For the past 5 weeks a group of us here at Signal have been doing training on Fridays. It is a course run by the Kildare Wicklow Enterprise Training Board (KWETB) entitled “Developing Community Arts Practice”. The course tutor is Aoife Patterson, a former Signal Arts Centre employee, and she really knows her stuff!
It has been a long time since I last undertook formal education. I am constantly up-skilling myself through reading, online courses, YouTube videos, and undertaking self-driven projects to learn new skills. This is a different kettle of fish altogether but I am enjoying it and learning lots of new concepts that are very relevant to my own practice.
Sitting through a lecture can get tiring, so Aoife breaks up the process with “ice breakers” and “energisers”. Ice breakers are usually at the start of the session, a simple exercise to get us thinking creatively and to begin interacting with one another.
A lot of the lectures also end with brain storming sessions where we are broken up into groups to discuss ideas and issues that were raised during the class, focusing on one specific topic such as creativity, or types of groups, etc.
As the lectures can be quite long, they are broken up with “energisers” which are small tasks that get us thinking creatively again, to get our energy levels up with a bit of insight or most often with a bit of a laugh!
That last one involved blowing ink around on a page using a straw, and then writing a Haiku poem (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables) inspired by the ink or the action. Fun and got us thinking verbally as well as visually!
Last week I showed you this photo of the tiles with the glazes on, waiting to be fired.
This week when we arrived for the class (I am assisting Gill this week) we got to see our finished products, and I must say that I am delighted!! Especially with the tile on the lower right. They all show details to a greater or lesser extent, but with that tile I was very careful to wipe off any excess glaze with a sponge to reveal some of the pattern below.
We laid out all the student work so they could identify their pieces.
The green which we thought was a glaze turned out to be an oxide, which is a different creature altogether! As a result, those who had used it needed to apply an extra layer of transparent glaze to retain the colour, as the oxide is not very stable on its own and tends to brush off. From what I know about oxides, ideally you put them on to highlight texture and as such wipe off any excess before adding an over glaze.
The students could now begin assembling their “fish” project that they had been working on with Gill. They had created a fish head and a tail and a series of pinch pots with central holes. These are strung onto a sturdy string along with beads to act as spacers.
The result is an interesting hanging ceramic sculpture, which looks lovely in the sunshine and makes small tinkling sounds as it moves in breezes.
Another ceramic tile, showing a fantastic variety of colours and textures.
One of the student boxes. She had been worried that the scratch line details would be lost under the glaze and was delighted to see them revealed again after the firing. She wiped a metallic glaze into the scratch marks and then over-glazed with a colour called Norwegian Blue, the same one that I used on 2 of my tiles. The random results of this blue glaze are fantastic and really bring the pottery to life!
I was asked to come in again for the Wednesday ceramics class, which I was happy to do as today the students begin the glazing of the bisque fired works.
Some of the glazes come ready mixed and some come as a powder. Wonderful to see them going on, and the wet glazes look nothing like how they will turn out fired so it is always with a great pinch of imagination that the final result is pictured in your mind.
Painting delicate hearts over another glaze.
Dripping an oxide glaze over another glaze.
This is how my little coil pieces look bisque fired – no cracking or popping!
and here are the glazes drying in the sun. Can’t wait to see them fired!
Wednesday afternoon the youth group was in again, and I helped demonstrate turning pots on the wheel, something I haven’t done in YEARS but just like getting back on a bike I was able to show them a few things. It is so good for the mind to make things with your hands, I always feel refreshed afterwards.
Enjoy the sun! James Hayes
On Wednesday I returned to the ceramics class to continue with the coil project. I discovered two problems with this process, both of which can be overcome. The first problem is that if you do not complete what you start in one session the clay gets too dry to bend or fold the flat slab. Even wrapped in plastic and sprayed all week I could not coax my slab to bend without cracking. One of the students did manage to make a vase shape using this technique, but that was because she managed to form it all in one sitting over the course of perhaps an hour.
The second problem, again easily sorted, was that the pressure of creating the slab causes the clay to stick to the work surface, so it is essential that the work is done either on cloth or cling film – cloth will leave a surface pattern on the clay of course. Ideally we should have a plaster slab to work on, which the clay will quickly release from as the plaster sucks the moisture out of the clay, but then you run into the need to work even faster if you want to roll the slab. At the end of the day so many of us loved the patterns and found that they would suit use either as straight forward tiles or as coasters for hot pots or drinks that we opted to leave them flat.
In the afternoon there was a youth group in from Sallynoggin who were shown how to use the wheel. Signal has two pottery wheels, and everyone had a chance to try it and make a small pot or cup. It was hectic and fun.
Afterwards I assisted Ger in loading the kiln with work by artist Michelle Fullham (the kiln can be hired for individual firings at VERY reasonable rates), and then Ger showed me how to program the kiln to run overnight. It was a glaze firing so I will be interested to see how they turn out! The Wednesday class work should be dry enough to go into the kiln on Monday for a bisque firing so that the students can then begin glazing on the Wednesday.
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of being a substitute teacher for a ceramics class. It is a nice group of people who are very enthusiastic about learning new techniques. I showed them how to create coil patterns in a slab pot approach to building. Rather than the traditional coil built pot, you create patterns with coils as a flat rectangle, then keep adding and smearing clay to create one flat slab which can (if desired) then be reformed into a mug or vase shape. We got about halfway through the process, and should be able to have a finished product next week. The classes at Signal are very good value and run by knowledgeable people, so have a look “Classes 2017” link on the website to see what you might be interested in pursuing!
After the class was over I spent the afternoon building half-depth shelves to create more storage space on the existing shelving. It may be difficult to see in the photo, the half shelves look like little benches standing on the shelving, they are very sturdy and there are two more on the units out of view to the right.
There are plenty of other construction and repair projects around the building that I am sure will keep me busy for the foreseeable future, alongside the classes and gallery duties.
Now to get back to work! James Hayes
The exhibitions are taken down late on Sunday, the gallery walls are patched up and painted, and a new exhibition is hung on a Monday morning. On Monday we hung a two person show by artists Ray Cranley and Biddy Scott entitled “The Dargle : So Beautiful”, an absolute pleasure! I was in on Sunday for the take down of Ian Calder’s show, which he was delighted with. He had made a few sales and even had some thank you cards to hand for the buyers. I had not intended to be on the hanging team on Monday, but when I arrived in to do some other gallery work it turned out they were short handed so I pitched in. It ended up being a lovely day. I know Ray, as it seems most people in Bray do, so the day was filled with shared stories and insights into art, music, history and current affairs, all concerning Bray and the Dargle River. It was also a pleasure to meet Biddy, whose small egg tempera paintings are wonderfully detailed! The launch would have been scheduled for Good Friday, but as there were concerns that many people would be away for the holiday weekend, they have planned a closing party for the following Friday, April 21st. All welcome, and I know I’ll be attending as I am sure Ray will be talked into singing a few songs.
Your gallery correspondent – James Hayes
Signal Arts Centre is a bustling community of artists, and yet the day to day reality of keeping the building in ship shape cannot be ignored. Work rooms get dirty, storage space is very limited, and large events such as the recent St Patrick’s Day parade leave chaos in their wake. Today I began at the bottom of the staircase and began dusting, hoovering, recycling and trashing my way upwards until I reached the attic. As I passed Claire’s office I told her (Claire is our office commander in chief) that I am already in this frame of mind after months of similar work at home assisting in clearing my wife’s attic studio space of outdated paperwork and years of disorganized correspondence.
I am taking a brief respite at Aidan’s computer, having gathered all the loose scraps of notes together in the hopes that he can decide which to throw away and which have important information. James Nolan and Aidan Lombard head up the digital end of the Signal organisation, managing the website, social media, posters, and the bulletin, a team which I consider myself to have joined by resurrecting this blog. I know that with my own background in digital media I can also fill in any gaps when they are away.
More anon – James Hayes