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Coloring Outside the Lines

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

Coloring books.

Granted, they are not what you fantasize about when you think about art school. Neither are they an obvious place to start when approaching a lesson in abstraction and conceptual thinking.

Yet, (somewhat to the dismay of his freshman students) this is exactly how Ed West began his  CFC (Concept, Form & Context) class this winter – by handing out coloring books and a fresh pack of crayons.

“My dad, who wasn't crazy about the idea of art school in the first place, was mad when he heard about what we were doing,” said freshman Della Paul. Other students thought it was a demeaning exercise, and protested that they were being treated ‘like children.'
“I always get some resistance when I first start this exercise,” Ed admits.

The students, and even Della's father, eventually grasped Ed’s point – that nothing is too mundane to be a source for creative ideas. As Ed sees it, this class is a journey from representation to abstraction – why not start with our earliest experience of representation?

Summed up, the journey looks something like this:

Sit down with your crayons and a stack of coloring books. Enjoy the soft, cozy pleasure of not having to think.
And then... start thinking.
Start looking.
Start asking questions about what you see.
Start responding to assumptions.
Experiment. Play.

Synthesize.

So, after the coloring, came a series of exercises that gradually moved farther and farther away from the conventional use of coloring books.

The first exercise asked students to work with representation, but mix it up through collage. For example, an exquisite corpse:




Gradually, the collages became more abstract...like this one from Mary Rountree,

Charlie Naebeck, who clearly remembers those Spiderman days,

and Sarah Banks Uffelman...

 

Questions are posed: The plane of a coloring book is flat – does it have to be?

Below, Della Paul and Travis Reilly respond to this question...




Next comes looking at the lines. Coloring books are basically line drawings: what do you see? How can you experiment with line?

Sol Park begins mark-making around an action figure...


In fact, if you look really closely at the lines of coloring books, you'll notice lines showing through from "the b-side", as in this image below:

To really see this, Ed had the students put the pages up against the window so they could trace all the lines, including those that showed through from the other side.

Stephanie Love's tracing produced this lovely result:





Using a projector, the students experimented with scale.

Mary Rountree enlarged her window tracing to create this...

then enlarged it further to create this....

which finally, became this...




This window line drawing...



got shredded...

and transformed into this final piece by Sara Banks Uffelman.


 


And so on.

Below are more final responses to the coloring book assignment. It's safe to say that all of the students ended up in a place they never could have predicted when they first sat down with their crayons.

For Ed, the final destination is not the main point – it's learning how to travel without a map. 

 

Ellis Mikelic

 

Sol Park

Della Paul

 

Charlie Naebeck

 

 

Charlie Naebeck


 

How sometimes art class is like going to the dentist

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

Now lie back in your chair, please. Sorry, we don't have the full body bibs they give you at the dentist's office, so here, use this cardboard box to protect your clothing....

Now, sit still, we're going to fill your mouth with a pleasant-tasting neon-pink goo, otherwise known as alginate, a mold-making material used to make dental crowns...

...or, in this case, personalized cup holders.

Very personalized. 

Let me explain.

These are students in TMP: Construction (Tools, Materials, and Processes) who have been traveling from studio to studio, getting a whirlwind tour of various media. They've arrived at the ceramics studios where Roland Graf and Jeremy Brooks will introduce them to the art of mold-making, a construction technique that's used in clay but also in bronze, plastics, product design and more. As Roland points out to the class, almost everything around you, if it's manufactured, has been created out of a mold. Making a mold is a tricky process since it requires you to think in the negative.

The students will be making two molds: a plaster mold for a clay object (the cup) and a clay/alginate mold for a plaster object (the sculptural stand or cup holder.) The end result will be two sets of sculptural stands for two cups. Each stand must incorporate a life-casting of the student's own mouth and a slip-cast clay cup, one that is faithful to the original mold and the second one varied in a way that conceptually connects the vessel with the sculptural stand.

First the students will create a plaster mold for the clay cup.

Jeremy, below, is a master at slipcasting and in his own creative practice loves the tension that can occur when you use mass-production techniques like slipcasting to create one-of-a-kind objects. Here he shows the students a few techniques for altering the cup form once it has been removed from the mold.

 

Creating the mold for the mouth is a multi-step process which, as you saw above, starts with a spectacular pink beard formed out of alginate.

After the alginate is poured in the desired formation, students must sit still for 15 minutes as the alginate sets.

After it sets, the alginate is ready to be removed and a perfect negative formation of the chin and lips is left in the rubbery mold.  This will be eventually be filled with plaster to re-create the student's mouth gesture.

But first, the students will need to add clay to the alginate mold and begin to the shape the mold for the sculptural stand. They have three hours before the alginate will begin to shrink and harden, so they will need to work quickly to complete their mold.

It's important to even out and work the clay until your mold is exactly what you want -- the plaster will pick up any imperfections that are left on the clay or the alginate.

 

Below Roland show the students how to create a perfect rectangular shape by adding boards around the mold. All the cracks must be well sealed so the plaster won't leak through.

This mold is almost ready to go but it still needs a recess where the cup will fit.  Jeremy demontrates how to create a positive mold by pressing a piece of clay inside the edges of the cup.

Next, this mold for the cup holder must be positioned on the base mold.

After the clay mold is sealed and ready, it's time to mix the plaster.

Students will have to estimate the amount of water that will create a good size plaster base and then add plaster using what's called "the floating island" technique. They will add just enough plaster to form a volcano-like shape just below the surface of the water.

Once the ratio is set, you need to mix it with your hand for three minutes, getting rid of all clumps. Then after you have removed any bubbles in the mix, you have two minutes to pour the plaster into the mold before it begins to set.

The plaster will take 20 minutes to fully harden in the mold.

Next comes the best part of the process: removing the mold to see the final sculpture.

Then you'll need to wash off any excess clay.

Finally, the sculpture will be fine-tuned and any imperfections corrected using an array of tools for scraping, shaping and sanding. 

And, voila, the perfect coffee cup holder. No more rings on the table, no more wondering-- "uh, is that my mug?" 

Not bad, for a crash course. I especially like these below which unfortunately, are completely useless for drinking coffee...

 


 

Furniture Making

Andre Grewe makes websites for the School of Art & Design.

It's not easy to take an object as familiar and functional as a table or chair and turn it into something new and exciting - but this semester, students in John Baird's Furniture Making class did just that, creating usable and beautiful works of art & design.  

 

Baird's class had two major assignments.  For the midterm project, students were asked to create a piece of furniture using a 48x48" square of Medium Density Fiberboard and mechanical fasteners. 

 

 

L - R: Dylan Box works on his MDF chair;  Charles Samuels - MDF Table

 

For their more open-ended final projects, students designed and developed chairs, tables, cabinets, and other objects.  They were allowed to follow their interests in fabrication methods and materials, so the finished projects incorporated everything from cement to carbon fiber to fiberglass.

 

 

Penn Greene sketches and displays models.  Scale drawing and model making were emphasized in the class.

 

John Baird meticulously documented the process and the final furniture pieces – modular stools, guitar stands, a fabric filled hanging nest chair and much, much more.  Take a look: click the thumbnails below to view larger images.

 



 

Stone Carving: Part Five

Working Outside

Limestone blocks recycled from the Michigan Union have inspired a unique Art and Design class for the Winter 2011 semester. Under the guidance of Professor Michael Rodemer, the six students in this course are learning the stone carving process, from making clay models and forging their own tools to the techniques of carving and finishing limestone sculpture. The class, a unique opportunity for both philanthropy and learning, is intended to teach students more than just the techniques of stone carving: proceeds from the sale of the sculptures created will be used to give financial support to A&D students.

This post is by Michael Rodemer.

A warm day - let us work outside!

 

Eric peels off the stone, looking for the Möbius  form. Chip by chip, Courtney makes progress.

 

Having split the stone, Max takes a quick path to smoothing it.   Lindsay releasing a wolverine from the block.

 

Lindsay's claw chisel efficiently chops away the stone.

 

Sean's fish is coming to the surface.


 

Stone Carving: Part One

Making the Tools

Limestone blocks recycled from the Michigan Union have inspired a unique Art and Design class for the Winter 2011 semester. Under the guidance of Professor Michael Rodemer, the six students in this course are learning the stone carving process, from making clay models and forging their own tools to the techniques of carving and finishing limestone sculpture. The class, a unique opportunity for both philanthropy and learning, is intended to teach students more than just the techniques of stone carving: proceeds from the sale of the sculptures created will be used to give financial support to A&D students.

This post is by Sean Watts, a student in the Stone Carving class.

 

This week we learned to forge stone carving tools out of steel.  Each student was tasked with making a set of tools for themselves. 

 

 

The process required intense heat and the students forged their tools with hammers and anvils. 

 

 

The tools had to be made into specific shapes to fulfill different purposes.

 

 

The process took several hours and each one of the five tools was tempered. The students were given the chance to polish their tools to their liking. 

 

 

The next step was to finish up the clay models, and then transfer the outlines to the stone. Students could begin to carve once they had a final design.