Friday, April 13, 2007

Catching up, the week so far- Part 1- Ceramics

Tomorrow is the last day to drop with a W. If you haven't been to college or it has been a very long time, that's the last day you can just quit a class and not have bad grade figured into your GPA. Not that I'm seriously thinking of dropping the class at this point, but it is an important date to keep in mind when taking a college course.

I expect to make a B in this class. If I do, that will only be the second B I've made in an art class. I usually make As. I usually make As in a lot of stuff. Anyway, with figuring in the tests and such, which I have never had before in an art lab course, I think I might not be up to an A this semester. Not that the grade really matters, cause I don't need the credit, but I couldn't take a bad grade in the class, just in case I ever decide to go back to school for something else I can't let bad grades get figured into my GPA.

The professor is trying to be nice, and he let everyone see this set of paper with our grades on it. Unfortunately, even though he went to the trouble of doing that, we still can't tell enough to figure out our grades. So far, we've taken seven out of eleven quizzes, but only two of them were recorded on this paper. He hasn't finished grading the rest of them. The quizzes on are scantrons, and he grades those about a week late so he can grade all the classes at the same time, but then it takes him a while to grade the short essay parts. I think I can figure on an average grade of 25 out of 30, so with the lowest grade dropped I'd end up with 250 out of a possible 300 points. Then there will be a 100 point final, which I don't expect to get a good grade at all, since I elected not to buy the textbook but just borrow one from the library. Then there is 150 points for class participation. They aren't supposed to use attendance to figure part of your grade, but they get around that a bit with stuff like class participation grades. In this case it just means that you bought all the tools and such that he asked you to buy and remembered to bring them to class. But if you aren't in class you don't get credit for bringing your tools to class, so you lose points by missing a class. Anyway, he must be keeping attendance, but it wasn't marked on this sheet of paper yet, so we have no way of knowing if our class participation grade has been accurate so far. I have two finished pieces recorded in ink at 50 points each, and three more that are almost finished and recorded in pencil, and I am working on the sixth project, and the last project has been designed but not actually worked on because we've run out of boards. So out of 900 possible points, right now I have 144 recorded in ink and another 150 recorded in pencil. So I can't really figure out my final grade from that.

I am waiting on three projects to be fired. One is a pylon shaped box which has been glazed black. I don't have to do anything else to it to get my 50 points, but I would like it get done in time to put gold over it and have it re-fired. The mosaic tile project is also just waiting to be fired. I could mount the finished project on a board, but I don't have to do that to get the 50 points. Still, it would be nice to have it finished in time to do that in the lab if I want to. The tiles I made with the sea-turtle mold are mostly glazed and waiting to be fired, except for the raku tile.

I'm not sure if I've explained about raku before. First, the piece has to go through a regular bisque firing, which takes all day. Then you put a couple of coats of glaze on it. A normal glaze firing would be another all day process, but raku is quite different. The piece is fired for like two hours in a special kiln. Then, instead of waiting for the piece to cool, all but the bottom of the kiln is lifted several feet in the air while the piece is hot and orange and looks like molten glass. Then someone wearing protective eye gear and a flame retardant apron and oven-mitts than go almost to your armpits picks up the piece with tongs and puts it in a metal trash can. You want this done very quickly, while the piece is still a bit orange and extremely hot. Someone else covers the piece with shredded newspaper, and the newspaper burns and someone puts the lid on the trashcan. Then you let it cool for like an hour and clean off the ashes.

It's all a bit scary to me. So I'm not sure if we're going to pull the raku pieces ourselves or if we just have to glaze them and he'll get someone more experienced to help him with the raku firing.

The piece that I am working on now is a big seashell. We are supposed to just bisque fire it and then paint it with just regular paints and not glaze fire it. It's too early to tell, but it seems to be going okay.

The last piece is called a relief sculpture in terra cotta. I don't think of it as a sculpture at all. It's more like a really big tile with thick bumps on it. The design I've picked is a dragon's head. I would have started working on it yesterday, except that we've run out of boards and I don't have anything to put the slab of clay on. The project doesn't seem like a good idea. I don't see how the piece would ever get into the kiln without breaking. And clay that thick often breaks during firing. The piece starts with a 3/8 inch thick slab that is at least 12 x 12 or 10 x 14 inches. Mine is close to 11 x 15. That's going to be a heavy piece of clay.

Have I described an electric kiln to you? Most of them are octagonal, about as tall as your waist, and have a lid at the top. Loading the pieces as the bottom is difficult. Bending over that way isn't easy, and you're holding this fragile clay thing that someone worked on for weeks. You would think that common sense would tell you to load the tall things on the bottom, but that's not the way it works. Something about heat rising and airflow means that it is better to load the short things first, preferably things about three or four inches tall. Then you carefully place at least three little poles that are about an inch taller than the tallest piece, and then you rest a shelf on the poles. Then you load more pieces, that are maybe eight inches tall, and then place at least three nine inch poles, and then balance another shelf on top of that. Often, you work with half shelves, so you need at least six of the little poles, at least three for each half. Unless you are very tall, sometimes you have someone holding your belt-loops while you load or unload the bottom of a kiln.

I still haven't thrown anything. I keep meaning to do try something on the wheel, but I keep putting it off.

And I still haven't made a mold of the sleestak head. It's mostly dried out, which would just be terrible, but since it is just a model for a mold I think it will be okay. If this were a piece I meant to fire, and it dried before I finished it, getting it wet enough to work with again would cause little cracks which would turn into great big cracks during firing. But this is just a model. I'll spray tons of water on it, add a bit more clay here and there, work on some of the details, and get it ready to pour plaster over it. It shouldn't be a problem.

It's just that the sleestak was the main thing I wanted to do this semester. But it's not a class project, so I keep having to do other things. I meant to do two or three of them, and possibly a Martian cricket as well, and here I haven't even finished the model for the first one.

I'll post some more later.

1 comment:

nobodyinparticular said...

Not sure what to comment on other than that this sounds more dangerous than I thought, as in "Don't let go of my belt loops when I lean into the kiln, or I'm a baked potato!"

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