using SnapChat in the studio and I've been considering incorporating some of those ideas as well.

clay sale work photographed in the portable studio

I took a few photos this quarter, and they mostly turned out. I saw student taking photos, but mostly I didn't see the resulting student images. 

student glaze tests photographed in the portable studio

The major disadvantage of the portable studio setup is the size. A group of more than about 3 mugs is too large to comfortably fit inside the backdrop and moderately sized sculpture is simply too tall and too wide.

student sculpture photographed, more or less, in the portable studio

I have a photo backdrop for my home studio, but it is considerably larger. It would be a more significant commitment to fit one in the YVC clay studio and I don't plan to do so in the near future.

The portable studio used by at child

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Protest Bulbs

most of the Protest bulbs before glaze firing

Last week was the opening of the Membership Show at Larson Gallery. Since there is no jurying process, it is possible to put in anything. I decided to put in a set of what I am calling "protest bulbs." These works are outside my usual comfort zone. Additionally, I pulled these out of the kiln the day before they were due at Larson Gallery and finished putting them together that night.

Protest bulbs at Larson Gallery

I started working on these bulbs after being informally invited to participate in a Nasty Women show. The Nasty Women show isn't, to my knowledge, a set thing yet, but it may still be in the works. Regardless, I got thinking about what I would put in a political show. At this point, I don't think that simply being a woman making work is enough, and I've got more to say than what is said by my usual sculpture and installation work.

Protest bulbs out of the kiln

Branching out into work like this feels strange, but the membership show is a good opportunity to give it a try with fairly low stakes. I've written about most of the bulbs before, but I hadn't finished glazing and adding mixed media elements last time I wrote. 

Women's March Pussy Hat bulb

I had knitted a pussy hat earlier in the project, but I had to reknit it the weekend before the exhibition because the first one was too large. The one I ended up with fits a little strangely, probably because the bulb is not head-shaped. However, it must have been recognizable enough, because this was one of four bulbs out of the set that sold during the opening reception.

installing prison bars

The night before the work was due at the gallery, I installed some jail bars in the window of the jail bulb. I had intended to install metal bars, but I was having trouble cutting the metal I had planned to use. At the last minute (aka bedtime) I decided to paint some toothpicks and cut them to size. They worked fairly well.

prisoner contained

I'm fairly happy with the bars, though one of them is a bit loose. I didn't glue them in place, but perhaps I should have.

Heathcare / Prescription Drugs / Opioid crisis

Most of the bulbs were under-glazed. Some were also glazed. I didn't have much time, so I had to take some risks. I had intended to use just washes of color, but while looking at the American flag bulb in progress, I realized that the white needed to be added in more than a wash. I also decided to put a light layer of glaze over the flag bulb. I'm pretty happy with the finished product and I think the color works well with the rest of the bulbs.

American Flag

One of the bulbs that turned out pretty much just as I expected was the Mother of All Bombs, which had stained red and green underglaze with glaze also wiped into the lower sections and wiped away. The color and texture of the clay was what I anticipated.

"Mother of All Bombs"

The fist/resist bulb and the gerrymandering bulb don't look very shiny, though I though I did use glaze on these, too. I probably just wiped it away more than on the others.

Protest Fist / Gerrymandering

The F-22 doesn't look like a bulb and doesn't look like it was glazed either, though it was. I might consider using a more contrasting color next time.


The smokestacks looked how I expected, but I didn't use glaze on the stacks, only on the smoke.

Pollution / smokestacks

I'm happy with the birth control bulb, both for color and shine, as well as texture of the pushed out pill containers. This bulb also feels more ambiguous than some and I like the ambiguity, even though I think its fairly obvious what it is in context. In the picture the six pack plastic bulb is hanging above the birth control bulb, making the shadows stranger than elsewhere in the installation.

Birth control / Family planning

Two of the bulbs were done too late to get a coat of glaze fired. The capitol building has white underglaze painted on and washed off, but it hasn't been fired. If it were washed, it would wipe right off.
Call your representatives

The greedy monopoly man with moneybags also hasn't had its underglaze fired in place. I think I might consider more color for Mr. Moneybags. It is a complicated bulb, which probably makes it harder to read in the installation.

Big Banks / Wealth Hoarding

Four of the bulbs sold during the opening reception, which I was unable to attend because I had just finished the raku firing at school and smelled like a campfire. The four that sold were the pussy hat from the Women's March, the Resist sign with protestors, and both bulbs with text from the First Amendment.

Resist Protestors

The resist/ protestors bulb has glaze and underglaze, though the signs the people are holding are a bit hard to read.

The First Amendment, wrapped up

One of the First Amendment bulbs has text on it out of order with ropes wrapped around the bulb. The bulb has been squashed by the ropes (it was squashed when it was wet and the rope was added after it was fired. The other bulb has the text of the first amendment in the correct order except for one small typo (look close). The text has been highlighted in yellow. I think this was one of the most successful bulbs of the batch.

The First Amendment

After I brought most of the bulbs to the gallery, I made an appointment to actually install them. Bringing to a gallery an installation of 18 bulbs, each hanging on individual hooks, usually elicits an invitation to install them yourself. Since I couldn't install them the day they were due (I had to wait for the folks at the gallery to set up the show), I had an extra weekend in which to finish the last bulb. I left the blank bulb at home and was betting on maybe getting a chance to finish it. 

Trump Tweets

Over the weekend I printed out a couple pages of tweets written by Donald Trump before and after he became president. These I decoupaged onto the blank bulb. The result requires the viewer to look fairly closely. I'm not happy with the contrast (I don't have a color printer at home) of the bulb on its own, but in the group I think it works ok. 

Installation shot

I ended up with 20 bulbs and I needed 18. I brought two home, which means that I was able to put in only my favorites for this installation. I think I have one or two opportunities to install this work coming up in the next year. With this in mind, I plan to increase the installation to 60 bulbs and remake the ones that sold. 

two of these didn't make it into the show. Can you tell which two?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Kid's Art Project: 3rd Grade

This absolutely charming wolf has a turtle on his back. It reminds me of a story, but I can't quite remember how it goes.

Last week I went to a local elementary school to run a clay project with some 3rd Graders. My class was involved in the project in a couple of ways. I had several students who prepared clay shapes using molds that I use in my own work. These shapes were for the students to use in their own projects.

a box of student projects on their way to a kiln

I've been doing clay projects with some of these kids since kindergarden, so I thought it would be fun to introduce them to the idea of a mold. I brought in some of my plaster molds and each table of kids worked together to press clay into the molds. 

one of the molds we used, with a layer of wet clay inside

I explained that the molds are made of plaster, which has little tiny air holes inside of it. The holes in the plaster suck some of the water out of the wet clay, and the clay dries out a bit and can be pulled out of the mold in the shape of the mold. I forgot to tell the kids that this is how toilets are made. I thought they'd enjoy that.

This critter was one of two put in the box with legs up. The legs dry fast this way and are more likely to break, unfortunately. We talked a few times about how to strengthen the legs and they are thicker where they attach than they were when the artist started.

I only have about six half molds, and it takes a bit of time for the clay to come out of the mold, so the shapes prepared ahead of time by my adult students were essential for all the 3rd graders to have a piece to make their own, but they also all got to use the mold with wet clay so see that first step in the process.

I'm not sure what this is, but I like the symmetry. It reminds me of a fluffy rabbit with long ears, but I may be way off.

I also brought an adult student with me to the school so that I could have some help instructing the students. There are 27 kids in this third grade class, and they had a sub that day, so it was helpful to have another person who knew how to help with clay.

This cat came to the box very wet. the student brushed water on the back to create a fur texture.

Of course the project went really well. The students barely needed to be told some of the rules for using clay, given a few tools, and they were off. I always love to see what kids come up with when you give them some clay and let them experiment.

This guy has strong legs (attached well to the clay) and lots and lots of spikes.

This time around, unlike the bells projects I have sometimes done, the students had a slightly stiff, organic shape to build onto. When the kids work with wet clay (as in the bells projects), there is some risk of the form squishing when they push on it. With these forms, the risk was significantly reduced, though it was not impossible for the forms to squish. 

This piece became a little squished during building, but the horns, especially the middle one that reminds me of a hat, give this creature a lot of character.

The kids made a wide range of forms, with some clustering of type based on the table they were sitting at. Several cats happened at one table. Another table had a couple of legs-up shapes that were brought to me on their backs. 
The two cats were made by students at the same table. I can't tell if the face or the feet are more fun.

Overall, there was more variety than similarity, given that they started with fairly similar shapes. The molds my students used to prepare forms for the kids varied in size, so some of the creatures the kids made had smaller bodies than others. 

This student certainly had worked with clay before. She chose one of the smallest forms to start with, but carefully and patiently attached a whole cluster of different sized spikes to the back and fun feet and ears.

We also talked to the students about making feet and attachments that were strong and secure. Some kids even remembered the terminology from previous years' clay projects, like slaking, scoring and slipping, and kiln

The eyes stick up on this animal and the student rolled some texture on the creature's back like fur or even scales. It reminds me of a dog now, but once it is colored, the artist will let us know.
This student was patient and determined. She had a plan, she got some help, then she just went after it. She spend most of her time cutting out and attaching those huge frog feet.

I was a little concerned about transporting some of the pieces, because some kids found it hard to resist the urge to attach skinny legs or horns or tails. The problem with the skinny bits is that they dry faster and when wet, dry, and even after firing, they are much more likely to get bumped into and broken off. 
This one scared me with that skinny tail and the skinny horns. It made it to the kiln, and through the firing, but I'm not sure it will make it back to school. 

I talked with some kids about attaching the tails back to the bodies for added security, or making shorter fatter legs, but some of them chose to express themselves without the constraints of building stable appendanges.

This student had heard the lesson about connecting the tail to the body and she even used the tail as an additional support to help the feet hold up the weight of the cat.

Yeah, she's my kid, so she gets a extra picture of the cat from the front.

I also found it interesting that nearly the entire class chose the small end of the form for the head. Only one kid, as far as I can tell, put the head on the larger side. That form turned into a fish or whale creature. Before the project, I wondered if any of the students would try to stand the form on its end. I was actually considering how I could help them if they chose to do that, since the forms we provided were all open on the "bottom," but no one tried it.

The whale may have lost a piece in the front, but it looked good without it, and I wasn't sure it belonged there, so I didn't reattach it.

We spent a little over an hour with the students in the first part of the school day. The kids had an enormous amount of energy. It seemed to be a combination of the time of day, the fact that they had a substitute, the fact that it's the end of the school year and, of course, the fact that they were doing a clay project.

After firing, the grey clay turned white. The pieces are all hard and ready to go back to the kids. 

After the project, I took the work with me to fire it. I plan to bring it back this week and the kids can paint it either during class or on their own. The nice thing about the white clay we used is that it can be painted with acrylic paint or watercolor, or even markers or colored pencils can be used. I usually glaze my work, but since the pieces aren't functional, there's no need for them to be glazed.

We only found about two pieces broken off of the sculptures. They are packed up now and ready for the trip to school.