Clay Mixing

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As we began preparing for classes one of our top priorities was to get clay.  We are pretty young as a studio and so many of the things basic to a studio need to be acquired.  We’re also as a pretty young business and we don’t have a lot of capital, so getting what we needed on the cheap was another priority.  Fortunately we had two resources to pull from.  From my former business we had about 400 lb. of a clay body called 200.  This clay is a brick body from the local manufacturer that my ex-husband and I would screen and mix into a workable throwing body.  We also had about 400 lb. of soldate 60 scraps left over from previous sculpture projects.  The soldate is a Laguna Clay body with a 60 grit sand, it is a fantastic hand building body.  On the surface this is a simple solution to our needs, but the condition of all that clay was nowhere near usable.

The 200 had been bagged in 30 lb. lumps that dried out completely, The body is very open because of the brick grog and so has a much shorter storage life than other clay bodies.  So that is where Gabe began,  taking those large heavy blocks of clay and breaking them apart and then crushing the bits to be slaked down in water.

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The clay was allowed to soak in the water for a few days so that it could be totally saturated. Gabe then put together a drying frame to prepare the clay for mixing.  The frame was 2×2’s and a large piece of canvas.  This size was needed so we could get it through the door, the wet clay should not be allowed to freeze as it pulls the moisture inside to the surface, making the clay a slimy mess.  We filled the drying frame with the slaked clay in batches of about 200lb.

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But of course the project took place at the end of December and the beginning of January so freezing was a part of this project.  The ice crystals cutting through the super wet clay was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.  Of course it did need to be remixed a bit, but because it was so wet, this was not too much of a problemclay mixing 5

Once the 200 was bagged and waiting, it was time for the soldate.  Gabe’s job here was not as tough as the soldate was in slightly better shape.  Some did have to be slaked down, but much of it could be mixed straight from the scrap bags.  It did all need to be weighed as the plan for the new clay body was a straight 50/50 mixture.

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One the soldate was prepped and bagged we were ready to begin mixing.  The pug mill was loaded with about 150 lb. at a time, 75 of 200 and 75 of soldate.  An even mixture was a priority so the clay was run in 4 batches and then bagged again at 25 lb.  He then re ran them through again, one bag from each batch.clay mixing 2

As the batches ran, it was my job to weigh, wedge and bag the clay.

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Once the mixing was finished it needed to age, though we were forced to use it for classes right away.  After waiting a couple of weeks I sat down at the wheel to give it a try.  This is a 10 lb. pot,  the clay is still young, but aging into a great clay body.photo-7

and here are some small vases for the same project, more words on this to come.

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Building the Doll House

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Once the molds were dry, the build began immediately.  I have not worked extensively with stiff slabs and there was a bit of learning curve.  The procedure was pretty straight forward.  All the pieces were pressed in a day and left in the molds to stiffen.  the next day they were sprung from the molds and assembled.  the floor, then the walls, one at a time, and finally the ceiling.  once the main floor is built, the details and stairs are added on the following day.

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The schedule for completion was very tight, so these had to go to the kiln pretty quickly.  The large stories completely filled the kiln.   This was actually one of the main design parameters, the small kiln is our studio’s limit, transcending that limit has been a priority of ours from the beginning.  This small kiln also lacks the computer controls that I was used to at the art center.  It was an unfortunate combination of dirt barn floor, that prevented drying, small hot kiln and no way to read internal temps that cost us much time and stress on the build of the piece.  The first piece blew up in firing.  the tight schedule and the stress of deadline pressure, constant cold from working in the old barn and months without a day off piled up.  All these factors contributed to the loss of the piece and certainly to my willingness to give up and bring the work incomplete to critique.  I assumed it would cost me my grade and I was ready to take the incomplete in the class as well.

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But of course I don’t work alone, and after a day to cool down and refocus with the support that is sometimes necessary for hard work, I got back to work and remade the missing piece.  That piece was not nearly the only work lost in the early winter and we employed a variety of methods to get the clay dry in the damp, cold barn.  The first attempt was to use heat lamps to dry the work before firing.  This worked pretty well for the pre firing dry time, but we were still loosing work, those roosters had to be remade three times.  Finally we ponied up the money for a pyrometer, which has been one of the best investments the studio has made to date.  Now we are able to monitor the interior temp and ensure it does not climb to high before we are sure the work is completely dry.  For our situation, its completely necessary.

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Once all the work was fired and repairs made to the porch pieces, which were a design flaw and needed much post firing attention, the work was glazed.  The film was a primary consideration here, I needed to choose a surface that would show the characters and film well.  I was also concerned with the characters being able to keep their feet so an unglazed surface was chosen for the floors and stairs.  We have since modified the method of movement for them during filming and this may not remain a good decision but it is integral to the finished look of the piece and can not be regretted.

 

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Over all, Im am really happy with the way this piece has turned out so far, and the interiors are wonderfully intimate.  I’m hoping we can translate that into the character of the film.

 

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Doll House

The next major project for Foxy-Wolff is another play set/ film project.  The earliest inspiration for this piece comes from Barbie’s Dream House, but early concept is as far as the influence goes.  This work was conceived of at the same time we dreamed up the LLICPS, but is so much more complex to build and film that it has taken a great deal of time to manifest.  IMG_4103Our first job was to decide on the scale of the piece.  We were wanting a larger piece than our small kiln would allow so modules were the best solution.  Another priority of the piece was a high degree of precision.  Molds then became the best solution for the build.  Several ideas were pursued, but in the end a two-part press mold was decided on, allowing uniformity of each wall with both inside and outside detail.  When making a doll house, better follow the rules of doll houses.  Each wall would then need two parts, a floor, a ceiling, a roof joist, roof tiles, trim work, gables, and a staircase; in total 15 separate molds were made.IMG_4108Originals were the first step, after determining desired finish size and calculating shrinkage, patterns were created from heavy paper.  all the decoration was applied to the patterns, then transfers were made using graphite and tracing paper.IMG_4107After the transfer process and the tiles were cut, the decoration needed to be removed from the original.  A border was then added to the tile to provide a wall for the mold.  Registration marks were also cut to help the molds fit back together after the original was removed. IMG_4116 Walls were then built and secured in preparation for the plaster.IMG_4119 once the first side of the wall was poured, the walls and the border was removed and the interior received its transfer image and was carved and prepared for plaster.  Early on we could see that an escape route for the clay was essential.  the tabs at the top and bottom were added to create voids to allow this.  in the end this was not quite enough and plaster had so be dug from the window voids as well.  Another tricky issue with these was the need for the window openings to line up inside and outside.IMG_4150 The plaster was added again.  For our plaster mixing formula we follow the one provided by ceramic arts daily.

http://ceramicartsdaily.org/ceramic-supplies/ceramic-molds/plaster-mixing-101-how-to-mix-plaster-for-ceramic-molds/

The basic advice here is excellent and the ratio is nearly always perfect.  The small batches seems a bit watery, we typically add a little plaster when mixing small.image-2After a few days of drying, the molds were broken into so that the original could be removed and the mold left to dry.  At least a week, but the longer they dry, the better the molds become.IMG_4174 As mentioned above, they piece required many details.  The mold making phase of the project lasted weeks.IMG_4179The stairs proved a different sort of challenge.  As I said, precision is a high priority for the project, I was unsure of how to get what I wanted with clay and keep it crisp through the build and pour.  This bit was handed off to Gabe and he engineered and built this beauty in a couple of hours.  This mold was not only huge time-saving but its crisp lines really makes the look of the piece.IMG_4180The roof and the ceiling were difficult to design, this is how the module aspect of each floor works, with locking tabs in the floor and roof of each story. Also critical is tying the porch to the stairs so that the characters can move from floor to floor smoothly.IMG_4181Once the molds were built we had to learn how to use them.  The stairs were a particular challenge, keeping that crisp line and filling all of the cracks and gaps took several tries and approaches.IMG_4186As the molds were dried and their techniques for use were understood, we were ready for the build.  More on that soon.

Pottery Class with Foxy-Wolff

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I began teaching in 1998, a few months after the completion of my bachelors degree.  It was an opportunity that was set up by my former professor and mentor Vicky Hansen.  That first gig was for the a local senior center here in Pueblo.  It was poorly paid and I had to buy supplies from my meager checks, but it was a fantastic place to begin accumulating a solid portfolio of projects for teaching, and the skills to communicate them effectively. I stayed with that job for two years, and it was during that time that I began to understand the fundamental connection between teaching and knowledge.  From the perspective of a student this connection is simple and obvious but for the teacher is more subtle.  It was through teaching hand building to elderly beginners that my personal identity as a sculptor was born.  Learning to observe and identify a students difficulty and then offer a clear route to success, taught me to see my own work more completely, and the excitement and raw creativity of new students has kept my energy and commitment pure.

A few years after the SRDA I was offered the position of resident artist at the local arts center.  I stayed in that position for eleven years.  My years of teaching at the art center continued the learning began at the senior center and refined other skills.  From class room management for large groups of kids to the subtle push and pull of helping an artist aim for higher goals, I truly became a teacher of ceramic art.  In fact I often feel that I am a better at teaching than anything else I do.

After so many years, I was ready for a break.  The endless rotation of students in an institution like an art center became exhausting.  It was possible for me to teach preschoolers, at risk high schoolers, learning disabled students and artists in the same day, and of the over one thousand students that I might teach in an average year the vast majority would only come once for a single project, meaning that studio rules and basic processes had to be repeated endlessly.  Don’t get me wrong, It was a well paid job that I loved, but the enormous energy requirements to deliver effective lessons under those conditions for multiple years was just something that I could no longer sustain.

So when I said goodbye to my students and studio at the art center in December, I figured it would be a good long time until I picked up that hat again.  Obviously I was wrong.  Almost immediately after leaving I started being approached by parents seeking lessons for their kids.  i would give out my number, promise that eventually I would resume teaching and forget the encounter.  Enough of these piled up, with follow up calls that I felt I had to set a schedule and start up again.

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The first thing we had to do to begin was to rethink the studio (again).  Teaching ceramics requires some room, which is at a premium in the old barn.  Of course there were areas that were not maximized for efficiency, so that is where we began.  We have four electric wheels that we set in a tight group and a long table very close by for the hand builders to work.  The proximity allows me to teach two lessons at once without missing that critical moment before a work fails.  This was set up in the area that we had set aside for my step dad to park his car.  Fortunatly he’s made other arrangements for the car.  Other things had to shift as well, because we wanted the place to be accommodating for students and parents that might not be familiar with the clutter and dust common to pottery studios.

I structure the classes in beginner and advanced sections, these groups rotate from table to wheels on the hour in a two hour lesson.  The class is full at 11 students, from age 4 to 15.  A student needs to 10 years old to start the wheel so younger students concentrate on hand building and the older tend to gravitate to the wheel.  For our first lesson the beginner hand builders made votive holders from pinch pots.  The lesson is the same for a wheel student until centering and the cylinder are understood.

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I’m not surprised to be teaching again, its what I do and I’ll always do it in one way or another, I am surprised that it has given the studio and my art life a feeling of life and completion that I was unaware that it lacked.  Apparently I am a part of the lives of my students, and they are undoubtedly a deep part of mine.  The new class structure and the flexibility of owning the school gives us options for classes that I’ve never considered before.  the four week formula will allow us to take on more complex single subjects and really explore them.  Possible ideas include mold making, clay making and pit firing, and large scale sculpture.  Honestly were a bit fired up.  One thing is sure, teaching has the potential to be as new and exciting as the rest of our art life, and through teaching we empower other artists to begin their own lifetime of growth and discovery.

Up next?  We’re hoping to add adult classes for a later Saturday session.  TBA

In Celebration of Lost Days

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Productivity is amazingly important to art and to creating a new business, but there is no way to be “on” all the time.  The last couple of days in the studio we have been taking things nice and slow.  Taking care of things on the farm, taking care of family and chatting a bit.  Gabe also dedicated a day to a drawing on his desk, he calls this a doodle… He’s planning to wipe it off this week.

I’m including this here because I think it says something fundamental about art.  Working in ceramic, we art merchants of permanence in a way.  The work will surely break one day, but those pieces have the potential to outlast our culture.  It can be daunting and for me at least gives a responsibility to be a fairly strict self editor.

Considering the Woman of Dolni Vestonice, it becomes clear why.

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This tiny ceramic object (about 4 inches high) is among the first ceramic objects in the world.  Made around 26,000 BP, she was excavated in a site in Eastern Europe and is a symbol for western prehistoric culture.  Much of what we know about her is speculation, because she has outlived nearly every other trace of culture from the area where she was found.

So then what about a day spent on work never intended to last?  One of the things I love most about this drawing is its placement on the old desk.  The scared paint comes through the graphite and adds a layer of thought and possibility that is often lost in a drawing on paper. And what about preplanning?  This is speculation of course but I imagine that this work was not fully conceived when he began, more like a jazz composition than a concerto. So that as the piece developed he was able to add detail that seemed interesting at the time, but was under no pressure to make something that he would have to look at for the rest of his life.  (This blog post defeats that a bit, sorry)

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Another point that I think is relevant to make here is his effort and concentration on this work.  Truly, Gabe is good at what he does and has spent years practicing his skills in drawing, so it may be overstating things to say he went all out, but he certainly didn’t go half way here.  This impermanent thing got his full attention that day.  This is why this desk doodle deserves this attention.  What did this exercise serve?  Who knows, maybe nothing will come of it, but we never really know.  So often our best ideas and greatest accomplishments come from a little down time.

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We did have a bit of production though.  These bits are from the last firing, you will notice the black spots here .  These are achieved by using an iron oxide bearing spray paint.  We are still in the testing phase here, but can see a great potential.  The next step is to see how they decal.

Bits and Pieces

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Gabe worked on glazing some pendants for firing this week and it seemed like a great invitation to write a bit about them and the process involved.  The pendants are the back bone of the Foxy-Wolff project.  Our intention is to make beautiful, affordable jewelry for every day wear.  The pieces are glazed in a range of colors and decaled with 16 different images.  IMG_4351

This is a display of the pendants at a recent holiday trunk show we did for another businesses open house.  It is a pretty good representation of color range, and many of the images are shown as well.  After two years of research and development, we have the rules and process fairly dialed.

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In the begging of the project we played around quite a bit with clay bodies, glazes and materials for generating images.  We knew we would eventually use decals, but the printer was too expensive and we didn’t want to wait to begin.  Out early best case scenario was black underglaze pencil on Laguna’s Babu porcelain.  While we always intended to fire to cone 6, the cone 10 porcelain gave us the best white.  It was also something that I had a bit of so we could proceed without having to make an order.  Once the image was drawn on the bisque the pieces were glazed with a clear and fired.  39752-0

We were not so systematic about size on the early pieces because the images were generated individually and could suit a range of sizes and weights.  We still have a few of these very early pieces in mix, which is wonderful for showing another technique, though these are a bit more expensive as Gabe put a massive amount of time into each tiny piece.

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In the early days we were very divided in the work we did for the project, I made things and gabe decorated, glazing has always been done together as it is so much work.  In the photos above you can see a couple examples of the bits before their first firing.  Now we are both pretty fully engaged in all aspects of production though Gabe still renders all the drawings. This allows the work to feel cohesive, and provides a sense of identity for the pieces with so many different image choices.  Drawn decal images are not the only choices though, we are still developing stamped images that will better work with glazes that either don’t show the decal or recolor to badly in decal firing.  Above you can see the only finished design, a relief version of the “Hail” image.  Each piece begins with a specific gram weight so that the pre sized decals will work with minimal alteration.

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Following the first bisque firing we glaze the pieces and prep them for the kiln.  These “towers” were designed to allow the fully glazed pieces to hang in firing and maximize kiln space by pushing the pendants into the vertical space. IMG_3182

After firing the pieces receive their decal.  Each one is hand cut and applied to the glaze surface then allowed to dry.  They are then reloaded on the the towers and fired again.IMG_3270 

After the third firing, they are ready to have the hardware applied and be worn.  Here I am wearing two of the “Storm” swirls.  If you are interested in purchasing pendants, please contact us through information provided on the About link.  Each necklace sells for 15.00 dollars plus shipping if necessary.

Limited Liability Insurance Company Play Set Video

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Once the physical play set was finished we were ready to roll straight into video production.  For me that meant writing the script.  We had been laying out the story and direction of the video for months.  My job was to piece those conversations together and write something that was cohesive and communicated what we wanted to say.  Sadly this involved visiting a lot of insurance websites.  Gabe’s prep was no easier, but maybe more fun?  He focused on preparing props and equipment for the shoot.  Here he is shooting the play set for the poster that hangs in Teds room in the opening shot.

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Finding location and actors was a major challenge, but perseverance and good friends made all the difference.  A former student came through with the office and a local theater group provided our actor.  John Brown, who is associated with the Impossible Players provided the skill needed to play our boss.  For the rest of the cast we chose young friends and our kids.  This was perfect of course because it brought the feeling of toys and play to the front.

 

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Once the shoot at the office was finished we were ready to move on the the commercial portion of the shoot.   For this location we used a stall in the studio, emptied, lit and cleaned, it was ready for the shoot.  With out a doubt this was the most fun I had in the whole project, and I feel that it is the strongest part of the piece as well.

Our last location was at Raven Martin’s house.  Our Ted was well placed to provide us with an authentic teenage boys bedroom.

Once the filming was in place the footage was handed off to Gabe for editing and the composition of the music for both of the videos.

Here they are, enjoy!