Continuing Education Blog

PNCA offers evening and weekend classes for adults and young people. For adults we offer courses in art, craft, and design, as well as professional development classes. For children we have Saturday classes during the school year and week-long camps during the summer. In addition to our regular teen classes, we also offer immersive summer Pre-College Studios. Our blog below gives you an idea of some of the goings on, and you can see our full course catalogue online here.

Uke Class


In Fall 2013 Continuing Education offered for the first time a course in building a Ukulele. Taught by BFA instructor and avid ukulele builder Frank Irby, the each student in the class builds an instrument starting from a set of koa wood. Luthier Max Sipe co-teaches and brings a wealth of professional experience to the classroom. The course itself was designed to not only enable students to build a ukulele but it teaches woodworking and wood-finished techniques that can translate to other projects.  I documented the Fall 2013 course on the Continuing Education blog.

Thursday, October 3 was the first class of Ukulele building. After quick introductions and getting to meet the Instructor, Frank Irby, and Teaching Assistant Max Sipe, we got down to the business of ukes. Frank and Max showed us their own handcrafted ukes and Max’s handmade inlays.

There are four sizes of ukuleles that are common: soprano (standard), concert, tenor, and baritone. In this class we will be building a tenor uke. Frank brought ukuleles of of all the sizes to see, hear and feel the differences. We talked about what made good instrument wood, including where it comes from, what makes the rings tighter and how the wood selected and harvested. Our ukuleles are being constructed out of Koa wood for the soundboard and body, mahogany for the necks and rosewood for the fret boards. We talked about how bracing effects sound, how we can create the best sounding uke and what you can do to add some personal style to your creation.

koa wood

After learning about the power and hand tools we are going to use for the class (and the safety demo) we chose our bundles of body wood. They was an incredible variety in the looks of the bundles of koa, from reddish, marbled looking pieces to rich yellow.

We went over bookmatching and laid out our pieces for our soundboards and backs, finding the best looking combination and headed back to the shop to plane down our pieces to 3mm. Next class we start cutting out the body and moving forward.

Week 2

Blogging a CE class-second class of Ukulele Building

We arrived to class on Thursday ready to do some joining and bending. Half of the class started on cutting, measuring and bending the sides of our Ukes while the half began working joining the soundboards and the backs together. 


Last week we found the best book-matched combinations and moving from there we first ran the edges of our boards through the planer to get them as evenly matched as the machine allowed. Next we used the sandpaper levels to get the sides perfectly straight.


After much testing and re-sanding it was time to move on to gluing the two pieces together. For the class we are using super glue and an activator to make it harden and dry quickly. The two pieces are laid out, roped together and glued.


Bending the sides

Moving on the sides, we measured and using the table saw, cut the sides to the proper shape. This involved clamping the sides to the a guide board to ensure the angle was true. 

Now the nerve-wracking bit, bending sides to shape. The first part of this process was laying the heating blanket on the side bender (built by Frank) and the wet wood on top of that. While the wood heated and the molds were pressed slowly in to place we sprayed the wood down with water. When we got the wood clamped down completely it was left on the heat for 10 minutes.


Following ten minutes of heating and spraying with water, the sides were transferred into the molds to sit overnight and have their shape for good.


Next class we move on to cutting the soundboard and backs out.

Week 3

Class three focused on three parts of the construction-the decorative rosette, cutting the soundboard and back out, and adding the head and tail blocks to the sides of body. 


The class began the process of adding the rosettes by tracing the finished shape on to the soundboard and finding the center of the sound-hole and measuring out where our rosettes would be. Choosing from scrap strips of wood, plastic and paper we sorted out what would make up the rosettes and measured that thickness. Max got the  drill press with his circular cuter set up with the blades of the cutter matching the thickness of rosettes.

Now the materials were laid into the groove and glued into place. Followed by a run through the drum sander to smooth everything out and the back and soundboard cut into shape.

Tail and Head Block

The sides were placed back into the mold, measured and trimmed so that they lined up exactly. Each of the blocks was sanded to match the curve of the bottom or top and epoxied into place. While this was the step that required the least direction, the exacting nature of the fits made it more time consuming than expected. It was great to see the ukulele starting to take shape and gave us even more incentive to move forward.

Next week- kerfing the sides.

Week 4

Class four was all about the interior structure-the kerf binding and bracing, both the back and soundboard.

Reverse Kerfing

With the sides in the mold, we added the kefing pieces, which were pre-cut from mahogany. Using water and a heat gun, the were formed into the approximate shape, glued along the edges of the sides and clamped into place. The reverse kerfing will give the uke a solid structure and help it hold its shape.

While the kerfing dried, work began on making the bracing for the back.


The bracing is made from 1/4 inch strips of spruce. The majority of the rest of the class was cutting and shaping the bracing and thickness sanding the soundboard and back in preparation for gluing in the bracing.

Next week- Gluing the bracing, sanding the body and more.

Week 5
This week’s class focused on making the bracing, preparing the sides and attaching the soundboard and back.

Uke bracing
The bracing is made from pieces of spruce. These pieces were cut down to size and glued to the soundboard (supported on a flat surface) and the backs (supported on the 25 foot radius sanding disk, the braces for the back were sanded into this shape prior to gluing).

The back will have a slight dome shape giving the ukulele a stronger sound. The front is flat and you can see on the image below the patch to reinforce the bridge.
Uke Front Bracing

After the glue dried, mini planers and chisels were used to give the braces an arched shape and sloping toward the edges. This allowed for a lighter weight with plenty of support.
uke brace shaping

After completing the bracing we started working on evening out the sides of the uke, getting ready to add the soundboard and back. This involved an incredible amount of hand-sanding. The back on the 25ft dish and the front side on a flat surface. Notches were cut in the kerfing to allow the bracing to sit flush. The soundboard and backs are glued on using a go-bar system to hold the pieces together.
uke go-bar
Next class: preparing the neck and fretboard.

Week 6
I this week’s class we worked on preparing the neck block and a bit of catching up with constructing the body.

The first step of the neck was gluing the neck piece together at the scarf joint (which were pre-cut, thanks to Frank). We put glue on and and allowed it to dry on the exposed joint to provide a tackier surface when they are glued and clamped.

uke neck

To clamp them a jig was set up on the table and the neck laid on its side. The jig prevented the two pieces from sliding apart.

After drying the heel was added to the neck. This was much simpler glue and clamp job.

uke heal

Next week we finish the neck shape and fingerboard.

Week 7

Week 7 was a busy a busy week in the woodshop. On Thursday we started working on shaping the heel of the neck, adding the bolt to connect to the body and adding the head laminate.

The first step in shaping the heel by roughly cutting it out on the bandsaw. Followed by using the oscillating sander to shape the curve. The front of the headstock was made square on the belt sander.
neck uke

Next we used the jig to measure and drill the hole for the bolt in the body and the nut in the neck.

uke neck jig

Saturday! Max lead the open work time in the woodshop on Saturday where work began on cutting the banding. This involved using a router mounted to a guide arm. This was a nerve wracking experience with the possibility wrecking all of the work on the body.

Channel cutting

After this was finished the binding was glued into the notch that was just cut.

Uke Binding
Next week, getting toward the end.

Week 8
The eighth class and extra session concentrated on adding, leveling and shaping the frets. Hammering them into place was the quick part of the job, the leveling (through sanding flat) and shaping took the bulk of the time. We also cut the bridge out rosewood and epoxied it to the body. The shaping of the head was finished, the nut shaped and the saddle was added to the bridge. The lacquering process which took a couple of days and a lot of spraying, waiting and sanding was completed at home.

To complete the process the holes for the strings were drilled through the bridge and body. Using beads tied onto the strings, they were strung through the body and wound on the tuners. After a bit of adjusting the nut and saddle it was good to go.

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PNCA Encaustic Studio

Kindra Crick, Empathy Molecule II, 2013

PNCA’s Gallery 214 exhibits through July 23 the creations of participants in PNCA’s Encaustic Studio that in past years has offered community artists a peer environment for exploring the encaustic medium and for critical peer dialogue about personal artistic practice.

The encaustic studio also offers opportunities to study with leading contemporary artists working in this medium. Recent master-workshops at PNCA have been Facilitated by visiting artists Timothy McDowell, Lisa Pressman, Mark Rediske, Andrea Schwartz-Feit and Nicholas Wilton.

Encaustic painting education at pnca started two decades ago under the leadership of former faculty member jef gunn and provost emeritus greg ware. Since 2011, Claudia Hollister has led the encaustic studio.

The image is provided courtesy of Kindra Crick, Empathy Molecule II, Encaustic Mixed Media, 2013.

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Weekends in June

Botanical Illustration

Drawing by Lynn Kitagawa

Next weekend PNCA Continuing Education has group of classes starting including:

Online Portfolio In this weekend workshop build the structure and start the content of your online portfolio or personal website. More than just a basic web design class, this class will cover how to write about your work and yourself, marketing yourself and how to maintain your site. Using the Squarespace platform, you will be leave with an effective web presence and an understanding of this powerful web publishing tool.  Register

Illustrator Basics Whether taking as a stand alone weekend or part of the discounted Weekend Pack, learn the basics of the powerful design and digital illustration tool Adobe Illustrator. Taught by local artist Damien Gilley, you will learn the basic functions of the program: drawing and shape tools, type, text and color management. Register

Botanical Illustration In this four Saturday class learn the techniques to create Botanical Illustrations in pen and ink. Using live specimens, students create accurate and aesthetically pleasing images. The emphasis of the class will be on observation and drawing skills, as well as development of personal style. Register

Collography Spend four Saturdays in PNCA’s printlab creating collography prints. Using non-traditional and found materials to create printing plates, explore pattern and texture on the printing press. Prints created using collography are unique and beautiful and call for experimentation while also learning reinforcing the basics of printing on a press. Register

PNCA Continuing Education classes are open to the public for registration. All prerequisites are self managed by the student and do not require further proof before starting a class.

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Palmarin MergesChanto Variations (part of a diptych) 

Multiple Collagraph plates, oil paint 

25” x 38”
Palmarin Merges Collography

This Summer, CE instructor Palmarin Merges is teaching Collagraphy on Saturday mornings in June. Collography is a printmaking process that combines the elements of collage with drawing. Plates are built up with objects as diverse as gesso, fabric and found objects and printed on a press.

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Guitar Effect Pedals Week Three

Inside of Guitar Pedal
This is the Third Entry from PNCA Librarian Dan McClure on his adventures in the Continuing Education Guitar Effects Pedal class.

This is the inside of a tremolo pedal I’m hoping to replicate and improve. I’ve had this since 1996 but rarely use it on stage because the knobs are mounted on the side and there’s no LED light indicating that it’s on. It would be really nice if it had a volume knob and speed-doubling footswitch with a light too.

Ohms Image

Ohm’s law is where it started on the first night, and we keep coming back to it. It’s the third class and I sort of get it. Mostly. So many amps, so many Ohms.


Mark brought in an oscilloscope tonight and showed waveforms. He said he has a collection of oscilloscopes, mostly from Techtronics (like this one), right here in the Portland area. Apparently all of the secrets of the universe can be unveiled using a multimeter and an oscilloscope. I’m going to miss class next week because I’ll be in Washington D.C. I’ll try to post some interesting pictures of my trip anyway. When I come back we’ll really be in the thick of things, constructing pedals and refining circuits.

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Guitar Effect Pedals Week Two

This is the Second Entry from PNCA Librarian Dan McClure on his adventures in the Continuing Education Guitar Effects Pedal class.
Guitar Effect Parts
At the start of every class Mark gives away fun stuff he has lying around his shop. I took a Piezo microphone element, a vintage Bakelite earpiece and a mysterious op-amp circuit board. I’m sure I’ll make great use of these.
Guitar Pedal two
Mark goes over quite a bit of theory. This is a depiction of a resistor. He also discussed waveforms, capacitors and variable resisters during the second class.
Guitar Pedal Three
I’m getting ready for the third session tonight. Some of the supplies I’m bringing: some Carling switches, a soldering iron, a Hammond enclosure for one of my effects, some solder, a multimeter, some LED light bezels, an adjustable screwdriver and an old Schaller tremolo I might try to replicate and improve.

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The Youth Program is doing something very exciting? What is it you ask? We are collaborating with BodyVox to host Art.Play.Dance. A class inspired by artist Nick Cave’s Sound Suit work. Wanna know what a sound suit is? Check out this video from Nick Cave’s Residency at the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

Join the Youth Program as we offer Art.Play.Dance. This 4-week workshop allows students to bring sculpture to life! Structured for 7 to 11 year olds, this course partners PNCA with BodyVox for an exciting collaboration. Students will make work inspired by artist Nick Cave’s Sound Suits, wearable artworks that pair sculpture and dance. Students will make their suits using a variety of found materials, fabric, and more. Learn more about Art.Play.Dance. via our registration website:

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Guitar Effect Pedals Week One

This is the First Entry from Dan McClure on his adventures in the Guitar Effects Pedal class.
Guitar Effects Pedal ID
I’m taking the Guitar Effect Pedals class at PNCA taught by Mark Keppinger—this is going to be really fun. I took these photographs on the Wednesday, the first night of class. At the start of class Mark handed out this card, which makes it official and also doubles as a library card.
Mark Keppinger Teaching
This is Mark. He’s actually kind of a big star in the theremin community, where he’s known for his vacuum tube theremin designs. A whole section of the Theremin World site is devoted to his designs.
He’s featured on this youtube video discussing his theremin designs too:

There’s a theremin on his shirt too! Mark is a wonderful teacher. Very patient and knowledgeable, and he has a great sense of humor.
Guitar Effect Circuit Board
In this class we’ll be building effects pedals suitable for use with electrically amplified instruments such as keyboards, theremins—even guitars. This is a picture of some of Mark’s circuit boards. Mark has designed the circuits and also supplies almost all the parts. Class participants will supply the enclosures and a lot of sweat equity. Fun!

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Steel String Lap Ukulele

Steel String Uke

CE Instructor Frank Irby just finished this beautiful steel string lap ukulele. It sounds as nice as it looks and is amazing to play. Frank still has a couple of spots in this term’s Ukulele class.

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Painter’s Craft

Jerry Sumpter Teaching

Jerry Sumpter is teaching Painter’s Craft this term. The Strategies class is designed to assist students of painting to build beyond foundation knowledge—toward a more complete skill set. This class, we will focus on two very powerful , yet diverse painting strategies. The first four weeks of study are dedicated to employing techniques developed by the French Royal Academy. During the remaining four weeks attention shifts to the ideas and methods taken up by the Spanish and American “lyrical” Realists. As a whole, the class will focus on color, image construction and composition as it directly applies to the painter’s craft.

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