Studio Musings

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Wish List

I'm now hanging out in the Asheville airport, waiting for my flight which hopefully won't be delayed by thunderstorms, and starting to think about my wish list, primarily some additions for working with metals and the other alternative materials we worked with in Metals.

I took this pic of my favorite hammers from the metals studio. From the right, they include a really nice, small ball pein, a "jewelers" (I think) hammer with a huge flat face for such a tiny hammer, a cross pein, and a deadblow. I never used to understand why Joe needed so many different types of hammers. Now I do. I set quite a number of rivets in the past couple of weeks, and the jewelers hammer was perfect - use the ball pin to start the process, especially with the tube rivets, and then finish it off with the flat surface - little tiny taps. If you want to quickly flatten a piece of metal without marring the surface - use the deadblow. While a hammer with a pitted, damaged face it great for texturing metal.

I'll need to see what hammers Joe still has. I believe Joe has a jeweler's saw, so I don't have to worry about that. I also need to check out his files. (Watch out Joe, I'm not so slowly commandeering your tools! )

My other favorite was the 1" belt sander. It was absolutely essential to working with the paper mache pulp. Once the pigmented pulp dries it's rock hard, and ugly. You have to sand it down to get to the beautiful graining hidden within. And if I have to sand it by hand, I won't do it, I'm already admitting it to myself. We used a small, upright belt sander you can get from Harbor Freight.

Harbor Freight has all sorts of other cool stuff too, such as this punch and die set, and these diamond sanding blocks. Penland also had several beautiful, small dishing sets that I coveted. I find it ironic that after ignoring the metals shop in my basement in Missouri for all those years I'm suddenly covetous of all these tools. Finally found a use that excited me. I know I'll be sorting through the tools in the basement with a different focus when I get home!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I'm Done

As of yesterday morning I am done. I'd been putting in crazy hours trying to finish everything up, and had ticked almost everything off of my list, except for this one covered bottle project. I've put about 4-5 days into it at this point, and I finally came to the realization that it simply needed more time than I have remaining and I could either kill myself trying to finish it (meanwhile turning into a bit of a personal monster), or I could decide I'd finish it later, pack up and enjoy the Penland atmosphere.

So I decided to do the later. My suitcases are even mostly packed - largely because I had to figure out if I needed to get more shipping boxes - and I spent last evening cruising through the other studios. That was good fun.

Today we'll be doing official studio clean-up, and then I'll have the afternoon to do with as I please. Not sure what I'll do.

But before I forget, here are pics of the covered object that I did finish.

Interestingly, I was talking to an instructor from one of the other classes and she asked me about the new piece she'd noticed on my desk - the sea form in blue and bronze, and what I'd done with my car part. She didn't realize they were the same thing. I thought that was great.

May Day

Happy May Day!

Spring has finally gotten a firm hold here at Penland just within the past week. On Monday I stepped outside my studio and was struck by how green the mountains across the way had turned, almost overnight.

And of course, on Tuesday the weather turned cold again. But I took a number of pictures just standing there on the porch anyways. I think the grey of the sky actually adds to the green of the hills. So we had a couple days of chill, which made it easier to stay in the studio working.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Crunch Time

We are officially in crunch time, and this picture sums it up incredibly well. Every single kiln here at Penland is currently being fired or being loaded - I think there are something like 6 kilns going at once!

I've finished up in the flame working studio and am trying to get out of Metals. I'm mostly there in the early mornings (though not this morning as I've been packing a box for shipping) and late evenings. I'm leaving the studio about 11:30 in the evenings.

I've got a lot to post, but need to find some time.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

No New Pictures

Yesterday was not a bad day. Spent most of it in Robert's class working on various projects there. I did a little beading in the morning, finishing up another small project, but I was simply too antsy to sit still and work with tiny objects.

The weather was gorgeous. Took a long walk after dinner and that helped settle me enough to go back into the studio for a few more hours. Then I joined the crowd hanging out on the porch next door. Keith handed me a Hobgoblin ale, which I nursed through the evening. I rather liked it. Alyssa and I finally wandered back to the room a little after midnight. She got up to go running at 6:30. I'm still sitting in bed typing this, though I have brushed my teeth.

Today will be another day in the Metals studio - our last day with Mary. She'll be helping us finish up our silver bezels, and I want to talk to her about soldering pin backs. I'll also be working on tube rivets. I think we've punted enameling at this point.

I don't have any new pictures, so I included an older one, taken a few weeks ago. The trees have greened up considerably since then.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Getting stuff done

This is basically what the car part/oil filter adapter (thanks to everyone who helped me identify it!) looked like on Monday morning. Sadly, I'd put in at least two days worth of effort at this point. I'd experimented with and discarded several attempts at covering several of the sections. Figuring out how to skim some of the complex angles was really tricky, as was figuring out how to get my needle into some of the interior spaces. Even though I stitched many of the pieces off of the part, I still had to stitch them together on the piece. This often caused me considerable difficulty as pieces sometimes seemed to shrink, and other times to stretch as I tried to put them in place.

I managed to get this far before calling it a night last night. I worked until 10:30, and my eyes started blurring.

Today, I spent the morning in the flame working studio making more beads and trying to improve my techniques, and returned to the bead work this afternoon. And I'm pleased to say that I actually finished it up a little after 10pm this evening (with breaks for dinner and slides). But I don't have pictures of the finished project because I'd left my camera in the room. So you'll have to wait for that. But in the meantime, you can admire some of my process. :)

For Aunt Pat

I took these two pictures on Sunday, specifically thinking that I wanted to show them to Aunt Pat. They were made by the "upper clay" studio (there are two clay studios here - literally upstairs and downstairs from each other) - "Wild Clay, Precise Fire".

The class is simply neat all around. They are working with a wide variety of local clays, including visiting sites to dig clay. Then doing a wide variety of firing tests to create clay mixes that will work for what they want to do. And one of the things they're doing is making large pots using a variety of different techniques, including the Onggi techniques that Michael Hunt learned in Korea. The pot below stands almost 4 feet tall. It's HUGE! And the pots above aren't slackers either; to give a sense of scale the smaller fired pots on the left edge of the table were about a foot tall.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Walk in the Woods

Went for a really nice walk in the woods this morning. John, the wood instructor, took a few of us out on a good ramble, showing us one of his favorite paths. The weather was cool, but not cold, overcast but not actively raining - perfect weather for a hike.

The woods are filled with these wonderful, gnarled trees with burls, vines (mostly poison ivy) and other damage. I'm sure it's not great for the trees, but it does create some amazing natural shapes. The forests remind me of Missouri - probably because they're primarily deciduous in both places.

While the trees are slowly budding out, the wild flowers are rampant. The trout lilies are already past their prime - we found a couple of late bloomers, but for the most part they're going to seed. They're one of the few flowers we could positively identify. John is quite knowledgeable about the forests, but his home is in New Hampshire.

What I think I love best about wildflowers is the fact that they're tiny, and you have to actively look to see them - they're a wonderful surprise for the observant. Their shapes are incredibly varied, but they're all small.

I've also uploaded additional images to my flickr feed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ideas for the Weekend

In my journal this morning I wrote a list of things I thought I might want to do tomorrow. Somehow I don't think I'll fit it all in in one day:
  • Sketch some design ideas or do some landscape drawing
  • Attend the barbed wire cutting
  • Make some beads in the flame working studio
  • Make some small books as gifts for friends
  • Convince someone in the pottery studio to let me try throwing a small bowl
  • Go for a walk
  • Photograph some of Robert's samples of different materials
And that's without the obvious option of continuing to work in the bead studio itself. Oh, and I have a 1:30 phone meeting with some new tenants to sign their paperwork. Joe's been sick with the flu, so I sent all of the paperwork to the applicants as a pdf, and scheduled a phone meeting to go over the documents and answer any questions. Then they'll mail them to our home address, along with their good faith deposit, and we'll have 2 new tenants at the beginning of May.

We'll see what I actually end up doing, besides the meeting. I'll need to set my phone alarm tomorrow to remind myself so I don't forget!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Printing a Book

The Letter Press studio had an open house last night. They'd put together a plate to print a 12 page accordion fold book, and a separate plate for front and back covers.

The plates themselves looked like works of art - take a closer look at the image to see what I mean. This is a self-inking press. The rollers keep spinning constantly while the press is on. To print a page we had to line up the paper, then crank the handle while helping guide the paper a little. Somehow, I expected to get ink everywhere. Guess that's because it's what I imagine happening if I tried such a thing at home.

I asked Bonnie if the inks were oil or water based; turns out they're actually rubber-based. I didn't even know they made rubber based inks! And you have to clean them up with nasty stuff like xylene (I'm pretty sure that's the solvent she mentioned). Maybe letterpress printing isn't for me.

But I love the results! One of the really cool things about letter press printing is the way that the the letters physically press into the page, sort of a reverse embossing. This is especially apparent on the covers of my little commerative book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Trading Classes

Our class spent the day with Robert Dancik, getting a brain dump on the use of an incredible range of alternative materials. He did demos with concrete, resins, faux bone, and membrane (in this case pantyhose) stretched over wire armatures. Along the way we also talked about metal forming, a simple faux bezel, mark making, rivets and more. He's doing his best to compress a couple of two week classes into 3 days - which is the amount of time we'll be with him while his class is learning some basic beading techniques from David.

Robert has a wonderfully original and irreverent view on art and material choices - anything is fair game for exploration. And it's great to be working on a scale that's not micro-miniature!

Between these techniques, some of David's bead work ideas and the flameworking, a whole new world of options is opening up in terms of focal beads for my work. Rather than having to use a beautiful, interesting or intriguing bead made by another artist, I'm developing a whole new set of skills for customizing my work from start to finish. (With a little experimentation and practise, that is). :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Raw Tenacity

That has to be one of the nicest ways of describing the madness that is bead art - raw tenacity. And boy did I feel it yesterday!

Sunday night I started working on one of the few assignments that David has actually asked us to complete - to cover a found object. I believe my object originally belonged under the hood of a car. My working title is "Car Part #1". (Not saying that there will ever be a Car Part #2). It fits in the palm of my hand, to give a sense of scale. Anyone who can identify the part should chime in - I'd love to know what the darned thing actually is.

So, Sunday night I cleaned it up, and started beading. By the time I left the studio at 10:30 that night, I'd beaded the central threaded pipe. Monday I continued, working on the base. That is one complex shape, I've come to realize! I spent the day, and much of the evening working on it. A number of experiments got discarded along the way and as of 10:30 last night, this is all I'd accomplished.

Though I did take a little over an hour yesterday evening to play over at the wood studio. They were wrapping more "sticks" for a barbed wire cutting this weekend and invited people to come and help out.

Polyester Prom

I think the best part of the Polyester Prom might have been the preparations. Don't get me wrong - it was a great party and a lot of fun. But listening to everyone's stories about their "finds" in the week leading up to prom, and final group preparations at "The Orphanage" (third floor of the Craft House) were an absolute blast.

The idea behind Polyester Prom was to find, beg, borrow or steal the worst or best (depending upon your definition) polyester outfit you possibly could. The thrift stores in Spruce Pine were surprisingly good sources for both sexes. Unfortunately, I don't have many pictures of the great get-ups the guys came up with.

If found a black tunic covered with round plastic spangles. If felt like a walking disco ball (the tunic also made me looks slightly rounded like said ball). You can't tell from this picture, but Andrea's sailor suit had pant legs with thigh high front slits, too funny. And Alyssa took the bridesmaid award. I tried for big hair, but it didn't fully work, despite generous amounts of gel and hairspray.

I posted additional images to my Flickr account.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Quick Trip to Nashville

Friday we drove down to Nashville to see an exhibit David had at the University School, where he's an Artist in Residence, and to meet his other class. The exhibit opened with a full-size photograph of David's Seattle studio, along with his purple chair & beading lamp. So of course we had to all try it out for size. So much for the serious artist demeanor! :) Here are Kae and Kristin sharing a seat.

Before leaving, David had suggested that we do a ring workshop for his other students. I think we were all envisioning something like the workshop we'd done for Penland staff several weeks ago. As soon as we met his students, I wondered why we were teaching them. The work they've done is fabulous. Turns out they've been meeting with David for 3 day sessions once a month since either late January or early February (no one could quite remember when they started). This was either their last or second to last session with David (again a little confusion), but the work they'd developed made me feel a bit like a pretender. One of the women was doing right-angle-weave sculptures with hand-blown eggs. Lots were working with random right angle weave.

But, rather surprisingly, a number of them really enjoyed the ring workshop. Apparently all they'd done were the big projects, and it was thrilling to be able to complete something in the space of a couple hours for a change. Paula, one of the Nashville students, made this ring: the fringes were made using swarovski crystals. David had suggested that they sew the band before class - her boyfriend asked her if she was working on her engagement ring.

We saw almost nothing of Nashville other than a slice of the Vanderbilt campus, a really awful Days Inn, and the highway because Saturday was Polyester Prom back at Penland. But you'll have to wait until tomorrow to learn about Poly Prom, 'cause its now almost midnight and breakfast is at 8:00am. Can't miss breakfast!

Good night!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Crazy Busy

That pretty much sums up this week! Crazy busy with art, with computer stuff, with stuff for the rentals. But my two Moms are demanding an update, so here goes.

David's slide presentation was Tuesday and it was great, despite all of the computer angst beforehand. Guthrie was helping David put together a powerpoint presentation, and I was helping Guthrie, and David's computer wasn't helping anyone. In the end, we ended up moving the presentation onto my machine. I got a great picture of David & Guthrie slogging through the final bits with the matching macs.

Yesterday we spent much of the day in the metals studio, learning how to make a silver bezel, using flat, fine silver wire for the walls and sterling silver for the back plate. I'm making a bezel for a polymer clay sample I made right before heading to Penland. At first I thought I wasn't really interested in bezels, but the soldering is going easier than I expected, and I think the final product will be surprisingly beautiful (surprising to me) if I don't tear off a corner on the grinding wheel.

Last Friday we learned that one of our apartments in Seattle will be coming open at the end of the month, so I've been trying to help Joe get a Craig's List ad posted, arrange showing times with the current tenants, field calls & emails, etc. The good news is we have 7 showings currently scheduled for Saturday. Wonder if that means we could have asked for more rent? We'll just hope that means we have a new tenant lined up by the end of next week. Keep your fingers crossed!

Yesterday after lunch I took a short walk up the llama knoll to see the wood classes installation up close. It reminds me of Tibetan prayer flags and Native American dream catchers and children's toys and made me happy. So I sat nearby and did some sketch work for my metals work while enjoying the sun. I snapped a few pics while I was there, too.

And we're headed to Nashville right after breakfast on an overnight field trip to see David's show.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Contra Dance

Went to a Contra dance with three other Penland students in Celo Friday night. It was held at the community center there and included all ages, from kids to grandparents. The caller and musicians were great and I had a fine time dancing. Getting there was a bit tricky - the roads are really twisty and the last road we took to get there was gravel. Luckily our driver had been there before. I tried to get driving directions from Google Maps and it simply hung up, probably just a network error, but I thought it funny. The directions we got for the return trip were something like "go to the end of the gravel road and turn left over the bridge. Go to the end of the road and turn right. Go to the end of the next road and turn right. Do that one more time and you'll find highway 19."

Celo is an interesting town - it's a land trust with a huge number of artisans and craftsmen. A funny quirk of being in so small a community, you'll ask people what they do and they'll say "I work with" or "I apprentice with" and throw in a name, obviously expecting that will explain all. I'm constantly having to ask "And what does he/she do?".

It was also there that I heard of WWOOF for the second time in one day. It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, although the guy I talked to at the dance called it Willing Workers, so it may go by both. The idea is that it matches people who want to work on farms with farms who need help. Mary, the woman I talked to at lunch, also noted that there were a number of web sites where you could find farm internships where you actually got paid a stipend as well as room and board. Mary was excited that at the place she'd be able to learn cheesemaking and sheep shearing as well as basic farming. She'd left the university to start doing farm internships and craft school work study about a year ago. I'd never even considered the possibilities of farm internships and found it really interesting (not for me, but interesting).

Room for Improvement

My first day's bead making left plenty of room for improvement. The good news is I have improved, though I'm still having some control issues. I can now make considerably larger beads that are generally round and don't have ugly "outies". This bead was my favorite from Day 2 - it was the last one I made that day. It's considerably larger than the others I'd made that day and the decoration turned out really well (for me at least).

I've uploaded a few pictures to my new Flickr account as it seemed like that might be easier than sticking them all here.

I've really had fun with the bead making, and like my results, even if they aren't perfectly symetrical. It's been really interesting to see what the different glass colors actually look like in a bead. So far, the dark transparents seem to work best for me as bead cores. When I try to use them in surface decoration, the dark amber and emerald green canes look almost black. Maybe they'd work better if I pulled stringers. You're supposed to use stringers to add the dots, but I currently have more control with the glass rods than with the finer stringers.

Innies and Outies

It's been a while since I last posted, so I'm going back in time a little bit. Here are the surviving beads from my first day's bead making experience. I lost two beads trying to take them off their mandrels - one I could see had a crack in it when I took it out of the kiln, the other surprised me a little. The small, dark bead at the left front the first one I made. Just behind it you'll see a rather egg-shaped bead. That's not considered to be a good thing and several of my beads had this problem! The glass around the edges of the bead hole are sharp, and it just didn't look good. But some judicious use of sand paper helped considerably.

Here's the set-up we're using: a Minor torch with an attached graphite marver that you can use to shape the beads. the tool kit we're borrowing also has a 6" square marver that sits on the desktop and a tungsten pick that you can use to poke into the hot glass. Oh, and we have to wear didyuium glasses - the flame looks entirely different with the glasses on. Every once in a while I'd forget to put the glasses on when I started working and I'd keep adjusting the flame trying to get rid of the yellow, until I realised I simply needed the glasses. I like them far better than regular safety glasses.

I wondered what was the difference between flameworking and lampworking - according to Wikipedia, they're different names for the same thing. I can rent studio time from Pratt Fine Arts if I want to do more work at home, but I'd need some basic tools of my own: the glasses, a tungsten pick (my current favorite tool!) and mandrels. And I might need a graphite marver if there wasn't one attached to the torch like we have here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Making Beads

We're spending three days this week doing flame working up at the Glass studio learning how to make beads. I'm the only one with NO prior experience, and am setting myself up soundly for "most improved" (That's assuming I do improve).

Edwina Bringle, our instructor, makes basic beadmaking look so simple. The molten glass seems to flow onto her bead mandrel. She made it seem so easy in fact, that I was surprised and a bit alarmed to feel the glass drag and catch at mine. And then it really caught, because I hadn't heated it enough and it had cooled, sticking the glass rod fast to the mandrel. Panicking, I gave it a sharp tug, and discovered that the bead release we'd coated our mandrels with really does work. Only now, I had a piece of hot glass covered in bead release at the tip. Flummoxed, I reheated it and finished the bead, with release powder in and on the poor thing. I'll be amazed if it doesn't crack in two when I take it off the mandrel this morning (we annealed them overnight in a kiln).

I've discovered molten glass can flow like melted wax, honey, or superglue depending upon how throughly you've heated it. I'm trying to aim for honey, as both the others cause problems. Really runny glass is pretty scary as well! That bead got smooshed flat on my graphite pad as an alternative to letting it fall off the mandrel entirely. It's another that I half expect to crack when I take it off the mandrel.

If the bead wasn't heated thoroughly and evenly during the forming process, or if it cooled too quickly, then internal stresses csn cause it to break, either when I remove it from the mandrel, or later when its tapped, or scratched, or gets slightly wet. Glass is incredibly strong (the can holding my glass rods tipped over yesterday and I caught most of them, but three fell to the concrete floor - I expected to be sweeping up glass shards, but they weren't even chipped!), and incredibly fragile all at the same time.

This morning we'll be removing the beads we made yesterday from the kiln and their mandrels, and doing more work. Before I head up there, I'm going to stop by the store and buy a couple more colors - they're $1.45 per rod (each rod is a little over 3 feet). We're working with Moretti glass.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Liquid Metal

Molten metal is what I imagine lava to look like. And it doesn't lie still in the molds, but bubbles and boils before it cools.

Iron Pour

Despite questionable weather, the Iron Pour happened almost as scheduled this morning and was an absolute blast to watch. LeAnn moved it a bit earlier, to slide it in between rainstorms.

The class had spent the last week or two making molds, and breaking of 1400 pounds of cast iron radiators that they picked up at the scrap yard in preparation for the pour. Andrea, one of my roommates, is in the class so its felt like I've seen a little more of the prep work than I might have otherwise.

I love that orange glow! I took lots of video, and uploaded three - my first experiments with uploading video to the web. This first video shows the sequence of one pour. They tapped the furnace repeatedly over the space of about 2 hours. The bucket (I think they called it a fiber ladle) could hold 120 lbs of metal at a time. Before pouring the metal into the molds, they added a flux to the bucket to pull out impurities.

Metal Studio

Thursday was spent in the metals studio (meaning jewelry & other small stuff, as opposed to the iron studio with the forges). They have really cool tools in the metals studio! I think my favorite is like a guillotine for metal. I didn't actually measure it, but I'm sure you could cut sheet metal at least 2 feet wide with it. I was cutting little tiny pieces about 2 inches on a side - felt like overkill but boy was it slick!

I also like the metal roller. I'd spent a fair bit of time rehabilitating sheet copper and brass from the scrap bin, but some of the metal had been dished previously and my hammering could only get it close to flat. I put that puppy through the metal roller and it came out smooth as silk. (The metal roller is the slender grey pillar-like object in the background of the above pic)

So I got lots of experience using the torch to annealing metal, hammering it to flatten and shape it, and using the metal cutter. I also sanded lots of edges. And did a little etching sample using ferric chloride (we used asphaltum and finger nail polish as resists). But my current favorite technique is painting on the metal with gesso or Golden's pastel ground, then coloring the metal with colored pencils. Once its buffed, the surface takes on a high gloss. I only did one sample of each and want to do more experimentation. In my limited experiments, the pastel ground seems to produce darker, richer results, but doesn't have the high sheen of the gesso.

We won't be in the metals studio much next week - Bobby Hansson will be teaching a one-week session, "Tin Can Art". Robert Dancik, the instructor for the upstairs metals class "Material Matters", has invited us to work in their workroom next week, but I expect I'll be pretty busy elsewhere as we'll be starting to learn lampworking.

Later in April, we'll be trading classes and working with Robert directly for several days, while his class works with David.

Friday, March 28, 2008

S'mores at the Wood Kiln

One of the clay classes is firing the wood kiln. They spent about two days loading, then started the firing yesterday. At dinner there were rumors of s'mores at the wood kiln, so of course I had to investigate. And I can hereby report that the rumors were indeed correct. They even had little wooden skewers for roasting the marshmallows (which you could then throw away in the fire box).

The kiln was at 500 degrees when I stopped by, which is apparently mostly past the point where pots explode due to moisture content, but the kiln will get up to 2400 degrees before all is said and done. For the first 500 degrees, they increased the temperature 50 degrees per hour, but as of 7pm last night they were going to increase the rate to 100 degrees per hour. I don't know if they've changed the rate since then. But I know the firing will be continuing for a while yet. And the cooling will take even longer.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Early Work - Covered Form

Going back in time a bit, I thought I'd post a couple photos of my class work.

We were all asked to bring a variety of found objects. I brought shells from our recent trip to Hawaii, and driftwood and sea glass from Seattle. David gave us each a little tin to turn into something special.

Mine was just the right size for some of the shell bits I'd collected at the beach, and I decided to cover it with seemingly random stitching in sand colors as a sea treasure. I worked with three closely related bead choices that were all yellowy-sandy colored with different finishes. And three thread colors - turquoise, tan and white, which really helped make the piece.

When I walk down a beach, it is physically impossible for me not to do at least a little beach combing. Its an addiction I've had since I was a child. And I think this is the nicest display I've ever made for my shell collections. Looking at it brings back the childhood sense of wonder that first drew me to horde sea shells.

One of the samples we've all worked on is a covered form, so here's mine. Inspired by our recent trip to Hawaii, I made a "sand-encrusted" shell collage from a tiny decorative tin.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wood Studio

Monday evening, the wood studio hosted an open house, with a free-form project. Located at the uphill end of a short road, the wood studio is backed by the woods from which the current class is harvesting their materials.

When you arrived you were directed to a large pile of twigs and smaller branches and told to choose whatever appealed to you. I found a thin, forked branch with wonderful, knobby curves. Chris then handed me something that looked suspiciously like a garlic grater and a triangular scraper tool and told me to remove all the bark from my chosen branch. The bark was rather pretty, so it was a little hard to start. But as the clean, pale branch skeleton began to emerge from its skin, I decided I didn't miss the bark all that much.

I ended up clipping my branch into three pieces. Then I wasn't sure what to do with them. I ended up making what I called my "thicket". But I headed back to the bead studio, and sure enough a beaded tube I'd made earlier in the day as a sample for seaweed fit perfectly over one of the branches. So I think it may well become an armature for a seascape. Except I want to leave some of the bare branches visible, like bleached coral.

I don't really like the base, its rather tippy, and log-like, so I'm thinking about alternatives, including working with Alyssa down in clay to make something. In the meantime, it works well enough.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Egg Hunt

The Penland Easter Egg Hunt is Very popular with the local community! The campus population quadrupled at the very least, with staff and their families, the families of students who live nearby, and lots and lots of locals. The buffet was very nice - and the dessert table was fantastic! I managed to snag a slice of some of the best chocolate cake - very moist and rich, with the best chocolate fudge frosting. Yum!

Heading into the dining hall you passed the egg display, which spanned a good 10-15 feet in length. While we had produced quite a lot here at Penland, their ranks swelled considerably with additions from the general community.

Before the hunt began, we were all asked to only keep one artist egg. If we found additional artist eggs we were encouraged to keep the one we liked best and hide the other for someone else to find.

I actually found 2 ceramic and 2 felt eggs. I decided to keep one of the ceramic eggs and left the others where I'd found them. Then Lauren, the woman who taught the Ukrainian Egg class found me. She gave me one of her lovely pysanky in a wooden box. I was floored and honored! A little later, I gave my ceramic egg to Angelica, another Penland student who hadn't found any of the special eggs. Even though I didn't "find" the pysanky, I definitely had my quotient of artist eggs. So I had the fun of the hunt.

After the hunt, it was fun simply to watch everyone admiring their newly aquired eggs. Adam, the coordinator for the metals studio, had raised a two part brass egg which was just gorgeous. One of the core students found it, I'm going to see if I can get a picture of that one.

After the crowds faded, I wandered over to the coffee shop with my sketchbook and spent some time looking through books on making jewelry from metal and found objects, and back through my various sketches and inspirations. I finally have some ideas of ways to mix metal work with my bead work. I'm going to talk to Robert, the instructor for the metals class, tomorrow about the best way to approach things, now that I have a starting point!

Really Bad Egg

No, the Easter Egg hunt hasn't happened quite yet. On Friday I took a mini-workshop on Ukrainian eggs, or Pysanky. The traditional designs are absolutely gorgeous. It's a form of batik where you're using an odd little tool called a kistka to draw on the eggs with melted beeswax.

You start with a white egg, and draw any lines that you might want to remain white, then place the egg in the lightest color dye bath (usually yellow). You then dry the egg back off, draw any lines or shapes you want to stay yellow & place the egg in the next dye bath and so on and so forth until you've drawn all the lines and added all the colors you wanted.

On traditional eggs, the lines are fine and straight and clean. My lines were ragged and very ethnic, like mud cloth ethnic. I made two. When you're done with all the wax and dyeing, your egg looks really ugly - covered in lumpy grey wax. You then use another candle to help melt the wax and rub it off, then finish up with a little mineral spirits.

We worked with real eggs, and the instructor offered to varnish the eggs, and blow them using nifty little gizmo so we wouldn't have to worry about rotten eggs later. Unfortunately, my egg cracked in this process - that's the scuff mark towards the bottom. I don't know how, but she managed to put it back together. So there's my one experience with pysanky! I'm horrid at it, but it was a lot of fun!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Social Calendar

The last few nights my social calendar has been surprisingly full. At dinner Thursday there was a notice that Fox Hunt, an old-timey, bluegrass band would be playing in NorthLight after the slides. This time the slides were by LeeAnn Mitchell, the iron instructor & her visiting artist husband (whose name I don't remember). He's here to help build the molds for the iron pour next weekend.

And after slides, Fox Hunt did indeed pull out their instruments & proceed to play. It had to be one of the oddest music settings I've ever been in - NorthLight is simply a big white box of a room. Slides are projected on a white wall. The only interior features are the doors and rows of folding chairs stacked against the wall. But the acoustics are surprisingly good, and the music was fantastic. Foot tapping, hand clapping music. Turns out they're friends of one of the new core students, and they were traveling from one gig to another, so they stopped over here for a day and agreed to play. They played for two hours straight. And I think I danced nearly that long. Too much fun! They stopped playing about 10:30 & I wandered off towards a shower and bed. Turns out that they simply migrated to the Iron studio and continued playing there until almost 2:00am. Good thing I didn't know about that at the time!

Friday was the gallery opening for the new show featuring works by the Summer instructors (with a small room for Spring concentration instructors). I don't think I've ever seen such a diverse, eclectic show. It definitely highlights the wide range of classes Penland offers!

After the opening, I ended up hanging out on the porch of the Craft house, shooting the breeze with some other students from the clay & wood studios. Careen brought wine, and Keith provided cups, and we all sat in rocking chairs (this is North Carolina after all!) and told stories and hung out. Then we wandered over to the kilns, where they were doing a waste oil firing. It does not smell like french fries. I wonder how it'll turn out.

And last night the Glass Studio hosted a swinging party, with mojitos, and a barbeque (for those who hadn't had enough at dinner) and great dance music - a crazy blend of anything and everything. I worked in our studio until about 9:30, then headed over for a little while. I don't think I've ever been quite this social in my entire life.

People are moving a little slow this morning - there were about 10 of us at "mini-breakfast". I mainly went because I'm a little leary of the potluck brunch that's supposed to be happening a little later this morning. But I'm looking foward to the Easter Egg hunt. Hope I find at least one egg! :)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Just Take One...

That's my new plan for managing my food consumption while I"m here. Normally, when you're eating at a dining hall the worry is whether the food is edible. Here, the worry is that it's so good, its hard not to eat it ALL. And "all" would be about three times more food than I normally eat in a day.

Their menus pull from a wide range of cuisines - African, Mediterranean, Mexican, Thai - and each is produced with considerable flair. The other day they were serving falafels for lunch and I made the mistake of taking 3; they were small. After the falafel was a lovely couscous dish with pine nuts and currants, hummus with pita chips lightly dusted with cinnamon, the best red pepper, walnut spread I've ever tried (I want the recipe!), marinated chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese, kalamata olives and then their full regular salad bar, which typically has 20-30 additional choices for add-ons. Thank goodness they didn't have dessert.

Most days they'll list the menu on a small white board as you head into the kitchen. Here's the menu from lunch yesterday. The vegetarians and vegans seem to be equally pleased with the dining hall - they'll often have a separate dish waiting for them in the kitchen as well as what is out on the buffet, simply because there's no more room on the buffet table.

And this morning they had freshly made donuts! Yummm!!!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Die Forging

This morning at breakfast there was a cryptic message on the board "8pm, Extreme Easter Eggs demo - wear safety glasses" or some such. I noticed it and continued on with my day. Later, I heard something about Easter Eggs out of beer cans in the metal studio. Hmm.

So a bit before 8pm I tromped up to the iron studio to check out the demo. The first half of the demo indeed involved beer/soda cans. They had used a 12 ton press to crush beer cans (Dan and Sam would love it is all I could think), then drilled through the cans and threaded them onto a metal rod, and welded washers in place on either side to hold them firmly in place so they couldn't spin or wiggle on the rod. One egg apparently takes 6-7 cans. At this point, the crushed cans formed a round disk about an inch and a half tall, and the rough width of a soda can. They then used a power hammer and an egg-shaped insert die to shape the cans. This is apparently called die punching, and could be done cold because aluminum is a very soft metal. He kept turning the aluminum on the rod as the hammer pounded, in order to complete the egg shape. Tomorrow they'll trim the eggs from the rods, and they'll be ready for the Easter Egg Hunt on Sunday.

But the coolest demo was yet to come - die forging. With die forging, you're heating metal up to forge welding temperature. The metal is heated to a bright yellow, just before it starts to burn and then they rush it over to the power hammer before it can cool too much. They used a little more force with the power hammer, but otherwise it was very similar to the aluminum cans. The metal is so hot, it was actually hard to photograph it because it was almost too bright and caused the surroundings to be underexposed.

They'd spent some time this afternoon prepping samples for the die forging. An interesting sample was composed of 22 pieces of quarter inch stock welded to a half inch core to form a cylinder about 3 inches long. The biggest challenge with this piece was getting it to heat evenly, so they turned it and turned it in the forge, and it seemed to take much longer to heat than the solid piece he had demonstrated with just prior. But when they rushed the heated metal to the power hammer, it took maybe a half dozen strokes before it was an egg shaped object. I took video of two of the forge weldings. The first, with a solid piece of metal, took about a minute and a half to reach egg state. With the quarter rod sample, I took 16 seconds of video and it was complete.

I wished that Joe, and Dan, and even Tristram could have seen the demo; it was way cool. I remember Joe complaining about trying to learn forge welding from a book because it was so difficult to correlate the colors described in a book to the colors actually seen as the metal heats in the forge. I can say that I saw the bright yellow as they drew it from the forge. By the time the forge welding was complete, it had faded to orange. And a little later, it glowed cherry red.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why make art?

That question keeps rearing it's head in various guises.

Last week, David urged us to ask ourselves the question "why beads?" Why am I choosing to work with this particular medium, and why is this medium the one I should be using for this particular piece? As he puts it, if it can be made with equal success in another medium, then perhaps that's the medium you should use; it will almost certainly be faster. Beading is a slow, often meticulous, but surprisingly zen-like, almost meditative process and in truth, the pace is one of the things I truly like about working with beads, even when I get a bit frustrated (like now) because my mind is racing a hundred times faster than my hands can produce. I also love the play of color, and the almost pointillistic style of image/object making. I love their juxtapositions of transparancy and opacity, the way they play with light, and even their weight which is so different from that of fabric or paper, my other media.

Mary McBride, one of our guest instructors, started out as a printmaker, but segued to metals about 15 years ago. A major turning point in her art career was a question posed to her by her advisor - "Are you an object maker or an image maker?" Her immediate response was image maker; she was a printmaker after all, but it slowly sank in that what she really tried to create were objects. And thus began the slide that led to her current work.

And of course, that question has been rattling around in my brain ever since. Most of my training has been in or for object production, even the design course I took. And I love making objects: wearable arts, book arts, jewelry. But I also love image production: painting with my sewing machine, with acrylics, with watercolors, maybe even with beads. But it's a very interesting question to think about.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are slides nights, and this evening John de Wit, a visiting artist for the glass class was one of the presenters. As he zoomed through his work, I found I wanted a point of reference, so I asked about his sources of inspiration. For a moment there was complete silence and I wondered if I'd asked a taboo question, as I occasionally feel like an imposter in this artist colony. Just as I was really starting to sweat, he responded with a fascinating bit of personal history, areas of interest, and imagination. But what caught my attention was almost his first sentence "I am an object maker who makes abstract forms".

So I've added that question to the more general question of why do I want to make art. That's a question that I'm always asking, and to date only have partial answers. What I know is that I'm compelled to make art. If one type of media is taken from me, I will find another to experiment with. It is a form of play, of expression, of communication. I create what makes me smile, or laugh, or sometimes what makes me cry. A writing book I checked out of the library reminded budding writers that by focusing on the particular, you can tap into the universal. I think that can be true for all art. But right now, I think I'll be happy with simply making myself smile.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Felting Easter Eggs

So Penland does a really big Easter party for the community every year. They have an Easter egg hunt and a potluck brunch. And all of the classes are supposed to contribute some eggs.

Not wanting to spend hours (and hours and hours) making beaded eggs, we decided to felt some instead. But the studio didn't have any felt, so we ordered some. We ordered a pound each of 5 colors. Boy do we have a lot of felt!

And we're starting to think like Tom Sawyer. We've already convinced one visitor that they wanted to make a felted egg. And several others have expressed interest. We'll see how many we can manage to make (with and without help) before Friday. :) We might even decorate some with a smattering of beads. Who knows.

Penland Grounds

Chatting with Joe this weekend, I realized I haven't talked about the grounds here. Penland is nestled in a U shaped valley, tucked into the edges of the woods. Its a bit hilly, and some of the studios are a bit of a hike. The wood studio is at the top of the road, and they get some exercise just going to their studio. The textile studio, on the other hand, is right across from my dorm, so I can just about roll out of bed and into the studio. Easy peasy.

There's a single main road that runs through the valley, just below campus and separating campus from the llama field across the road. This is a picture of the campus from a little ways down the road taken Thursday on the way back from the Bringle's studio open house. The white building to the right is the Lily Loom building, where our studio is located. The red roof just to the left is the clay studios. The field in the foreground is home to two llamas.

This evening I ended up having to cut across llama hill. I was out for a ramble with a few others when we realized we were almost late for the sheet exchange - the one hour time slot on Sunday evenings when you trade your sheets for clean ones. So we booked it back to campus and the most direct route was through the llama field. I can now tell you that llama hill is taller than it looks! And I didn't even get a close up look at the llamas. They were off hanging out somewhere else.

Spring is a little behind Seattle. Crocuses and other small bulbs are just starting to bloom, though I saw a couple of daffodils as well today. The biggest surprise are the native rhodies. They're as large as any I've ever seen in the North West - some are at least 12 feet tall. I hope they bloom while I'm here!