Randy Brodnax and What I Learned When I Didn’t Want To Learn

It was a Monday morning. I didn’t want to go to class.

It was a class day, and it was class time, but I wouldn’t actually get to work on my projects for class. Instead, I was told, I needed to show up and then listen to some artist talk and do demonstrations.

It was a Monday morning. And I really, really didn’t want to go listen to some guy talk.

It might not have been as bad if it had been something I knew about or was doing, but the artist they had coming in was a ceramics artist. I haven’t taken any ceramics classes. I’ve only finished two classes: drawing and design. I’m enrolled in two new classes: design II (3-d design) and metal art/jewelry making. Nothing to do with ceramics.

It was a Monday morning. And I didn’t even care to hear about a topic I wasn’t actively engaged in.

But…but I’m so stuck in my head, always trying to get an A, and I knew that missing class would count against me. So I got coffee and went in, thinking that I could just hide in the back, write a bit on something else unrelated to the topic at hand, and maybe even sneak out a little early. Because I knew I wasn’t going to learn anyway.

Then it happened.

I learned something when I didn’t want to learn.

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

The artist in question was Randy Brodnax.  And he seemed like a cool guy – he had made breakfast (biscuits with sour cream and molasses; you were supposed to dip the biscuits into the sour cream and molasses…he was from Louisiana, and apparently that’s a local thing). He had a pot of gumbo going for lunch time. And his work for sale was set out on a table. The work was pretty cool. Big expensive pieces, medium-sized, almost affordable pieces, and small just about affordable pieces.

So I settled in with my phone, ready to play some games, with a notebook handy for when I got bored.

Except I didn’t get bored. I learned something. I learned how to be an artist.

Sort of.

Okay, so it wasn’t the most earth-shattering learning. But two things that he said stuck with me.

First, he said not to be afraid to try something. That’s the key to being an artist. And he’s right, of course. I quit teaching and began taking art classes and submitting my writing. I have no idea how to ‘art,’ and sending out writing is not for the faint of heart. Trying it is the key, though. Being willing to toss yourself at it, knowing that it may or may not stick, but that you put it out there…that makes all the difference.

The second thing he said was to be consistently inconsistent. Again, not new, not earth-shattering, but oh so important to hear. It applies to art, and it applies to writing. Doing the expected, doing same thing over and over. It’s boring. Not just boring – it’s stagnation. And that is true whether you’re designing a piece of jewelry, whether you’re making an awesome 3-legged toad, or if you’re writing a story. You want whatever you’re doing to be different. You want it to stand out. So you want to be inconsistent in what you do and how you do it, and you want to do that consistently. Which sounds like a contradiction, I realize, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true, and that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

What was my point again?

Oh, yes – you can learn, even when you don’t expect to, and even when you don’t want to. Now go buy some of Randy Brodnax’s stuff. (My Randy toad has been staring at me while I write this, and I think he might be controlling me.)

Three-legged ceramic toad by Randy Brodnax

Three-Legged Ceramic Toad by Randy Brodnax


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but hammers give me a blood blister…

I am happy to say that this is not my fault!

I am happy to say that this is not my fault!

This semester, I’m taking two similar yet different art class: Design II (which is really 3D design) and Jewelry & Metal Arts. They’re similar because they’re super hands-on. I’m constantly doing and making things. I’m carrying a tool box with all my gear because I need it – I only have a single sketch pad, and while I’m using it, it’s just for sketches before I get to the actual making part.

In the design class, it’s been strange, too, because it’s not the only class the teacher is in charge of. He actually has three classes going at once: my design class (I’m the only student in it), Sculpture I (with three students in it), and Sculpture II (with three different students in it). So he has seven students spread over the three classes. It means there’s a lot of running back and forth on his part, and he starts and supervises, but, by and large, I get a lot of straight out work time where I can get things done.

To make the design class even stranger, the teacher was one of my students almost 10 years ago when I was teaching English. He’s from another country, and he had to take some developmental English classes when he first came here. I taught him English, and while I didn’t remember him, he remembered me. The swap to being his student isn’t as odd as I thought it would be, probably because we are both adults and, at least on my part, I always feel like there is something to learn from another person. Maybe English isn’t his greatest skill. 3D design is not my greatest skill, either. I’m open to having someone teach me their skills, regardless of whether or not I taught them.

My first project - a simple pendant with a butt joint, a sweat joint, and a t-joint.

My first project – a simple pendant with a butt joint, a sweat joint, and a t-joint.

My other class, the jewelry and metal arts one, is not at all what I expected. I had images of working with wire, twisting jump rings, maybe some basic soldering. Nope. It all started with cutting metal into a necklace and then learning three solder joints (with a torch! a big, fire-tipped torch!!). We got to sand blast it. We got to put a patina on it. It was crazy fun, and I have no idea what our next project is, but it looks like we’ll be starting it soon…

Okay, now to get to the part I know you were waiting for. The blood blister.

Well, my design class, while it’s fun, it’s also apparently hazardous for people like me who are always able to find a way to accidentally hurt themselves. I should be famous for the number of paper cuts I have managed to give myself, especially with corrugated cardboard. (For those who have never had the pleasure of a corrugated cardboard paper cut, let me assure you – you don’t want to!)

I was working on my wire sculpture of a horse’s head (named, appropriately, Fish No. 1), and some of the wire was not quite straight. The instructor, not knowing that I am that amazingly clumsy, went ahead and gave me a huge hard-rubber mallet so that I could straighten it out.

The eye of the horse in the wire sculpture.  I'm sure it's obvious what it is, right?

The eye of the horse in the wire sculpture. I’m sure it’s obvious what it is, right?

I put the sculpture on the floor, saw where it needed straightening, and then brought the mallet down on the tip of my thumb bruisingly hard. Like it immediately started turning colors and swelling…and a big ‘ole blood blister formed. I swear, I’m not bad with pain – anyone who gets as many paper cuts as me knows to just curse and move along. But this was so bad and so painful that I literally almost fainted. I felt myself go light-headed. It hurt that much. Ouch. So much ouch. All in one little finger.

I put ice on it, but I couldn’t really do much else for the rest of the class, and as I was eating lunch, it was getting worse instead of better, so my husband was kind enough to drive me to an urgent care clinic that decided so go ahead and do x-rays. It wasn’t fractured, but they told me to keep icing it and take a bunch of Advil, and they warned me that the blood blister might wind up under the fingernail, and if it got too big, I should go ahead and go see a doctor so they could STICK A POINTY THING IN IT AND MAKE IT BLEED. Suffice it to say, I didn’t like that idea, and I’m happy to say that didn’t happen. My finger is mostly better, other than the blood blister still hanging around, but I’m hoping it will start going away soon.

It’s over! And it’s about to begin again…

"Blind" contour drawing of my hand from day one...

“Blind” contour drawing of my hand from day one…

Drawing of my hand on the final day of class...improvement?

Drawing of my hand on the final day of class…improvement?

Finished with my first semester, and got my grades. But then life got busy, and I haven’t had a chance to update.

First, off, I got As in both my classes. Go me! Of course, I can’t help but think that one of the classes was simply graded by “feelings” as opposed to any sort of rubric. The teacher seemed to think that we had bonded (she told me all sorts of private things about her life and then tried to hug me), and I know someone else who is a magnificent artist who only got a B in her class.

My first semester of art classes are done. Sort of. So if I got an A, it was definitely for effort. In the other class, I do think I earned it, especially since I was one of the only students who actually fulfilled the requirement for all the assignments. That’s an A I think I deserved, even if my work wasn’t the best in the class. Of course, that was also the class that actually had a rubric and critiques and feedback. Mostly.

Now, Christmas break is almost over. The college re-opens on the 5th. Classes begin on the 20th.

My new schedule is only two days a week this time, but they are full day. I’ll be in class from 9:30 to 12:20 and then from 1 to 3:50. My mornings will be full of Design II (3-D Design), and my afternoons will be metal-working and jewelry. Should be fun. Should be challenging. Should let me learn a lot of great new things to work on.

Neither of the courses actually count towards my degree, other than giving me credit hours. But I think that they will help me have a more well-rounded art degree. Especially because I do have to take sculpture and ceramics as part of the degree, so it makes sense (to me) to take a 3D design class if I’ll be making 3D designs. And the jewelry and metal-working? Who wouldn’t take that?