Clay workshop at KACA in lovely Lindsborg KS

I really enjoyed spending time with fellow Kansas Artists in quaint Lindsborg, KS on the 4th of November. I was able to share some of my techniques and philosophies with students, professors, and several independent Kansas artists.

Kansas Artist Craftsmen Association is one of the oldest associations of its type in America. I have served in numerous capacities over the years, including president from 2007-10. It’s hard to believe ten years have past! Time flies friends.  This year was a lot of fun. The KACA conference happens every year early in November in different parts of Kansas. There are keynote speakers, featured artists, technical workshops, and fun parties. It’s so important for artists to get together and learn from one another.  Let’s hope KACA keeps going for generations to come.

Here is a link to the KACA website. I think you should join!

KACA Website

The 2017 conference had workshops in metals, printmaking, plein air painting, and even art business. Two of my favorite people, Tara Dean and Mikey Knutson were a part of this years conference, While I wasn’t able to attend either of their sessions, I hear they did a fantastic job. I was hosting my own workshop here in Garden City with Joseph Rincones and Emily Chamberlain. I’ll post about that one soon.

Thanks again to the board and organizers for the lovely opportunities, and thanks especially to Dale and Kami for all the help making figures. Keep an eye out for the location of next years conference. The juried show, “Materials Mastery” happens concurrently. All of you should enter the show. Best of thanks to the organizers, the board, the artists, and all of my fellow organizers who helped make the 2017 KACA conference a success. Check out some of the images that Tara Dean took of my demo below.

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  • KACA Lindsborg 2017

Working the figure at KSU

Recently, Michael Kent Knutson and I had the opportunity share our art and techniques with the students at Kansas State University Ceramics Department. Professor Amy Santoferraro was gracious and lovely enough to share her Ceramics 1 and Materials and Surface classes with us.

img_3272 img_3621-1


This blog post will serve as a basic tutorial for those classes and be an aid to adding an interesting surface to these pieces.


surface one: painting with fluxed Terra sigillata and colorants:


Ok here are my suggestions. First, let’s make Terra sigillata. It’s easy to do. Terra sig provides a juicy surface that works great as a low fire matte.

Caramic arts daily article on terra Sigillata


The recipe I have used for years is simple:  

In a glass or clear plastic jar:

800 gm clay (red art, ball clay, gold art)

8 gm of darvan.

1 gal of water.

I have always dispersed the darvan in a cup of water before adding this to the clay.

agitate this mixture. let sit overnight. siphon off the center and discard the top (water) and bottom (clay).

I use a 1/2 in. vinyl tube that can be purchased by the foot at your local hardare store in the plumbing department.


I like to create 2-3 batches of Sig and then let it dry in a wide container. I use a plastic kids sled for this. They  (round ones that look like a trash can lid) are officially called flying saucer sleds. let your sig dry overnight and then dump it into another container. This one should have a lid.



I brush this onto the figures before I bisque them. I find that the sig added to bone dry clay helps future layers adhere.


Bisque slowly to 04-06


Adding additional layers of Sig with Stains and oxides:


Fluxing your sig.


I have experimented with various fluxes to prevent flaking and I have found Soda Ash, Lithiium, and Colemanite to be suitable – there may be more. Test these fluxes to see what works for you. I use a basic volume measurement of 1 t of lithium to about 1/2 cup of Sig.


Soda Ash is best dissolved in hot water and then added to a small amount of Sig. Soda is soluble. It will crystallize. Do not make more than you will use.


Colorants: Mason stains, oxides.


Note: mason stains sometimes require the addition of specific chemicals for them to work. Reds need calcium (whiting), some stains will not work in the presence of Tin etc. Charts are available from your supplier that will provide you this information.  


I like to use black copper (brush on, wipe off). It brings out the texture of the clay.  Iron and cobalt are nice. Cobalt is hazardous but can yield beautiful results. Never use Manganese or Chromium. Too much of those minerals inside of your body is a bad plan. Practice safe procedures and always wear a mask.


now add layers of terra sigillata plus mason stains at various ratios. I can’t emphasize enough the fact that we are building up layer after layer of stain/underglaze here. It’s essential that sigillata be milky, and built up in two or three successive applications. You might want to try this technique on a test piece that is textured first just to see if you have got the hang of it.


You can’t do enough glaze tests.


After three or four layers of stained sigg, toss the piece in the kiln. Fire 06-012. The lower the fire the brighter the color.


Keep adding fluxed sigg/stain to the work until it looks beautiful. After a few applications you’ll get the hang of how the work will look after gazing as opposed to before.


Your lovely finished figure can be waxed or clear coated. I’ve used paste wax, varnish, and acrylic.


Who cares what you think


Art doesn’t mean anything. Or does it?


This is a message to all artists everywhere. Who cares what you think? It really doesn’t matter in the least what your work is about or what you think it’s about or if it’s about anything really.


Meaning. Sure, it matters to you. That’s important. It’s really important that your art contains meaning and that that meaning–no matter how personal or universal–contains messages you have hidden or left in plain sight.


Are these contradictory statements? Perhaps at the surface. But in reality they aren’t contradictory in the least. In reality these statements are true simultaneously, and the fact of meaning in any work of art is inherent in the art itself.


Let’s take a look at the sources that academics look to when they interpret a work of art:


  1. The life and times of the artist
  2. What the artist says about the work of art
  3. The life and times of the viewer


These three sources are commonly used to interpret art and to derive a work’s meaning. Often an artist (even a contemporary artist) is a dubious resource when it comes to the meaning of their work. Artists can be mysterious, withhold information, or in some cases paint, draw, or sculpt subjects from subconscious places in their psyche that escape their own ideas about meaning.


When an artist sets to work and creates an image that contains imagination and emotion, it serves to reason that the possibilities for unconscious meaning are increased. So in this way, an artist is somewhat of a conduit of messages. A sort of cosmic copilot. A shadow of illumination.


Their life experiences, the economic and political and social climate that an artist lives in are partly in control of the meaning of any work of art. There is no denying this. Look at a work of art from each century from the first to the 21st. Each generation, each religion, each government, each culture, each gender all play a role in defining the voice of the artist.


The life and experience of the viewer is an undeniable factor in the reading of a particular piece of art. For instance, it’s absurd to suggest that a literary critic from the 1950’s and an 18-year-old gamer might have the same experience of looking at a Jackson Pollock canvas. The art is there, on the museum wall, sitting there like a flower or a train wreck, free for any person to look at, see shapes and color and volume and mass.


What Pollock said about the physicality of paint was important to art. But what have the effects of time had on that particular revolutionary action for subsequent generations of viewers?



The meaning each viewer takes from the work is malleable, ever changing, and frankly has less to do with the intended meaning and much more to do with the willingness of the viewer to search for or meditate on meaning.


So who owns the meaning? The artist? The universe? The reader?


All three do. The artist gets to look at their work for the first time. Like a mother falling in love with a newborn child they get to say “you are here,” and they do get to gaze in wonder at the fruits of the creative act. After that, their act of creation is done. From that moment the meaning of the work itself is no longer theirs entirely. From that moment the work is on a linear trajectory in time and and space toward the next viewer. That viewer will see the work and is free to get the meaning they need from it. It’s a good thing that the viewer isn’t limited to the intended meaning.


In art critiques with my students, I encourage them to avoid saying, “this work is about…” and I ask them to say, “what this work means to me is…” or “I think this means…” or “I intended this to mean…” In this way, the student-artist is well served by considering the viewers’ possible perspectives. It’s an act of respect for the viewer. The viewer, after all,

is in charge of making the work mean something to them. And that is indeed an essential element of the dance we call meaning in art.


Images: “Convergence”  Jackson Pollock 1952

Jackson pollock painting in action

Virginia Mckinney at the Mercer

Virginia McKinney at the Mercer Gallery


Currently in Garden City Community College’s Mercer Gallery, viewers find the captivating 3-D and fibre art of Virginia McKinney. Ms. McKinney is the area head and professor of art at Bethany College in quaint Lindsborg, KS. Her work conveys the emotional starkness and overall feeling of sublime decay and openness. The muted colors, oxidizing metal, singular building structures and what appears to be undersea vegetation or something adrift from a long-forgotten inland sea, all fit cohesively in the quiet spaces of the Mercer. Pieces like Vertebrea and Spinus have the same quiet complexity and overall oeuvre of her several fiber pieces that are more than illustrations of a place. They live and breath the soul and sublimity of the prairies. The quiet strength that comes from a place so seemingly simple, whose beauty is a complexity that requires investigation.


Virginia Says of her work:


“My work examines both the physiological and psychological implications of this natural, difficult, yet requisite progression that our minds and bodies endure. I investigate the massive ambiguities, inconsistencies, and challenges inherent to these transitions. I witness the daily frustrations, fears, grief, and impotence that occur with aging and  illness while acknowledging the concurrent, amazing human determination, resolve and grace.”


It’s a worthy respite for reflection and contemplation.


We were lucky enough to have Virginia visit the Gallery and Clay Lab on the 4th of December for a slip dip workshop and gallery talk. Virginia’s enthusiasm for her work is marvelous. Studying with her must be a treat. In her gallery talk she described the beauty of the stark Kansas landscape. Most people consider Kansas and Nebraska to be “fly over” states. These are places that most people can’t wait to get past. Our current reputation as a backwards bunch of education-haters and bigots doesn’t help…


But for Virginia McKinney it was love at first site.


Virginia grew up and has lived in many places up and down the east coast. She saw lots of the United States and has lived in what might be considered some of the most gorgeous parts of the country. It was amazing to listen to Virginia talk about the open vistas, the grassy lands and vast skies of rural Kansas like she was describing the most gorgeous landscapes of Yellowstone or the floral variety of Florida. As she spoke, I was encouraged to look more closely at the windswept high plains and consider for a moment just how beautiful empty can be.


It’s true that beauty is everywhere. Particularly if we open our eyes to the lands around us. Virginia Mckinney’s sculptural and fiber visions helps us do this. Her work is magnificently proud and quiet, yet it shouts with inherent urgency.  I encourage you to share this beautiful, lonely, rusty desolation in Mercer Gallery through the 12th of February. You won’t be disappointed.

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  • Virginia McKinney at GCCC

Virginia’s Website is :