Monday, August 27, 2012

The Limelight

We got a bit of publicity recently via our ceramic supplier.  Please check out Standard Ceramic to see what they wrote about us!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


4 years.  This was how long I pondered about, wished upon, and mulled over the enormity of the mural.

4 months.  This is the amount of time it took of hardcore work to produce it.

11 cans of spraypaint.  I kept trying for 15 so that I could be like the Bright Eyes lyric.

2.  We tapped out both the Lowes in DuBois AND Bartonsville of bronze spraypaint.

300ish pounds of clay.  I say "ish" because this is the amount of 50 pound boxes that I opened, but there's no telling how much clay we actually used.

69 designers... and, boy, are they diverse.

74 tiles.  Some kids did two.

One heart. (Thanks, Dante, for that one).

20-25.  This was how many tiles fit into a kiln load at a time.

5 trips to Lowes for spraypaint or tile adhesive.  I'm a bad estimator.

2 weeks.  This was the amount of time that I walked around with a permanent headache because of the spraypaint.

A heapful of fans.  Thanks, guys.  You had no idea what your simple, "It's goods", did for me.

One tube of lipstick for the celebration toast (because, damnit, I deserve it).

5 bottles of soda and 80 fancy cups.  One knod from Elvis in Walmart at 9:15 in the evening.

3 months.  When the mural will actually be finished.  We still have a three dimensional border to do.

Soda toast

This place is crazy.

We are in the homestretch of the end of school.  It's hot, children are complacent at best, and we have a crap ton of obligations to scratch off of the ol' to-do list.  Forget grades!  Let's build something, kids.

The mural is not easy to figure out how to lay out, and granted, I should have had a talk with my dad, or the maintenance guys, or somebody else (anybody else!) who had a brain about these logistics.  Perhaps I breathed in too much spray paint.  Lordy.


I didn't have that conversation, though.  I laid out the first layer because I was worried about structure, and cemented the suckers up.  Halfway through, I realized that was just about the dumbest thing I could have possibly done.  This mural needs strategically-placed gaps to accomodate the crazy dimensions of these tiles (particularly in the O section).  Kids build with clay, and not everything is precise, let's face it.  So, I was left with places where tiles were just not fitting, and luckily, we could pry off the problematic ones and readjust to fit the mural into place.  In retrospect, I should have built the mural by placing tiles in vertical groupings, and just line 'em up as they were needed (which we did for the latter portion).  I know that the central part of the mural would be way more precise if I had started out this way, but in the spirit of Louise Nevelson, I just have to say that I reacted to what the art was telling me to do, and this is how it turned out.  Wanna make something of it?  HUH?!?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Everything's Better with Sparkle

So, for four months, people have asked one question more than any.  WHAT COLOR?

Louise Nevelson, City Sunscape, 1979

Exactly.  What color?  I knew what I didn't want.  I didn't want black.  That would be way too dark to make everyone in the school happy.

Louise Nevelson, Dawn's Wedding Chapel IV, 1960

I didn't want white, either.  This is noteworthy because I consider myself to be the queen of white, with its crispness and simplicity.  It wouldn't transform the space the way that I wish to.  The hallway seems to be too much of an institutional white to begin with.  We need something with a bit more zip...

photo courtesy Riley Maynard

I wanted something warm, something that would give contrast to the existing wall color that did not overpower.  I desired something different from my palette that I normally go to.  Bronze seems like the perfect selection.  Earthy and warm, without overpowering tones of orange like copper has, bronze gives great shadows along with a fantastic sheen to highlight with.  I love it.  There's a life to the tiles now that there is color added.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sneak Peeks

We couldn't wait... we put a couple of the bisqued pieces together.

My boots definitely need to be on the world wide web.
You need to see this in real life, and not in photos.
Three dimensions gives you a whole different experience of the whole thing.

Aside from the shrinkage issues, these suckers are bisque-ing up nicely.  No real cracks or warpage issues have occured, so I'm a happy mama.  Strike that; I'm a happy mama with some hot shoes.

Friday, April 20, 2012


So, a friend told me that I was whining too much.

This is when you know you have great friends.  They're not afraid to tell you what you're doing wrong. 

The mural will be fantastic, I just have super-anxiety about some things, like putting stuff on for permanent display...  I also am sick of school.  Who's with me?

photo courtesy Gabi Pearce

BUT, good news... GOOD NEWS!  We've got not one, but two kilns up and running (it only took about 4 months to get back on track).  This means that we've got the first load of tiles into the kiln RIGHT NOW, as I type!  Not only that, but we have the backing up, and some of the most fantastic boxes have gotten done.  I'm talking collaboratives with wheel throwers, a figurative sculpture leaning against the curve of the "S", ears laying in symmetry (just ears, nothing else).  My kids are fantastic.  I just don't give them enough credit.  I do love them so (most days).

I had the students do a writing to tell me from their perspective what it was like to be part of something so big, something so collaborative.  One of my students with pervasive, debilitating, life-altering disabilities wrote, "Art makes me special.  It makes me forget my autism and makes me feel normal."  GASP!  This is when I go, "Alrighty Robin, chill out."  The beauty of art is that it's therapy, creativity, expression, design, craft, environmental, mood-altering, and basically any other adjective or noun you can summon.  Art is so vast and expansive that it effects everyone from all walks of life, whether you're a viewer or a maker.  Good, or bad, ugly or beautiful, art makes you feel emotions, and that's the whole point.  We're here to give a bit of escapism to someone's day, even if it's for the few seconds that you walk by the mural to look at it.  Once I read those few sentences, I was brought back to my roots.  Art makes me special.  It makes me forget my cares and makes me feel normal.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Questionable

Sigh.  I've avoided writing because I have an obvious statement to say, and it's not the kindest thing.

Some are better than others.

But, hey, then again, isn't that the beauty of art?  Shouldn't the reason why we love this funky subject be because EVERYTHING is unique to the hand of the artist making it?  After all, that is why I despise places like Pier One who mass-produce art, without giving a care to recognize the person on the other side of the planet who made it.  Why, then, am I bemoaning some of my students for their artfulness?

Well... there's some stuff that just looks good.  It's got clean edges, repetitive designs, creative thought, intriguing shadows.   AND THEN, there's others.  There's the slopped shapes, marred lines, flat surfaces.  Some kids are just downright lazy, which accounts for about 1/74th of the mural (yes, I am thinking of a specific child.)  The others that are lacking in quality are done by people with profound disabilities.  If you or I struggled with those disadvantages, we would have artwork that looked exactly like the ones that I am concerned about.  I'm just hoping that my "with-it" students can pull up the quality of the mural from the trenches.  We do have some really fantastic ideas, too.  One child wants to have an interactive movable box, and another is hiding little men inside his.  Good ideas and great execution.

Let's just say that I've never had more students with profound learning issues.  Why did I pick to do this mural now, you ask?  Well... I wasn't pregnant.  Last year, my daughter Harper was born, and I was out for 8 weeks.  After doing my last mural in 2009, it seems like I just took too many years off of doing something big, that it was now or never.  Well... we'll just have to see how it turns out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Worker Bees

Oh, dear.  I've gone and ignored you.

I do promise that there was a reason for it.  Instead of my yappin' along, just take a gander at what we've accomplished recently, and you'll see that I haven't had time for tapping the keys to my laptop.

I could look at pictures of clay all day.  It's almost as good as working with clay all day.  I'll leave you with one last image.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Words to Live By

Be kind.  Be kinder than you think yourself possible.  Be passionate.  Live fully, wholly, and unapologetically. Apologize when you’re a bonehead… for real.  Show gratitude.  Express joy.  Feel pain.  Empathize… with eye contact.  Slow down, breathe deeply.  Love hard… always.  Celebrate big and small.  Gather and  share.  Be brave.  Show praise.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Empty Chairs, Empty Boxes

     To stare at the computer screen after a day of chaotic teaching creates a tone of wishful longing to stretch out on the grass of the hillside that is in view from my classroom.  What a March already!  I was grilling at my daughter's birthday party the other day without a jacket.  There's no time like the present to start this mural, although state-mandated testing, budgetry, children neediness, and other various projects are overwhelming my excitement, turning it into the need for more vitamin D.  Right now, I'd like to be laying on a picnic blanket with my girls, eating strawberries and worrying about getting sunhats for their little heads. 
    Alas, I am in this classroom, typing away as the kiln room fan hums the noxious gasses into the air outside.  If you are wondering, I do worry about my footprint on the earth, but I digress.  I am feeling gloomy because the start of the mural was the antithesis of what I aspired it to be for the children.  I found myself in second period teaching to 5 children.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  So, what's a teacher to do?  Carry on, students!  We'll get 'em caught up when they come back!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Search Within

     "The nature of creation is that you have to go inside and dig out. The very nature of creation is not a performing glory on the outside, it’s a painful, difficult search within."                                                  — Louise Nevelson, Dawns & Dusks by Diana MacKown, 1976, p.72    

    I have made a greivous mistake.  I was distracted by the scarves, the quirky quotes, the overdone eye makeup.  I had writer's block, and so to get out of that rut, I typed in the word "hellion" on  That was what my initial research determined- that Louise Nevelson was a provacateur, a rascal.  Louise Nevelson is no hellion.  She's just herself.  She says what's on her mind, without much editing.   Louise Nevelson embodies all that is complex, intelligent, creative, and determined.  I was dead wrong about her; I only skimmed the surface. 
    Louise was a woman who was always on the outside of things.  She moved to Rockland, Maine from Russia when she was six, not speaking English.  She was immersed into a rural American culture with immigrant parents (where, incidently, she had a few run-ins with classmates over her fashion sense).  During her childhood, her father had a lumberyard where she built odd things out of the scraps left over. 
     After she met Charles Nevelson in her twenties, she realized that the married with children status did not suit her personality, so she left for Europe to study art.  (Charles went his own way, and her son was raised by her parents.)   At this point, you just have to believe that Louise was liking the outsider status. 

Nevelson, Luminous Zag, 1971

     During the 30's and 40's when Weezy started to step out in her own way artistically, she was not well-recieved.  Perhaps the female artist label affected the way others embraced her and her artwork, but I think that anything that is out of the fad-of-the-moment (in other words, anything that is too innovative) needs some time to break through.  She returned to New York and worked for almost 30 years before she saw any real success or positive notoriety from her artwork.  Most of the portraits that we see of Louise were taken during this famous period of her 70's and 80's when she was actually making some of the most gloriously entrapping pieces of her career. 
     I don't think that Louise ever really minded the struggle of creativity, or ever really that she wasn't well-received in the beginning.  What I've noticed about all of the artists that I've ever researched is that they are stubborn as hell.  I ponder at times over the daily struggles that these artists went through previous to their success.  Louise was one of the lucky ones who actually got to experience the accolades before passing at the ripe old age of 89.  Think about that poor guy Van Gogh.  He was tortured for years and never experienced any sort of appreciation for his life's work.  No wonder the guy cut off his ear and shot himself in the chest.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Waiting Game

The ins and outs of future boxes.
 This mural has commandeered my existence.  Grades?  Those don't have to be in until the END of the quarter!  Displays?  Psssh!  We'll be giving a great display at the END OF THE YEAR!  Any questions, class?  Ha!  Ask three, then me.
     My life slid into a huge pool of procrastination, and so I forced myself to catch up, hence the few blogs of recent.  I've cooed and snuggled with my children.  I've asked coworkers how they are doing!  I've been coaching my students in the way of their own personal projects (although in the back of my mind, I think that this teaching is simply a preparation for when the building of the more complex mural project comes along).  I am, afterall, a woman obsessed.

Pattern for each tile is color coded with guidelines.

     And so I now wait.  I have done all the preparation for this mural, deliberating on every nuance of the project.  My students are finishing their personal projects, painstakingly taking each detail into consideration... Which is good, right?  I want to say this is wonderful, but... I'm impatient.  Please get done, students, so that we can get started on the more important project... MY MURAL.  Er, no, wait... OUR MURAL.

Can we cut this up, yet?

     This will be a completely collaborative mural.  As indicated in the photos, I have given guidelines for the students so that we have an overall theme to the artwork, however each piece will have its own personality and flair.  Each student decides what will stick out three-dimensionally, and what will recess inward.  They will add borders and further details to it.  The students will even be able to hide quotes and their artist's signature within their boxes.  Do not fear, there will be copious personal touches that will make each tile individual.  However, the cheese can not stand alone.  These tiles on their own just don't make sense.  If each student took one of these home to mom and dad, what would the reaction be?  I can only assume that the poor child would be met with an obligatory, "That's nice, sweetie."  Afterwards, the parents would ask each other, "What was THAT?!"

Monday, February 27, 2012


The red indicates the original size.  Clay shrinks as it dries and fires.
    Wishy-washy is a perfect term to describe me.  I'll attempt to plan events with my friends or for my babies, and when someone asks me to make a decision- I can't.  I trouble over what others think of me too much to actually make a determination.  I don't want to step on toes; I don't wish to offend.  To take the position of a leader is to make decisions that you'll be blamed for if, in the end, it is the wrong outcome.  This is why I do not understand power-hungry people.  Why on earth would you want that responsibility?

Also, the curved underneath happened during the drying process.
      So, I have to call some shots on this mural, regardless.  The prototype for the most-problematic dimension has warped in the drying process, and has shrunk tremendously.  The red paper underneath the sample indicates the original scale.  As far as sizing goes, I think I have to make HUNDREDS of clay shims to tack in between the boxes.  To overcome the warpage issue, I've cut down this particular measurement in half, but now I'm really curious about the other proportions, and how they'll shrink.  Do I seriously have to do a prototype of EACH SIZE?!  What I want to do is just jump in with the big dimensions because I LIKE the substantial look .  I should, however, shrink all of the large sizes down to half the original.  But, I always say, "Go big, or go home."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


     I know that when Louise Nevelson made art, she didn't have much of a plan beforehand.  She found her objects, and started throwing things together to find the patterns and order at a later time.  She was also one person, who didn't need to communicate or collaborate with 70 other people.  So, as I mark off each shadowbox dimension, painstakingly confirming that each angle is, in fact, 90 degrees, I ponder over what Louise would have thought about this preparation.  I think she would pronounce the process as stifling.  That is exactly how I feel- stifled, muffled, gagged, and suppressed.  This is not fun work.
     I always tell my kids that I am an anti-measurer.  What am I doing now?  Calculating each box with precision so that the end result will sort of, kind of fit together.  HOWEVER, the inexact nature of working with 70 rookies of clay and the shrinkage of each box will lead to constant irregularities.  I don't know how to feel about this: I'm indifferent at this point.  A couple of my students and I were talking about dumpster diving at a furniture shop to get a good border for the outside to hide the irregularities.  I cannot decide.  That call can be made later on.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Weezy for Dummies

Louise Nevelson, Rain Garden II, 1977

     Upon first viewing Louise Nevelson, I was always searching for a place for my eyeball to rest and relax.  I thought of the pieces as muddled and crowded, and I longed for a little space to breath.  I believe it was my husband who told me to look at Nevelson when I threw out the idea of doing a three-dimensional mural.  When perusing her images, I was under-impressed at first.  Louise Nevelson forces you to work for the appreciation of what she does, and to be perfectly honest, I am a lazy artviewer.  There was some sort of statistic a while back that the average Joe or Jane spends 2 seconds per artwork at a museum.  2 seconds!  No wonder Louise said, "Hey, you've got to take a closer look."  These pieces are not for the lackadasical viewer that simply wishes to hang back and enjoy the view.  These artworks challenge you to inspect and find that space to make yourself relax into viewing it.
     The above work, Rain Garden II, is what I consider to be the basic crowd-pleaser Nevelson that everyone should start with.  The work gives you a little bit of organization, which our eye is always searching for.  Movement is the name of the game with this piece.  The repetitious circles make the eye bounce from one box to the next, so that we see the artwork as one overall piece, as opposed to 22 separate boxes.  The curves are like directional arrows taking your eye on a path to the next box.  This was the first Louise that I started to enjoy, and now that I see it again, over and over, I discover that I want to keep learning about it.  I want to know what objects she makes her art out of.  With this pixellated image (the only one available, apparently), I've discovered many furniture parts and spindles from stair railings.  I believe the circles are the decorative trim to door frames. My most favorite objects in her other pieces are the wooden thread spools.  For whatever reason, I save a wooden thread spool whenever I come across one.  I like the antiquated look of them, and how they remind me of a time when no plastic existed.  I think I like Louise for the same reason that I like the thread spools.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

No Surprises

Clay.  What a truly dynamic medium.  I've been muddy for years, and it still surprises me.


So, to only truly predict what will happen in the firing process...

Photos courtesy Jenna Gaston
...we'll have to make a prototype.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Take a Load Off Fanny

     Every ceramicist is a pyro.  I'm sure anyone can take joy out of the simple light of a candle, or watch the flames lick up the side of a log in a wintertime fire to have a quiet fascination over the power of it all.  But, for the ceramicist, fire has a function like no other, and we've come up with crazy ways of raising temperatures to the above 2000 degree mark.  These electric kilns are like glorified toaster ovens (though do NOT call it an oven in my presence... it's a kiln, darlin's).  The first caveman that ever threw a pot into a fire was a brilliant man, even if he had a significantly smaller brain than us.  Those guys discovered the vitreous quality that clay becomes after the silica melts in clay and said, "Hey!  I could use this to hold water!"  Ever since then, potters have dug holes in the ground, torched clay in makeshift water heaters with propane, or even built kilns the size of a VW van and gassed them up.  This makes me nostalgic for a good anagama firing- I haven't been to one in over a decade.
     Each of the shadowboxes will need to be fired in one of these two kilns in the backroom of ceramics central.  I could list the issues involved with this process till I'm blue in the face, but that would be counter-productive.  Let's just say that my major worry for the shadowboxes in the firing process will be warpage.  These shadowboxes are proposed to be about 12 to 15 inches of slab, which means that they'll take a wide space in the kiln.  No good.  Wide, flat projects tend to be sensitive to hot and cold spots in the kiln.  When one spot of the box will raise to one temperature, the clay will expand and shrink at a different rate than the other.  If we get any curvy boxes as a result, they'll be unusable.  How do we predict this?  You'll see tomorrow.  Keep reading.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Working with What We've Got

I just love blogs.  The unfortunate thing is that I'm realizing that this is a whole different artform that I have to become acclamated to.  I want to delve more deeply into Louise's life and work, but I also want to tell more of the mural, and where it's going to go.  I debated all night as to what to do next, and since this blog is to document what the process of this mural is, I have to start with what we have so far.  So, I am giving you a cliched before shot of the wall that we plan on using.  I have to admit that I am a bit embarrassed, though, to show such meager pictures, for that is one of the reasons why I adore blogs like smitten kitchen so very much.  The PICTURES!  Alas, I have tried to jazz up this image of this hallway in photoshop to be up to par with that of other blogs, and I can not do it.

There you go.  A blank white wall.  I just read on another blog, the Coletterie, that as we age, we aspire more towards simplicity.  I completely agree, however this is a bit too simple.  It ventures from simple into white bread with no nutritional value.  We need to add a bit of spice to it, don't you think?
So, here is a layout of our future mural.  Can you see the Louise Nevelson influence at all?

Each squared off portion would be a shadowbox containing many design elements within.

A detail shot.  The DuBois will eventually be a hidden image.

Monday, February 13, 2012

New beginnings.

Around the art department, we've been calling it the Louise Nevelson Project, which is what this blog should be named instead of the Shadowbox Mural.  However, this is a blog to educate the masses, and Louise Nevelson, outside of art circles is not commonly known.

     To be blunt, she was one audacious woman.  I just love older people for the reason that they can do exactly what they want, without a care for what others think.  She created quite the persona in her later life, with her kerchiefs and her false eyelashes, and perhaps one day I'll be old enough to discard my concern for other's opinions to emulate the look. 
     So why is this truly the Louise Nevelson Project?  Her artwork is the inspiration for a mural which is hopefully going to come to fruition within the next couple of months.  Upon first impression, I never really thought much about her wall pieces.  In fact, I thought that it seemed a bit too similar to an episode of Hoarders , but when I force myself to look, no, to truly STUDY, they feel like small habitats to me.  The pieces are millions of tiny nooks to curl up into, to hide in the shadows and ignore the outside world for a bit.  She worked under Hans Hofmann, whose major influence was to work with a limited palette.  She calls black the "total" color, the color that is all colors.  To see a piece in front of you is an experience like no other; the black wraps around you creating a cocoon of coziness. 
How do you feel?

Louise Nevelson, Sky Cathedral, 1958
I'm not a feminist. I'm an artist who happens to be a woman. – Louise Nevelson