Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Online Clay Students: Carving from Solid


Jayleigh Butler, Winter 2021. Jayleigh's carved pieces include bowls with different surfaces, a liddled form and a segmented form.

The third project in my Spring class was carving from a solid block of clay. I added this project in Winter. This wasn't a technique I'd ever used before in my on-campus classes, but I thought it might be a good fit for online students working on their own at home. It also fit well with the tools we had in our studio kits.

Ryann-Elizabeth Fridley, Spring 2021. These deceptively simple forms are hollow underneath, like a bowl placed on its rim.

The carving from solid technique wasn't one I'd done before, exactly, though the concept is much like what students do for their solid portraits in the on-campus version of this class. The on-campus solid building has more steps and the process is longer and more complicated, as they are building on an armature. Students are able to build larger and more complicated forms on campus and they have more in-person guidance from me, which is really vital.

Ryann-Elizabeth Fridley, Spring 2021. In the on-campus portraits, we hollow out the sculptural forms so they will survive the firing (and be lighter in weight).

I got the idea for this project from two articles I found in old Ceramics Monthly magazines, both of which are available online through Ceramic Arts Network. The
 first is an article about New Zealand artist, Elena Renker. The second features work by Zak Spates

Kristin Benjamin, Winter 2021. This set of 3 boxes is very similar to the liddled forms in the Zak Spates article.

The concept is pretty simple, really. Students start with a block of clay and carve out the inside to create a bowl. They can modify the shape of the block of clay before they carve out the insides, or they can segment it and carve out multiple interior parts. 

Sophia McDougal, Winter 2021. Sophia's segemented form started as one oblong lump of clay.

The on-campus solid portrait project requires them to do more shaping before they carve out the insides, using an armature to support complex or top-heavy forms, but once the exterior shape is formed, the carving is similar for more and less complicated forms.

Ashley Lawson (Instagram link), Spring 2021. Ashley's bowls exhibit a range fluted textures that vary with the length and orientation of the cut. 

For the online class, I had students start with bowls. Each student was required to carve 3 bowls from solid blocks of clay. They could shape these starter blocks by wedging, slamming, paddling, or carving them. The interiors could be started by pressing in as demonstrated in the Elena Renker article, but the rest of the carving would be done with loop tools that come in students' studio kits. 

Student Example, Spring 2021. The cups on the sides show faceting marks, while the center form is fluted.

I didn't have size or shape requirements for the bowls, just a requirement that the thickness of the walls be consistent all the way around and through the bowl. Students could choose to make their bowls wider, taller, more round or more square. I also encouraged students to vary the surfaces of their carved bowls with faceting or fluting techniques.

Lizbeth Cardenas, Spring 2021. Another segmented carved form with deep cuts in the surface. These sorts of deep carvings could be highlighted with glaze after firing.

From the virtual distance of the instructor (not sharing a physical studio classroom together), it appeared that most students generally enjoyed or felt comfortable with the bowl carving. I did have one student who was really afraid to get started. 

Student Work, Spring 2021. This very large segmented piece is still fairly wet. You can tell that the student either carved it fairly wet or added some water to the surface. For a big wide form like this, the approach is fine, but working too wet (or too dry) can make things harder and is sometimes hard to judge when working independently.

The fear of the first cut is something I've experienced a lot in the carving part of the on-campus solid building portrait project. Students have spent so much time getting the shape right, it is scary to cut into the project. I have found that my presence is really important for this step. I used to have the students watch my demo in class, then cut on their own. 

Mia Bautista, Spring 2021.  This mushroom house was probably made from two separately carved forms put together. Something similar could be made from carving from one solid lump of clay, but the more complicated form requires more complicated carving or hollowing techniques.

Since 2018, I've flipped my on-campus classes, having students watch video demos outside of class, then they come to class ready to cut; they don't have to cut until I'm there. I love this day, because I get to simply tell most students that they are on the right track, their plan is right, yes, they should cut. Then I stand there as they start, giving encouragement and watching them be successful.

Jackeline Corona, Spring 2021. I encouraged students to measure the thickness of their walls as they carved. The student has clearly cut away clay at the corners of this segmented form so that those corners aren't thicker than the rest of the walls.

For obvious reasons (classes were entirely online), I was unable to provide this in-person support to students in the online class. Most were, apparently, fine with cutting, since they hadn't spent much time shaping before they began to carve out the shape, but at least one really struggled with getting started on her own. I zoomed chatted with her as she got out her materials and got started, but it was frustrating for both of us, I think, to try to replicate this in-person assurance via video instead of being together in a shared space.

Sophia McDougall, Winter 2021. The uneven facets down the walls of this lidded form create a kind of key to line up the lid correctly.

I do think that teaching our studio classes online has allowed us to reach students who didn't have access to studios before. Confident students, students with acceptable work spaces, students without full-time jobs and loads of family responsiblites, and students who feel comfortable working almost entirely independently can be very successful in online classes. 

Kristin Benjamin, Winter 2021. Kristin clearly was able to use the written article and accompanying pictures from Ceramic Arts Network to help her plan and create this interesting lidded form, but not all students feel comfortable working this independently.

On the other hand, many students benefit from a teacher helping them build their confidence. Many students need a dedicated work space and a dedicated work time, both for their own organization and working, but also as a buffer against jobs and family responsibilities that otherwise encroach on the space and the time at home. Online is great and it meets a need, but it's hard to watch students be less that fully successful when I know that being on campus at least a bit would help.

Harrah Hanson, Spring 2021. The figural sculpture (sculpture of a head) requires more planning than a bowl, as the narrow neck has to be a little drier to support the wider, heavier head.

This carving project, like all the online projects, was spread over 2 weeks. In the first week I asked students to carve bowls, in the second, I asked them to carve something more complicated, including segmented forms, closed forms with lids, and closed sculptural forms. Students were allowed to choose which of these they wanted to pursue. 

Student Example, Winter 2021. This set of lidded forms have similar shapes, especially in their lids and handles, but varied surface treatments.

In winter, I hadn't initially given them the choice of a closed sculptural form, as that is more complicated to building and to cut and carve. However, in meeting with one student, he expressed interest in building a small portrait sculpture so I talked to him about the risks (big heavy head on a narrow neck) and let him give it a try.

Student Example, Spring 2021. I get a kick out of this photo. The student has addressed the problem of how to show the best angles of everything, by propping stuff up on the slip container and a sponge.

Students were required to create a total of 6 carved objects, including the bowls and the more complicated forms. They were also encoruaged to create a variety of textures on the surfaces using mostly carving, faceting, and fluting techniques done with the same loop and carving tools they used for the shaping.

Lizbeth Cardenas, Spring 2021. This set includes two complications: lids and segmented forms, as well as different shapes for the "bowls" and a variety of surface decoration techniques. 

The project came in the middle of the quarter in Spring. I thought of it as a bit of an easier project in between slab-building and coil-building. This project allowed students to do less planning, in most cases, than the slab project, and was a faster technique than coils. It also gave them a chance to try some reductive surface decoration techniques, since most of them preferred impressions, rolled textures, or additive techniques in their slab project.

Mia Bautista, Spring 2021. This form looks like a sculpture from the front, but a segmented form from the back.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Website Revision!

I updated my website this summer, check it out here: and let me know what you think!

My homepage looks pretty similar to before. I didn't update the main images.

I created my current website in 2013, using Squarespace. I've had a website since sometime in grad school (circa 2003-2006), back when websites required the creator to know HTML or secure the assistance of someone who did. (I had a bit of the former and a lot of the latter).

My current and upcoming exhibitions page has had a major overhaul because I couldn't get the built-in formatting to work reliably.

Squarespace has worked pretty well for me and I haven't had to make major changes in the time between 2013 and now, which has been nice. Before then I struggled with some hosting issues and tools that I used becoming obsolete. My images and CV had been updated a bit through 2018, but the events listing had lagged a bit farther behind. Mine was far from the most out of date professional artist website I could name, but it wasn't what I wanted it to be.

The "Gallery" page now links to 4 types of galleries: sculpture, installation, works in progress, and functional. Squarespace's fomat kind of forced this arrangement on me.

When I went in to assess what I needed to revise this summer, I realized that I didn't have any kind of social media links, the bio and artist's and teaching statements had become a bit dated, and I didn't have as many fresh and updated images as I'd like.

The "Social Media" page is brand new

This summer I made some adjustments to the pages I have listed, pulling the CV off entirely, and adding a "Social Media" page. I set it up so that images from my Instagram constantly update. Hopefully this works for visitors to my website, although it is not updating in my browser, possibly because I need to clear my cache, possibly because I need to close some of the 87 tabs I have open right now ;-) 

This Instagram feed allows visitors to scroll through recent posts (theoretically)

I made some major changes to the tone of my contact/connect page (and renamed it). What I already have online might be the easiest way for folks to find information, so I wanted to direct them there before having them email me. I've added some sections to this connect page that direct folks to this blog (which I update more frequently than the website), Oak Hollow Gallery (where my work is on display), YVC (for people looking for classes), and my YouTube channel. I get asked a lot about clay classes, but I don't teach throwing from home, so directing them to the school is most efficient. YouTube is also a good place to go for folks trying try learn to throw from home.

Contact page with old background and missing the feedback request

As I was drafting this post and continuing to revise the website, I realized that I actually would love to hear from folks, especially with recommendations for what I can demonstrate, show, or write about here or on YouTube. So I added a request for comments, questions, suggestions and feedback. Hopefully this might give me some good ideas for what folks like to see.

New "Connect" page with links and request for suggestions

The other subtle aesthetic change I made to the website was to switch out the background image. The old one was a bit low quality and now what I've been making lately. It had been bothering me for a while, but I needed to spend some time to remember how to change it. I swapped it out for a newer image with higher resolution. I'm a bit concerned that the text has gotten harder to read over the top. I wonder if Squarespace has an accessible (easy to read) version for folks or if that's my responsibility.

Background image for the whole site

The biggest (or most time consuming) change was to the text. I made some major revisions to my bio, artist statement(s) and teaching philosophy. These needed an update generally, but I also put in a lot of links. My favorite thing about the blog is getting into tons of detail on whatever thing I'm thinking about, so I just added that stuff to the statements. For every job I've every applied to, the amount of writing I have here is too much, but its my own website and I'm not applying for a job right now, so I don't mind.

Teaching philosophy. The screenshot is meant to show the hotlinks--don't try to read it here, instead visit the page on my website!

I also added a personalized 404 or "Page Not Found" page. I hope not to need it, of course, but if I missed a link when I was revising, I'm hoping folks will let me know about it. My new 404 page is nicer than the standard one anyway.  I thought a picture of Covids was appropriate to suggest something that had gone wrong.

my new "not found" page asks people to let me know if I have an error

As of this writing, I have not finished updating my website, but it's at an acceptable level of updated. I've gotten rid of most of the obvious errors or outdated information and added information about the two (as of when I'm writing) upcoming events. I still have a bit of revising to do to the multiple teaching statements at the bottom of the "About Me" page. And I still want to add to and adjust my artwork image galleries. I have some work now from the last year, but I want to add more and I'd like to update captions on quite a few images that never had them.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Road Trip: New Mexico, Arizona, California, (and Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Nevada, too)

the family photo op near, but not at 4 corners

My family and I recently returned from a 4000 mile road trip through 9 states. We drove a truck pulling a car dolley so that we could deliver a 1992 Saturn to my sister-in-law in New Mexico.

the Sati has arrived in New Mexico

The Saturn has been in the family and has been traded back and forth by the siblings for all those years. It has lived with Patti in New Mexico, my husband, Sean, in Wisconsin, our family in Washington, Patti again in Pennsylvania, us in Washington again, and now it is returning to New Mexico. This car has traveled.

the beautiful view near Arches NP

We drove down in just over two days, with the goal of being efficient while towing the car, because turning, parking, and going to gas stations is more challenging while towing a car dolley and car.

More roadside views in Utah

Though we didn't stop much, we did manage to get to Salt Lake City in time for dinner at Culver's. We'd like to go back to Arches in Colorado sometime when we aren't towing a car.

posing with the Saturn in front of the closed sign at four corners

The only detour we took on the way down was to try to go to Four corners. It looked like it would be just about 20 miles out of our way. Unfortuantely, the road was very bumpy and not great for towing a car. Worse, once we got to four corners, it turned out it was closed. None of us had ever been before, and I just thought it was an open space. I didn't realize it was a place that could be closed. We took some pictures out in front of the locked gate and the trip got me to Arizona for the first time in my life (and Alison to NM for the first time, though we were headed there before the detour).

one of many unidentified natural beauties in northern New Mexico and southern Utah

We enjoyed the views in Colorado and Northern New Mexico, but around Gallup it started raining. We were traveling before July 4, so the last few hours of our drive were punctuated by both lightning and fireworks. Right before we reached our hotel south of Albuquerque, we were driving in pouring rain that was resulting in frogs jumping onto the road (and presumably not jumping off later). Bird food, we were told later.

on of the views from Patti's place

Patti's place is up on a slight hill overlooking a small town. She has lots of space to spread out and explore, so we went for walks around the area. I never encountered any rattlsnakes, but Sean almost stepped on one when he was stepping back to take a photo and Patti had one rattle at her when she was walking in an arroyo near her driveway.

a collared lizard

The most wildlife I saw on our walks was a collarded lizard and some bleached bones of an elk or deer or something. I was hoping to see tarantulas, but I was happy not to see any snakes.

Patti's photos: Macaw vs Kittens, part 1

The wildlife situation inside the house was more impressive. My sister-in-law has a macaw and two other parrots which moved with her from Pennsylvania (and before that from New Mexico). They had recently gotten two kittens, which really added to the excitement in the house. The parrots are loud, but the kittens are all over the place, playing and chasing and hiding. Usually with a few girls trailing after them.

Patti's photos: Macaw vs Kittens, part 2

The kittens were really friendly and patient with all the kids (and adults) picking them up and carring them around. They'd fall asleep in anyone's arms. Their revenge was waking up early and playing an intense game of chase in which the goal was apparently to crash into every single item in the room.

Patti's photos: Macaw vs Kittens, part 3

The kittens were also interested in hunting the parrots, though they were no match for Maria, the macaw. Later one of the kittens managed to catch a packrat, which encouraged all the kids to scream and chase the cat who let the rat go to chase it again. Very entertaining.

an evening storm in NM

The views, particularly at night, were simply beautiful. On two or three evenings, there were storms in the distance we could see and hear, but that didn't reach us, or reached us later. One night the rain and the sunset put on a spectacular show wrapped around the whole northwest horizon, changing from reds and oranges to streaky lines of purple rain.

evening storm and sunset, from a slightly different angle

The open spaces both inside and out at Patti's property gave the kids and adults lots of room to be together or apart working on various activities or tasks. The arroyo flooded out the day before we got there, so my brother-in-law was out on the tractor several times to fix the road, among other things.

cousins and mechanics-in-training

The kids got driving lessons from the dads, mostly with Sati. They had plenty of space to drive around the house and up and down the long driveway. Two of the kids also got to do some mechanical work, taking apart the car dolley so that we could put it in the bed of the truck for the drive home. We were hoping that the truck would be more maneuverable without towing the dolley and we could park in regular spots, too.

loading the car dolley with a stump, a jack, and a rusty swing set

An old rusty swingset frame, plus a stump and a jack, proved useful for hoisting the car dolley into the truck bed. We had an odd assortment of stuff in the back of the truck on the way home, include the car dolley, in pieces, an old scooter for Sean to repair, and both a live and a dead cactus.

loaded up (looks like we struck oil, packed up the family and are moving to Beverly...Hills that is)

We mostly stayed around Patti's house and town during our visit, which was nice and chill. We did take a few trips into town to see the sights, like the old stockade and the unusual cemetary. 

Sledding in White Sands

On our last day we drove to White Sands, which was a longish drive. One of the activities people apparently do at White Sands is sledding down the gypsum hills. Patti didn't go with us, but warned us many times against sunburn and dehydration. I didn't totally understand until I got there. It was 117 degrees when we left Yakima, in the 90s during the day in other parts of our New Mexico trip, and the temperature was only 84 or 86 in White Sands when we were there. But that white gypsum does something incredible when it reflects the sunlight. It felt as hot as when we left Yakima. The kids were able to tolerate about 3 runs each down the hill and then they climbed in the car and enjoyed the A/C. (And that wasn't the end of our experience with intense heat being amplified by the location.)

Bandera Volcano crater near Grants, NM

The next day we said goodbye to everyone and drove to Arizona. We stopped at the Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave near Grants on our way. 

the angle of this bench doesn't encourage lingering

We were starting to get worried as we drove farther and farther from Grants and passed very old signs for the location, especially after the long drive to the hot White Sands and after the experience with four corners being closed. We had considered stopping at Acoma Sky City, which was also closed. 

the collapsed lava tube that created the ice cave

So we were pleasantly suprised when we did make it to the ice cave. There weren't a lot of people there, but the volcano crater was kinda neat and the ice cave was really cool. 

coming up from the ice cave

One of the people we met at the bottom of the ice cave stairs mentioned that her late friend had come here as a kid around the turn of the century to harvest ice from the cave to make ice cream. I don't remember all the dates and details, but the hike out to both the crater and the ice cave came with a written guide that told some of the history, geology, and information about the plants and animals in the area.

those are genuine smiles of Northerners who are somewhere cool and outside for the first time in weeks

That evening we drove to Flagstaff and stayed there (after having Culver's again for dinner because we are midwesterners who live far away from such options). We were planning to check out the Petrified Forest, but apparently many national parks close at 5pm. It was hard to tell what we would have seen besides hot flat desert. I'm probably more of an actual forests (and associated shade) kind of traveler.

the Watchtower at Desert view, Grand Canyon

One of our few plans for the trip was to come home by way of the Grand Canyon. Alison and I had never seen it. We drove up from Flagstaff and entered from the East, stopping first at the Watchtower at Desert View. 

obligatory and ineffectual Grand Canyon photo

It was hot, but impressive as this sort of thing is supposed to be. I was more impressed than Sean or Alison, but I chalked that up to the first stop being a perfect match for me: beautiful scenery, information about history and science, combined with a building made by a trailblazing female architect and information about art making in the form of the black glass reflectors in the Watchtower building.

black mirrors like this were used by artists to consolidate and clarify the view because the immensity of the canyon and the bright light makes it hard to communicate or even see the whole thing. Looking at the mirror Sean pointed out something we hadn't seen in the real thing.

Lots of stuff was closed because of COVID. We could only enter the bottom of the Watchtower/Kiva (reading about it later, I think we were in the Kiva inspired building, not the Watchtower itself) and we later learned that the museum and visitor centers were all closed.

Scale was hard to comprehend and harder still to communicate later

It was still worth coming and I think everyone enjoyed it more than we were worried we might. We also figure it might be nice to visit sometime when it isn't super hot and stuff isn't closed. On our drive away from the Canyon, we learned about a train that brings people up from a nearby town. That sounds kind of neat to do sometime.

obligatory mask/canyon photom, I guess

Because our goal was to combine sightseeing with getting home eventually, we had lots more to do that day. We drove to the Hoover Dam next, again because Alison and I had never been. 

The beautiful view from the Hoover Dam

We got there about 7pm, so while it was still light out and very hot, the Dam apparently "closed" at 5pm. There were signs all over saying that there were cooling stations at parking lots, but that was a lie. The parking lots were open, but the parking garage was closed and we had a bit more of a walk than we anticipated.

Boiling hot water and cement at the Hoover Dam

The Dam area was super empty, just a handful of visitors, but also incredibly hot. The high that day was 115. The overnight low was 90. We were there about 7, so you'd think it might feel a bit cooler, but the cement just  trapped and radiated the heat. Alison stopped at a bubbler to get a drink and we thought the water might burn her. We were sweating buckets and make jokes about how the water level used to be higher but it boiled that day. 

Seriously impressive and seriously big and seriously, seriously hot

After we left that day, we drove in to Las Vegas, thinking we might even get a cheap hotel, forgetting it was Saturday night (when we looked up the hotels, they gave us prices for Tuesday which were maybe 1/5 the price of Saturday). We went for a walk down Fremont Street, which was hot and crowded plus smoky too. We wore our masks for the anti-vaxers but kept them on for the tobacco and ash. 

lots of wind and solar farms in southern CA

We decided to drive through the Mojave Desert towards Los Angeles that night, with the idea that we wouldn't have to experience 120 degrees during the day. We checked the temperature as we drove through around 11pm; it was 103. 

Morro Rock

We stayed northeast of Los Angeles and slept in after getting in very late the night before. Our A/C was broken in the hotel and we were about ready to bail. Luckilly they sent someone in to fix it and it just needed to be reset for longer than we had waited.

Random shipwreck/abandonded ship

The next day we drove the musical road in Lancaster, then visited a Tesla store in Santa Barbara because Sean wanted to find out whether we might someday be able to get a Tesla roof in Yakima (the answer appears to be "no"). Then Alison and I insisted on visiting Chaucer Books, which we picked because it was close, but which ended up having a good selection of stuff we hadn't seen in Yakima.

Elephant Seal Rookery somewhere along highway 1

We stayed that night in Morro Bay, thinking it would be nice to get someplace while the sun was still up. Morro Bay had a beach and Morro rock, which was a big volcanic landmass in the water. We were able to go for a walk on the beach towards the rock and we stayed in a nice place right off the highway. 

These guys are funny to watch, but kinda dull to photograph

We thought we could have a nice scenic drive up highway 1 the next day, not realizing how winding the road was. From Morro Bay we were able to drive north and see a small shipwreck (or abandoned boat) and then the Elephant Seal Rookery, where molting male seals were hanging out, but after that we were stuck on a slow road and it took all day to get to San Francisco.

Sean made friends with a squirrel as we were watching the seals. There were signs all over saying don't feed the squirrels, and we didn't but after this one was nibbling on Sean's shoe, he leaned down and it nibbled on his finger. We're pretty sure somebody has been feeding these guys.

The speed limit was 25 and even 20 in some places, but the twisting road and hills and narrow shoulder made it difficult to necessarily keep the truck going that fast safely. The drive took a lot longer than we were expecting and eventually the scene became as repetitive as the desert had in our drive across Arizona, Nevada, and southeast California.

obligatory Golden Gate picture with random truck bed junk

We got to San Francisco near the end of the day, though the weather made it seem later, and stopped on the north side of the Golden Gate bridge. We got out for a moment, but it was far too cold and windy to stay long. We were all feeling pretty tired by the end of this day, and really ready to be home.

geodes room

North of San Francisco we abandoned 101 and 1 for the speed and reliability of I-5. That night in our hotel after dinner and snacks, we got talking about rocks and happened to learn that there was a big rock shop in Vacaville, just north of us. This rock shop was featured in Atlas Obscura, so we decided to make it our last stop before going home. 

fish fossils

The shop did not disappoint. It was just massive and had tons to look at, from trays of beautiful polished stones for 1-3 dollars (a few for less) all the way up to massive pieces that cost $64-80,000. There was a room with fossil fish and geodes and rough stones and just an amazing variety.

so many shiny pretty rocks

It was like a museum combined with a jewelry maker's supply store. We could have happily stayed longer, but we wanted to get home that night (San Francicso to Yakima in one go) and though it was 74 degrees outside, it was getting pretty toasty in the not-really-ventilated warehouse.

huge geode that looks like a fancy trash bin

We drove home through California and Oregon. We didn't see the largest fires burning in Oregon, but we could smell fire at our stop around Weed, CA and stopped briefly to watch a smaller fire off the road north of Klamath Falls, OR.

fire in central Oregon

We pulled over to watch because we could see three airplanes flying over, dropping red fire retardant. The size of the fire was deceptive. From the road it didn't look too large, but the size of the planes gave a sense of scale. The drive through central Oregon moved from forests burnt out a year or two ago, to much more recent burns, as well as those still raging.

the circled part is the plane dropping fire suppresant

When we stopped for dinner in Bend, one of the restaurants we tried was closed so that folks could evacuate their homes from a fire nearby. We didn't see that one except for a bit of smoke, though the red sunset that night made it feel a bit like we were looking at a burning landscape.

Sunset, north of Bend, Oregon