Paper cutting

Hi all! My new ceramics studio is not quite done yet, so I decided to try some paper cutting this weekend. I did a little youtube crash course and learned how to cut really pretty paper snowflakes. (We’re supposed to get our first snow of the season tonight.) I now know two things:

1) I need sharper scissors. Ha!

2) This was really fun and I definitely want to figure out how to transfer this process to porcelain. These snowflakes would be so beautiful in translucent porcelain, hanging in your window or on your tree!

I think this could be a fun class to host later this winter. Add a little wine into the mix… Fold, Sip, Snip? What do you think? It’s incredibly satisfying to open the snowflakes at the end, fold by fold by fold. I’m not sure what gets me more – the surprise involved, or the final symmetry of the patterns. Symmetry makes me happy inside… ♡

Shiny paper proved too difficult for my phone to photograph nicely today, sorry!

Printing Your Own Laser Ceramic Decals

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Recently one of my good friends, Bethany, has been helping me figure out how to make, apply, and fire decals to my ceramics. She’s been using this process for a long time and has been very helpful and patient as I pester her. Check out (and buy!) her work here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/stanleychesteralbert. Thank you, Bethany!

The neat thing about this process is being able to print any black and white image you want (as long as you own the rights to it or it is in the public domain, of course). So, it would be easy to customize a mug, say, with a person’s photo or name or maybe even a phrase they are known for saying. Mine might read: “Where are you and what are you doing?” I like to open emails that way. Anyway, the photos I used as decals above are some I took on my phone and manipulated using Photoshop. The heart on the cup is a string of text I made on one of the other Adobe programs.

Last week, someone posted on a ceramics message board questions very similar to ones I had when first starting this process. I’ve decided to compile what I’ve learned so far into this post. Maybe it can help you. Links to a couple of other good resources are listed at the bottom of the post.

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What I am using for this process

Printer: HP 1022. I bought mine used on Amazon. Bethany finds hers on Craigslist.

Laser cartridge: 12A (Brand new – there are questions about new vs. old cartridges on forums with some saying new ones don’t work. Mine is working fine.)

Paper: BelDecal laser waterslide paper, white backing, clear film. When I called, they gave me a firing program that was totally absurd – it involved my firing an empty kiln to cone 017, then opening the hot kiln, sticking my work in, closing the lid, and soaking it for an hour. Sorry, not happening. I’ll list my firing program below. As always, TEST TEST TEST. Just because this works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you, your clay/glazes, kiln, etc. Tinkering might be necessary.

Glazes:

Porcelain cup = Shaner’s Clear with colorants (cone 10).

Tiles = Deb’s Clear (cone 04).

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Firing cycle (all in Fahrenheit, * denotes degrees):

Apply decals to a clean, already glaze-fired surface. Smooth out all bubbles. Dry at least 24 hours.

5 segments–

1) 200*/220* HOLD 20 minutes [lid cracked 1/2 inch, peeps out]

2) 100*/500* HOLD 15 minutes

[somewhere in the 600* range, close lid]

3) 180*/1000* NO HOLD

[somewhere in the 900-1200* range, put peeps in]

4) 125*/1200* NO HOLD

5) [for earthenware] 200*/1770* HOLD 15 minutes 

OR, 5) [for high fired ware] 200*/1945* HOLD 15 minutes

Approximately 11-12 hour cycle. Very stinky around 400 degrees. Vent if possible, or vacate the area during the firing. TEST TEST TEST.

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Here is my first decal test page, and one of the original photos. You’ll notice that though the decals print jet black, they fire brown. That is because you are burning out basically everything in the decal/toner except the iron oxide, which ends up being brown. To make the decals permanent, you need to apply them to a glazed surface. If you fire to the right temp for your particular glazes (this might be different than mine), the iron will sink into the glaze and become permanent. Cram as much as you can onto the page – you only need enough room to cut around them, and the paper isn’t cheap!

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Laser decals on a porcelain cup and earthenware tiles. Ghosting on the tiles is from firing an original layer of decals to cone 04 (same temperature as the glaze maturation) and then refiring to cone 08 with a new decal in an offset position.

 

More resources:

http://lindaarbuckle.com/handouts/laser-decals-for-ceramics.pdf

http://rothshank.com/justins-work/decal-resources/

Engagement Photos

It was chilly in Minnesota this weekend (although according to the Northerners it was “really nice”). I no longer consider myself a true northerner. As far as I’m concerned, Iowa is the South. It’s typically 20 degrees warmer there than in ND/MN in the winter. Pretty big difference.

Anywho. Kyle and I braved the elements to have our engagement pictures taken outdoors on Saturday, by one of my lovely and talented sisters, Jen. She did a great job and kept us (ok maybe mostly me – Kyle was a good sport but I think he thought we were a teeny bit crazy) laughing the whole time. Our shoot involved a couple of outfit changes. These took place in an abandoned farm outbuilding. I’m not sure what the building’s original purpose was, but I was grateful for the windbreak, rotten floors and all! Here are a few of my favorite pics Jen captured. Check out more of her work here.

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Wedding Dress Shopping

It’s supposed to be a super fun experience. All the shows on TV depict women in various states of rapture after they find “the one.”

I’m lucky I first went to I Do Two to search for my wedding dress. It lived up to all my expectations. Kelly, the owner, is fantastic. She was super patient and genuinely excited to hunt through her (enormous) stacks of dresses to find the perfect one for me. It’s not easy to help someone into wedding dresses! They’re heavy, unwieldy, and involve a lot of lacing, tightening, and peculiar petticoats, each specific to the style of dress.20160107_120209

I must have tried on 14 dresses at her store. I narrowed it down to two, and then came back every day all week to try on the finalists (my mom, sister, youngest niece, and I went there on a Monday). I purchased my dress that Friday. I love it!

It’s a way nicer dress than I’d ever have been able to afford at a regular store. I Do Two is a consignment shop. If, like me, you think that means you will be buying a used dress, you are mistaken! I think only two of the dresses I tried on had previously been worn. I didn’t know this was a “thing,” but apparently lots of ladies buy two dresses and then wait til right before the wedding to decide which one to wear. Those ladies must have a lot of extra money! At any rate, it works to your advantage. I bought a dress that had an original price of $800 for 400 bucks. It was quite a bit too big for me, so I’m having it altered, but I would have had to have any other dress altered as well.

Here are some of the dresses I tried on at Kelly’s shop. (Did I mention she’s wonderful?)

Looking at these today, I guess I should have put on some makeup and made an effort with my hair before going shopping. Ha!

Like I said before, I had a difficult time deciding between two dresses. Here’s the one I didn’t get. 0104161248

 

I really liked the scalloped edge at the bottom. It was hard to choose, but I’m super happy with the one I bought! (Thank you to my sister and mom for taking these pics and patiently watching me try on dresses all afternoon!)

I did go to David’s Bridal after I Do Two. I felt like I should, for some reason. A rite of passage? However, by the end of my session – or whatever it’s called – I was mad. The lady put me in dresses that were 6 sizes too big, despite having dresses on the racks in my size. I don’t know what she was thinking. She said, “Oh, I guess someone put this dress in the wrong spot on the rack.” I could see that happening once, but multiple times? It’s like she thought I was lying about the size I wear. She seemed truly surprised when I was swimming in all the dresses she first pulled.

Additionally, she was unkind to my 5 year-old niece, who was beyond excited to be there, scolding her for touching plastic-wrapped dresses and accidentally stepping on the train of one I was trying on. (I got to return the dirty look when she herself stepped on said train 3 minutes later.) This niece was busily kindergartening it up when we were in Kelly’s store; between stores, my dad picked her up from school and swapped her out for her 3 year-old sister, who was beyond bored by dress shopping by then.

The saleslady at DB was also condescending about the amount of money we wanted to spend, sweeping past a dress I saw on a mannequin and admired, “Oh… that’s a Vera.” Didn’t say anything else. I was left behind to figure out that meant it was much too expensive. She then refused to show me any similar dresses at lower price points. I have a hard time believing an A-line dress with lace doesn’t exist by someone less expensive than Vera Wang. But what do I know. We left before I had even finished trying on her second round of dresses.

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My 5 year-old niece with me in one of the few dresses that fit at David’s Bridal

On the way home, I told my mom, “I’m so glad we went to that consignment store first. That lady was so nice. If we had come here first -” and here my mom finished the sentence, “You would have been in tears.” Yup. Hit the nail on the head!

In all, if you’re shopping in Minnesota for a wedding gown, I highly recommend Kelly at I Do Two in Otsego. Her collection is enormous; I had a fantastic experience with her, and I can’t wait to wear my beautiful dress! I’ve never seen one like it before! Y’all can see it. On May 28. 🙂

Sentinel Sale and Surgery

Ok, here’s the rest of my major news. In October, a Des Moines art appreciator approached me regarding two of the four Sentinels I had remaining in my studio after my sale to the Williston Public Library last May. He purchased Sentinel No. 5 (my personal favorite!) and Sentinel No. 6.


The timing of this sale was perfect, as I had had an appointment with an eye doctor in early September. At that appointment, I was informed for the second time (I was told this by a different optometrist last year, too) that I had essentially developed an allergy to soft contact lenses. Something to do with my eyes making too many protein deposits. I don’t exactly remember all the technicalities.

All I knew was that it constantly felt like I had huge chunks of stuff in my eye. No matter how much I cleaned them, my contacts were only comfortable for a few hours every day. Turns out my eyelids were like “sandpaper” from all the deposits. So, my choices were to wear glasses for the rest of my life, or have laser eye surgery.

Being an artist, and a person who would rather die than be blind, I was (naturally!) terrified of surgery. My then-boyfriend, now-fiancé encouraged me to have Custom ASA laser correction. He had it a few years ago and has loved his results. I was too scared. I decided to have the surgery if I could get the doctor to trade art for surgery. He couldn’t. So I thought, well, that’s that. And I continued to wear my glasses. And I hated every minute of it.

Wearing glasses is annoying to me for several reasons. I don’t want to sound vain, but I never feel pretty when I’m wearing glasses. For some reason it makes me feel half-dressed. So it’s hard for me to feel really awake during the day for the same reason. And then there’s the part where I like to play volleyball, and the part where glasses fog up going in and out of warm and cold places (and I live in Iowa, so this happens a lot!), and the part where my glasses gave a small field of vision and made it hard to see everything I was working on in my studio in one glance. In short, I was really frustrated.

And then, I was approached (sort of out of the blue) regarding the Sentinels. I decided it was a sign and went through with the testing for ASA. I went to Dr. Ejaz Hussein because he seems to have the most experience of anyone in the Des Moines area. I was near tears at every single testing appointment (there were several) because I was so scared. His assistants were very kind and answered all of my questions, over and over again. I decided I was going to have only 1 eye done at a time, despite numerous reassurances that it would likely go well and I should just do both at once.

But then my grandfather died, sadly, and my schedule for the two surgeries got thrown a bit, because I really wanted to go back to ND for his funeral. I was exhausted and gave in, deciding to have both done on the same day.

I had them done on Thursday, December 10, and I flew to ND on Friday morning. ASA has a much longer recovery than lasik (a month vs. a day). It was a little weird to go through airports with dark sunglasses, not being able to see very well, but it went fine. With ASA, your vision is good the first day, then it deteriorates for a few days before beginning to rebound.

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Getting a ride to the surgery center

Having the surgery done was scary. Kyle was with me and he was calm and confident the whole time, which made me feel better about it. You get to the surgery center a couple hours before your surgery and they start give you a bunch of eye drops, every 15 minutes, for numbing and for softening your tissues, I think. Then they give you Valium. Which I needed because the closer it got to my turn, the more I wanted to cry. Then you walk down the hall and sit in a dentist looking chair (I think… I was sorta doped up!). The nurses point to a poster on the wall and ask if you can read it. Of course I couldn’t. My prescription was 20/1000 – way worse than legally blind.

The doctor comes in. He and the nurses put things on one of your eyes so that you can’t blink. You go under the laser machine and they get it positioned. It tracks your eye, so even if you deviate from looking at the red light, it will follow your movement and zap the right places. Next they put a tool like an electric toothbrush on your eye and scrub away the surface cells. I think Kyle said that was the only part of his surgery that was uncomfortable, but I didn’t think it was bad (I thought a different part at the end of the surgery was bad, and that part didn’t bother him at all). After they scrub your eye, they start up the laser. It shoots a bunch of little dot beams on your eye, burning it to the correct shape. Kyle told me beforehand it only lasted about 15 seconds for his surgery. The nurse overheard us, and said, “Umm, actually, it might last up to a minute for you, Amy, because your correction is so severe.” Ohh kay.

I asked a nurse to hold my hand during the surgery. She did.
So you lay under the laser and it does its thing. I didn’t feel anything, but I could smell it burning tissue away! Man that was weird, to lay there knowing the surface of your eye being burned is what you’re smelling. And you don’t care much. It’s very detached.
Anyway. After the laser was done, they flushed my eye with ICE cold water. They warned me beforehand and geez, they were not kidding. It’s the worst brain freeze I’ve ever experienced. That’s the only part I didn’t like, and it’s the part that didn’t bother Kyle at all.

Then they put a contact lens on as a bandaid, and some drops, and that eye was done. At this point, I remember looking up at the ceiling and thinking, “Oh my gosh, I can see each ceiling tile, and all the dots on them!” The doctor asked if he could proceed with my other eye. I said, “Yes!” And he did. Afterward, they sat me up and asked me to look at the poster again. I could read all of it. I looked at a nurse and I could see her whole face clearly, right down to each individual eyelash. This time, I did start to cry. “Oh no, don’t do that, you’ll cry out the contacts!” I got the feeling they were very used to people crying out of amazement and joy right after their surgery. Ha!

Kyle got to watch the surgery live on a TV in another room. Here are some pictures he took.

After the surgery, you go home and lay around with your eyes closed for 24 hours. You’re supposed to take it easy for a few days. I didn’t, but I wore sunglasses all the time and was really anal about my nieces and nephews being careful of my eyes when they sat on my lap over the weekend. You also wear really beautiful hard plastic eye shields to bed for the first week. You tape them to your forehead. Hot.

There is a really strict regimen of eye drops for a week before and several months after the surgery. The first week after is the worst for that, but then it gets better. You slowly taper off the drops – not quite two months out, I’m down to rewetting drops as needed, a steroid drop 3x a day, and a thick ointment at night.

I struggled with reading and halos at night for about a month, but since then, everything has been perfect. I’m also getting used to falling asleep while being able to see. It was so weird; I had a really hard time falling asleep for 6 weeks. I think it was because I was so used to taking my glasses off right before bed. Because my vision was so poor, taking off my glasses before bed was like shutting off my eyes (almost literally). The action sent a signal to my brain: Time to go to sleep now. It was hard to sleep without receiving that message! I still find myself automatically groping the bedside table for my glasses a couple of mornings a week, too. Old habits die hard!

At any rate, you are probably bored of reading this. So, I will tell you that at my 1 week follow-up, I was 20/20. And at my 7 week follow-up, I was 20/15! That’s better than “perfect” vision! I’m super happy with the results and I think it’s the best money I’ve ever spent. I’m grateful for the sale of the Sentinels that made it possible!

If you’re interested, I have two Sentinels left. They are unique in that they are terracotta (red clay), whereas the others are stoneware (grey clay). Here are some pics! They are made of an architectural clay, so they will withstand the outdoors and would be beautiful in a garden. They also have drain holes in the bottom, perfect for rainwater to escape. Let me know if you want to make one yours!

What about you? Have you had laser eye surgery? What were your results?

PS. The main difference between ASA (also sometimes called PRK) and Lasik is that there is no flap cut in your cornea for ASA, but the recovery time is much longer (1 month vs. 1 day). Why have ASA, if the recovery time is so much longer?

There are four clear advantages of Advanced Surface Ablation over LASIK (according to Dr. Hussein’s webpage (http://www.dmeyemd.com/)

1. It is a safer procedure since there is no flap creation and thus less thinning of the cornea.

2. There are no flap related complications.

3. CustomVue wavefront technology may be more accurately applied to the cornea in ASA than with LASIK. [Better visual results]

4. There are fewer problems with dry eyes after ASA.

News!

It’s been a really long time since I’ve written. Sorry! The good news is that I’ve been busy. So, I have a lot of really exciting news to share with you… I’ll share two things today and (maybe) others later in the week!

I’m excited to say I’m profiled in the latest issue of DSM Magazine. It’s an extremely high quality publication, and I’m really excited to have been asked for an interview. If you want to check it out, you can read it online here.

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The other big piece of news is personal – I recently got engaged! My fiance’s name is Kyle, and I think he’s pretty great. We are going to get married at the end of May. I can’t wait!

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Prairie: Traces gallery talk

Howdy. For those of you who missed it, here is the text from my gallery talk about Prairie: Traces, my latest piece. Yes, I am one of those people who writes out their entire speech! I’ll copy/paste it as it was written (to be delivered in person) so you can get the full experience. Hee hee!

If you want to see the piece first, please visit my vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/141752197. I’ve also posted a photo strip at the bottom of this entry.

If you would be so kind as to leave a comment or hit the “like” button below, I’d be forever grateful, as it will help with my final report for my grant. Thank you!

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Thank you for coming tonight. My name is Amy Uthus and I’m a local artist. I earned a BA from North Dakota State University in art and English in 2007. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and I earned my Master of Fine Arts in ceramics in 2012.

I’ve shown widely across the United States and I’m grateful to Ted and Shari and the Wesley House for the opportunity to show Prairie: Traces here this fall!

I currently maintain an independent studio practice, making things and selling them, as well as teaching and doing private commissions. I have prior experience at a variety of studios; I was the Artist-in-Residence and Education Coordinator at RDG Dahlquist Art Studio here in Des Moines from 2012-2014. I’ve also been an International Student Resident at the International Ceramics Studio (Hungary), and an Artist-In-Residence at Guldagergaard International Ceramics Research Center (Denmark).

In 2014, I was awarded an Alumni Achievement Award for early career success from the North Dakota State University Alumni Association. Prairie: Traces was made possible in part by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Prairie: Traces is made of porcelain and steel. Porcelain is a white clay that is translucent when it’s thin. As you can see in the photos and in the actual piece here, light passes through the porcelain. Natural sunlight creates a different effect than halogen lighting. Sunlight creates a really crisp, focused circle, as well as the parabola of light across the top of the panels. Halogen lighting creates a fuzzier, wider circle and no parabola of light across the top. The piece was designed with natural light in mind. Ideally, this piece would sit in front of a large south-facing window.

However, we don’t have a south-facing window here, so I’m showing it with halogen lighting. The movement of the light is the same, though. I have the lamp hooked up to a telescope star tracker. The star tracker is a machine that rotates the light at the same speed of the earth’s rotation on its axis. Normally this machine would be used for astrophotography – you would attach a camera to it instead of a light, and then use it to follow the stars, taking really long exposures of things in outer space without getting streaks and blurs. So, if you watch the light tonight, it will travel slowly across the piece from left to right, just as it would facing south in the sunshine.

One of the most frequent questions I hear basically boils down to, “Why did you make this?” There are several ways I could answer that question. I’ll discuss the two reasons that seem the most important to me – the prairie, and time.

This piece contrasts unyielding steel and fragile porcelain while harnessing and focusing the natural elements of light and time. The fragility of porcelain and the unforgiving hardness of steel remind us of life on the prairie: a delicate, subtle beauty belying incredible natural dangers. By distilling light and time into a single entity, we are reminded of the major roles each play in life on the Plains.

Traces’ connection to the land is familiar to Iowans, who live surrounded by growth and sky. The shapes of the porcelain panels are reminiscent of aerial views of farmland, and the texture of the panels references flowing river water.

I photographed this piece out on the prairie. It’s the largest piece I’ve ever made, but in the photographs scale is tricky to decipher because the space is so open. I love vast spaces. They’re comforting to me deep inside. I assume other prairie-raised people feel the same, and one of my goals with this piece was to allow people in the heart of the city to escape to the plains momentarily, without ever leaving town.

I had the opportunity to study abroad in grad school. During that time, I met up with a friend from high school who was currently living in Germany, in Istanbul for a few days. One of the most compelling things I saw there was the impact of human touch upon the architecture.

This subject has made its way into a few different pieces now, but I keep revisiting it because it was so fascinating to me, a girl from ND, where we’re lucky if a building is one hundred years old. Some of the buildings in Istanbul are 1500 years old!

When you have a structure that’s that old, some parts of it are naturally going to start to fall into some sort of decay, no matter how good the upkeep is. What was curious to me, though, were the places where people have inadvertently caused the erosion. In those places, the degeneration of the building’s original form didn’t seem like a loss.

For example, when you pass a marble column and absently let your hand trail around its corner, you don’t usually think you’re leaving a mark.  But if thousands or hundreds of thousands of people over one and a half millennia do the exact same thing when they walk past that exact same column, all of those casual caresses add up.  The stone corner becomes soft, rounded and smoothed into a new shape by nothing stronger than human skin. We don’t usually think about a random touch here or there affecting anything.

When you stop to think about it, how many little actions do you do each day, that you think don’t have any effect on anything in the future? I know I routinely spend moments of my time on things that I think don’t, or can’t possibly, matter 5 minutes from now. But what about 5 days from now, or 5 years from now? Or 500 years from now? It’s hard to say if any of my absentminded or unconscious actions will be present in the future in any way, shape, or form. My second goal with Prairie: Traces was to get people to stop and think about time. To think about how we spend our time, and how our actions can unexpectedly affect the future. I decided to do this by making time visible, through the circle of light traversing across the porcelain.

Does anyone have any questions?

Prairie: Traces by Amy Uthus Porcelain, steel, sunlight, time. 7' x 7' x 24".

Prairie: Traces
by Amy Uthus
Porcelain, steel, sunlight, time.
7′ x 7′ x 24″.

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Please respond below. I like to hear responses to my work and ideas, even if they are different than my original intent. Thank you!