Meet the Artist in Residence!

Hi everyone! I’m Katie Biddle. I’m an artist, princess, basket case, rebel… you get the idea. On this blog, I’ll be posting about the art I create and get the privilege to witness on a daily basis at Cal Poly SLO, both within the on-campus craft center and around San Luis Obispo. Check back often, and see what’s happening in the studio!

We’ll meet wonderful artists, view gorgeous art, and learn together – I can’t wait to begin this journey!





The Art of Immigration

For my last post, dear readers, I’ve decided to report on something related to the problems many are facing at the moment.

That is, the problems concerning immigration, and the allowance of people into the United States. People are of course divided on the issue, but I’ve decided to focus on another aspect: how would immigration help or hurt the rich arts and culture that people have practiced for thousands of years? How does their art and identity change and withstand that change?

Today we’re going on a journey, albeit shorter than theirs, with those who must protect their art and culture by leaving their homes. We’ll look at all types of art, from pottery to origami to paintings; each as colorful and full of stories as the last.

Art and Persecution 

When art has anything slightly controversial to it, the artist runs a very high risk of being persecuted. According to FreeMuse, there were 469 attacks on artists in 2015, with internment being the most popular punishment; however,there were 2 deaths. In 2016, there were 1,026 registered attacks on artists across 76 countries. These countries held the most incidents:

Courtesy of Freemuse under Creative Commons
Notice anything interesting? Yep that’s right, the U.S. of A. is 8th in the world for censorship of artists, higher even than Iran and Pakistan, where many of today’s immigrants are from, fleeing violence and war.

It’s not new that artists are often the targets of persecution for their art and beliefs. Michelangelo was persecuted for naughtily sneaking phalluses onto the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Caravaggio, a famous Baroque artist, was forced to repaint altarpieces for dirty feet on angels, and hundreds of female painters and artists were shunned, accused of witchcraft, or otherwise persecuted for any type of art they produced. It’s not much of a surprise of course that they trend really hasn’t left.

Of course, many artists flee before they’re persecuted, and end up in a safer place to practice their art.

Why Be Different or Inflammatory?

As an artist, I love doing things that make people uncomfortable. My last post featured a clay vagina cup, which, in turn, graced my facebook feed, and resulted in a hilarious call from my mother. It’s still up; though it was tempting to stay ‘safe’ by deleting it, I decided that it was dumb to be offended by a vagina when penises are everywhere.

This attitude is shared across many art worlds, and many believe that it’s the artist’s responsibility to visually critique the world and policies around them.

“You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”  -Nina Simone

In order to practice without the hassles and battles and danger of their home country, however, many choose to move to a new place, or must take their things when they are forced to leave because of other conditions.

Practicing in a New Place

The first immigrant artists brought oils and canvas to the U.S., among them those fleeing the monarchy. Beautiful types of African Art were introduced to the Americas freely after the Emancipation Proclamation, the artists refugees of the horrible system of slavery, Chinese immigrants were instrumental in the 1920s in influencing fashion and art…the list never ends.

6. kimono coolie coat
Crepe de Chine’s from a 1920s sewing pattern, Courtesy of Marie at The Sewing Odyssey via Creative Commons
Immigration and people moving around the world has been affecting art since the beginning of human civilization.In many places, the art is spread around the fellow community of those who’ve also moved, usually religiously or culturally based, such as costumes or jewels. In other places, however, the fact that artists come from a troubled or different place sets the works apart, and allows them to be celebrated even more.

U.S. Preservation of Art by Immigrant Artists

In similar celebration and support in response to the Immigration bans, MoMA purposely installed art by Muslim artists in its permanent galleries last month. The fifth floor was slyly filled with these paintings, and Picasso and Matisse were replaced by artists such as Sudanese painter Ibrahim el-Salahi and  Iranian-born artists Tala Madani, Parviz Tanavoli and Marcos Grigorian. Each new entry was accompanied by a card that read:

“This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on Jan. 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum as they are to the United States.”                           -MoMA curators

Immigrant art has been widely displayed in galleries major and local, and they aren’t alone in recognition of the art’s impact on society: every year in February , immigrant artists are awarded the Vilcek’s Award in they’ve made “Lasting contributions to American society through their extraordinary achievements in biomedical research and the arts.” Each artist receives $100,000. This year’s Vilcek Prize in fine art went to an artist born in Jamaica, Nari Ward.


Ward’s Liberty and Orders Via Lehmann Laupin
Canada, the UK, and many other countries have organizations, galleries, and awards to preserve and recognize art from newer citizens, and to say this helped these artists escape persecution is an understatement. Many artists would be stopped entirely from practicing art at all if not for moving to a freer place.

Immigration and Art beyond Persecution

In the case of the beloved Mary Zweemer, whose story we saw above, immigrating to the U.S. wasn’t as instrumental in her ceramic art as her husband, Neil. The two started going to the craft center some 30 years ago, and have been there on weekends ever since.

“I took a class in throwing, but didn’t really like it.” Mrs. Zweemer said.” So I started handbuilding and I love it!”

Though one could argue this: that if she hadn’t found her love and the ensuing journey in the U.S.,Mrs. Zweemer may have moved back to England, and never taken up pottery. The world would be a slightly less bright place, as her work puts a smile on my face every time I see it.

In the end, I believe that the art world belongs to all of us. As I have hopefully shown in this blog, art is a crucial, difficult and skilled world that can build friendships, begin communities, inspire others, and a thousand other wonderful things.

We are all works of art, no matter where we come from, and we should not be silenced!

Thank you for coming on this journey with me, and keep an eye out: Art Farts are everywhere, and I just might pop up again!



“And Still, She Persisted..”

On January 1, 2017, hundreds of thousands of women on every continent (and I do mean EVERY) on the entire planet marched in solidarity against the presidency of Donald Trump. Clever, brilliant, beautiful, heart-wrenching signs were in almost every hand, even the smallest. If it hadn’t been for school, I would’ve been there too, traipsing along with my posterboard. Instead, I had to find my own ways to rebel, and to stand in solidarity with the inspiring and wonderful women of this world.

Trump”s election has taken on a deeper meaning: it’s now a symbol of misogyny, sexual assault, body shaming, and overall evil. Because of his “locker room talk”, various comments, and other incidents involving things such as PMS and weight gain, Trump is hated in many circles of women.

Today, we’re taking a small peek outside the studio, as well as within: how art impacted the women’s movement and allowed women to express themselves safely and effectively.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – Sun Tzu

With the results and events of the recent election, many women were feeling sad and angry, and wanted to fight back for a world of acceptance and love, where bodies weren’t shamed and periods weren’t the end of all woman authority.

After the election and around the time of the march, the craft center was getting a small-scale revolutionary tinge: a vagina cup, supposedly similar to the so-called ‘pussy hats’ was spotted! It was the talk of the studio for a few days, but it then vanished, never to be seem again. Here’s an example from the interwebs since I couldn’t capture the elusive vagina cup:

Source: PsychoLeo via Creative Commons, check out the Etsy shop!

I saw a boy student wearing one, but wasn’t able to catch him, so here’s the fantastic Nick Offerman wearing a ‘pussy hat’:

Through hats and mugs, solidarity has been shown by women the world over. There’s so much beautiful art to share, but let’s get back to the studio, where one sculptor has been encouraging others to love themselves and fight for what they believe in:

” The media thinKS we should be a certain body type, but that’s wrong. We’re all beautiful, and I want my art to help women see that,” said Tesla Boone, a senior who reguLarry can be seen in the craft center.” I make art with many body types to help acceptance.”

And it’s certainly beautiful: Boone has been creating statues of women and various creatures since she started at the craft center, and her figures are beautiful and patterned. Each seems to be a queen or king of its own right, gorgeous the way it is:

A Boone piece on the closeup on a woman’s body and not herself, hence the absence of arms and head

While pottery may seem like a difficult medium for protest, it’s actually quite possible, as evidenced by the mug and Boone’s pieces. Jane Benedict, the grand pooh-bah of the craft center, thinks that it’s ‘bullshit’ to think of ceramics as a simple art form:

” Pottery isn’t a form of expression? Frankly, I think that’s bullshit. It has the possibility of being something special and meaningful if you put the work into it,” Benediction said. “It’s easy to throw something together, but the best artists never do.”

Could vaginas mugs be a thing of the future? Will there be vases, bowls, plates appearing on the studio shelves? I don’t know, but this girl may have to make her own ‘pussy’ cup; except this one will bite back!

Meet Jane


Hi all! Today, I’d like to cordially introduce you to one of the best teachers of the ASI Craft Center, Jane Benedict. Jane was the first person I ever met in the studio, and she’s been someone to look up to and learn from ever since. A great artist, student, and person, here’s all about Jane, and how she’s teaching a whole generation of potters.

In the Beginning

Jane Benedict first stepped onto Cal Poly soil in the 2013-14 school year as a Freshman Mechanical Engineering major. As a freshman, she took a ceramics class in her very first quarter, and loved it. She worked in the studio each day, and soon caught the eye of the great artists who worked there as a potential teacher.

Why Pottery?

“With pottery, there comes a point where you have to be done. I can’t go back to fix it, there’s an end point, not like with acrylics or pottery.” -Jane

Jane had always thought of herself as an artistic person, and pottery provided her with an outlet. This particular outlet also had a certain end point as well; she had tried her hands at others such as acrylic and oil painting, and found herself never finished. With pottery, as one can learn from this post, once a piece has passed the glazing stage, it cannot be undone or really changed. It provides closure for many artists.

Starting to Teach 

Jane started teaching in the craft center in her sophomore year in Spring quarter.

“It’s really weird, because I’ve never considered myself a people person but keep finding myself in teaching positions,” Jane said. “I like giving people a hobby that is nice and easy and relaxing.”

Jane has joined the ranks of peer teachers, a method which has been found to be a much less stressful and valuable way to teach students.

In the craft center, everyone is on equal footing. Of course there’s a natural hierarchy of talent, age, and skills, but everyone teaches around here, and Jane definitely gets asked the most questions.

Her Other Duties

As a teacher, Jane reconstitutes clay for her students, keeps the machines running and polices the general area, but the most important part of her duties is the movement of pieces along their paths through the kilns. With the recent influx of students, the kilns have been very impacted, and Jane now has to work very hard to a) pack  the kilns to capacity and b) fight off the comments and and special requests for piece completion.

“The poor kilns have been working so hard, “Jane said. “I think it’ll change next quarter though, as we’re adding new shelves.”

Besides moving pieces, Jane is also a glaze connoisseur, and mixes and tweaks each color a million times before it’s released to the masses. The craft center has over 20 glazes, slips, and stains, with endless combinations, and Jane’s work is never done: she is currently creating a key of all possible combinations.

The Impact of More Students

“It’s doable. We’re managing,” Jane said of  her new workload. The Craft Center is offering 8 classes this quarter, and there is hardly a weekday when the wheels aren’t filled. By teaching 2 classes of 14 people since her first days of teaching, Jane has taught over 224 people how to throw and create beautiful pottery, not even including those she teaches through working and creating an example. For yours truly, seeing Jane’s  work has given me so many ideas and taught me skills such as reactive glazing, crackling, and handle-making, and I expect this won’t end.

In the end, I’m so grateful to have Jane as an unofficial teacher, and how she’s handling her recent workload has been a wonderful example to me in time management. One must always make time for something loved, and to work in the studio is to be truly happy for me and so many others I see, talk, and laugh with every day.

With that, I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Jane, and I’ll leave you to it; I need to go to the studio!

 (A Lot of) New Friends join the Craft Center

There was a time when I knew everyone in the craft center, and would enter and exit in a cacophony of “hey!”s and “see ya Katie!”s. These days, the chorus is a bit quieter, and there’s no end to the people I meet.

The Battle of the Artists

In terms of space, the sudden boom of students in the craft center, particularly in the pottery section, have caused a huge lag in getting projects done and in space to properly work. The damp room is constantly crowded, new boards are propped up as shelves for work, the shelves are bursting with pieces drying, needing glazes, or bisque fired, and there’s fierce competition for different kinds of clay and tools. It’s practically a mad rush to get a wheel, especially during classes, which are now often.
The Teachers 

This quarter, 3 classes were added, for a total of 8 classes this quarter. Every day, each two hour class completely fills the available potters wheels, and their friends and admirers leave little space for other workers.

“It’s not that I don’t want them to offer less classes, but offer less classes!” Said Soil Science Junior Mary Macdonald. “Theres no room to work for those of us here every day, and it’s very annoying.”

The teachers have noticed this too, but are probably happy because of their filled pocketbooks. They do wonderful work, of course, and truly earn their money, so it’s hard to complain.
The Battle of the Kilns

At the End of the Day

The Path of the Mud: Following a Piece’s Path

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Ever wonder how the cute mug you bought came into existence? It’s a complicated a skilled process, and while the majority of pottery pieces sold in stores are made commercially in factories and use different skills, the way a regular person creates ceramics are much more interesting.

With pottery, you mold beauty with your own hands.

Generous Earth Pottery

Many people take pottery in high school, but that’s often not enough time and not enough freedom is given to experiment and learn new skills. Because of this, some of the speech jargon and steps aren’t known to many. In order to bring awareness to the process and artistry that goes into every piece created by thousands of artists, follow me as we track a ceramic piece through the studio!

1. Pure clay

Clay here at Cal Poly is purchased in big blocks for $16. While it’s very expensive, it is good quality, and these blocks are lugged around by every artist in the studio. There is often a cat fight for a mix called B-mix that throws like pure silk, and is rarely in stock (and extremely rare, make no sudden movements!) . As a result, it’s stockpiled by the prominent artists, and I’m not competitive enough yet. Because of this, the clay I’m using here is called Stoneware, a very strong clay with a dark grey hue. It isn’t bad, just not pure happiness on a wheel.

2. Wedging

After a hunk is cut off, potters must knead the clay, using a dough-kneading technique, to ensure that there aren’t any air bubbles in the chunk. Air bubbles can throw off centering on the wheel, and can cause the piece to explode in the kiln.

3. Throwing

To throw a piece,  the hunk of clay is centered on the wheel and water is used to mold the clay into a mound. According to ceramics instructor Thomas Jara, centering is the most important step:

“If you don’t center correctly, then your whole pice will be off center,” said Jara. “It’s definitely one of the hardest things to learn.”

Using their thumbs, the potter sinks a “well” into the clay and opens it up, allowing the potter to pull out and upwards and mold the walls of the piece.

4. Damp Room Drying

After being cut off of the wheel, the piece is placed into the studio’s “damp room” , a small dark room kept closed to allow pottery pieces to dry out at an even pace in all areas of the piece. If the room isn’t used, pieces can crack and break easily.

5. Trimming

The piece is then taken out of the damp room and anchored to a wheel with wet clay. Using a bladed trimming tool (pictured) the potter starts to gradually trim the bottom of the piece, eventually cutting the ‘foot’ of the piece. The foot is the small ledge at the bottom of the piece and actually can show as much artistry and skill as the visible piece, judging by the angle, thinness, and smoothness of the trim job. Trimming is what makes a piece look clean and professional. The potter’s initial or seal is put onto the bottom. Recently, trends at this stage have been to run a blade on the piece while trimming, as pictured here.

6. Design

At this stage, the piece can be carved, molded, have a handle added, a lid made, slip applied, and a million other decorative techniques. Here, I’ve run awry with a style I’ve been trying to imitate from one of my mentors in the studio, Vaughn. Jara has recently noticed the trend spreading:

“He’ll throw vases and create really cool designs, carving and molding beautiful pieces,”said Jara.

7. Bisque Firing

The piece is put onto the firing shelf, and is fired for the first time, turning from green ware to bisque ware.

8. Glazing

The piece is now ready to glaze! Glaze is technically powdered glass and other elements mixed with water and clay bodies, and as a result of the different chemicals, different clays can react to each other. Here I’ve glazed with. And hopefully they’ll react beautifully! Of course, I’ll never know exactly how the glazes will turn out, even glazes I’ve used before. After being dipped, glaze is removed from the bottom of the piece, and placed onto the glaze shelf to be fired again. A trend at this stage is the drips on two of the pieces pictured; many artists do this in the hopes that the glazes will react, which these eventually did.

9. Finished!

And here we have a finished piece! The glazes always create a cacophony of colors on the self, and the pieces are gifted, sold, or enjoyed by the artist.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our journey, and understand the process a bit better. I’ll keep updating on the wonderful trends I see, and show you how I’m learning them and making them my own. Thanks for reading, and happy crafting!

Art: the Greatest Story on College Campuses

This blog isn’t only a wonderful new platform to share my artsy fartsy experiences on, but it’s also a great learning experience for me, and I hope it is for you too!
Today I’m learning to tell stories using only media already on the inter webs, and I decided to report on how art is impacting college campuses. Enjoy, and keep visiting!

The Stressed Paintbrush:How College Campuses are Dealing With Student Stress

College students are stressed. This is nothing new; check any twitter or iFunny feed and you’ll see thousands of students joking about their stress and anxiety as a way to cope. Some campuses push counselors, or their health center; others supply puppies, coloring books, self care guides, or even stress cleaning  o help students deal with stress, especially after the recent election.

Here at Poly Art Fart, art is what makes the world a calming, wonderful place. Coloring has recently become a mainstream way to combat stress, and coloring book creator Johanna Bamford’s work has topped bestseller lists in the past few years. No surprise to me: In high school, I remember all of us 16 year olds cheering at the mention of coloring for an assignment. It was a safe way to be a child again.

Art is nudging it’s way into mainstream, and coloring, as well as oil paint mixing, pottery videos, and an endless list of calming art mediums have been popular videos to watch for stressed students, regardless if they participate themselves.

In the past few years, scientists have been studying the way art, in all forms, can help combat stress. Art therapy has been used for years to help patients dealing with cancer, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. In late 2015, scientists began to study the effects of art on the ‘normal’ human’s psyche: that is, those with no diagnosed conditions.

According to a 2015 study published this year by the Health Technology Assessment in Southampton, U.K., art therapy is cost effective, has statistically more positive effects than control groups in a number of included studies, and while it may not be for everyone, had the best results in the trial, which consisted of 63 patients in a variety of situations.

” It is exciting to see the cumulative and emergent data that further the understanding of the impact of art making on stress. Perhaps the latest research in this area will inspire additional studies, identifying the distinct role of art making per se versus the practice of art therapy in facilitating health, including stress reduction and physiological measures of well-being.” — Cathy Malchiodi, PhD and surveyor of multiple art therapy studies, for Psychology Today


The way to take this concept to the higher level, in my opinion, is to look past all the talk and see how the arts are actually being practiced on college campuses. Here at Cal Poly, the Craft Center is usually a bustle of activity, and it markets itself as a “stress and grade free” environment. Many universities have similar centers, including NYU, SDSU, and Amherst.

How do you comabat stress? If you haven’t tried art, I suggest it, as I use art to cope every single day. Have a stress free week, and get creative!