Tag Archives: art

Building the Black Church

The design of the last set piece of the Magic Box project was immensely important to the look and feel of the entire project.  This element and accompanying video is the culmination of our learning and focus on a project over two years in the making.  While the piece must work well with all those that came before, It must also reflect the inevitable learning that accompanies work of so much duration and focus.

As with the building for “The Empty Room”,  “The Black Church” was based on a building in our home town Pueblo, Colorado, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. While we considered many church designs for the project, we went with the cathedral because of its classical anatomy and ties to art history, which is an important element of the last video.

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We began by photographing the building.  The main challenge in “sampling” a building like this is discovering how much of the original to stay true to and how much to simplify and modify. To help make these determinations I did an extensive series of drawings, to both see the building fully and to determine the essential elements. In the initial planning stage, before the drawings, I imagined holding a large amount of the detail, feeling that was an essential part of the beauty of the building.

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The slow and deliberate process of drawing the church again and again over a period of weeks helped me to understand the soul of the building, the essential nature of the proportion and what that communicates to those on the sidewalk or inside the structure. By the end of the drawing process I was stripping away the detail and focused on the classical structure.

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From the drawing step, our building was designed, rather than the lengthy process of constructing plaster molds for each section, a heavy watercolor paper was used. This step cut at least 4 weeks from the build which allowed the full project to be completed within the semester.

For the build I broke the structure into four sections, the front section, or Facade and narthex, was built first. This allowed the rules for construction to be set on a relatively small and simple piece and to test the scale of the building against the existing works in the series and to ensure continuity of the installation. Rather than the Laguna’s whitestone that we built the empty room house with, we returned to Laguna’s soldate, a body that we have used for years with success. This decision completely solved the major mid slab cracking issues that had been such a problem with so much of the early construction. Another modification of the build  was to  let the slabs set up several days before assembly. This let the individual units do most of their drying and shrinking before they came together which reduced the amount of stress placed on each piece.

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The second section built was the naive, this section was modified from its proportion in the original building so that we could focus the filming in this section.  Because of the size modification, the roof became problematic, columns were set into the mid center of the hall to hold a sort of half ceiling. This would serve the dual purpose of holding a multi media roof that would be constructed post firing and hide the lighting system for the enclosed structure. The decision to go without decoration or windows on the building affirmed itself as the structure grew.  The exterior and the interior were beginning to be understood as separate realms.  the exterior was to exude imposing darkness and mystery in addition to be immediately recognizable as a holy or sacred place. The interior was to evoke a cave, a hidden space not easily accessible from the outside.

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The third piece was the transept. For the long roof section of this unit a sort of joist was constructed from the side wall panel pieces.

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The last piece was the choir. This was the both the smallest and most complex of the sections.

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Once all the sections were complete, they could be placed together to make decisions about the placement and shape of the passage that would span the whole interior.

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Once the interior was opened it was coated in whitestone slip, to tie it to the earlier buildings and to enhance the cave feeling for the interior shots for filming. During construction of each section a waster slab was placed beneath to limit drying and firing stress. The building was then covered and allowed to dry over several weeks.

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Once the units were dried and fired to cone 06 they were again assembled to assess the warping that took place through the long process of clay to ceramic. While we did have markedly better results with this building, each section did move throughout this time, a solution was then sought to fill the gaps between the sections that would allow light to penetrate into the building. Several solutions were considered for this but in the end we decided on vinyl  joint compound, this substance starts very soft and plastic like clay and would dry very hard to allow the building to be handled as it moves from show to show.  The first step for this was to shrink-wrap the first and third sections so that the compound would only go on  section two and four, minimizing both handling stress and cleanup. Each section was then masked for spray paint.

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The process of application and sanding back the material had to be done through several  times before we were satisfied with the fit. The visible sides were then textured to match the ceramic.

Painting was two coats of semi-gloss black spray paint with an additional two coats of a matte clear finish, this had to be tuned up several times through the finishing as the joint compound was very messy when it had to be manipulated. The interior was largely left alone, but some of the ground bisque clay used on the interior was mixed with acrylic to cover epoxy fill and to allow the heavy texture to be picked up by the camera during filming.

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Once the surface was finished, it was then time to install the lights. small battery-powered LED’s were used, hot glued into position in the roof sections using the joint compound to hide the cord running through the walls and down through the joints into a pedestal built to house them. Initially my intent was to light the interior with fire, but having ruled this impractical from a build and display standpoint,  we opted for half flashing lights.  Though labeled as the same light, we found the flashing lights had a very different temperature from the non blinkers so I applied an acrylic wash to warm up the cooler toned lights.

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Following the placement of the lights, the god tiles were epoxyed into place since their shape and the texture of the walls would not allow them to be simply placed and stay where they needed to be.

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Gabe supplied the finishing touches to the piece, first the multi media roof was constructed of similar materials as the additions to the ceramic. His intent for the addition was that it not draw attention to itself yet compliment the overall feeling of the exterior of the building.

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All these elements unite to form what we believe is an incredibly strong piece that will anchor the gallery presence of the entire installation. The last element added was subtle decoration to the exterior of the church. Gabe executed to scale, tags in black marker around the back and sides of the building. These additions tie the piece into the overall intent and work of the studio and also reward the careful viewer looking for the details that are present throughout the installation.church tag 2church tags 1

Detail and subtlety become the focus of this object, the only one in the group with no magic boxes and aside from lights no dependence on technology. This piece becomes a resting place in the work to contemplate the various layers of meaning in the Magic Box installation and video series.

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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.

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.

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!

Glazing and Firing the Play Set

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After the experimentation of the nested monster piece I was interested in pulling away from the very glossy “ceramic” surface of that work.  For this piece I wanted a more varied surface that would reference natural materials such as rock.  To achieve that I mixed two new glazes.  The first was a white reticulating glaze that came from a triaxial blend experiment from a previous semester, the second was a black vitreous engobe.  Mixed in with these was an attempt at a gray clear which was too blue and not suitable for mixing in 10,000 grams.  I like to use 300 gram tests that don’t precede to full batches on one of a kind sculptural work as I am not likely to be asked to reproduce the work by a client.  Sculptural work is also more forgiving of certain glaze flaws that are not negotiable in functional pottery.

Having spent several days in testing and mixing and then on to glazing, the work was finally ready for firing.  Its large size really limited what could load with the piece, this turned out to be a great thing.  Our primary kiln is a very old Skutt on a kiln sitter, up to the day we fired the play set, we had never had any problems with it.  Because of this I had become pretty complacent about witness cones and other precautions to prevent over firing.  So then, since this was an important firing, this is where the problems occurred.  My estimate is that the kiln went at least to cone 10 but probably higher than that.  Fortunately, the sculpture clay that I preferred at the time was a cone 10 body (Laguna’s Soldate 60) so the kiln was not lost, though the shelf the work was on did have to go in the trash.  The glazes and the attachments were fairly ruined.  To my advantage was the brush glazing technique that I chose to use on the play set.  It meant less glaze and so the surface came through fairly in tact, though not at all what I had planned.  For the play set the major problem was massive cracking on the interior.  I was able to do pretty solid repair using PC7 and acrylic paint, so the piece was saved.   The rest of the work in the kiln was a total loss.

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The very dark glossy surface of the exterior forced me to completely change my plan for the little action figures.  I was wanting a drab, gray or brown surface for them originally but that would not have been adequate contrast for the video, so I opted to go with bright color that would allow them to be visible both inside and outside the play set during the commercial portion of the video.  This also makes them more in line with actual toys and so felt like minimal compromise

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Adventures in Stucco

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Finishing the Horse began with research, as usual.  What we wanted was a stucco recipe that had both clay and concrete.  I know this is a sound practice because I used to mix stucco for my professor Vicky Hansen and she used both, but I could neither remember that recipe or find one on line.  We wound up making our own from a recipe I found online that was intended for restoration of historical buildings.  While we wanted portland cement in the mix,we were looking for very little.  Enough to increase durability on a difficult surface but little enough to avoid the surface becoming brittle and hard to repair.  We used these two web pages primarily in our investigations.

http://www.essortment.com/make-own-stucco-11205.html

We based our recipe off this recipe from the about.com page:

“Materials for Soft Brick Mortar and for Soft Stucco

5 gallons hydrated lime

10 gallons sand

1 quart white, nonstaining portland cement (1 cup only for pointing)

Water to form a workable mix.

(Koch and Wilson, Architects, New Orleans, Louisiana, February, 1980

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To incorporate the clay we replaced half the aggregate (sand) with the unrefined brick clay we acquired for the project.

Refining the mixing process was difficult, eventually  we decided to mix half batches because we needed  the mix to be rather heavy so it would stick to the underside of the sculpture, also applying the stucco wire was super difficult on such a complex surface so there were spots that were nearly impossible to get the material to adhere.  We used straw to help fill in those spots which helped considerably.

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Once we had the mix right it was just a whole lot of work to get the piece finished.  We applied a second coat to the surface to fill gaps and smooth it a bit a couple days after the first.  It was on this second day of stuccoing that we hatched the plan for the video.

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Pony Power

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Some ponies are bigger than others and this one is a baby clydesdale.  Also, completely fantastic, so fantastic in fact that we decided it would be a horrible tragedy to cover it entirely with actual horsiness, so we have opted to cover the strauture with the adobe material and not fill it out with straw muscles.  Its is a great decision for art but the added work in applying the stucco wire is a big deal.  We got about half way through it today.  Im still hoping to finish this piece and install it tomorrow but I am also teaching a bit this week.  Fantastic for my life but difficult for all that must be done in the studio.  You can see here that it also got a thin coat of paint.  This was applied to slow the rot of the wood inside the clay.

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The Insurance agency also moved a bit in the last couple days.  I should have the structure finished inside and out tomorrow or Saturday.  Ill post pics then.