Category Archives: Art

MY FRIEND JOHN

I remember the day John was talking to me on the stairs of the Stoker Studio where I was repeatedly taking the advanced wheel throwing pottery class at the Stoker School in Bountiful, a satellite campus for University of Utah. It was the day John made me an offer that would impact me more than I ever could have hoped.

I had been trying to take a pottery class for a couple years, but not able to get in to a class on campus. I had not realized that the on-campus pottery classes were for art majors only. I did not want to drive to Bountiful for a class, but that was where the non art majors took pottery. I caved in and signed up for the spring quarter in 1995, if my squishy memory can be trusted. I was one of the struggling students, but by the third assignment I kind of started to get it. We had an assignment to make 4 tea bowls as close to perfect hemispheres as we could. John had impressed that we ought to make extras because we could expect to lose a couple in trimming. I made twelve. Looking at them John said, “These 4 are dogs”. I really grew to value his bluntness in critiques. He followed up with, “These 4 are good for practicing trimming… and these must be the last ones you threw. You can see the improvement. Pretty good.”

I’d needed two art credits for the BS degree for which I was aiming, and I figured I could take the advanced class for the second one. Driving to Bountiful wasn’t all that bad. At the end of the Advanced class the following autumn quarter I was actually thinking I could actually make things. I made presents for some friends for Christmas. That was the thing to do for most students. I thought that I could probably do one more class. I didn’t know if I’d ever have the chance to make pottery again and I had a couple ideas of things I’d like to have that I made myself. Pottery can last a long time.

I think I took the advanced class two times (again, squishy brain). My dad stopped me one morning and asked how long I was going to keep doing the pottery thing. I kind of boggled and answered that I thought I’d do it for the rest of my life. I did not realize he was asking how many more times he was going to have to pay for a class for which I wasn’t getting further credit until weeks later. This brings me back to the staircase that spring day. I’d realized that I probably couldn’t ask my dad to pay for further classes and John caught me on the stairs and asked if I would be back the next quarter. I told him I didn’t think I could afford it. He said something along the lines of, “If you want to get good, you’ll do it faster if you teach it.” He offered me free studio time in exchange with helping teach the beginning class. Most of the beginning pottery classes had one or two advanced students that had the same deal to help out with the new students. I said I doubted that I knew enough to really help, but John said I knew enough, and what makes you learn faster when teaching is you have to actually think of an answer to the questions of a beginner that you never really answer for yourself. And sometimes it helped to have multiple people with different viewpoints to get the idea across. I really wanted to continue on, so I agreed.

Somehow I managed to spend the best 20 years of my life in that studio. That isn’t an exaggeration. I was there helping with one or two classes a semester until they had to close the 100+ year old building in 2017 due to structural issues with earthquake safety. There were a couple years where I went and helped with classes and didn’t really make much of anything. They were pretty dark years. Honestly some of the only bright spots for those years were the times I was at the studio. I’m sure it kept me alive, and I was lucky enough to have told that to both John and his wife, Diane before John passed away near the start of December 2021.

I owe a lot to both of the Shaw’s. They became family. I haven’t had a death hit me like it did with John. I’d heard he was slowing down, but I always thought there would be another time when I could sit and talk with him. John would have a coffee break midway through the four hour classes at the studio and we’d go out to the kiln shed and he’d have a cup of hot water and smoke his pipe for awhile. We’d talk about whatever and it was just… calm. I don’t have a lot of calm in my life. There was one day near the end of a spring semester a year or two before the school closed where we’d loaded a kiln and just started it candling and were talking. A procession of students, beginner and advanced, came out to ask a question or two and went back to finish their last pieces for the semester. That day each student would ask the question and John would look at me and ask what I thought. I’d give an opinion, or tip, and John would nod and say, “That sounds about right”. He added his own comment some of the time and I really started to realize then now much I had learned in the most relaxed and informal environment that really suited the way I learned.

When I start thinking about John the first thing I think about are his jokes and his unique sense of humor. He had a little instamatic camera that was broken that hung on a coat hook in the kiln shed. Every time there was a raku firing he’d get all the students participating into a group so he could get a picture. He’d stand over a big tub of water and just as everyone was smiling to get a picture he’d drop the camera in the bucket and act all surprised. The first time I saw that I jumped forward to try to save the camera. After that I’d stand where I could take a picture of the students reactions. We went to the NCECA (The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) Conference in Las Vegas in 1997 as a group of advanced students with John and Diane. When returning through the McCarrin airport in Las Vegas John suddenly stopped at the foot of the escalator just after I got on just behind Diane. I looked back and John was frozen in place watching in amazement as the magic stairs carried us to the next floor. I laughed and Diane shook her head and said, “I don’t even ask anymore”. People queued up behind John didn’t know quite what to do with this man who had, evidently, never seen an escalator before. John kind of hopped on and grabbed the handrail tightly.

He told a lot of standard jokes in class. “If the throat of your bottle is to narrow for your finger, you can stick your pin tool down your throat and throw up.” When cleaning up your glazed pieces you need to wash the extra glaze off the base of your pot. “We will do a lot here for you, but we won’t wipe your bottoms.” You probably couldn’t tell that joke anymore. But the best ones were ones that didn’t have any real explanation, and I think he did just for his own enjoyment. He taught that when you dunk your piece in the glaze and you’re holding the pot so the glaze drips back in the bucket, it helps if you bounce at the knees while it’s dripping. I’ve taught people to bounce at the knees while glazing in every class I’ve taught since. I do give credit to John for the tip.

The wake for John was really something. There were so many people there that had years of shared memories of the Stoker Studio and John’s influence. People that learned along side me and were just part of this big art family that I find so invaluable. Some of us sat at the big table as the wake wound down, saying our goodbyes. I spent some time looking around at their home and remembering the end of semester parties they had for us, and seeing again, maybe for the last time, their home studio that always seemed to be the ideal, for me, of how a studio should feel. I recognized some of their pieces that I’d seen often there, and some of Diane’s current work that was on a rack just inside the entrance. As I was leaving I was hit with how sometimes the universe just aligns and you meet the people that will be with you for the rest of your life, even after they pass from this one.

Calling it done

Yesterday as I was delaying my inevitable chores and having a bit of bacon and eggs for breakfast, I was browsing reddit and saw another rumor article about Disney releasing the original Star Wars movies without all the George Lucas changes. I get excited to see this, because I’m looking forward to having a copy of the unadulterated version and would even (probably) pick up a copy of “The Empire Strikes Back”. In the comments I saw one in particular that caused me to put down my fork and make a quick response. Only the response grew as I started to type it to something beyond my usual two-sentence, flippant reply. Enough so that I thought I ought to put it here (and, perhaps in Lucasian fashion enhance it a bit).

The original post that caused me to respond was:

It’s ridic how people spend so much time talking so much shit about a guy for doing what he wants with his own creation…and the people who talk all the shit about him are the ones who worship his work.

And my reply: (Somewhat edited for clarity)

As an artist I’ve come to realize that you can work on a piece forever if you really care about what you are doing. Nothing is ever quite up to what you envision, so you rework and modify, bringing your project closer and closer to your concept. Depending on under what constraints you are working (getting paid, deadlines, etc) at some point you have to release it. Once it’s out there for others to experience, part of it ceases to be your creation and merges with those that are influenced by what you created. At that point it actually changes people, and their perception of things in their future will be colored by that change. Peoples lives are altered to a degree depending on how deeply¬† they are moved by whatever you’ve created. It can be argued that Ronald Reagan was shot, in part, due to the influence of a film.

Now if an artist goes back and alters the creation to better fit some inner eye view of what the concept could have been, they’re able to do that, but the people who experienced a change in themselves may not like the result of the changed work. Look at popular songs that have been remade by artists years after their work made an impact on the music scene. Many people who loved the song won’t like the newer version and cling to the original, while those that were first exposed to the new version and had their perceptions altered by it might appreciate the original, but often still cling to the version that changed them as the best one.

Now if an artist wants to ‘destroy’ the original work so that his vision continues, and he still has the rights to the original, it is his prerogative to do so, but he risks alienating those who love the original work because of the impact it had on them. I’ve been known to destroy pieces I’ve made that I really dislike because I don’t want them out there, and I’ve also been persuaded to sell some of those I’ve hated because someone loved what I created. At this point I can’t go back and alter or replace that piece because I’ve created something better, because I no longer own the rights to that piece, but I can certainly understand Lucas’ drive in this.

It’s the depth of the effect of these movies on the people that first experienced Star Wars before there was A New Hope, who see the altered versions and their reaction is to tell all those around them, “This wasn’t in the original!” It feels disingenuous to see Jabba in a scene that wasn’t even there before to us and, I believe, that is what many people are reaching for. We want a chance to go back and see the version we fell in love with, the one that altered our lives and dreams, without the jarring breaks of “this isn’t right”.

I can’t fault Lucas for trying to improve his movies, he had the rights and means, but I don’t think it was wise. At some point I think you need to let your art be, especially if it has had the mega impact my art will never have. I’ve learned that it is sometimes better to create a new vision where you can try to hit the mark closer to home on a completely new try without the baggage of what came before.

I could have gone on and on (and I’ve been known to,¬† just not on reddit)

Fun with Bryce3d

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Back when I started working with Jared at ZDSC he showed me this 3d artistic rendering program called Bryce 3d. I think at the time it was the most I ever paid for a non-game piece of software, but I used to sit around on Sunday afternoons and just play with the boolean architecture creating little ships and scenes. I’m not quite sure where along the line I shifted on to other things, but I kept the software current on my computer for years. I even dug it up and put it on Debbie’s computer down in Mt. Pleasant before we consolidated households, although I didn’t do much more than show it to her and Kayla.

Now I have this new Mac and still haven’t come up with a home computer since the epic technological failings of 2010. I just installed the other software I need to be learning so I can help with the media responsibilities I’m sharing with Sam for SC11, so I thought I’d look for some online help. While I was poking around for tutorials on illustrator and Final Cut Pro I ran across the current version of Bryce, Bryce 7, and found it was free for personal use.

So here I am, after 10:00 on a Sunday night, just like old times with a rough little rendering of a calvin-and-hobbes’ish daydream of organic spaceships hunting each other across rugged hostile terrain. Maybe next week I’ll get something productive done.

Manufacturing Blues

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So I’m working on this project and I decide that I need an antique looking plate showing north and I throw together a ‘N’ with an arrow through it and decide to carve it roughly into a block of wood and see if I can’t sand cast it. But because I’m mostly in a prototyping phase (for several things, evidently) I decide to see if I can’t cast just the face of it in a sand mold and not bother with the whole cope and drag. But because I’m forever making stamps or sprig molds for clay, I naturally decide that it needs to be backwards. It wasn’t til I was pressing it into the sand that I realized I was making a positive casting so the original had to be forward. (I flipped the pic just so it would look right… full disclosure, you know). Anyway I decided to go ahead since I had it and it was getting late, and then if it worked, maybe I would cast the cast and have a relief ‘N’ instead of a raised one, as long as it looked old.
But I ran into a few problems. I don’t have a furnace, and my acetylene torch doesn’t have a big enough tip to keep that much metal molten very easily. The casting poured short, probably because I couldn’t keep it hot enough, and I think it’s too much copper. I need to find a source of tin to formulate a good bronze alloy with all the spare copper I’ve got laying around. I melted down some old bronze I had, but I knew it wasn’t enough, so I just made up the difference with copper.
Maybe I should have done aluminum, but aluminum wouldn’t weather the way I want it to. So in the end it may be a good thing that I did make the original wood cut backwards, because I’m probably going to end up using it as a stamp.

End of the quarter quickie

helm1.JPGThis has been sitting on my shelf for over a year because I couldn’t decide how to finish it. Since I have a new project I don’t know how to finish I thought I’d push this one through any old way.
Turned out ok, I guess.

Happy Birthday Debbie

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It’s Debbies birthday today, and since she says I never get her flowers I figured I could make a rose for her. And since her favorite color is blue, I thought I’d do a copper one with an ammonia cold patina. Since she is working such long shifts for the approaching tax deadline I had a couple hours after work every day before she got home where I could work on it without suspicion. I had been mulling over how to accomplish it when I found a youtube video where an artist detailed how to forge a steel rose. The original one is missing now, but there’s a sequel that is pretty much the same thing here on youtube It was a lot of fun to make and everyone that’s seen it has seemed to like it. Maybe I’ll have to do a bouquet.
Happy Birthday, sweetie!

CAU fall gallery show

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I got up some gumption again and managed to enter the Clay Arts Utah fall show. I put in three pieces of crystal pottery and got all of them in. Charles Arceneaux is the chairman and I got a choice location in the window. I was pretty nervous all day. I really dislike showing my stuff, especially because I’m just kind of a dabbler, and I don’t think my stuff is better than average.
I did put in my fee for the after Thanksgiving sale, so I guess I have to buckle down and make some stuff.

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

nano_participant_icon_large.gif So after a couple years of good intentions, and with a lot of downtime on my hands I’ve launched myself into National Novel Writing Month. I had a pretty good first day, getting nearly the 1924 words that is my goal for each day. The idea is to spend all November writing like crazy and get 50k words in by midnight of the 30th. I’m writing the story I’ve had in my mind for several years, and while I’ve surprised myself a few times with some nice passages, I’m really struggling. I had a busy day Saturday so I got kind of behind. I can’t wait till something happens, though. I gotta get this kid out of the University so something can happen.

I picked up my shovel and I went to the mine

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But the sun shone today, so there wasn’t many people at the studio. Chuck and I took advantage of it and made up 5 and a half glazes to try out on the gas kiln. I’m exhausted and contemplating a nice early bedtime, as Debbie and Kayla took a lil road trip to let Kayla stay with her dad down south and visit friends.
Also, a note to self. Don’t drink a half gallon of orange juice just because you have no refrigeration.