Category Archives: studio

Building the Bear Cave

The third video in  the “Magic Box” series is nearly finished, so to prepare for its release we are going back and giving a look at some of the aspects that have gone into its making. As Gabe was the lead on the cave and did the majority of the work, it seemd important for him to tell its story. Since video is his mode of expression, he put this together to detail the process of its making.

Pots for Beautiful Grotesque

We’ve been back in the studio again after a long absence for the breeding season on the farm and are starting right back in with work for an upcoming show.  We have been invited to the upcoming Beautiful Grotesque show at the Sangre de Cristo arts center in Pueblo. The show opens in October and runs through mid January. Stay tuned for information about the opening and sales.

For this body of work we chose to start with a functional form, since we worked with vases for the graffiti show covered jars seemed like the logical choice.  The jars allow for another layer of narrative to work with the content we are working with in this series. The jars are collage, using molds from several of our previous projects and from salvaged doll molds.  These images are reconfigured to suggest meanings that might relate to an ancient cultures fertility rituals.  Many of the pieces were then textured to reference deep sea salvage, creating a false timeline for the objects. They will be finished to reflect the layers of ideas.

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We used a combination of techniques for decorating the pieces, including sprigging, slip casting, buttoning, incising and sculpting.

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Though not recommended by clay makers or professionals, we are using two different bodies on pieces that incorporate slip casting.  The throwing/spriging body used is Laguna’s White Stone and the casting slip is Cashmere from New Mexico Clay. These fit together remarkably well and gave us almost no problems with attachments during shrinkage to bone-dry.

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The work as usual was very collaborative, some pieces we both touched while others were one or the other, and will be decorated as a team as well. We deliver to the gallery in late September, watch for finished pieces soon.

Recreating Chinese Glazes

As a part of my history studies at FHSU this semester, have been researching Chinese glazes, a part of that research has been the recreation of those glazes from modern materials.  Using Nigel Wood’s excellent text; Chinese Glazes; Their Origins, Chemistry and Recreation, I have been attempting to recreate the earliest evolution of these glazes.

To begin the process I had to refine the raw materials.  I began with the wood ash as this process takes the most time.  I started with half a five gallon bucket of ash from a friend’s wood heater.  They burn a mix of soft and hard wood, a great deal of it being scrap and remnants, so not only is the chemical composition difficult to guess, but there was a great deal of impurity, particularly metal, in the mix.  To begin I soaked the ash in water.  this is a good way to separate impurity and to remove the water-soluble portions of the ash, which would affect its performance in the glaze.  To streamline this process Gabe built a large screen of medium mesh.IMG_7906IMG_7909I was able to remove large particles with this, then after this process was complete I drained off the water and dried the ashes for several days.

While that was drying I prepared the clay and acquired materials I could not make myself.  The stoneware clay used was a locally sourced stoneware called 200 by Summit Brick which it uses to make a white brick.  The porcelain is Laguna’s Babu porcelain.  To process the clay I first crushed it with a hammer then ground it fine in a blender.IMG_7912Once the materials were prepped I got to mixing and glazing, the test pieces were made from the bodies used in the glazes, though the 200 has an addition of reclaimed Soldate 60 from Laguna to add plasticityIMG_7927 IMG_7966Rather than going to the back of the book and mixing Wood’s already translated tests, I chose to focus on the text and come up with my own basic formulas based on the research found there.  Those earliest glazes were composed of Alumina, silica and calcium carbonate derived from either limestone or wood ash.  The clay provides the alumina and silica in the mixture.  My first test were thought to be the earliest glazes used in high temperature kilns in China.  Using the two two different clay bodies I mixed 60% clay and 40% washed wood ash.  To add color I also added 2% red iron oxide.IMG_0674The stoneware and porcelain tests on the left are test 1 and contain the stoneware clay is the 200 and the test on the right is the same formula but replacing the 200 with Laguna’s Babu porcelain.  The 200 clearly has incidental colorants that are not present in the test mixed with porcelain, and so shows darker.

The nest group used the same 60/40 mixture but instead of using wood ash, I used limestone or whiting as it is more commonly known in ceramics.  For this group I also pulled the iron back to 1% because I feared over saturating the color and skewing the tests with the fluxing capacity of the iron.IMG_0675This time the test on the left is mixed with the porcelain and the set on the right with the 200.  A major down side to using the 200 in glazes is that it is prepared for brick making before I get it, which means it is full of very heavy grog. Though I did screen it, some small particles escaped and made the bottom of the testers rough and unrefined.  The wood ash too, though washed and crushed was not ball milled and so added large particles that did not break down and integrate with the glaze.  They are beautiful glazes but could only be used on sculpture without significantly more work in refining the raw materials.

The next group of glazes were derived from the earliest porcelain glazes, and use little wood ash.  IMG_0676From the left: 82% Babu porcelain, 18% whiting and .5g RIO                   70% Babu porcelain, 30% whiting and .5% RIO                                                 70% Babu porcelain, 28% whiting, 2% wood ash and .5% RIO

The test in the center, number 6, was my favorite from all the the tests, it is a buttery matte with a subtle green color.  Adding a  full percent of iron would make this glaze a winner on the porcelain body, truthfully none of these is very nice on the stoneware clay, too gritty.  Though the fit does seem to work.

For the last four tests I chose recipes from the back of the book, though they had to be somewhat modified to work with chemicals I have available to me.  The first two were porcelain glazes, a clear and a northern celadon.IMG_0677These glazes are from later in the evolution of Chinese gazes and are much more complex, very near to their modern counterparts.  I had to change these recipes, especially where the author used english ball clays which I don’t have access to.  The glaze on the left is #1 in the book and is called porcelain glaze the original glaze recipe asks for Hyplas ball clay which I substituted EPK, feeling that this would be closer in makeup than domestic ball clay. The recipe is:

Potash feldspar  25%; Wollastonite 27%;  China clay 12.5%; EPK (sub) 12.5%;  Flint 20%; Talc 3%

The recipe on the right is #3, northern celadon, for this glaze I replaced SMD ball clay for EPK, again feeling its properties closer to domestic ball clay.

Cornish stone 56%; Wollastonite 20%; EPK (sub) 20%; Talc 3.5%; Red Iron Oxide 1.5%

These were winners on both clay bodies, I was especially impressed with the “porcelain glaze” on the stoneware, it may be the most beautiful high temperature clear I have seen on this body.

The next tests were a Northern Hares Fur Temmoku (#4 reduced) Again, slight modification was made to the original recipe, for this I subbed 200 for the BBV ball clay on the right and EPK for the test on the left.  The original recipe also asks for molochite which is a calcined china clay, which could have been made but since a sub of china clay (slightly more) was allowed, I used it.IMG_0678Cornish stone 42%; 200 (rt) EPK (left) 15%;                                             China clay 15%; Dolomite 15.5%; Flint 17%;                                                         Red Iron Oxide 4.5%; Rutile .5%

These were both beautiful, again the test containing 200 was darker and slightly more opaque, but both worked very well.

Thanks to Shane Jarrett for firing these for us, it was a wonderful study.

Hanging Wall Tiles

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Wall hanging tiles are a new part of the Magic Box project that we have been working on.  Like the house, the mold was made for this in July.  This mold was designed by Gabe and is intended to mimic gallery wrapped canvas.  The piece is large (16″x15″x2″) and was constructed initially from wood wrapped in a heavy burlap.  The top pic shows Gabe taking the mold apart after the plaster was poured.  The piece by piece construction allowed the box to be removed cleanly without damaging the plaster.  The second shows the finished piece.IMG_6001 IMG_6177 IMG_6178Once the mold was dry, we were ready to press.  The first slabs for this were 3/8″ and weighed about 15 lbs.  This weight was usually enough to build the supports from as well, provided the slab was well-shaped before pressing.  The photo of the finished tile really shows off the texture.  The initial rules of the press have changed quite a bit as we have made several.  The piece is very large for slab work and has major problems with cracking.  We have adjusted the support structure, slab depth, dry times, clay bodies and added a waster slab.  In spite of all these adjustments, cracking is still a major problem for these pieces.

In addition to the technical exploration I have tried several finishing methods for the surfaces, depending on the image and the condition of the tile.  The first series depicts images taken from The Magic Box film,  These images originated as screen shots and then were translated into paintings or transfers through various methods.

IMG_6659 IMG_6740 IMG_6614 IMG_6741These four pictures show the screen shot after photo manipulation and then the finished image on tile.  These were rendered in oxide and glaze.  This was difficult to control saturation and color gradient and was not attempted again.

IMG_6759 IMG_6751 IMG_6748The other major technique used in the first series was a more graphic approach that relied on decals and glaze effects.  I really love these, in part because they work with the cracking a bit better than the heavily image dependent tiles.  This graphic approach also relies less on images from the film.  Only the house image here is taken directly from the film.  The other two tiles are more descriptive of the development of the characters depicted.

painting tiles1 painting tiles 2 Painting tiles 3IMG_7387The second series saw further development of both the technical clay and surfacing techniques.  The tile above was too badly cracked to glaze fire and so was epoxides and paint finished.  The process of painting ceramic always starts with spray paint for us, the first image shows the tile masked off and the second, the protected drawing after the mask was removed.  The last two are the paint in process.

IMG_7389 IMG_7391The last two tiles combine the techniques used in the first series but rather than oxides, I used commercial underglazes for building the image.  These have a painterly quality that I am interested in, but might benefit from more color.  The series is ongoing, and will likely continue to evolve.

Film Festival Trophies

Every year we make the awards for the Pueblo 24 hour film festival in our home town Pueblo CO.  This year we made a video to accompany the process.  Rather than write about this one, I’ll let you watch.

The screening was this weekend and the entire event was very successful, with 25 entries and 18 films for judging.  The big winners of the night were the makers of a film called “The Brighter Side”, Gabe and I were lucky to catch up with the winning team, Lyonman productions at the event to offer congratulations.FullSizeRender

You can view the film here:

The festival is in its 7th year and is growing steadily, If you are interested in learning more or possibly entering a film next year, their website will fill you in of the details:

http://pueblo24hourfilmfestival.com

You can also watch the films from previous years at this address.

Making Molds for the Empty Room

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Making molds for the house that will be used in our upcoming film, The Empty Room, has been the major focus of the last few weeks.  Using the preliminary drawings and the scale model discussed in the last post, Gabe focused on drawing the transfers.  These are done on trace paper, using a soft lead and a light table designed and made by Gabe.

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Each of the transfer pages is an exact map of the clay tile that will be built.  The light table is necessary so the transfers are not backward when they are placed on to the clay slab.

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The trace paper is laid, graphite down, onto the clay surface and smoothed out.  The paper begins to wrinkle and distort almost immediately so this step must be done quickly and precisely.  Once the sheet has had full contact with the clay and is lightly compressed onto the surface, the paper is removed and the clay is ready to work.

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The first step was to trim the borders of the wall.

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Next, the masonry joints were pushed into the slab along lines indicated by the transfer sheet using a custom rib that Gabe made for the purpose.  These lines needed to be exactly the correct size and completely uniform, no tool we had, was able to give exactly what we were looking for, so making the tool was necessary.

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Once the tile was completed, clay walls were built in preparation for plaster casting.  Shrinkage was a major factor as we need the closest size uniformity possible among the tile molds so each of them was cast no more that 12 to 18 hours after they were made.

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Using the paster formula from ceramicartsdaily.org, the tiles were cast.

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We ignored the 1″ border that is conventional in mold making so the tiles could be cut exactly to size, using the mold itself as a guide.  This makes the molds extremely fragile, we are using great care in storage and drying.

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Each wall needed its own mold because of the intricacy of the brick detail which is correct for structural brick.   In addition to the brick pattern, the third floor has many architectural details and each of the panels needed a full redesign.  At this point we have 13 molds completed with many internal details to continue to resolve, but it is encouraging to see the project so well on its way.

Art Lives Life

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There are many facets to our jobs on the farm outside of studio time.  While it is true that the spring and early summer are dominated by the horses, there are always other projects that need attention.  This bird-cage is a perfect example.

Each spring my mom raises a few baby birds that fall from the nest around the house.  In the past these have been house sparrows.  She would feed them until they could fly and eat seed and then release them.  House sparrows are small birds that could make do in the parakeet cage that used for the purpose.  This year, she has rescued a much larger chick.  At first we thought it was a starling, but as it has grown it looks more like a common grackle.

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This bird ran out of room fairly quickly in the small cage and another was needed.  The nature of the project required that we repurpose as much as possible to keep costs down, at the same time, making something that my house proud mother could live with.  We started with thrice repurposed panels of an old chicken coop, a scrap of tin from building the hay barn, an old bit of plywood from the palates in that barn and a salvaged 4×4 that Gabe’s dad gave us.

While this bird was a larger chick than the previous ones, it was still too small for the wire on the old chicken coop panels, so I began by stapling chicken wire to the frame and removing all other old bits of attachment from the panels.  Gabe started on the pitched roof, using the plywood as a frame and the tin to cover.  once these pieces were done, we attached them together to form the basic structure.  We elevated the cage on legs made from the 4x4s so cleaning beneath would be possible.  The last touch was to split the door so feed and water could be put in without letting the bird out

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The floor, made of a heavier hardware cloth (to thwart the local fox) was added last and then it was decorating time.  Perches made of branches fill the inside and branches cover the front of the roof to both hide the plywood and provide structure for the woodbine to attach to.

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Scrap and junk can always be repurposed, provided the plan includes math and the right tools.  We’re so happy with the look of the bird cage in the end.  We always say go big and we did for sure.  It wasn’t until the project was nearly finished that we realized how much it resembled the doll house from the last video.  We do love repeating themes, it adds richness to the entire experience.