Friday, 29 July 2011

Good luck to G and Sa for their Big Ride

G suits white in 2011!
Geraint and Sara Thomas are riding 160 miles to raise money for the Stroke Association tomorrow. Given that it's a year since Harv had his stroke, and it is very much worth celebrating that he came out of it all with a barely a scratch, and since we're big fans of cycling and have been avidly watching Geraint fly through the Tour de France this past few weeks, we (and various friends and family) have been very happy to donate to G and Sa's fund. If you haven't already given your support, and can spare a couple of quid to add to the pot, their JustGiving page is here: 

Best of luck G and Sa. Hoping the sun shines and you have a memorable and fun day!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Anchors away Colocini and Twitter!

At last the caves are finished - front, back and sides!  I just need some kind of a miracle now to get them off of the board they're on and on to a kiln shelf!  (Anyone got any suggestions....!?)

Honestly... I do have some ideas for transferring them to the kiln  no worries about that at the moment.  (Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.... I will move on...)

I have now begun work on the next of my Blue Reef pieces, the full size version of the 'anchor'...

Model of anchor
The clay sections are all prepared for joining together. Early days though.
Great to be getting going on the next piece.  I'm thoroughly enjoying myself.  Shame I have to go back to my day job tomorrow!

So what else has been happening lately?

Against all odds and my better judgement, I decided to join Twitter. I am @ambientceramics if anyone cares to follow me! (To put into perspective how momentous this was: my colleagues in the IT dept at Newcastle Uni commented that Hell must have frozen over...)  I did this partly just to check out what it was all about and partly because I thought that if I was going to criticise something so vehemently, I'd better be damn sure I knew what I was talking about.  Now I hate to admit that I find I'm eating most of my words and tweeting the rest! I actually really like Twitter.  'Like', in the old-fashioned and new sense.  I have found out about so many great events from Twitter, and discovered stacks of new artists and new work that I'm sure I'd never have bothered to look at by simply 'browsing' the web. So it's not just a load of pointless and inane 'witterings-on' as I'd thought it was.  It's not all good though!  Tour de France + Twitter results in a potent mix that is far more addictive than EPO....

Who'd have thought it, eh?  Finally sucked in by the social network!  Resistance is futile and all that.  Still... I'm in good company it seems.

And at least 70% of my day was spent making stuff out of clay so that's alright.

In other news... I didn't mention this at the time it was announced and I should have.  I am so pleased to hear that Colocini has been given the Newcastle United captaincy:  Not just because he is a truly wonderful defender and a great team player (and has the best curly hair in the world - obviously), but because we really couldn't bear another team to be singing the best football song ever!

I Googled for his song and found various YouTubes but as most of them are of such poor quality as to be almost unbearable to listen to, I decided that this had to be the one:

Best of luck for the coming season Colo!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

In praise of Tableau

In my day job in IT at Newcastle Uni, I've been looking at some software called Tableau that provides an easy way to create 'visualisations' of data in databases, spreadsheets and even text files.  I don't say this very often about software but I've been incredibly impressed with Tableau - it is a real delight to work with. Anyone who has done it will know that extracting data into nice graphs and reports in a meaningful and accurate way is something of a black art a lot of the time.  With Tableau it suddenly becomes easy!

Having explored the product website a bit more this morning, I've spotted that they provide a free Public version of Tableau that looks as if it could be extremely useful for bloggers and website managers.  Have a look at this video which gives a clever example of how to use it:

There is a 50MB limit on the data size for this free version of Tableau which doesn't sound like much, however you can get an awful lot of text into 50MB.  (Images do take up a lot of space of course, but you can just provide web links to those rather than including the actual images in your data.)

I can't help thinking that Tableau is the killer app for data management that we've all been waiting for.  Undoubtedly I'll be waxing more about this product in posts to come!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The sum of its parts...

Just a quick post - no time to write much today, but here's a picture of progress so far with the 'caves' (with the original model lurking in the background).  The sculpture is stable but the whole thing has a slight backward lean, so to be on the safe side I'm making some additional supporting caves for the rear.  I have to keep the sculpture completely wrapped in plastic for now so that it doesn't get too dry before I add the caves to the back.  Drying of a large, multi-component work like this is quite a difficult and slow process - it can't be rushed as each part must dry evenly and equally, so as not to shrink faster than its neighbouring parts and thus cause the kind of stresses that might result in cracks.

I reckon I'm looking at around 2 weeks drying time for this piece - at least.  Ho hum.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Aquarium caves begin to take shape...

I have at last reached the stage where I can begin to put the hoards (is that the correct collective noun?!) of ceramic caves together into a single form.  I have procrastinated quite a bit over this today!  I spent such a long time in making the caves that I was terrified it would all go horribly wrong when I came to join them together. It was a bit of a faff! As my friend, Rebecca suggested I could really have done with some help from the Blue Reef octopus tonight;  I just didn't have enough hands! I also needed to switch off gravity for a bit... (that's the force I'm talking about, nothing to do with my general outlook.)

Thankfully, things seem to have gone okay... so far...  At least they did once I got myself properly sorted with everything I needed in order to do the job.  I never seem to be properly prepared when I begin this kind of task - you'd think I'd learn (maybe I'm taking this 'thinking like a fish' business too far)! For example I hadn't really thought about how I was going to move the finished - delicate and heavy - piece from my work bench to the back of my car for transporting to the kiln.  Fortunately, I did manage to get a wooden board underneath it on completion of the first layer of caves.

The balloons idea actually turned out to be a good one.  The balloons gently support the lower caves without putting any pressure on the clay and I've blown them up so as to only just touch the inside of the ball thus allowing the clay some room for shrinkage during the building process. 

If necessary I'll let a bit more air out of the balloons as the clay shrinks although balloons always seem to shrink over time as well.  I reckon this work is going to take a lot of monitoring as it dries.  There are good few stress points to keep an eye on.

I managed to get up to the third level of large caves tonight and then I'd had enough!  Each of these caves has a passage way to the one at the side or above/below it, thus fish can swim between them.  I've varied the hole sizes between the caves so that some of the bigger fish will be limited to certain routes through, and the smaller fish will then get chance to zip through the entire sculpture and hide if they need to.

As I said in an earlier post, this particular work is really great fun to make.  There's something very appealing about making something I know will be used by an animal or two!  I hope to have the piece finished by the end of tomorrow.  Will report back on further progress later...

Friday, 1 July 2011

Cave woman thinks like a fish

An apt title in more ways than one!  I've spent just about all of today in my garage studio making one of the final pieces for the Blue Reef project. I haven't decided what to call this piece yet; it is simply a pile of 'caves' designed to be used for hiding or spawning.

The work is being made from a clay which is becoming a real favourite of mine: Earthstone's ES60 Smooth Textured Crank.  This is crank clay but with much finer grog particles than would be found in a normal crank.  It's a real pleasure to work with  as it is not so rough on the hands as a normal crank and yet it is just as structurally strong. It gives a lovely toasty oatmeal finish when reduction fired.  I love it.

I get my clay supplies from Bill Todd at Sedgefield Pottery:  It was Bill who originally recommended the smooth crank to me - he knows his stuff does Bill;  being an ex-potter himself certainly helps!
I am making the caves by hollowing out hemispheres of clay and then joining them to make full spheres and then cutting out an entrance to each one.  Eventually, they will all be joined into a single structure and I will cut more holes so that fish can pass from one cave to another using a more-or-less continuous pathway through the whole piece.

original small-scale model amidst larger components of final pieces
This piece is going to take quite a while to complete but it has been - so far - extremely satisfying to make. My fear now, though, is that the downward effect of the weight of the caves at the top of the pile is going to cause the caves at the base to slump more than I want them to.  This wasn't a problem with the original model because the overall weight at the top was much smaller.  I may have to provide some supports in the lower caves to prevent excessive slumping.  I have various ideas for this including packing the lower caves with screwed up newspaper balls, inflating balloons inside of the lower caves (that is probably a slightly mad idea but could be fun to try!), creating temporary clay pillars to support the upper roof of the lower caves... etc. I'll have to construct another slightly larger model before putting the final piece together in order to determine what works and what doesn't.  I'm learning that this is a common requirement with larger works in clay: because the tensions and stresses on the material increase exponentially as the piece grows in size, the only way to really find out what will happen for sure is to make life-size models.  It all adds to the time taken to make the work but ultimately it saves you from the disappointment of having your work fail in firing after spending many days or weeks in making it.

Further progress reports will follow!