Sunday, May 17, 2015

studio days, a rare glimpse

Being a teacher means devoting your energy to your students during the academic year.  There are many expectations a university has on it's professors in addition to teaching and one of those big ones is professional development.  For a studio art professor that means making your own creative work and exhibiting that work often.  It's tough for me to make sculpture during the academic year.  I do manage to set aside some time each semester and during the Christmas break for it, but the bulk of my sculpting happens during the summer months.  

In the spring semester as that sculpting energy builds up in anticipation of making my own work again, I start looking forward barricading myself in my studio.  

Perhaps that's all a bit misleading.  Sculpting begins with drawing.  Drawing and sketching ideas for the summer begins in earnest about mid August when we report to school for our first meetings.  It continues all year, a few minutes at a time until there are about 9 months of sketches and ideas logged in the sketchbook.  Some of those sketches look like nothing at all for 8 months.  Some immediately look like they should become sculptures.  But all of them sit there patiently in the sketchbook or swimming around in my brain until May.

The first sculpting day of May started like this.  After a good run and 30 minutes of PiYo I had my coffee and breakfast and walked into the studio with my sketchbook, my Taylor Swift notebook and a pencil.  The TSwift notebook is so I can transfer my small sketch onto the notebook paper and have it close to my workspace without setting my real sketchbook on fire.

 That's what the workspace looks like.  There's my work table, Sparky the welder, the plasma torch and the big torch.

 Some days I know exactly what I'm going to make that day.  Other days I flip through the sketchbook and find something I don't think it's possible for me to make.  Then I make that.  Once I decide on a direction, the iPod gets turned up loud, the earplugs go in and there's a lot of noise and sparks for the next several hours.

 Parts of things are made separately.  This allows me to get the surface and craftsmanship that I want before assembling them into more difficult to reach pieces.

 Each part gets polished before it's connected to another part.  Then there's plenty of grinding, sanding and polishing again.

 This is the first studio selfie I've ever taken.  It also shows the welded connection between two parts.  That connection then gets smoothed out so it looks seamless.

 That form was several smaller parts connected into one.  Each connection required the same grinding, sanding and polishing.  Then the larger form got the same grinding, sanding and polishing.  Then it got connected to other forms.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

 The hours of these studio days fly by.  If I'm lucky and things go well and I get in the zone, lunch time seems to come quickly.  By then my grinding arm is numb and needs a rest.  I'll stop just long enough for a PB&J and a banana and a glass of water.  Then it's back to work.  The idea around this conservation of time is that this uninterrupted studio time is very limited.  You have to make the most of it while you have it.

I'm currently fascinated by bananas.  The natural packaging, the age spots, the sweetness, I love it all.

 I try to ignore my phone which is pretty easy since I cant hear it and if I'm working I can't feel it vibrate.  I stare out the window at lunch and think about how to finish solving the sculpture.  I get back to work as quickly as possible and on good days the next time I notice the clock it's time to quit.  

 I'm usually pretty exhausted after this but last Friday I finished a little early so we had time to go to Artisphere in Greenville.  We stopped at Tupelo Honey for dinner before checking out the art.  

 When studio time goes well, everything is good.  

 Silliness is encouraged.

 Or at least tolerated well.

 Greenville's a beautiful place.  A great example of how inviting a town can be when the arts are embraced.

 And it always seems to have great afternoon light.

 This is Katie Poterala, one of the artists at Artisphere.  Katie was one of my students at Winthrop many moons ago.  She got her MFA in jewelry making and she's back in Greenville making awesome work.  She's doing great.

 The kids made cards for Mother's day.  Blue's card featured the Mighty S.  I was proud.

 Also on Mother's day I got to baptize Violet.  That was pretty cool.

 The puppy has been losing teeth lately.  In fact, he lost most of his baby teeth all at once...6 teeth in a week.

 After a studio day, I sleep really well.  Then I get up with sore sculpture muscles the next morning and I do it all again.  Run, PiYo, coffee, sculpt, lunch, sculpt and sleep.

 The goofy things I make help to keep me entertained.  I often smile or laugh at the absurdity while I'm working.  This is one of the reasons I don't allow anyone else in the studio when I'm working.  I'd seem pretty insane.  

 There are a lot of potential dangers with this type of work.  I do my best to keep safe and not blow up or burn myself.  With all the grinding, sanding and polishing, the entire studio is plagued with tiny needles of steel.  I currently have several of these in my hands and fingers.  They are so lightweight, they have a way of getting around safety glasses and into my eyes.  The tiny black speck in the contact lens above is one of those pieces of metal.  It only takes one to ruin a pair of contacts.

 This is part of a thing I made.  After each one is finished, I polish it up and get it ready for powder coating.  That part is pretty expensive and since I don't get paid in the summer, the powder coating has to wait until September.  I get a good photo of each one when it's finished so I can plan the color and help the powder coating place identify each one.

 I also take photos of different stages in the process (when I can remember).  This helps when I explain the process to students or when I give an artist talk.

This guy is the only visitor I've had this year.  He was kind and gentle with his critique of my work.  And while there's nothing special about a dirty, steel dust covered studio, if you're interested you'll get your chance to be invited later this summer.  I'll have another studio sale this year and you're welcome to come.  It's the only day of the year I'm not a studio hermit.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

but don't get the wrong idea...

...while we do have a lot of fun at Lander, we work really hard too.  It's very important to me that my students learn what a good work ethic is.  Unlucky for them, that usually involves a lot of sweat, flying wood chips, flying sparks and sore muscles.

 This semester Sam was introduced to the wonder of a chainsaw.

 He was skiddish about it at first but he became a pro quickly.

 Metal Megan worked very hard this semester.  She took on a huge outdoor project made of steel.

 She learned how to make organic hollow steel forms.  It's a process that requires a lot of muscle and flexibility.  

 Flying sparks.


 Once Sam was happy with his chainsaw work he needed to darken part of it by burning.

 Seth worked on his welding and grinding skills too.  He made this life sized figure for an outdoor installation.

 That's Seth happy when it was finally finished and installed.

 At the same time, Jarvis was learning just how heavy a very small grinder can be when you hold it for hours and hours at a time.

 Olivia worked on her first sculpture for a long time and learned how important that long, frustrating process can be.  In the end, she came up with a great solution.

 Jarvis spent a few last moments with his best friend before saying goodbye.

 He poured a couple of months of work into this shiny work.  There's some welding, but there's a LOT of grinding.

 Speaking of grinding, Megan left this message for me one day.

 Smooth doesn't come easy when you're working with steel.  She lost count of how many hours she spent grinding.

 Olivia eventually found herself on the floor of the welding area.

 And just when they thought the hard work was over, they had to transport their heavy things across campus and dig holes for the anchors.

 Hard work pays off.  All those hours Metal Megan spent cutting, welding, grinding, painting and applying chrome vinyl led to this stunning outdoor sculpture.

 She was happy to be finished but even while she was digging holes she was already planning her next sculpture.

 Olivia got up off the floor and finished her sculpture.  Then she got to dig a hole too.

 Mia made this large steel drawing.

 This is Olivia's finished sculpture.  It's a steel torso with a giant saw blade.

 Meanwhile some graphic design students were making a huge steel sign for the Annex.  Mia and Jessica designed it.  Jessica handled the wood and Mia cut the steel.  Katie helped us stand the beast up.

 And in the final days (and hours) of the semester Metal Megan traded her steel tools for a bunch of coffee filters and a grand idea.  She wanted to transform our large storage closet into something new.

She tried a couple things that didn't work before figuring it out.

 After she fought with a wobbly stool and lost, I took on high things and followed her orders.

 Even before it was finished it started providing some very interesting views.

 It was such a transformation, everyone noticed.  Oscar approved.

 And once again, Metal Megan lost track of the hours.  We do know it took 3,200 coffee filters.

 And after it was fully documented with photos and experienced by several viewers, it only took a couple of minutes to take it all down.

That's a lot of coffee filters.