Monday, August 13, 2018

This Is Going to be a Busy Week

I awoke this morning to the sound of heavy rain hitting the pavement.  Matched up with the weather predictions, so I didn't give it a second thought and went back to sleep.   Eventually the alarm woke me again and I decided to get up.  Heavy rain still coming through in great waves.  Had no where to go right away, so I dealt with other things early on.  More tv weather reports showed a massive rain storm over central Jersey, expected to be past by around noon.  That seemed to be good news, as today was my scheduled day teaching linocut in Brick.

When I did my reconnaissance run last week it took about 30 minutes and I knew exactly how to find the location, the Brick branch of the Ocean County Library.  However the news had reported some extreme flooding through my region, which happens to this part of the state when rain falls like it did this morning.  (parts of Brick had reported 4.5 inches of rain from this morning's storm)  On the positive side, the main storm would have passed my area a good 3 hours before I had to leave- more then enough time to drain the roads...maybe.

I knew where to go, but a lot of other things seemed up in the air.  Several weeks ago the person who organized this told me she had 10 people signed up, but last week she mentioned only 4.  (pay is the same either way, and I had enough supplies for either size class) The best way to get there remained to be seen, but at least the early end to the rain allowed be to load my car under dry conditions.  Didn't need to bring as much as I do for a typical woodcut class, but I still had my large supply of paper, and my large tote bag full of tools, inks, etc.  My backpack held all the books- examples of relief prints.

I left at the expected time and went down route 71, which I planned to take to Brielle, and a long local road from there to U.S. 70, a major shore road that would bring me close to my destination.  Unfortunately, as I approached Main St in Manasquan, I could see that 71 was blocked off just up ahead, probably where the creek passes underneath.  So I made the quick right onto Main, which was moving extremely slow.  My alternate choice was to take South St to 70, but I discovered the reason for the slowdown was that local police had blocked it off as well and were not going to let me take that road either.  Luckily I had family in Manasquan all my life and had lived there a while, so I know a lot of roads through town.  Looped around on side streets, got back to South St, and it turned out that those were the only detours I had to deal with today.  Got to the Brick library maybe 10 minutes later than I had expected, easily on time.  Eventually I was shown the room reserved for today (carried everything in from my car in the one trip) A few minutes later my new contact stopped by (the organizer is on vacation right now, but she had e-mailed me his name) and he also wasn't sure about the size of the class.  Thought he had seen something about 6 students.  At my request he brought me something to protect the tables, as I know ink can be messy.

It was a big room, with two full size tables set up, more than enough for 4 or 6, and if we had 10 there  were a bunch more tables and chairs for the room.  At the official start time I had no one, but a few minutes later two girls walked in the room.  One had really liked a linocut project done in school and the other had some experience but hadn't realized it.  Neither had a specific plan for a print, so while we waited for more people to show up, I gave them some books to look at.  But no one else came, and no one knew who was even signed up (the two girls said they had just signed up online a few days ago, so not part of the 4 or 10 numbers I had been given before), and at a certain point, I decided it was time to get them started.  Some basic safety rules, a few suggestions, but they knew a little about the tools, so they could jump right in.

As with the recent Belmar linocut class, they had no specific ideas, but turned to the internet for inspiration.   Gave each a non-skid mat, a handle, and some basic suggestions for best performance of the task.  Watched them work, offered suggestions, etc.  Both were excited to make something and made good progress.  I was never given an official end time, but in one of the e-mails I had received it was referred to as a "1 to 3 hour class", so I told them they could have 3 hours.  At 2.5 hours in both were getting close, so I brought out the paper and ink to show them the possibilities.   They chose to go with basic black ink, but were excited by the paper possibilities.  In each case, we pulled a practice proof on white Rives lightweight, then each chose two colored papers to try.

In the above example, the speckled yellow paper provides a nice contrast to the dark image, which seems to be a skull in a floral setting, while the dark red paper with its colored fibers results in a more mysterious feel.  In the below example, the light blue gives that high contrast (which allows the details of the tree to really stand out) while the marbleized version combines richer colors and makes the cat seem more mysterious.

At the three hour mark both were printed, and probably a bit tired from the effort of finishing, but pleased with the results, more than worth the sore hands. What surprised them the most was the printing process; their art teacher in school had printed by rolling a dry brayer over the paper to apply pressure, but I leaned long ago that a wooden spoon is more effective and gets a more consistent result, and now they know it, too.

I got home just before dark (evening news raised Brick's rain total to 8 inches, and my mother informed me that Brick had declared a state of emergency, but things seemed normal enough at the library), and left most of the materials out in my car.  Because tomorrow the whole process happens again with my woodcut class in Belmar.  And more rain may come.  Wouldn't expect anything else.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Catching Up, week 2

Last night was the second episode of "Making It", and arts and crafts themed reality competition show that sometimes seems to be based on the 3D Design course I have taught at a few local colleges.  Didn't have a chance to write about it last night, so here are some thoughts today.

The standard format seems to be a short first craft and a related longer craft.  The overall theme last night was "home".  Their first assignment was to create a terrarium that included a figure, a structure, and something else, based on where they were from.  The glass containers varied widely, from fishbowl, to rectilinear aquarium tanks, to domes, to complex polyhedrons- I don't know where they came from or if they go to choose the shapes.  I was impressed that what was made was done in only three hours- there's a lot of detail in most of them.  I guess their professional experience gives them some speed to go along with their skills.  Again, materials varied from artist to artist, often relating to their particular specialty.

I've never had students make a terrarium, but the above assignment seems to be closest to what they had to do last night.  This was actually a two-part assignment, the figure coming from a short exercise in canons of proportion (a second figure in the same pose had very exaggerated parts, in the way that some canons of proportion required specific relative sizes for body parts- the one above is the original  size figure).  This longer assignment was to take that figure and place them in a structure based on our class room, including a proportional sized work table, stool, and something else from the room, all made from foam core and bristol board.  Rules varied from semester to semester, but you get the idea.
Last night's winner of the first part used paper and felt and probably other stuff to make a very detailed scene of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.

The big project last night was to create a kid's fort and related play thing.  Children love building forts- as a kid I made many.  Snow forts, club houses from wood, etc.  The artists last night could use any materials they wanted. The only rules were that it had to be large enough for a person to get in and out of it, and there had to be a toy with a related theme.  No time was given, but it seemed they had two days to work on it.  The winning piece was a colorful play house in the form of a taco truck, smaller than a real one, but large enough for kids to play in.  The toys were large fake tacos.

What it made me think of was an example of my short exercise involving planes- exterior surfaces.  The assignment called for students to use good old foam core and bristol board to build a replica of a vehicle of their choice, something they like because they think it looks cool.  How?  The official motto of this tv show is "make it!"  My class didn't have an official motto, but my unofficial one probably would have been "figure it out".  The specific assignment was to make all the pieces of the vehicle from foam core or bristol, only requiring pieces that would be visible from the outside.  However, after each piece was made for the vehicle, they were required to make an identical piece and set it aside.  Once the vehicle was complete, use the second set of parts to make an abstract sculpture.  The idea was that if the parts looked good in car form, we would probably like them in something else, and this generally worked out.  In the above example, Angelica made a nice little ice cream truck, and sitting behind it is her abstract sculpture.  Just an in class one day assignment, but she did a fine job and her classmates admired it.  Asked about her plans for this truck, she told me that there were some kids she watched after school and she was going to let them play with it.  The following week she told me that the children fought over the truck and in the process, destroyed it, not unusual for kids.  I told her not to worry- first, it was already graded, second, we had photos of the finished truck, and third, having figured out how to make one, she could probably do it again, maybe even better, plus now she knew to keep it away from children.

Of course, in a classroom that we had to share with 4 other art classes, we had no room to build forts, so small scale stuff was our limit.   The forts that were built last night would allow an adult inside, but kids would fit better.  Among other things were a structure built from large butterfly wings, a space capsule/landing craft, a circus tent, a small geodesic dome style structure (pentagons instead of triangles- the favored shape of Bucky Fuller, who later became the most famous Saluki 3D teacher), a sort of a tent made from arcing pool noodles making sort of a rainbow (by the way I had a student in my Intro class use pool noodles for her 3D project a few years ago- so not a completely original idea), plus the taco truck.  I don't know if any of these things were great art, but all would have been fun to play in or on when I was young, which seemed to be the point of the show anyway.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Woodcut class continues in a way

Nothing major, but there is always something that needs doing.

Today was the first of the month, which means a lot of rents are due.  My apartment, which I took care of by stopping by the rental office in my parking lot.  And also my Studio, but that requires a trip in my car.  Late in the morning I took that ride and did drop off the check in the usual place.  Took care of something else as well.  One thing I concluded from last night's woodcut class is that the students all preferred the shorter handled tools.  I had cut some down a few weeks ago to shorter lengths, but last night was the first time they actually used the cutting tools.  As long as I was going to the Studio, and I had last night's tools still with me in the car, and I always have my saws in the car, might as well take care of that, too.  So I retested the tools for sharpness and cut down the handles of 9 more tools, most of what I had in stock.  I put them in the place I keep them and will do the sanding of the ends later.  Kept a few at the original length for anyone who might prefer them that way.

Stopped in Belmar on the way home, just to make sure everything was in order in the building the way I had left it, and to get an update on the air conditioner.  But I was told all was well, so I continued on my way home for lunch.

Catching Up

A few months back I saw the first commercials for a new reality/competition type show, called "Making It".  Hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, who had worked together on the sitcom "Parks and Recreation" for years, one of my favorite shows of its era.  However I am not a fan of so called reality shows, which are generally built on creating conflicts that aren't very interesting.  What made me notice this one was that the theme was built on art, an emphasis on crafts and the idea of making things by hand.  The few clips shown on commercials often looked a bit like my old 3D class, which I taught for 7 semesters across two colleges, building my interest in the show.  The two hosts have been making the rounds in recent weeks promoting it and the premier was last night.  I was home in time to watch it, and did so, but in recent years I have found that when I'm very tired (as a woodcut class will make me) I don't really get what I see on tv, so I recorded it to watch later.

Shows about art don't always do well on tv, and mixing it with reality shows doesn't help.   Some of the early reality shows had interesting premises, but the tv producers decided long ago that the emphasis should be on creating conflicts, which they believe are more interesting than contestants actually accomplishing goals.  Over time it has gotten worse.  The last art themed show on tv that I remember was one called Work of Art on Bravo, which seemed to have no desire to show the episodes.  We just got one night and that was it, while all the various Real Housewives shows they carried were shown 5 or 6 days and nights per week.  When the second season ended it was not renewed, despite the involvement of big institutions, large sponsor prizes, famous artists, and more nudity than you usually get to see on basic cable.  The weekly competitions had little to do with normal artistic approaches and experiences, and many of the contestants seem to have been chosen for how poorly they would meet the challenges.  Still, I wrote about each episode as they happened, so I figured I should at least give this new show a try.

The set up is they start with 8 artists, all with different mediums, and each episode they have to complete a short craft (the winner of which receives a patch to wear) and then a longer more involved one.  The judges then award one contestant a prize, and then send one home.  They are given a nice well lit space to work in, each has a large work table, and there seems to be plenty of tools.  No mention was made where the materials come from.  Our hosts contribute to the discussions, but may have nothing to do with the final decisions.  (on that show a few years ago, the tv producers sometimes overruled the judges and made sure their favorites prevailed) On the sitcom, Offerman portrayed Ron Swanson, a hyper competent man who could hand build anything out of wood or metal, and had many obscure but respectable talents.  On one occasion I had one of my 3D students remark that something we were doing was something that Ron Swanson could do.  I think Ron could have been the patron saint of our class, and agreed.  Poehler's character on the old show had no such abilities, and on this one her character seems particularly clueless, but this is all tv stuff.  In real life, Offerman is a skilled woodworker and carpenter, and some of this is bound to come out in his role as co-host, but so far he's not trying to out shine the contestants.

So how was the first show?  The episode opened with the starting point that the world is full of people who like to make things, and have the hand skills to do it.  I agree- it's a big part of how I teach classes.  The materials used by the contestants so far include wood, fabric, paper, natural materials, found objects (what they call "hodgepodge materials"), which sounds a lot like my 3D class.   The projects so far do not reflect things I have done or would likely do- like most college level foundation level classes, mine had an emphasis on learning formal issues, while the projects on the tv show seem to revolve around creating a craft object.  For example, the first project called for making an animal that represented their spirit self.  A lot of the 3D projects involved an animal, but never as a personal symbol; for my assignments it was just a simple starting point, not really the purpose of the project.  Some of the participants showed decent hand skills, but none of the resulting artworks particularly impressed me.  The one person sent home was the oldest contestant, who didn't quite finish her two projects- so maybe an art decision or maybe a tv decision.  I'll continue to watch the show for now and see where it goes.