rebeccmeister: (cricket)
The early stages of getting an undergraduate set up on a project require a lot of hands-on time. I am trying to get one working on quantifying enzyme activities, starting from the square one of "Prepare a solution with this molarity." The initial time investment is challenging when I have so many other things competing for time and attention, and when I need to revisit the list of enzymes to figure out which one will be the cheapest starting point.

Aside from enzyme activities:

-Leafcutter manuscript revisions (it's working! It's going to get shipped off somewhere, although of course I'll need to sink a whole bunch more time into it first).
-Gearing up for the start of the circadian experiments
-Final pieces of the cricket video project setup (it's getting so close!)
-Last-instar feeding project heating up
-Revising and polishing job application materials + website (Have I mentioned recently how much I appreciate my current boss? She's being a tremendous help on this front!)
-Data analysis for Nebraska feeding experiments and the first round here
+ I will be leading article discussion at lab meeting next Tuesday


At home, P has been gently nudging me to participate in the backyard ceramics venture. I gave in last night and tried throwing with some of the recycled clay. Centering the clay on a kick wheel is more challenging than on a motorized wheel, but then the actual throwing is easier at its slower, more controlled speeds. The recycled clay was starting to get too sticky, and had a couple of bad air bubbles because I didn't wedge it quite enough. I also didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted to throw, so in the end I just put everything back on the plaster table again.

When I have so many things going on at work, I'm not that motivated to do much at home. Throwing also made me miss Bridget. I really need to quilt first, before getting back into ceramics.

We visited Caffe Trieste this morning. I suspect that something about their coffee caused immediate gastrointestinal distress, which makes me sad because the cafe itself was a welcome break from recent weeks of boutique-feeling establishments.

Caffe Trieste

Caffe Trieste
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
On Monday evening, as I was getting ready for the train ride to Arizona, I looked at the top item on my packing list, which said something about knitting and books. I often knit while I travel, because I can't read on airplanes or in cars, but I don't have a particular project lined up, so it would be a project to come up with a project. [Meanwhile, the quilting projects are still stalled out on the task of finding a scrap of velour for making a homemade quilter's pounce. That, and quilting projects don't travel too easily anyway.] I could have dug behind the row of boxes into the yarn box for supplies to work on crocheting myself a bike seat cover, or could have toted along the little ziploc baggie of supplies for crocheting cat toys, but I just couldn't.

Things have been so hectic over the last couple of months that it was a serious relief just to sit on the train and look out the window and let my thoughts wander in circles.

Does the emphasis on being surrounded by friends and family over the holidays come from our loved ones who are extroverts? For me, it has been a great pleasure to instead have had a simple and quiet Christmas morning with [ profile] scrottie, exchanging a few treasured gifts, and then just have the time and space to do a bit of random cooking without having to be constantly strategizing about how to get things done in a time-efficient manner so as to get to the next item on the to-do list. There's also so much social stimulation in California that I crave more alone time.

Observations from the train trip and beyond:

-There are a lot of areas of north-central California where there's a tremendous amount of trash strewn everywhere. There are also a lot of places with all sorts of hobo camps and living arrangements. I guess maybe people don't see quite the same thing from the freeways, but it's shocking to witness from the train. I've seen things that look a bit like those trash piles in various other places on occasion, but never at that density.

-There are orchards in the Central Valley where the fences along the ditches are lined with what look like pomegranate bushes that are full of rotting pomegranates. The scale of the orchards was overwhelming to me. Lately, I've been trying to pay close attention to things that happen at the margin of fields (as in the hedgerows over the summer). In the Central Valley almost all the margins are bare, scraped dirt - including the margins at the edges of vineyards. Not a lot of places for small animals to hide.

-My Amtrak itinerary put me on an evening connector bus from Bakersfield, CA, to the Los Angeles Union Station. Train passengers are generally civilized bus passengers. The Los Angeles traffic wasn't especially terrible, but I am still grateful that I didn't have to drive in it, and was relieved when we finally got to Union Station. The scenery along freeways is really quite different from the scenery along train tracks. More neon signs, gas stations, and billboards.

Los Angeles Union Station

After the bus arrived, there was even enough time for me to walk over to nearby Olvera Street and get some cheese enchiladas at a little restaurant right before closing time. There are some nice cultural spots tucked into the massive concrete black hole that is Los Angeles.

-The train platform in Maricopa, AZ is so short that our train had to make three separate stops to let all of the passengers on and off. It's the closest station to Phoenix, 30 miles away, with zero public transit connections to the city. That's still better than the situation in College Station, where the closest train station was 75 miles away. But not much better.

-[ profile] scrottie and I spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon on food-gathering errands, which meant an opportunity for me to try out the new bike lanes on McClintock. Biking around Tempe made me both happy and sad. For one thing, I am still achingly sad for the loss of my ceramics instructor, Bridget, who passed away from cancer several months back, and I can't help thinking of her while traipsing around because of all the memories this place holds. I also can't help being sad about how this city was built entirely around a car-centric lifestyle. We stopped in at a Fry's grocery (Baseline and McClintock), and I believe Christmas Eve might be one of the few days that every single parking space in the lot gets used. There were no spare shopping carts to be found anywhere, and the store was a bustling madhouse full of Keurig products. After Fry's, we forded across the parking lot, street, and Target's parking lot for another errand, and while S was inside shopping dealing with the hordes I just sat and watched the ebb and flow of people coming and going, and tried and failed to imagine what it would be like if the whole parking lot was replaced with housing. There are a lot of beautiful things about living in Arizona, but there are also a lot of heartbreaking things. On the other hand, the new bike lane on McClintock is GLORIOUS. It is so much easier to reach so many great places on McClintock now.

Really, it is so easy to ride a bike in Tempe. The pavement is smooth, the weather is lovely, and things are pretty flat. But it is so hard to ride a bike in Tempe, where traffic speeds are too high, where things are so spread out and buried in strip malls, and where on every ride there's at least one close call with a person driving a car.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
"And then, outside a greengrocer's, it happened - something that sooner or later always happens to me on a long trip away from home. It is a moment I dread.
"I started asking myself unanswerable questions.
"Prolonged solitary travel, you see, affects people in different ways. It is an unnatural business to find yourself in a strange place with an underutilized brain and no particular reason for being there, and eventually it makes you go a little crazy. I've seen it in others often. Some solitary travelers start talking to themselves: little silently murmured conversations that they think no one else notices. Some desperately seek the company of strangers, striking up small talk at shop counters and hotel reception desks and then lingering awkwardly after it has become clear that the conversation has finished. Some become ravenous, obsessive sightseers, tramping from sight to sight with a guidebook in a lonely quest to see everything. Me, I get a sort of interrogative diarrhea. I ask private questions for which I cannot supply an answer. And so as I stood by a greengrocer's in Thurso, looking at its darkened interior with pursed lips and a more or less empty head, from out of nowhere I thought,
Why do they call it a grapefruit? and I knew that the process had started."

-Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

Bill Bryson is an excellent traveling companion. Initially I had only carried along an intense book by Simone de Beauvoir for my trip to Europe, but on the extra day in Chicago I decided to track down a local bookstore to find slightly lighter fare. Bryson's book hit the spot, especially because it's about adventures around England and English culture.

I read the above passage on the train during a point in the trip where I could relate all to easily to it. In addition to traveling all the way to Europe for the sake of a one-of-a-kind bicycling experience, I wanted to see other cities and their sights and sounds, to get a feel for what this whole human experience is all about. To get perspective.

The first time we visited Paris, some of the immigrant neighborhoods caught me by surprise. Sure, we have Chinatowns in the US, but there's nothing quite like walking down a huge city block filled with narrow shops all specializing in African weaves, each with a guy standing out front to entice you inside. There were drifts of hair blowing along the sidewalk on that street. Then there are parks that consist of small patches of gravel, completely overrun by people (men, mostly) just lounging around, looking like they have nothing to do and nowhere to go (not necessarily homeless, just without purpose). Even the crowded US cities don't feel like this.

The human experience can be uplifting, inspiring, discouraging, depressing, the whole gamut. I know I wrote briefly about feeling like London was soul-crushing without elaborating much on the sensation. If I was traveling for a sense of perspective, London and Paris both gave me that, just not the sort of perspective I'd expected. I left London with a sense of my own unimportance. It's a city that doesn't care about you and your petty aspirations, especially if you lack social class. So, why even bother? How can I continue to churn out blog entry after blog entry, knowing that most of the subject matter is trivial and will gradually disappear into a dusty corner of the Internet? Wouldn't it be better to take a more refined approach, only putting out and sharing maybe one or two all-time incredible gems, cultivated and polished over a lifetime? Could I channel my energies in that fashion? It's not that I have any wish to be famous, whatsoever. I just want to feel purposeful.

On that train trip, reading Bryson's book, however, I remembered something else.


Magnum opuses don't come out of thin air. They are born out of hundreds of small attempts and failures. I *do* need to keep at it, even when things seem utterly futile and I don't have any idea what the future holds (by the way, this is also related to gearing up for another round of job applications). The act of writing keeps me in touch with myself, and this is necessary for the sake of channeling my voice and using it for good. Besides, the demons compel me to write, and I have a hard time ignoring them, which means I probably shouldn't ignore them.

Shortly after I returned from Europe, my ceramics instructor from Tempe passed away. She had been diagnosed with an inoperable form of brain cancer a year or two prior. I haven't seen her since moving away, only heard the news indirectly. She lived such a public life, as a teacher, and yet I have also always had the sense that she was also a very private person, perhaps as a defense mechanism. Only every once and a while would this side of herself slip out. Just a few days after I learned that she had died, I received an alumni magazine with an article about her and her work, talking about the ceramic sculptures she's had exhibited around the world - the list of her accolades. What's most striking to me, however, is the photo showing her in her home studio space, putting on a bright face and smile even while the ravages of cancer are evident (but only to those who know). Despite the smile and warm, loving attitude, B did not have an easy life. Everything she has accomplished has been the result of tireless persistence and dedication. Porcelain clay is an unforgiving medium in an artform that is often overlooked because it's traditionally in the female "craft" arena. She was also one of the people who was a consistent champion of the things I did as a graduate student, and I know she will continue to be a source of inspiration through the low points.

And so, onward.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
It seems to be allergies that are waking me up so early in the mornings, again.

When I woke up this morning, I started thinking about the pair of half-matched ceramic coffee mugs that I made that have been the go-to mugs for breakfast when S is in town. I've maintained a private sort of ritual, where I don't drink out of those mugs when he's out of town. I've mostly drank from another porcelain mug that's chipped and cracked, stamped with ants, but when our relationship broke apart I couldn't drink out of that one, either. Instead I switched back to a mug made by my ceramics instructor, from an unusual clay body and painted with her signature china-painting methods. She gave it to me as a graduation and going-away gift, so it is comforting to drink from it and think back to that supportive community of friends in Tempe.

The half-matched mugs are a trick I learned - even if two handmade ceramic pieces aren't precisely the same, you can turn them into a set if you glaze them similarly or identically. When I threw one of the two mugs on the potter's wheel, I must have accidentally bumped it or touched it, denting part of it. Porcelain clay is challenging like that, in that it is a tremendously unforgiving medium. Instead of completely scrapping the mug, I reshaped it to build the dent into its character ([ profile] annikusrex will have observed a similar trick in a mug with a crab illustrated on it). Despite their differences, the mugs are a set, made from the same clay body and glazed with the same glaze.

One of the other things my group of ceramics friends and I would occasionally discuss was what to do with all of our misshapen, unuseable pieces - an inevitable part of a creative process where one must practice extensively to learn the medium. My younger sister [ profile] sytharin said that, for instance, there's a ceramics graveyard at Western Washington University, where students would leave their unwanted art pieces at the end of the semester. I guess eventually it would be someone's job to go through the graveyard and haul things off to a dumpster somewhere.

Those discussions made me think back to a fundraiser party I attended a while back, for the Bike Saviours bike co-op in Tempe. As with many big parties, it was a generally awkward experience for me. I cordoned myself off behind a table of baked goods for sale, because I am most comfortable if I have a job to do at a big event like that. That meant I didn't go downstairs to listen to the incredibly loud music, or go outside to watch people batter into each other on tallbikes.

At the end of the party, I helped clean up, and discovered that one of the activities someone had come up with as a fundraiser item was a "china-chucking" alley. Since I hadn't participated earlier, my friend A encouraged me to try it out. They had a bunch of miscellaneous plates and bowls and cups from a thrift store, so I picked up a saucer and flung it down at the concrete floor, where it shattered into a thousand pieces. [I actually brought home one of the unbroken saucers, and used it as a plant saucer for a long time.]

Remembering this experience led me to suggest a ceramics-chucking party for all of our unloved pieces.

Thinking about those two mugs, whether to break them, though, also reminds me of the tradition during Jewish weddings of breaking a glass. Wikipedia gives several reasons for the tradition, but the one I remember being mentioned at weddings is as a symbol of life's fragility (seems not to far from the idea of tempering thoughts of joy).

The inverse of the overly-intense negative emotional spirals is complete and utter withdrawal and silence, or the parroting of emotions instead of a genuine response. What can a person even do in the face of such things, except try to wait, and in some capacity, pray.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
So, this happened this morning:


I staged the photo after salvaging the bread dough. I left it on the counter to rise, and it smelled so good Luna figured she'd help herself. If only I had listened to that little voice in the back of my mind that recommended putting it up out of her reach.

In some ways, it was only a matter of time before something happened to this pan. I have another square baking pan that I made in ceramics that I find to be kind of ugly that developed a crack at some point in the creation process, and it will eventually die as well. All ceramics pieces do. The first ones to go are generally the ones that are most heavily used. Which means, the most precious ones.

This would not have been a huge tragedy if I were still taking ceramics classes. But now - an analogous purchased replacement would cost at least ~$50, and would involve shopping and shipping and all that.

Perhaps over the summer, instead of rowing, I should try to get out to one of the ceramics studios here. There are two studios. One is 7 miles away and only offers classes Monday evenings. Or there's a God-happy one open until 8 pm weekdays and on Saturdays 5.5 miles south of campus, that only does low-fire ceramics. Studio fees are reasonable, and I could work on certain things while there and other things at home (staining pieces).

I need to finish this quilt.

I should finish paintings for the crew silent auction, too. I'm stuck on them. Watercolors are hard, and I have a hard time creating art that's just designed to hang on walls. I like interactive, functional pieces.


Apr. 29th, 2011 01:25 pm
rebeccmeister: (Default)
At ceramics last night, a set of tumblers that I'd glazed two weeks prior were ready to be sent home. One of the great joys and sorrows of ceramics is the fact that there are parts of the process that are difficult or impossible to control, and one must therefore work within the constraints. I had made the tumblers for my roommate's boyfriend, B, coming up with a glaze combination that I thought he'd find pleasing. He wanted mugs that looked somewhat rustic and primitive, and I'd succeeded in making some shot glasses that he liked, so I used the same glazes for the mugs.

But you can't control what happens to pieces during firing. My ceramics instructor is very pragmatic about this aspect of ceramics - I think she has to be or she'd go crazy. She has spent a tremendous amount of time getting her clay recipes just right for the work she does, and things still go wrong. She started in on a series done with male torsos, for instance, and the clay kept slumping and deforming under high fire, so she's had to go back and change her ideas and plans.

Anyway. That's when things go wrong. Sometimes, things go really, really right. I try to avoid getting attached to pieces before they're finished, so I will be open to whatever happens to the end product and won't be disappointed if I don't get exactly what I expect. That also makes me a bit more willing to experiment at all stages of the process. Long story short, the firing came out tremendously beautifully, such that my instructor declared that I couldn't possibly give the tumblers away and should keep them instead. Then she gave me a box in which to transport them home.

Two of the tumblers broke on the ride home. For some reason, this especially upset me because of my feelings of uncertainty about the fate of the tumblers. I've had pieces fail epically during glaze-firing, and I've never been that upset about it. But so it goes.

Also, I recommend looking at the full-size versions of these photographs if you really want to get an idea about how the glaze job came out. Even then, they're different in person than in photographs.

rebeccmeister: (Default)
Dear friends and family, I'm back at that point where I don't have a ton of ceramics projects all lined up and waiting to be completed. Therefore, I'm turning to YOU for ideas again. Here's the deal, though - if I make something special for you, we should do so in the form of some sort of gift exchange. I could give you the item for your birthday or for the sake of a wintry celebration of your choosing in December, but I have to pay for whatever I make, in terms of ceramics supplies, course fees, and time. I also won't guarantee any particular order of completion, unfortunately, because I just can't.

So, is there something that your heart desires that I might make for you? Let me know. I think I will actually be able to afford ceramics this fall after all, so I should have some time available. My throwing skills are all right (mugs, bowls, small closed forms like honeypots), and handbuilding skills are pretty good.

One lingering thing that has been on the list - [ profile] bluepapercup, you asked about pasta bowls. Still want them? Set of four?
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Time for some more uplifting updates.

I planted some lettuce seeds about a week ago, if I'm remembering correctly, in four sets of the wooden boxes that I acquired from a graduate student. She built the frames, which are about 1.5-foot squares, to collect seeds for an experiment, but once the experiment was finished, she didn't need them anymore. So I acquired about 20 of them, figuring they'd be useful for something, someday. They all have very fine mesh on one side, providing excellent drainage, and plastic netting covers on the other side.

Last year, when I planted lettuce in two of them, the birds flew down and ate all of the wee lettuce seedlings. This year, I filled four boxes with manure, and then stacked a second box on top of each one, and put the plastic mesh covers over the top. So far, so good - tiny lettuce seedlings are appearing, to keep company with the tiny swiss chard seedlings, squash seedlings, and assorted other green things.

Last night was the final ceramics class for this session, until things start up again in January. I've gotten into the habit of saving the majority of my glaze-work for the final session, which is both a good and bad strategy. It's more efficient to glaze all at once, but then each individual item receives less attention, especially when there are around 14 things that have to be shepherded through the process.

I feel like I'm still getting a handle on how glazing works, really. For me, part of it involves just closing my eyes and dipping a piece into a tub that has questionable contents, because unfired glazes look nothing like fired pieces. But I have to pay enough attention to ensure that I don't apply too much or too little glaze, and some day I'd like to have enough of an eye for the process to even have half an idea of how things will turn out.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Last night at ceramics, our instructor had put together some test batches of porcelain clay. I had planned on continuing my hand-building streak (I've been getting into lots of coil pots lately, and have found throwing a bit hard on my back anyway), but she offered some of the porcelain to me to throw. So I did.

It was amazing.

I'd recently been working with a commercial variety of porcelain clay (Coleman's, for those who know about these things), which is relatively difficult to work with. As B puts it, it's like trying to shape cream cheese. It takes a delicate touch. I think I've mentioned that with Coleman's I've occasionally had issues with the development of what I call "speed bumps," chunks or ridges of clay that tear off from the main piece of clay and give the resulting form some small, unmanageable ripples. They aren't the end of the world, but they add to the overall challenge.

The new clay? No speed bumps. I just guided it with my fingers, and it went where I told it to go. It held together well, and only required a thin bit of water to establish the slippery outer surface needed for throwing. Hopefully the piece that I threw will survive. B says the clay is an incredibly bright white. I would promise you pictures, but I have no camera and no immediate plans to acquire one.

I then tried a second piece, but the clay started out too dry and hard, fatigue had started to catch up with me, and the form that I was trying to make is really difficult to shape (another jellyfish, if you must know). I made a section a bit too thin and it collapsed when I tried to curve the lip over and in. So I'll try again next week--the clay needs to rest before it can be worked again.

Throwing well is a magical feeling.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Sometimes it is better to just not try throwing at all, when one's clay is all dried out. Last week, the only clay I had was dry and unworkable, so I made a few tiny pieces and then gave up and left ceramics tired and frustrated. Before I left, I talked to B, our ceramics instructor, about a multimedia project I've been trying to get together for a long time. She was unconvinced by the method I was planning to use, but as I rode my bicycle home I came up with a new, clever solution. (I'm being a bit vague on some details because the item may be a surprise for one of my readers some day, but I don't want to make premature promises).

This week, things just seemed to fall in place. I was running a bit late, but stopped by Wet Paint for some new porcelain clay. While I was there, another ceramics classmate stopped in and offered to haul my clay to the studio, saving me an awkward, lopsided bike ride with a 25-pound bag of clay in one pannier. When I arrived, I rediscovered how much easier it is to throw with clay that's soft enough, and especially with porcelain, which is super-smooth and malleable (hooray! I can throw after all!). Even better, the shape I proposed to work with looks like it will do the trick, although I wasn't able to make it large enough. The two small prototypes won't go to waste, though--they will be nifty pieces in their own right.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I woke up tired this morning, but convinced myself to go rowing anyways, and as usual, rowing did not disappoint. It wasn't the most exciting of mornings, but I'm glad I got out there.

Then I came home and used up some leftover buttermilk to make buttermilk pancakes, complete with Herman and sprinkled with poppyseeds and sesame seeds. Oh, and topped with strawberries and whipped cream. Let's just say that I like breakfast, a lot.

Then I went in to school, and finished grading my students' exams, as I'd promised I would. By the time that was finished, I had just enough time to eat a bite of lunch before heading over to hear the first part of a lecture by Peter Singer.

I'm almost glad I wasn't able to stay. I found his supposedly ethical arguments for the humane treatment of animals to be illogical and therefore irritating. I, for one, can think of much more reasonable approaches for thinking or arguing about the subject instead of having to rely on concepts of consciousness (how about a more general concept of relation to the world around us? Why should animals--and only certain animals, at that--get the special treatment?). But I had to run off to office hours, which provided a convenient excuse to leave. For questions, the lecture organizers handed out 3x5 index cards to be passed to the front, so after hearing the brief segment I stayed for, I simply asked why Singer relied on this shaky concept of consciousness instead of appealing to a broader aesthetic. It would have been nice if he had gotten to the question, but I'll never know. Honestly, Elaine Scarry's approach (see On Beauty and Being Just), or Wendell Berry's perspective or David Abrahm's viewpoint would make for a more pleasing argument, in my humble opinion. Yet somehow this guy is a well-renowned dude at Princeton. Go figure.

Seeing the students who came to office hours one last time was touching and a bit sad. I'm going to miss this bunch--they were enthusiastic, sharp-witted and fun. But it will be good for them to move on. I can only hope that something that I've said, advice or otherwise, will stick with each of them and have a positive influence on their lives.

Then I got to have a nice chat with a faculty member who is full of insights, and then ate a bit of dinner before heading over to ceramics, which I realize I'd been looking forward to all day.

You see, last week, I played around with some stains, just to see how they worked since I've finally switched to light-colored clays where stains will actually show. After staining these first four porcelain pieces, I glazed them, and today I finally had a chance to see the results of my labor. And the results have been astoundingly beautiful. I might even take some pictures. I think I've finally found the art that I've been after, that combination of ceramics and painting, and on top of that, an outlet for my fondness for black silhouettes, which started back when I was drawing with compressed charcoal.

After admiring my handiwork, I got to work throwing, which went quite well. I'd bought a bag of B Mix with Sand the week before and had started working with it then, but didn't get very far, so tonight was my first real big test run with the stuff. Compared to the porcelain, and even to the Jamaican (black clay) I'd been using before, it's strong and resilient, though its surface develops a somewhat odd texture. I had one of those nights where I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that yes, I could throw, and am not doomed to a life of throwing bowls.

I threw three tall cylinders, which will be turned into pitchers, as well as some spouts, and now it's the end of a long day and my hands are tired from the work. But it's a good feeling.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Two weeks ago I wrote about trying out porcelain clay for the first time. As my instructor said, it is not an easy material--it's quite unforgiving. When I came in on last Saturday to check on the molded piece I'd made, cracks had begun to appear in places. They didn't run all the way through the piece, but are probably due to the piece's thickness. First lesson learned. Fortunately, they could be smoothed away (hopefully they stay that way).

Tonight, after touching up that piece and a couple of other pots, I sat down and threw with porcelain for the first time. Prior to that, my last bag of clay had become a bit too dry for throwing, which makes the process into a nightmare of stubbornness, potter battling wheel and clay, sacrificing hands and wrists in the name of centeredness. In contrast, the porcelain felt again like smooth, creamy butter with nary a tooth about it. The clay centered in mere moments and proved almost too responsive to a gentle touch.

Only time will tell if these experiments will succeed. There were a few small hitches--clay that ended up in a puddle around the base of the piece instead of getting incorporated into its walls, and some strange "speed bumps" that formed more than once (I think they must have to do with the amount of pressure that one applies in conjunction with the speed the wheel is turning and the texture of the clay). But these are minor battles compared to some of the more epic Jamaican struggles I've had. It's nice to be able to translate between clay languages.

The strangest part has been going from orange hands to white--I've spent too much time in the sun over the past two weekends, as indicated by my skin's darkened color. Porcelain clay does not leave its white residue on my hands in the same way that Jamaican stained them orange--it washes clean. It does not mark me as a potter.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I can breathe again, at last, and so I'm giving myself some time to do things in a random order instead of flying through a checklist.

I wanted to write a bit about porcelain clay. For the past couple of years that I have been working with clay, I have mostly used a reddish clay body called Jamaican clay. When it's fired to bisque (before adding the glazes that give pieces their color and lustre), it turns an orangeish color, and when it's fired to Cone 10 (glaze fire), it turns a gorgeous, metallic black. It's a beautiful clay, although tricky to work with, or so I'm told by those with more diverse experience than me. Apparently it could also be vagaries of the clay itself that have contributed to problems I've experienced with leaking pieces (I tried twice to make a nice mug for my father, to no avail). So it's time to try something new.

I want to start a project that will require a white clay, and so the first step is to get to know the new clay before investing a lot of time and energy in the construction of the piece. When I looked around, it looked like porcelain clay would produce the color and texture I was looking for, but I hesitated before committing to it. Working with clay is a lesson in complex chemistry, for clay is made up of complex mixtures of dirt particles (someone who actually knew what they were talking about could probably go on and on about this subject, but let's leave it at that).

The major components of clay that are of interest to me are the clay itself, grog (chunky materials that give the clay structure), and water. By itself, clay is quite crumbly, powdery material that doesn't hold together very well, and so the amount and type of grog that are incorporated into the clay are crucial in determining what can be done with it. Jamaican clay actually has relatively little grog in it, which means that it's difficult to make large pieces with it, and when water is added, it fairly quickly turns to mud. Potters who throw pieces on the wheel tend to use clays that include sand, for although the sand is hard on one's hands, it adds durability and flexibility (resilience, even) to the clay and that enables the potter to build larger pieces.

In contrast, porcelain clay contains next to no grog. As porcelain dries out, therefore, it can become quite powdery and fragile. But it's also quite attractively smooth stuff, and finished pieces can be lightweight and beautiful and glowing white. Porcelain is even more difficult to work with than Jamaican--it's sort of like handling butter, except that it becomes unforgiving as it dries out, and it retains a memory of what has happened to it that manifests when the clay is fired. Something that sags and is corrected during creation will sag once again when the piece is heated up. And let's note that ceramics in general is a lesson in humility--it takes years for ceramicists to become proficient, and that's if they're consistent about spending time in the studio.

So I've started out by building a relatively simple mold piece--hopefully a mold for baking shortbread cookies. I'm looking forward to seeing what else I'll learn when I put the stuff on the wheel as well. I suspect that it will be humbling and a test of my patience, but I have great hopes for this new experiment.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Last night was my glorious (ha.) return to ceramics, where I was finally able to manifest a few of the project ideas that have been fermenting in my brain. In the interim between the end of the last session and now, I've been quietly analyzing why I'd last been having a difficult time with throwing and came up with two main ideas.

First, I'd been using a sponge on the outside of the pieces to boost a piece's elevation more quickly (put basically, throwing involves putting a wedge of clay on the wheel, centering it, opening it up, and then raising the sides--I'm referring to the latter stage). But I've figured out that I rely quite heavily on having a good tactile understanding of what's happening with the clay, and so the sponge made things happen a bit too fast and caused a lot of my pieces to go off-center and spin out into tornadoes (that's where the "throw" in throwing comes in, I suppose). Secondly, I've been trying to get as much of the clay into the body of the piece as possible instead of leaving a lot of it at the base (where it's wasted), but I have a hard time centering the stuff really close to the surface of the wheel and so that also throws the piece off-center. Part of that also comes from my desire to try creating larger forms, which require more clay and are thus more difficult to center.

I didn't leave myself much time to throw last night--I had a few hand-building projects I wanted to work on--but the one piece I did create made me grateful to return to the work of throwing. By the end of the evening, my fingers and hands were tired and stained orange, but I finally felt grounded. I like the combined beauty and practicality of ceramics, though it's challenging to learn this twin expressionism.
rebeccmeister: (BeardsOverBabies)
I had a good row with K in the double this morning. We're trying to get a lot of meters in because we'll be heading off to Louisiana in 1 1/2 weeks to row in the marathon. It was good because we've both been rowing with other rowers who aren't on the same skill level. It was also good because I had that evanescent moment I'm always chasing after, where I take a stroke through the water and think to myself, "I could do this forever," and then I take another stroke. I think I've only had a similar experience once or twice in the single. It's addicting. I'm so grateful for the stability that rowing lends to my life, and even after 11 years it continues to surprise and amaze me.

In other news, I'm now officially famous. If you go to this page:

And hit "refresh" a bunch of times (and I mean like 20 times), eventually you will see a picture of me working on a banana slug teapot that I gave to [ profile] sytharin for her 21st birthday (have you drunk any alcohol out of it yet, Syth?). In the meantime, you might also see a picture of the dung beetle. And maybe one or two other interesting things.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
How is it 11:30 already?

I've barely finished my latte.

But OTOH, we got all of our hazardous waste picked up and I took care of my ants for a while. And I worked on a presentation I'm giving on Friday (this one is no-stress, because I'm just informing my fellow grad students about a newly developed program--but it still takes up time).

And in unrelated news:

Ceramics was splendid last night. I threw the two largest items I have ever thrown, one, a pitcher-like object, and the other a vase-like object. Part of what made this possible was the revelation that I have been trying to throw clay that was too dry for a long time. The balance between clay that's too dry and unworkable and clay that's too malleable is somewhat fine, but I am truly enjoying the process of learning about it. One thing that separates throwing from handbuilding is that it offers opportunities for a different sort of experimentation. When I hand-build things like the dung beetle, I usually set out with a pretty well-developed idea of how I want the finished product to appear. With throwing, I have to be more aware of the clay's history (its moisture level, or distribution in the object that I am throwing). Sometimes this means I have to scrap a pot that's in progress. But that's okay, because I learn something new every single time that happens (for instance: don't try to re-center after opening the clay, silly.).

Rowing was splendid this morning. I went out in the double with K because we are training to row in a marathon in Louisiana. The two of us are on roughly the same skill level, although K's a bit more skilled at sculling than I am (I suppose my extensive sweep-rowing experience balances things out). Out of all of the potential sculling partners on the lake these days, she's the one I'd pick in a heartbeat. We're both a tad bit bummed that we won't be racing together this Saturday, but at the same time, it's a local regatta and we are both doing our part to bring in other rowers who probably wouldn't race otherwise. I've been spending a lot of time rowing in the single, which is a totally different experience from rowing in the double. Doubles are definitely my favorite boat. There's just something so rewarding about not just rowing well, but rowing well with another person.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
As promised, a photo of the dung beetle:

There are two more photos here. Whee!

Also, I finally got the boot back. The more I look at it, the more I like it. It has character. I might photograph it at some point, but not this minute because I'm at school and should get some work done instead.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Okay. Hopefully the domestic drama will settle soon (get to work, people. you know who you are.). Actually, I think it already is. I was rather disgruntled yesterday about it all, although I wasn't entirely cognizant of the fact at the time. Oh well. I'm not going to fill up my [entire] livejournal with descriptions or over-analysis of the whole situation, because there are other fun things to write about:

1. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, [ profile] annikusrex! I'm a lame best friend and haven't sent you a birthday present yet. At some point, I'll come up with a creative birthday gift idea and will send it along. Until then, eat lots of chocolate decadence and do lots of hipster-esque things, like wearing leg warmers on your arms.

2. Dung beetle update: I am making a dung beetle in my ceramics class. The legs are going to be extremely technically challenging. Texturing the dung, on the other hand, is going to be fun. I think I am going to make a banana slug when I am finished with the dung beetle. Unlike the dung beetle, however, the banana slug will need to be functional in some way. I'm thinking teapot. Other suggestions on how to use my time in ceramics are also welcome.

3. I FINALLY went rowing this morning! My technique has deteriorated, but the boat that I got to use was the perfect size, and hey, it was rowing. I missed it so much. Now my arms are tired.

4. Yesterday and Wednesday were both insanely busy. Today is going to be similar. Tomorrow will be fun: rowing, long run, brunch (waffles!), shopping for a space pirate costume...


Jul. 27th, 2005 12:29 pm
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Yesterday was my Big Day Off. I took three naps. I read part of The Tapir's Morning Bath. I petted the cats. I attempted to start making a snood, but I'm not sure I understand the directions correctly (any advice, oh crafty people?). My hair is getting really long, I keep noticing, so it's time to do interesting stuff with it.

I had an early dinner, and then fell asleep on the couch right before the start of pottery. Fortunately, I'd had enough forethought to set an alarm, but I was pretty damn groggy on my way there. It was our last day, so I spent the entire time glazing my pieces--a glazing frenzy! The boot is still intact, but B, our instructor, said she thinks it'll take about a month to dry properly. She doesn't want it to crack or anything, so it's sitting at the arts center, slowly drying. Every time I think about it, I get excited. I'm going to take pottery again in the fall, but I don't know what I'll make yet. I really enjoy handbuilding, so probably more of the same sorts of things.

This morning, I finally mowed the lawn again. I keep letting the grass grow too long because my mornings are overcommitted and it sucks to mow in the afternoon heat and whenever I have free time it seems like it's time to flood irrigate again. I have to say, all of the home maintenance stuff is really making me admire E more and more--it's a big timesink! I think I'll spend more time in the garden this weekend, weeding and trimming and tucking. Hopefully it will be pleasant and not too hot. The best part is that I get to take the weekend off, too! Wow, life as a normal human being. Sometimes it feels like it's never going to happen again.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I forgot how much I loved Post-It notes. I ran out maybe two months ago, and have been making do with other forms of scratch paper--backs of envelopes, paper that has printed matter on one side, the back or palm of my hand (the old-fashioned palm pilot, I like to say). But I had to pick up some supplies at the ASU bookstore the other day and remembered to grab a block of those square Post-It notes and a bunch of those teeny-tiny ones. Now there are five or six of them stuck to my desk in various places, covered in all sorts of useful information.

Last night in Pottery I started making a clay boot, but I wasn't able to finish it, so I'm headed back tonight. It's pretty cool, so I'm sure it will break at some point. Unfortunately, this is our last week for making stuff, and it's not going to be dry enough in time to fire it for our last class. So I think I'm going to sign up for pottery again in the fall, instead of painting. It's frustrating to have to limit myself to one evening art class per week, but I've learned the hard way that it's not a good idea to schedule more than one evening a week.

The boot was such a great break from the ants. I'm getting a bit burned out, to the point where more than 8 hours is way too much time with the ants. The last day is Monday. I can make it through that. Then I'll take a nice day off.

Well. Time to go home and figure out what's going on with the studio apartment's air conditioner.


rebeccmeister: (Default)

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