Tag Archives: ceramic

Making Characters for The Empty Room

Not even a weekend passed between finishing the house and starting the furniture and characters for the film.  I began with the furniture because its size would dictate the moveable space within the rooms and so the size of the animals inside.  The Cafe was the most important space as this is where the bulk of the film takes place.  I laid out and built the objects in place and was much more flexible with shrinkage size for this project, just setting a maximum size and working below that.IMG_7017I did have one piece that required precise shrinkage for a screen, but there I only fussed with the opening.  Being less absolute with measurement cut the build time on the furniture by weeks,  it was such a great compromise.  Here you can see that the opening is slightly too big.  There is a formula that I use that allows pretty precise measurement of clay body shrinkage after firing.  For some things this is essential.IMG_7044After the furniture was complete, I moved on to characters.  I have a pretty tried and true method for devising a build for an animal that I have never tried.  First I search google images for poses and colors that I am interested in, then I draw those images.  This allows me to get careful about certain details that are important to quickly identifying the type of animal.IMG_7041As I move to the sculpting process, I use techniques I developed teaching children, this keeps the figurines looking like toys.  This relies in shedding non-essential detail, but holding on to the things that are most important, usually ear and snout shape and limb attachment.  I also usually make multiples of a each character so we can show a range of movement in the film.  The first piece gets to be an exploration, but the second must follow the size and detail rules of the first.IMG_7121I sculpted the figurines by group so that I could develop some speed with a form.  I started with squirrels and then moved to squid, rabbits, fish and bears.IMG_7071 IMG_7113 IMG_7134

James the lizard was the last of the figurines that was made.  He was built at my home since there was just not enough time in a day to get them all done.  He was built for a very specific scene in a very particular space in the cafe, which I did not have with me.  The consequence of this was significant post firing revision to get him to work in the space.  I hope not to repeat this mistake as I had to mutilate the ceramic to get him to sit.

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All the figures and furniture were fired together, though they were finished in various ways.

While I worked on the clay bits, Gabe was focused on the special effects portion.  One of the greatest things about collaboration is watching an idea expand as it meets other ideas.  This film features several flashbacks, all of which needed additional building to pull off convincingly.  Gabe took one of these flashback scenes and built a fantastic set, based on the first house, but expanded and edited to allow the scene to convey the emotion that we wanted to communicate.  In the scene we wanted to convey the  horror of greed and grasping,  The project became incredibly detailed because Gabe was so committed to pulling off the illusion to carry off that emotional impact.  He also made the character for that scene.  He chose an ape, to further illustrate the concept of the clip.

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Finishing began after firing. The furniture followed the rules of the first film, and any character that was coming from a previous film had to be finished in their style.  After that, we could be creative about finish.  Most pieces were glaze fired, but a few were painted with acrylic.  For us, that process always begins with spray paint.

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When they were complete, filming began immediately.  The characters always look best in place

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Jun Kaneko and the Multi-Discipline Approach

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For the final article of the Ceramic Art and Perception assignment for this semester, I’ve chosen an article by Nancy M. Servis featuring a moment in Jun Kaneko’s career in which he was exhibiting at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Fransisco and had also designed set, costumes and props for a production of Mozart’s Magic Flute for the San Fransisco Opera that was to run concurrent with the show.

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The Gallery show features painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics and points to one of the most remarkable things about Kaneko as an artist, his ability to pursue a wide range of media and still hold together a cohesive vision for his work and produce quality in each media.  It is this relentless searching and experimentation that equips him for the challenges of designing for the opera.

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The curatorial challenge of staging a show to compliment an opera would be a daunting task indeed if it were not for the consistency of aesthetic in Kaneko’s work.  All the various media are united through streaming color and pattern, while the art objects are further unified by surface treatment and mark making.  His work is also distinguished by his commitment to the space between works, which he calls ma.

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This multidimensional way of working is exciting to see.  the potential of the large Dango pieces grows exponentially when the forms are used to costume a character on a stage and the theater calls back to the gallery as those same large forms take on the presence of actors on a stage.  This ability to think in the round is the new requirement for artists.  Simply making objects is rarely enough, as our culture is too fragmented focus on one thing in one place.  Kaneko proves an artist can be everywhere and still deliver a solid, compelling body of work.

https://renabranstengallery.com/exhibitions/jun-kaneko

Wall-Paper: An Installation by Aurora Hughes Villa

Wall-paper has a pretty bad reputation among contemporary house proud decorators, yet it has so much appeal for artists.  Being passé and completely decorative is just one of the reason to use it for inspiration.  Another wonderful feature is that its broken symmetry and patterning work so well in backgrounds.  Additionally,  wall-paper is loaded with symbolism, both within its own images and culturally as metaphor for the times it has been popular.

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The installation “Wall-Paper” by Aurora Hughes Villa that was displayed in conjunction with the 2012 NCECA in Seattle WA and reviewed in issue 92 of Ceramics Art and Perception, picks up on all these universal themes,  but manages to be a work that is intimate and personal. Part of its ease of communication is in the meticulous craftsmanship of each of the pieces.  They are created using a mixture of new tech and reliable technique.  The vintage wall-paper designs are scanned into Photoshop, where they are manipulated, and then turned into screens for silkscreen, which is applied using colored slips and underglazes.  The surface of the clay is formed using a combination of carving, stencils and free painting.  The medallions are then fired several times.  Each medallion is unique and features cameo images of women, medical drawings of body parts and architectural drawings of Victorian houses.

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The overall effect of these well placed, well-organized images is controlled and possibly a bit predictable, as  is expected of wall-paper, until considering the strong shadows cast on the wall by the heavily top lit medallions onto the dark painted wall.  Those shadows blur the edges of the entire piece and break up the uniformity and control.  The metaphor for shadow in a calm and ordered environment brings this work out of the Victorian, where the ideals of domesticity created a prison for women, into the contemporary mind, and suddenly the colors are reminiscent of a Martha Stewart Living magazine, also proclaiming the joys of quiet and controlled domestic living.   On the opposite wall from the medallions are two strips of wall-paper, tacked up, with the edges loose and bulges by the tacks.  These pieces of paper stand in stark contrast to the well placed order on the other side of the room.

Hughes Villa is a wife and a mother, and I do not believe she is making a statement that rejects either of those occupations, but rather acknowledges what all wives and mothers sometimes feel in the quest to create well-organized lives.

Her Website:

http://aurorahughesvilla.com/Artist.asp?ArtistID=28980&Akey=MND4MRXE

Limited Liability Insurance Company Play Set Videos

These videos were also produced last year and are reposted here to consolidate hosting to the blog page.  This art piece and group of videos were made for proof of concept for the ceramic as featured element in video idea that has become central to our work.  There is much info on the production of these videos and this ceramic piece in earlier posts.

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.