Wednesday, 5 November 2008

This Week's Classes

After all my excitement over the weekend, this week hasn't been a good week so far. *mumbles to herself "Where do I start?"* Very long rant to follow...

Before the school break we had a very basic lesson on glazing in the ceramics class. I didn't really have enough pieces ready to glaze that night, which I was pleased about because I wanted to learn more about the subject and do some test tiles first, rather than the whole thing being so hit and miss. One thing we were told in class was to leave a half inch unglazed rim around the bottom of each item, in case the glaze runs and the item sticks to the shelf in the kiln. Now, that's fine if you have thrown a bowl on the wheel and you leave the foot ring unglazed, but half an inch at the bottom of my castle? Half an inch at the bottom of a mug or a vase? That would just look stupid. (Actually, it does look stupid - there were some finished pieces at the class on Monday)

So after giving it some thought I emailed our tutor during the school break and asked if I could use a support under my pieces to make sure they don't stick to the shelves in the kiln. He replied saying that commercial supports melt at high temperatures. (The kilns at class are electric and are fired at 1220 degrees C. As I understand it, cone 7 is 1215 degrees C, so it's a little hotter than that.) Ok, I shall have to come up with something else, I thought.

So, back to class on Monday, and I resumed our conversation. I explained that I'm really not keen on the unglazed part around the bottom and I asked if I could make my own supports. He said it's a lot of messing around and the clay sometimes softens when it gets very hot, so there is a possibility that the pieces will warp without a flat base to rest on. He said he sometimes rests pieces on tiles if he thinks there is a danger of it sticking to the shelf.
"But won't they stick to the tile?" I asked.
"Yes" he replied.
"So the piece would be ruined anyway?"

Ok, so I'm starting to realise that the shelves are more important to him than other peoples pieces of work. Every suggestion I came up with he had a reason why I couldn't do it.

"So basically you're telling me that it's just tough. I have to have a half inch unglazed rim around the bottom of my pieces"

But it looks so crap. Somewhere during our conversation he told me that he doesn't "do perfect". Well guess what? I don't "do" intentional sub-standard rejects. Ok, maybe that's a bit harsh - it depends on your personal taste. I showed Anita some of his work and she describes it as "rustic", whereas I prefer a much more polished and professional look, such as the pieces created by Cynthia, Leanne, and Judi. I know I'm only a beginner, but why set my goals lower than what I hope to achieve? I feel like he is stifling my creativity and not allowing me to grow. A half inch gap looks fine on a "rustic" piece, but that's not the style I want to create. The whole thing made me feel so disheartened that I couldn't really see the point in making anything, since I'm not going to be able to finish the pieces in the way I want to anyway.

Then I went into the cupboard. Someone had moved my face piece with some sort of oxide on their hands, and left red marks all over the piece. Thankfully they sponged off, but I just felt like no one has any respect for anyone else's work in this place. I decided to go ahead and glaze it before it gets damaged any further (because it has loose pieces remember), even though I haven't made any test tiles yet so I don't really know how the colour will turn out.

One positive thing was that I got to go on the wheel for the first time. It was very relaxing and therapeutic. The clay felt so lovely. I got absolutely covered in it, but I didn't care - if there was enough room in the splash dish I would have climbed in and rolled around in it! I realised that centering the clay is like falling in love - once it's happened you just know - if there is any doubt then it's not right. I didn't manage to make any pots, but my heart wasn't really in it because of what had happened earlier. I'm not saying it was easy and I just couldn't be bothered - it was very tricky, but maybe if I was feeling more determined, I don't know. I was enjoying just playing with the clay anyway.

After showing his demonstration on the wheel to the class, the tutor just left me to it. I preferred that in a way because it gives one time to get a feel for the clay and what works and what doesn't. When he did finally pop his head around the corner he just said that the wheel was too fast. He is so negative, it's a wonder he hasn't put off the whole class. When I told him about the book I bought "The Spirit of Clay" all he said was "The problem with American authors is blah blah blah..." to be honest I don't know what he said because my brain just switched off. I mentioned to him in my email that I was going to try lino cuts with the clay, and all he said to that was that when he tried it the lino got stuck in "the mud". The only stick in the mud I see is him!

Anyway, the whole thing got me so down that I didn't feel like I could even produce anything in my drawing and painting class. I have to say that I'm having a major confidence crisis right now.

I'm going to look for another class somewhere else.


painter girl said...

Hey Un D,
I am so sorry you are having a bad time of it. Don't let your teacher discourage you. There are other ways to get around the glazing issue. I have stilts that I use to glaze in the round and they work fine in higher temperatures. I'm not sure if I am understanding what he was trying to say. Now I do understand the warping issue. But the warping would happen only if you had a large flat area like a plate. Kiln shelves are expensive and hard to clean if glaze gets on the shelves. I do understand that. But there is no reason for him to be such a nervous nelly at you trying other ways of glazing. As for the lino. Obviously he hasn't seen your mug.
He sounds like he doesn't like his job and that is sad because his negativity could scare off students from clay.
Keep your chin up! You just keep having fun at clay and don't let him effect your clay time.

painter girl said...

Thank you for the mention!
You are sweet.
We have to skype. I am going to try and find my microphone today.

Undaunted said...

Thank you Leanne. I was down for a while, but I feel much better now. He does seem to over react somewhat doesn't he? I wondered if it was because he just wants me to do everything his way? He seems to get on really well with some of the other students. I don't know if it's because they are closer to his age or whether it's because they just accept the limitations he places on them? Maybe he's scared I'll be better than him! Hahaha! Well, I probably will be with such great "tutors" online such as yourself! You better watch out John!

cynthia said...

Oy vey, Linda - where to start??? Is there another ceramics facility nearby that offers classes? Your instructor sounds like a miserable sob! Run, don't walk to another school if possible where the teacher loves his/her job. Can you talk with the school's director/staff about your concerns?

First off, there is a glaze concern for beginning ceramic students, but your instructor doesn't sound very open to solutions.

Eutectics is a good term to know in ceramics. It's basically the lowest melting temp of a glaze. What frequently happens is that when multiple glazes are overlapped sometimes there is a chemical reaction that occurs which lowers the melting temperature (eutectic) of a glaze - hence glaze running off a pot.

It frequently happens to beginning students who don't know how the glazes react with one another or if a wrong temp. glaze is used by mistake. No one wants to grind shelves - especially if it's someone else's work.

But, if your studio is using commercial glazes, (presumably from a single company) then they should be formulated to work with one another without issue. If you're using a combination of different brands of commercial and/or homemade bucket glazes - then there often can be problems.

Your instructor should know how the glazes behave - and would hopefully have a stable of solid glazes for the ceramics dept. I know my glazes because I make most of them and can glaze right to the bottom of the pot without problem.

I just drew up a quick sketch of a little pedestal that would work for a form such as this when you're not sure how the glaze will work. There are a variety of resists on the market - not sure what's available in the UK - alumina hydrate is sold by ceramic suppliers.

As long as you make the pedestal out of the same clay body, you should be good.

I'm sure there are other solutions, but this would be quick and easy.

We have a rule at the guild - no one is allowed to touch other's work, unless it's on a shelf to be loaded into the kiln.

I'm so sorry this has been a somewhat frustrating experience for you.

As to the "American" author - he's just jealous! There are a ton of great ceramic authors out there including American, Japanese, Canadian, British and more.

Undaunted said...

Thank you Cynthia. I think there are classes in another town near here, which actually would be nearer for me than this one, but the website doesn't seem to be working properly so I will call them tomorrow (Monday). Anita suggested I complain too - she has the same boss as my ceramics tutor as they both work in art in adult education - but he has been doing these classes for about 15 years, so they must like him for some reason.

I'm presuming all (6) of our glazes are fine together as the tutor has said we can layer them for different effects. Many of the pieces didn't run at all, so I think he is just being overly cautious. I understand the need for that with new students, but as you say, he's not very open to suggestions. I noticed he leaves a rim at the bottom of his own pieces, and he's been doing it for about 25 years!!

Thank you so much for the sketch, especially as I know how busy you have been this weekend! That's the kind of thing I had in mind, only with little round legs! I wasn't sure if it would need a drip tray or not but I suppose the drips have to go somewhere! Why do I need to paint the top with glaze resist? Is that in case it runs underneath my piece? Do I need to fire the pedestal before I use it?

Thank you for all your help Cynthia. I hope I can find some classes with a like minded tutor.