Art Biz with Liz: Valentine’s Day Crafts

Hello everyone! It’s time for my annual Valentine’s Day post! Last year I wrote blog posts featuring Valentine’s Day cards and step-by-step instructions on how to make origami hearts, and the year before I detailed my experience doing a paint night as a date. This year, in addition to the general paper valentines, I wanted to experiment with making homemade gifts out of different kinds of materials. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my sculpture class so far, it’s that playing around with different mediums can help one better understand the creative process and expand their perspective on expression. I was curious to see how this could be applied to real-world scenarios and decided to make homemade Valentine’s Day gifts. Some crafts turned out well, and others… maybe not so much.

As a “filler” project in class, I experimented with making a plaster sculpture using fabric. After sewing a heart pattern, filling it with plaster of Paris, and letting it dry, the result had a unique texture. It wasn’t quite the heart shape that I was looking for, but I didn’t want to get rid of the unique appearance left by the fabric by filing down the shape, so I left it alone. I decided to form it into a sculpture that could stand on its own, however, and cut/sanded a wooden board to make a platform. I started out considering using wire or a screw to help secure the plaster to the wooden platform, but with help from my sculpture instructor, ended up using a wooden peg and drilling holes into the wooden platform and plaster heart.

Since there was an area that you could see the peg, I painted it white.

I liked the way the sculpture swiveled, but ultimately decided to add glue for stability. It was meant to be the very last step. Unfortunately, the hot glue hardened too much before I could fully attach the pieces together, resulting in the wooden peg breaking while attached to the plaster heart. I wasn’t very attached to this sculpture, but it was still disappointing to see it break.

After a minute or two of trying to figure it whether or not to try to fix the sculpture or throw it away, I cut another wooden peg and drilled new holes into the wooden board and heart. The original wooden peg was pretty stuck in the heart thanks to the hot glue, so I ended up making a small batch of plaster of Paris and covering it up. Although it looks strange, I was worried about the heart being too heavy or unstable if I filed away the original bottom with the wooden peg. I’ll have to go back later and file it down a little.

Besides the plaster heart, I played around with clay and made a clay rose, book, and heart. While the book didn’t turn out very well, the rose turned out okay. I hollowed out the inside to make it lighter while flattening out the bottom so it could stand on its own. Lastly, I painted the heart to make it more vibrant and interesting to look at. Made from leftover clay from a project for class, it’s smaller than the other crafts, making it more of a cute keepsake rather than a full sculpture on its own.

Even though my Valentine’s Day crafts didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted, I was happy I made them. Playing with different materials presented an active opportunity to learn more about using different mediums, and I enjoyed experimenting with making my own sculptures/gifts.

Art Biz with Liz: Women Artists and Unsung Keyboard Stories

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending several events for a conference called “Diversity and Belonging: Unsung Keyboard Stories.” The conference, presented through the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, was held from January 26 to the 30.

When I was a child, I loved watching pianists play. It fascinated me how each touch of the key resulted in a specific sound. I begged my parents for lessons and eventually got my wish when we found a local piano teacher. It was easy to imagine that she represented what it “looked like” to be a pianist. But what does the “typical” keyboardist look like? As I grew up and met all kinds of people who were accompanists, artists, and more, I realized that there wasn’t a “typical” instrumentalist (though the music I had been exposed to seemed to suggest so). Even though I didn’t believe I had preconceived notions on the concept, the conference set out to test my ideas.

To start, “keyboardist” does not just mean “pianist.” Though I didn’t learn about many of them until I started college, the keyboard has a variety of different interfaces, including the organ, harpsichord, carillon, clavichord, piano, and electronic descendants. Accompanying these instruments is a rich history, though with that that comes room for discussion as to whether or not it has always been inclusive to everyone. A range of musical artists have been ignored or discounted, and the conference created an opportunity for keyboard scholars, performers, and instrument makers to explore what it means to be a keyboardist—even if that meant questioning history itself.

Both in-person and online, over sixty presenters and performers touched on topics such as diversity, disability, and empowerment in keyboard music. As a carillon student, one event I attended was “Broadening the Carillon Repertoire,” which was a recital presented by my peers featuring a diverse selection of music played on the Baird Carillon. This included a range of pieces, from the Taiwanese folk song “Alishan De Gu Niang” to “The Boy with the Axles in His Hands” (1866) by Thomas Greene “Blind Tom” Wiggins (1849-1908). I also virtually attended the world premiere of Connor Chee‘s “Melody for Kinyaa’áanii Nos. 1-2,” played by Professor Tiffany Ng on the Lurie Carillon. Connor Chee is a Navajo pianist and composer, and it was interesting to hear his work on a carillon.

I also (virtually) attended a presentation by Alissa Freeman, a doctoral candidate at U-M studying piano pedagogy and performance, on the topic of “A New Liberation: Exploring the Keyboard Works of Classical Era Women Composers”. I was aware of the fact that women composers are often erased or ignored in history, but I was stunned at just how underrepresented women composers are in current music history textbooks and concerts across the globe. It was interesting to hear Freeman speak on social commentary surrounding women composers, including how historically, regional differences in Europe led to very different experiences. I enjoyed hearing Freeman play Josepha Barbara Auernhammer’s “Set of Variations.” As I listened to the music, I couldn’t help but think about Auernhammer’s history; Freeman had explained that she held the position of Mozart’s star pupil despite not being of nobility. She sounded awesome and her piece equally so, which was bright and lighthearted. Freeman also played “Sonata in C Major, Op. 7” by Maria Hester Park. Park’s piece was melodic and pretty, though it shifted into a slightly more serious and virtuosic tone at times.

When I played the piano as a child, I had a large book of classical pieces that I often played from. Looking back, I can’t recall playing a piece that was by a woman composer. I’d like to apply the insight I gained from the conference to being more conscientious about whose piece I play and not just what piece I play, whether on the piano or carillon.

If you are interested in learning more about the conference and its presentations, various recital livestreams are still available on the Westfield YouTube channel.

Art Biz with Liz: Sculpting a Block “M”

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in East Quad’s art studios. For my sculpture class, our first assignment was to make a plaster object with some sort of negative space. The guidelines were fairly open-ended and our envisioned projects were left up to our imaginations, but they were to be achieved by cutting foam boards and attaching them together to make a mold that plaster would be poured into.

I made a simple square tile with a block “M” shape, which took longer than I had anticipated given the need to convert measurements and make sharp cuts into foam with an exacto knife. I cut out several duplicate block M shapes and layered them to create a deeper “M.” After hot gluing the Ms together, I wrapped the sides in clear tape for a smoother edge.

This first image shows the mold I made out of foam, hot glue, and tape. Plaster was poured into the mold in liquid form, so I had to ensure that all corners and edges were sealed properly. I brushed the inside of the mold with Vaseline to make it easier to remove from the plaster.

This point of view is actually from the bottom of the original mold. The sides and bottom of the mold were removed, and despite hot gluing the M to the bottom, it pulled apart from being stuck inside the plaster. In the above image, you can see textured lines where the plaster picked up on the Vaseline brush strokes. The inner corners of the M aren’t quite as sharp as the mold was due to yours truly being too generous with the Vaseline (my professor and I were nervous about this part in particular sticking to the mold and breaking off).

It was surprisingly difficult to remove the remaining part of the mold. Carefully using a chisel as a wedge, I was able to pull out the M. In the process, I ended up breaking the foam and separating the layers that made up the mold. In retrospective, I should’ve cut the sides of the foam M on a slight angle to make it easier to pull out of the plaster. This was something I learned from my professor, who had previously expressed concern over how deep my M was and how small the inner corners were. The inside of the M wasn’t as nice as I would’ve hoped, but I’m relieved it didn’t break off completely.

Based on the color, you can tell that the plaster in the previous image is still a little wet. Conversely, it’s notably paler in the picture above. My water to plaster ratio wasn’t perfect (this was my first time trying, after all), so it took a bit longer than it usually would for my piece to dry. Although the texture left by the Vaseline was interesting, I wanted a smoother finish, so I set to work cleaning up the piece by sanding it down once it was dry. I also used a chisel and several other smaller tools to clean up the corners and edges.

Ta-da! I still have some more work to do to clean up the inside of the M, but it turned out okay. I’m not sure what happened with the strip of discoloration in the middle, but that’s okay.

While the finished product isn’t perfect, it was a fun process to create it. I had never worked with plaster prior to this project and am looking forward to doing so again. What do you think? Should I leave my block M as is, or should I paint it? Would you be interested in seeing another one of my art projects?

Art Biz with Liz: Sights from Above

Hi there, arts, ink. readers! If you’re campus, chances are you’ve heard music coming from one of the bell towers. On central campus, there’s the Burton Memorial Tower (BMT), which houses the Baird Carillon. The university is lucky to have two carillons, the other being the Lurie Carillon on north campus. One of the perks of learning how to play the carillon is the access to the top of the towers that hold them. After I’m done practicing on the carillon, I often take a few minutes to stop and appreciate the sights. Being so high up offers a new perspective on campus, and the design of the BMT in particular allows one to overlook different buildings and parts of the immediate area.

While the cold temperatures have made it more difficult to do so recently, I took a trip to the top of the BMT tonight to enjoy the views. Unfortunately, it was a little too cloudy to fully enjoy the sunset. Nonetheless, I was inspired by Antonina’s post today as part of her “TOLAROIDS” blog series and thought I’d share some of the views from the BMT that I captured last semester.

Art Biz with Liz: One Last Semester

I wasn’t ready for the first day of classes this semester. Two weeks—which were spent working on my two honors theses, applying to jobs, and working my part-time job from home—left much to be desired rest and relaxation-wise. But burnout aside, my biggest concerns resided in stress over how fast time was passing.

With the winter 2022 semester underway, feelings of disappointment about “losing out” due to the coronavirus pandemic are persistent, and questions about life after graduation seem to be closing in from all directions. Moving forward, however, I’m working on what it means to focus on my path and what’s important to me. I can’t change the past, but I can make the most of the present.

I’m very excited for the role the arts will play in my last semester at Michigan. I look forward to continuing work on my novella, which is the senior thesis I am doing in the RC’s creative writing and literature program. I am also looking forward to continuing my carillon studies with Dr. Tiffany Ng. Learning how to play the carillon has been an enriching experience, and I enjoyed my time last semester making music in the Burton Memorial Tower and Lurie Tower.

As far as music goes, I’ll also be a member of the U-M Women’s Glee Club for one last semester. I auditioned for the group during my sophomore year of college, and it remains one of my favorite extracurriculars (as exhibited by the number of arts, ink. posts I have about glee club concerts/events).

Lastly, I’m taking a sculpture class through the RC. In this class, a small cohort of students meet twice a week in the East Quadrangle basement for three-hour workshops. I lived in East Quadrangle for my first two years in college, so it’s nice to have a reason to visit on a weekly basis. Although my experience with crafting and analyzing sculptures is limited, I love engaging with different art forms and participating in events that increase my exposure to them. I’m very much looking forward to learning more about the visual arts and getting hands-on experience with different tools and art mediums.

When I talk to people who have graduated, their general tips for making the most of senior year include dedicating time to do fun things with friends and checking off all of the final items on a college bucket list. Many of my friends are lightening their course loads this semester, which is well-deserved after three and a half years of hard work. Although I’m taking a different route and packing my schedule to the brim, I’m excited to partake in some of the awesome classes and arts opportunities at Michigan. Schoolwork and studying remain high priorities, but it’s nice to know that I’ve enrolled in some classes where the homework won’t feel like work. Overall, I’ve loved college, and while I’m not ready to leave just yet, I find comfort in the art opportunities and other experiences I get to take advantage of this semester.

Art Biz with Liz: Holiday Crafts

Throughout finals season, my inbox has become inundated with news about wellness events. Arts and craft sessions often fill up quickly, and with a busy schedule I decided to take up my own art projects.

While I’m sad at how quickly the school year has flown by, I’m looking forward to a break. I’m also looking forward to the holiday season! If you’ve kept up with my content, you know I love arts and crafts. For Christmas this year, my housemate and I decorated stockings for our friend group. Stuffed with candy and other goodies, the stockings looked great adorned in glitter glue. I also enjoyed making handmade ornaments. The snowflake ornaments still need ribbon, but the only materials required for these—besides the wooden base—were white paint, glitter glue, and sharpie. Handmade ornaments are a wonderful craft to give as a gift because of how unique, collectible, and personalized they are. They are more than decorations for a Christmas tree, as they capture meaning and memories. I messed up these last two, but the process was fun, and the recipients enjoyed them.

Making holiday crafts is a fun activity for people of all ages to enjoy. For college students, it could be something done as a break from finals or something to look forward to. Plus, it’s a great activity to do with friends in cozy pajamas. What are you waiting for? Turn up the holiday music, make yourself some cocoa or cocktails, and get to crafting!