Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

A mound of terra cotta clay on the floor of my studio

A mound of terra cotta clay on the floor of my studio

Today, a few photos of clay. In grad school we ask a lot of questions, especially "why" questions. We are challenged to find ever stronger, more defensible reasons for what we do and why. There are many great reasons, many streams of worthy inquiry.  Almost all of them include this; we simply love to make art: we love the material.  
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A large flat ground of plastic clay prepped for slip work

Thick tiles with a slipwork painting having their backs hollowed out

Thick tiles with a slipwork painting having their backs hollowed out

 

Printing

This week I thought about printing a lot. I had the opportunity to see a demonstration of the 3-D printer Morris library recently acquired. I spoke with the people that are working on the project. It was illuminating. On the same day, I spent time hand-setting type for my job in the Preservation Department in Morris Library.
The stamping press uses hand-set type to permanently impress titles onto bookcloth for new book covers.

The stamping press uses hand-set type to permanently impress titles onto bookcloth for new book covers.

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The press is heated to about 200 F to impress a permanent, durable title.

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This scene was once a ubiquitous part of life, but is now very rare. The preservation department has a cabinet full of these narrow drawers. Each drawer houses a font in one size, either lower or upper case.

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Setting the type for a title.

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Many of the proponents of the 3-D printer project on campus are retired professors and staff members. They are all volunteers, from all over the university.

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The plate of this kit-made robotic printer is heated. The operator's hand is resting on the plate, with the movable printer head directly above. Right now, Orange PLA plastic is being fed into the machine. The heated plate enables the printer to print ABS plastic, like what legos are made from.

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This is the more common type of printer. Here, the science librarian is using it to print out two small plastic rings. This would take about 15 minutes.

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The 3-D printer.

  When Guttenberg first convinced goldsmiths to take up the onerous task of making little cast, perfectly-formed letters, they did not start with just the 26 letters of the alphabet in upper and lower case and a few punctuation marks. They very closely copied the style of calligraphy, with hundreds of shapes and forms of letters. These early books were meant to look and feel like a hand-made manuscript. And they very nearly did. They achieved a level of artistry that analyzed calligraphic styles from a totally new mindset. Some thinkers believe that it took more than a century for the impact and potential of this piece of technology to be fully understood. I think that we could easily make the case that my university, the middle class, abundance of material resources, plentiful food and clean water, and much more, all stem from this one piece of technology and its profound ability to transfer knowledge. I have seen people comparing the invention of computers and PCs to the invention of the printing press. I believe that the impact of this piece of technology will take a century or more to understand. I remember when computers used tape decks to manage minuscule amounts of data. This week I saw a computer, using Linux-based, community-built software print out a plastic 3-D object. One of these printers has been famously used to make a home-made prosthetic for a growing boy, by his dad. Then he posted the directions on the Internet, and they are freely available. I am a potter, besides being a parent, a grad student, and a number of other things. I believe that the handmade pot is much more than an object made to house nostalgia and Utopianism. The ideals of social justice that influential thinkers have tried to attach to craft work are noble. They just don't attach very well. We have a printing press in the library because it does something that no other currently, economically-available tool can do. It permanently adheres a custom durable title to bookcloth in a one-off process uniquely required for repair. The hand-made craft object is the same. It does not need watertight dogma to justify itself. When I look at it, feel it, use it, I know that it can do things that no mass-produced object can do. It can express freedom and looseness, accident and choice, beauty and agility of mind in a very concrete way that no other type of object could. It is not the perfect tool for every job, but there are things about this tool that cannot be replaced, ever, by anything else. Still, I have some ideas for some tessellated geometric sculptures that I would love to make up designs for and 3-D print someday.The kite designs were fabulous. Paper clay may have been a better choice for my attempt. My media choice, pottery, is limited, like all choices. I see its place in a new way when it is put in the context of a world with cheaply available 3-D printers. The meanings of tools and objects shift in a changing context. And I like that change. I like modern life, without which I could not have the job of my choice, drink clean water, eat as much, own property, move freely. The list goes on and on.

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Two slipped plates and a bowl

Two slipped plates and a bowl. The bowl has a floral stencil pattern repeat. The two plates have a portion of a piece of digitally-altered rosemaling traced onto them. Next, the design was carved through and outlined in slip trailed yellow and black.

   
Freshly slipped earthenware bowls.

Freshly slipped earthenware bowls. These also incorporate details of a rosemaling pattern. They are each unique. Some involve a traced paper stencil, others are entirely painted and drawn free-hand.

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The right-most bowl is a little landscape sketch of water droplets falling on earth with a yellow root system below ground and a tiny green leaf just beginning to unfurl above ground. Is January too early for spring fever?

This is the last weekend before the spring semester starts. I spent the morning adding dates to the syllabus for the beginning clay class that I will be teaching and creating a Gmail calendar for the course. This afternoon I trimmed a little over half the pots I had thrown yesterday. I ought to have trimmed them in the morning and worked on the syllabus in the afternoon: the pots were almost too dry. I slipped everything that was trimmed with a thin layer of white slip and finished the decoration on eight out of a group of about fifteen trimmed pots. I wrapped them up carefully in plastic sheeting. It will likely be Tuesday afternoon before I can return to finish the wet work on the remaining pieces.

My Morning

One of the best things about grad school is the very interesting things that other people are doing, all around me, everyday. This morning I got to watch Kelsey Wright making the third charge of glass into a glass casting in the hot shop next door. Kelsey is the one in the silver hot suit. It was very interesting to talk to one of the glass grad students about glass and about how the colors that are seen in glass depend on its shape. Since glass refracts light, its outer surface can be more or less like a lens, sending color in many directions.  
Getting ready to open the kiln.

Getting ready to open the kiln.

The silica plaster mold, partially filled with molten glass, with a freshly added piece resting on the top of the hot glass surface.

The silica plaster mold, partially filled with molten glass, with a freshly added piece resting on the top of the hot glass surface.

Kelsey making the third charge for this large mold.
Kelsey making the third charge for this large mold.

Bullseye casting glass waiting to be added to the mold.

Bullseye casting glass waiting to be added to the mold.

A single piece of the glass.

A single piece of the glass.

Here you can see the lavender colors of the glass. The colors of glass based on its shape.

Here you can see the lavender colors of the glass. The colors in glass are  based on its shape as well as its chemistry.

 

Recent Work: domain shifts from paper to clay

 
This photograph was my base image.

This photograph was my base image.

   
I altered the image using Inkscape, a freeware vector graphics software.

I altered the image using Inkscape, a freeware vector graphics software.

  After I made a series of hand-cut stencils, I started to explore ways to quickly make more elaborate, and hopefully, reusable stencils and resists. I started to teach myself how to use Inkscape, which is a freeware vector graphics program that is somewhat similar to Adobe Illustrator. I needed to learn to work in a vector graphics format so that I could generate and alter images to cut on a small vinyl cutter that I bought for my clay work. The software that runs the cutter works best with SVG files, vector files. Vector graphics are different from other images in that they are made from paths with nodes, rather than pixels. The end result is that a vector graphic can be magnified to any level without breaking up or distorting from pixelation.  My previous post shows some of the early results of that work. Much of the imagery I have been working with has been natural elements like rock textures, floral imagery, and botanical drawings. But I also did some work with portraits, more on that later. To create a stencil that separates the gradients of color in this now simplified image, I created paths by tracing the bitmap using a small number for the color quantities. The TraceBitMap function is a basic part of all vector graphics programs. This yields a recognizable monochromatic  image with a small number of distinct tones. Each of these tones is contained within the discreet loop of a path which I separated into different files by selecting, copying and pasting. This makes a set of stencils that can layer and create a complete image. Many thanks to Travis Jannsen, from the printmaking faculty here at SIUC. His input on using repositionable adhesive spray to mount my paper stencil to the paper carrier worked brilliantly. It still took many weeks of trial and error to create a simple system for making the stencils. Also, his suggestions about brayer choices for color application were a real help. To further refine the stencil, I would like to experiment with spraying the paper stencils with a poly or sealant coat in the hopes of extending their longevity, though the absorbent nature of the paper does seem ideal in making the stencil firmly adhere to the wet clay. The final set of stencils is three layers, here, spread out over four images. These layers of paper cuts, when properly stacked, can "print" the complex image of the chrysanthemum with only four gradients of tones.
This stencil defines the edges of the darkest values of the image.

This stencil defines the edges of the darkest values of the image.

This image defines the central portion of the second darkest tone of the image.
This image defines the central portion of the second darkest tone of the image.

This stencil defines the boundaries of the outer parts of the image of our second darkest tone.

This stencil defines the boundaries of the outer parts of the image of our second darkest tone.

This odd stencil defines the edges of the next lightest tones.

This odd stencil defines the edges of the next lightest tones.

 

Recent Work, domain shifts from paper to clay and back again.

Faceted Terra Cotta Slipware Jar with stenciled slip patterns.

Faceted Terra Cotta Slipware Jar with stenciled slip patterns.

  During my second semester here at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale I began working in terra cotta slipware. After a small solo show in the summer, I started experimenting with making paper stencils and resists. This jar was decorated with hand-cut thick vinyl stencil stock, and then faceted through the wet clay sometime in September or October of 2013. During this time I was reading most of the critical craft theory that has been published in the last ten or fifteen years. I have been especially inspired by the work of Richard Sennett and David Pye. Sennett's ideas of domain shift were an important part of experiments that I made in the early part of the fall semester. Sennett posits that taking a tool, technique, or process from one craft and using it in another media, industry, or application is a great, and common, source of creative invention. He calls this a domain shift. If he is right, "the redux" is certainly not the intellectual property of post-post-modernists, it has been a part of the life cycles of technology since before the start of the iron age. My response was to work in paper models, wire worked jewelry with pearls, leather work, kites, paint, calligraphy, book arts, and digitally created and altered imagery in the beginning part of the Fall semester. I also dove into reading about geometric solids and the intersection between mathematics and art. Since I have little familiarity with most of these tools and ideas, they outcomes were of varying quality. I began to use a vinyl cutter to cut paper and vinyl stencils for clay slip decoration that were based on imagery that I adapted from altered photographs and imagery from very old Japanese textile designs.
I love the exciting use of positive and negative space in floral imagery. Terra-Cotta Double Tile with Japanese Textile Design

I love the exciting use of positive and negative space in floral imagery. Terra-Cotta Double Tile with Japanese Textile Design.

 
White slipped stencilled image with water blue glaze over on a small tile, approx. 3'*3'

White slipped stenciled image with water blue glaze over on a small tile, approx. 3'*3'

The stencil for this swag is a digitized version of classic "S" scrolls of Norwegian rosemaling, which I love. White slip is applied, then powdered purple pigment dusted on, then a dark green and black brushwork for details and outlines.

The stencil for this swag is a digitized version of classic "S" scrolls of Norwegian rosemaling, which I love. White slip is applied, then powdered purple pigment dusted on, then a dark green and black brushwork for details and outlines.

       

Recent Work, Domain Shifts from paper, to paper.

Around 2011-2012 I revisited my long-standing admiration of the universal craft forms of paper cuts, especially Chinese folk festival paper cuts and German scherenschnitte. During this time I made a series of black paper silhouette portraits of some of my younger relatives, aided by templates from digital photographs. After making a small series of colorful hand-cut paper designs, I decided I wanted more outcome from the time-consuming and careful effort of making the paper cuts. So, I borrowed an idea from a potter from Northern Wisconsin, Mary Dosch. She uses imagery cut from bicycle inner tubes to create durable patterns and graphics for her hand-built slab work. The cut tube creates a shallowly-indented 2-D image. So, rather than cutting paper, I started to cut rubber with an x-acto knife. From these I made a series of celadon trays. I may try to dig up some of what I had made, or at least get pictures of the rubber stamps themselves.

This handmade paper cut is one of a small group of paper cuts that I made in 2012. It is a copy of a traditional Chinese image of citron blossoms.