Friday, November 23, 2007

Week 12 November 23, 2007

Week Twelve at the Art Centre.

Monday – C and I worked together again this week as we continue printing from our lino blocks. I have nearly enough done however I’m not that thrilled with many of them. It’s the fact that I have trouble keeping the print clean – little smudges pop up on the borders – usually on an otherwise decent print or…Some part of the lino block doesn’t have quite as much ink on it as another part or some silly thing – if it is a multiple print – that is more than one stamp on a single sheet is involved, it’s always the very last stamp printed that messes up. This has got to be one of those Murphy’s Law things just for printmakers. As this happens to me I recall that things that are very fussy regarding detail aren’t my best things to do.

Waaaay back, in the 10th grade at Arkansas Senior High, I took mechanical drawing, thinking I’d also take architectural drawing after that – the only thing resembling art at our school. I managed to keep a sense of humour (much needed) when the all–boys class (except me) taught by a coach meant I had to roll with the punches. Example: coming to class to find my T-square (kept with our drawing boards) had a condom stretched on it. To cut to the chase, I could never be neat enough and the measuring and math part made me ill with frustration.

So, while I am enchanted with the endless variations possible when it comes to inking a block or a screen design or an etched plate, I would like to have an assistant who takes directions and looks after that for me. I’d design the block/plate/screen and the assistent would do the rest. In other words, I don’t love it enough yet.

Tuesday - painting class and no teacher. That is, our regular teacher was away and we had a substitute teacher. This time, an art teacher though we did not ask for much in the way of help or instructions. We knew we were supposed to get a new still life study set up. The procedure is to make thumbnail sketches and choose one to sketch onto the canvas then block in everything with paint.

We were able to natter and joke around somewhat – not encouraged as a rule in this class. We kept adjusting the arrangement we helped the substitute teacher to place in the centre of the room on some drapery. More bottles, baskets, and that dratted touristic sombrero, the nasty old boot, and an ensemble of fruit: apples, a pear and some grapes. I took a few pictures of this as some actually dove into painting. I didn’t trust that we would get the arrangement back in the next class so I elected to do two full-sized drawings – one landscape orientation of the newsprint and one portrait format. I worked on my weak points – proportion and lack of contrast.

I asked for some feedback from the teacher and also chatted with her about her career as a supply art teacher – she’s never had a placement in a school in all these years and it took her about 5 years to get certified after she moved her from Czechoslovakia as a teacher. I told her of my experiences with certification here in Ontario – yakety yak….I hope it made her feel more comfortable in a room full of strangers.

After class, M. treated E and me to coffees at the Second Cup. It was E's birthday so a bit of a celebration. N. joined us and we had a great time chatting together about our work in our classes. I imagine quite a few of the students from the Art Centre (at least the Adult program) find this a handy place to meet. I had been to Midoco on my way to join them. I decided to buy fresh ink and to continue printing my lino block at home on the weekend. I also treated myself to a new large brush and a giant-sized tube of Titanium White for painting class.

Studio Tuesday – To printmaking first to organize all of my prints from the drying trays, putting them into a large folder to stay safe for me – they are due next week. Meanwhile, I’ll print a bunch at home and replace those that I find are weakest. I still have all class next Monday (except for any demos) and studio next Tuesday just in case I need more.

And so, the bulk of the studio time was spent with sculpting. No time to carve on my plaster piece. I got approval on my wax metal model now attached to wax cup and vents so it was time to splat on a protective coating – as many thin layers as needed to insulate the wax model without (hopefully) any air bubbles or pockets that could cause feathering of brass. Once the layers have been built up, small squares of fiberglass, soaked and squeezed are dipped into more of the plaster mixture and are layered on to further protect and insulate the wax that in the firing, all melts away and is replaced by brass (hence the name “lost wax” process). It’s a little nerve-wracking as it becomes difficult to be sure you have covered every little bit of this structure. Apparently, failure to do so could result in nasty explosions in the firing process. Yikes!

Wednesday – a day devoted to medical appointments and laundry. I read a few late meditation journals from my Holistic Curriculum class. I also had a British Journal of Educational Technology article to review (not well written – too bad). The subject is one that needs to be addressed. The article is about the difficulty of teams with various roles to play in the design and development of online courses in higher education. In the case cited, the various stakeholders did not collaborate well together. There were not enough ideas about how to avoid the pitfalls involved. And the article also seemed to me to be hastily and sloppily written.

Thursday and Art History class - The weather, well below freezing with the wind-chill factor at -9C was not a bit nice for getting to school with a huge poster – the poster acted as a giant sail as I picked my way over the ice and snow covered sidewalks. Fortunately the plastic protected it from the pelting sleet. Our teacher had rearranged the classroom so that we could lay out our posters on the tables and take a tour to view everyone’s handiwork.

There was a fair amount of variety and several were quite original in concept: one on graffiti attributed to hieroglyphics and one on animation-style art that incorporated things from ancient Egypt. (Super Mario and a hot tub in the peak of the pyramid – that kind of idea). D. also went back to the pyramids of Giza as he did his project on one that several of us sidestepped because we thought it was too obvious – Le Pyramide at the Louvre in Paris. What cheesed off a few of us was that D. got away with only doing a Power Point presentation when we had been told in no uncertain terms that we had to design and create a poster on the topic.

I have a website for my project but I chose not to show it and to focus on my poster. If you go to my website, and look for the featured site of the month, you can view it. I met twice with the teacher to be sure I was on the correct path for what he wanted. My project also had pyramids as well as temple pillars from Kom Ombo and Philae in Egypt. There were arches, amphitheatres, mosques, gargoyles (stone guardians) and such among the other projects. We had all obviously spent a fair amount of time researching and putting together our presentations. While we were presenting, the teacher came out from behind us to sit and look over at a poster (three times) during the presentations. Otherwise the teacher was busy writing at his desk behind the presenter who was turned out to the class with their poster. We learned that the teacher was making critiques and he offered to tell us all the things that were wrong with our posters if we wanted him to. We did.

Little did we think however, that we would primarily hear the bad news only (and with what seemed like great gusto). It seemed to me that he was telling us (with glee) that we wouldn’t be able to get away with our many mistakes if another teacher had seen these. I don’t think students mind getting constructive criticism. I know as one who has done thousands of assessments of student’s creative projects, that it certainly works better if you can balance the positive with the negative. The positive parts didn’t appear much on the menu in this case. I know that last week, my respect for the painting teacher rose a few points when he managed to find something to praise (even if it was only the cork on a bottle) before talking about what went wrong with a painting.

Probably the most shocking comment we heard about the posters was one that reverberated around campus for the rest of the day. The teacher talked about the fluorescent pink poster as having “diarrhea” brown images. And this is from our colour wheel teacher. Later in sculpting class we decided that the complementary colour for “diarrhea” brown is vomit green. Bottom line – no one was impressed with the feedback. Certainly I was not and I was glad to talk with the teacher about my poster further and to have him recall that we had talked about eye movement and how to get the viewers to look where you want them to look. There were a few other details that I felt I could justify in spite of his criticism. I did stand and look down on the poster, placing each and every item exactly where I thought it looked best and I was quite careful to use the requisite rubber cement effectively to affix each part. Could my design and layout have been improved – doubtless – all work can use suggestions for improvement. Did I do some things very well - yes I did if only I say so myself.

Being a snowy day, quite a few of us gathered on a bench in the hallway on the second floor to chatter and have lunch and coffees. We had more time that usual as Art History class was dismissed after the presentations. A couple of people didn’t present and there were absences as usual. The hardy ones tromped off in the snow to have their lunch break. M was kind enough to go out for coffees for E and me.

Sculpting class was fairly engrossing this week. At long last I was at the head of the pack with L. who always seems to finish before anyone else. My studio afternoons have paid off in being able to be ready to go through the same process of creating the mold for the medal together with her. The teacher would show L. how to do a step and we would both assist then he would ask L. to help me with that same step and so we moved in tandem through the various stages. We made fat coils of clay and laid those out in rows to cover a large square piece of fibre board, beating the clay into submission with a waffle-patterned paddle. Then we placed our plaster and fiberglass covered model on top. A long coil of clay went around the base of the model and it was “Squoooshed” down and did not cover the base for the model but sealed that base to the fibre board. Next a tall cylinder of plastic was clipped together and placed down around the model.

A long coil of clay went around the base of the cylinder to be sure the cylinder was not going to leak the mixture we would pour in and cover our model with. The mixing of the material used is fairly precise. One bucket weighs 6 pounds when filled with the powder, then a generous half cup of this and a half cup of that goes in the bucket. A pail with the exact amount of warm water is poured in (the bucket with this porridge is mixed under a vent to help suck up the deadly powder in the air) as we mixed L. and I both found the sensation of mixing this stuff with our hands (yes all 8 rings had to come off for this) a strange and not unappealing feeling – before the water was added. After the water is added and we are checking to be sure there are no lumps it felt pretty much like any plaster mixture the consistency of a thin pancake batter.

This mixture is now poured into our cylinders to harden around our model. We had to mix up an extra batch to get enough to cover both of our models sufficiently. In about a half hour, the mix was hardened enough to remove from the cylinder. The plaster cylinder was very warm but not uncomfortable to handle. Now the two ends of this cylinder were rounded off with a serrated knife. The fibre board was removed and the re-usable wax was carefully dug out of the cup down to the sprue point. We carved an initial on the finished plaster and our molds were placed on racks in a big oven. The first firing will be done here to melt the wax I believe and then these molds are put into the extremely hot oven where the liquid brass is poured into them.

I was too busy doing all of this stuff to take notes so I hope if I’ve missed anything or named something incorrectly that one of my classmates reading this account will have mercy on me and tell me so I can revise what I’ve written here. For those of you not at a foundry, know that this is not something you can do at home.

Friday and figure drawing class. The same middle-aged male model with long hair arrived ready to work. There was no sign of our teacher and not all of the students were there but we got started all the same. Again, our model was quite good with a great variety of poses so we made 10 – 1 minute poses and another batch of poses for 2 minutes. By that time we had more people coming in. There had been a huge delay in the subways on both Bloor-Danforth line and the Yonge line. Our beloved teacher came rather frazzled from being packed into a subway station for over an hour waiting for a train. We did two 20 minute drawings, had a break and then a 55 minute drawing. I can see some slight improvement in this week’s work still using conte on its side for shape and no lines but it’s definitely not my best way of working. Sadly next Friday is another PD day so we won't have figure drawing class for two weeks.

Today I bought several grades of sandpaper to use on my plaster carving. I’ve brought the carving home to work on. I like it more as time goes by. I took pictures of it as is this afternoon from all angles and it does seem to me to have promise. At this moment in time, I have prints to print, a plaster carving to work on, those four manikin drawings I haven’t done yet. I’m working on the text for my medal board presentation in sculpting and on my artist statement (regarding the medal or the carving) for Art History class. I have a few other options for the artist statement – a print made between now and the middle of December or a painting or drawing done by then. I’ve been working on the other assignment for Art History for weeks now – the one involving art and a legal matter. It’s not due until January.

I’d like to end next week with the feeling that I’m caught up in my art classes because after next Friday I’ll have those 42 term papers from my graduate students to read and comment on. Those are around 2500 words each…enough to keep me busy for a while. The harder part of teaching for me is reviewing all of each student’s work and assigning marks to them. I totally enjoy seeing the work but judging what grade it deserves - well that's the real challenge. I believe I have the month of December in which to complete my marks but a lot of other things happen in December as well….and so it goes.

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