Life on the Road: Self-Portraiture

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

13 states. 23 cities.

Erika Hess is the new recruiting officer at A&D. Her new job has her living out of a suitcase and communing with strangers in airport lounges and hotel check-in counters. She travels to high schools around the country, talking to prospective A&D students and high school art teachers, and representing A&D at National Portfolio events. 

A practicing artist herself, Erika soon realized it wouldn't be easy to keep up with her creative activities on the road.

So she came up with a plan – a small plan,  but a plan that would keep her away from C.S.I. reruns and help her stay connected to her right brain.

She decided to document each hotel room experience with a self-portrait. Rules: use any mirrored surface to capture the composition and, wherever possible, use the hotel's provided stationary and pen.

Here's a sampling of Erika's life on the road, as told by Erika herself and her pen/pencil.

(And make sure to check out Erika's work when-not-on-the-road here.)

Cincinnati. This was the first hotel I stayed at on my travels, and I had a lot of time to draw. They gave me this strange room with three bedrooms, but it did have a great view of the city. This piece is drawn from the reflection in the windows to capture the grid of the buildings.
Kalamazoo. So actually I dashed this one off in the rest stop but this picture is important to me. It was my first time traveling through Michigan. It was cold, so I'm wrapped up in a hat and scarf. The pastel design behind the sketch is from another drawing I did in the parking lot of Interlochen Art Academy the day before.
Houston. I was exhausted at this point in my journey. I was staying at a really disgusting hotel, right next to a shady liquor store, near the airport and a way from downtown. I felt relatively stranded and isolated being away from everyone in the city.
Chicago. This was one of my favorite hotels during my travels. It had high ceilings and beautiful old windows that looked out over the water. I happened to be there during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations which were happening right beneath the windows. At one time, they lit candles and placed them in red lanterns which floated up past my windows. They chanted all night... I also like the stability of this composition which reflected the symmetry in the room.
Boston. I like this picture. It was the first time I'd had a good time in Boston since grad school. I was about to go out to meet old friends so I was ironing my clothes.
Queens. In New York I stayed with a friend in Queens. I'm sitting on her bed and the mirror is in the closet. It's slightly off-kilter - maybe because it's a home not a hotel, a real place with real stuff around me.
Philadelphia. A hotel with a bathrobe - wow. It's amazing how a bathrobe can give you that sense of home, even in a hotel. I kept the sign on the door in the composition though, as a reminder of where I was. The bathroom had this great wallpaper that I really loved which I wanted to include too.
Queens. I kept returning to my friend's place in Queens. I wanted to give her a drawing to keep, so I included her in this self portrait. She's been a friend for about 10 years and the New York trips gave me a chance to connect with her again.
San Francisco. I had no time during this trip, I just flew in and flew out. But this hotel did have stationary, and I did visit the art museum, so I included a map of the museum in my portrait.
Sarasota. My dad lives in Florida. This was my last trip on my tour. It's also possible that it could be the last time I see my father. The drawing ended up being very stylized and symbolic. It reminds me of the Saint cards you pick up when leaving a Cathedral. There is something final in that action and image to me. After that, I returned to Ann Arbor, and I'm getting a chance to settle in - at least for a little while - now that the application period has closed.


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...



Building Blocks

Jessica Joy is an MFA candidate and experimenter extraordinaire at the School of Art and Design.

The following images were taken from my end of year review presentation. Each image was taken in an effort to document the process and progress of the construction of this series of sculptures.

The first image is one piece viewed from two different angles. I experimented with two different glow in the dark powders (blue and green) to create this glowing effect. The outcome reminds me of the way biomedical researchers use dyes as markers to track different parts of the cell to get a better understanding of their development.

The next stage of development in this series was a collaboration with gravity. I really enjoyed the way gravity changed the morphology of the sculpture, but it was a tough battle and gravity won out. I spent days repairing the weaknesses in the sculpture that gravity revealed. In order to repair an area that was pulling apart ( I wish I had a picture to illustrate this) I would apply more of the raw material (meaning the wet material) to the area. The repairs that occured as a result of the weak points made the piece more irregular. Instead of returning the damaged areas to their original configurations, I took advantage of the openings that were created by forming them into tubules. I would repair one spot and then gravity would find the next weakest point and start to peel it apart. I was able to keep up with the repairs for several days. I went home after witnessing several hours of stability, and when I came back the next morning I found this piece on the ground. I wasn't too disheartened, because it made me realize that I needed to reinforce my sculptures from the beginning.

This is an image of the piece after it fell and I repaired it. I had to decide what side to flatten so that it would sit on a flat surface. One morning the light was coming in from the skylights in the studio which created this beautiful glass-like luminescent effect.

This is the same piece without direct lighting.

Here is a sneak peek into how each building block is made and warmed up before it is attached to the larger sculpture.

My next piece was constructed on a plastic dome that I repurposed from my piece in the All Student Show. My thoughts were that building on a dome would increase the volume of the sculpture and give me a solid support for the piece to ensure its longevity. This time I used building blocks with more size variation. The smaller building blocks (formerly known as cells (I will expain the name change soon)) do not have nuclei.

The next few images illustrate the progression of growth from left to right.


The next two details illustrate my discovery of what happens when I sandwiched two different colored building blocks. When I started using this method to create varying degrees of color I realized that I was approaching the construction of this sculpture like I would a painting. When I paint I almost never use the pigment from one tube of paint. Art students are usually told to make their own black rather than using it straight out of the tube, the same principles seem to make my sculptures appear more 'natural' in appearance. Variation is the key... to the survival of a species and the believability of a sculpture.


After making this series and presenting it to a faculty of three people I gained a lot of clarity about my studio practice, what it is that I am actually making, and why I am making 'it'. I am not mimicking biological systems, or even illustrating them. I am using the many fragments I have seen and learned about biology to inspire the creation of my own world. My end of year review allowed me to say with confidence that "I make fantastical sculptures/spaces inspired by biology". Armed with this clarity I will use this summer to imagine and design my fantastical world. I was encouraged to explore new materials, but don't worry I will not abandon my current sculptures. I plan to add to them and build an environment for them to exist in. Also, to address the name change from cells to building blocks... I do not want to box myself in by only thinking of the small components as cells, so I have decided to call them building blocks instead.

I am still working on the last piece featured in this post, and when I am finished it is going to be installed in a new diagnostic center outside of Ann Arbor. I am projecting that I will be finished by next week Monday, so I will post updates soon after that.

More posts to come over the summer as I begin experimenting with new materials!




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.



Sticky Studio Experiments

Jessica Joy is an MFA candidate and experimenter extraordinaire at the School of Art and Design.

As it probably says somewhere above the body of this post, I am a first year graduate student. Before I started the program here at the School of Art & Design I asked a few of the M.F.A. candidates if they came here knowing what they wanted to do. Most of them ended up doing something completely different, but I figured I would plan out at least a few projects before I arrived so I could get started right away. Somehow, all the planning didn't seem to do me much good because I ended up back at the drawing board after a few weeks. I came in with installation/sculptural ideas, but I have more experience as a 2D artist, so these ideas never made it off the ground. So in an effort to start to dig into my subconscious and see what I really wanted to make work about, I covered one wall in my studio with paper that I could paint and draw on. I figured going back to my roots would give me the opportunity to focus on my thoughts rather than the effort of controlling an unfamiliar medium.

Inspired by my love of layers and transparency, I decided to experiment with ways to build up the surface of my painting. The first experiment I did was place a piece of tracing paper over one of the forms in my painting and then put it under a piece of glass and trace the form with glue. The next day I peeled the glue off the glass and put it over my painting. I did not really like the results, but I was intrigued by the way the glue looked by itself. A few days later I decided to give this technique one more try, but this time I was going to cover a cellular form in one of my paintings. Again, I didn't like the results, but was even more intrigued by the way the glue looked on its own.


The next iteration of my glue experiements featured the addition of color, which was written about on this very PLAY blog by Kath Weider- Roos!

Now that you have a better idea of how I got myself into this sticky situation, I want to fast forward to what I have been doing since school started this semester. My goal this semester is to focus on 2 - 3 mediums. Glue is number one, and glass is number 2. More on the glass work soon...  Anyway, two weeks ago I did several small test batches, and the most desirable form was a very simple combination of two types of glue and the partial use of color. Then I took my little glue forms for a test drive around the studio to see what I could do with them...


and then I started making a larger (with approximately 840 individual pieces) second generation ...


which are characterizes by the irregular interruption of the pigment in the center of the forms and a slightly larger shape. As I continue to create generations of these forms I plan to make careful notes of how the morphology evolves, and post them for you all to see.

In the last few days I have been focused on planning a multimedia installation for the first year graduate show entitled 'SIX' at the Warren Robbins gallery that opens on February 11th. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but you can bet these little guys will be making an appearance!


Stay tuned to see them evolve and cause trouble!