Making The Bull

As we move forward into the work of Weighting to Rise the work seems to need a larger purpose, an aspect of the culture that would give rise to such elaborate and lasting funeral ritual. We needed some belief beyond the honor of the ancestor, a god or possibly a sacrificial ritual to honor the god or the dead or both to give the culture a greater depth and the mystery of antiquity.

Looking for a solution to what the show was needing coincided to my coming across a passage in Stephen Karcher’s translation of the I Ching. In figure 26, Great Accumulates there is mention of a pure red bull, sacrificed by the king with arrows on behalf of the ancestors that renews the year and opens the fields for planting. The bull seemed to fit beautifully, bulls as gods, animals sacred to gods and as sacrifices to gods are nearly universal in old religions and their stories.

Once we had a concept we needed a technique and build procedure. To begin we sought the right bull. Looking at old Minoan mosaic and painted pottery and Picasso’s treatment of the animal we knew we wanted the animal clearly recognizable but just as clearly symbolic.

Graffiti and its process is important to nearly every project we undertake to one degree or another. Graffiti is public, you don’t need to be chosen by a gallery or representative to have the work seen, and it has a fierce sort of beauty that is not easily put into a critiquable box. Those qualities give it a sacred and living quality that layers nicely with the fusion of history and technology that we tune into. We really wanted this ancient, sacred image to have that feel. That lead to imagining some of the techniques Gabe has worked with before the Foxy-Wolff, primarily stencils. To reduce an image in all its complexity to blocks of shape and color seemed to distill the animal into a concept, an object and an ideal.

Gabe discusses the drawing process in this way:

Kate and I had a conversation about the need of "the bull" to this body of work. I looked up pictures of bulls and eventually wound up trying to remember my Myspace account pass word. Luckily Kate came to the studio the next day with pictures of bulls that she had found. The printouts were little 5x7 inch on printer paper. I think I said "cool I can work with that. So how big are we doing it?" So taking the printouts to 3x5 foot seamed like a no brainer to me. I would get out the projector and boom done.

Kate had that look and I knew that I was wrong. She said to me" I want it like that work", as she pointed to The Crazy Aunt tryptic that hangs in the studio. So The Crazy Aunt is in essence a black and white drawing and it relies on the shadow I love. Needed line vs implied, fine art vs illustration, imagery shapes vs the shapes that should be in place, and so on and so on. Yup, I have a lot.
Kate was just so happy about the plan I took it as a personal challenge to see it through. So no projector and no trace paper. Trace paper is how I do versions of The Crazy Aunt and so now what. I guess I'll just have to draw it out. The Bull became three main tasks. Finding the look, life studies, and transferring the image.

I did a 8x10 inch cow head drawing in the stenciled look of The Crazy Aunt and we decided that it needed to simplify a lot. The shapes of the cow head got five colors in very specific areas. Picture in your mind a black and white cow head. Now assign a grey scale to just the most important parts (eyes, nose, etc.) and the light the cows picture was taken in. Then I make up shapes that work best fit the drawing versus what's really there.

Second step is life study applications. Like in any sketch of a flower arrangement from across the room or the architecture of a building, proportion is the name of the game. I can think in step one and two at the same time and so I just started drawing The Bull.  I taped butcher paper down to Kate's desk and started my crazy process.
When the drawing was finished and we both liked it I had my wife come over to the studio and color up The Bull. Black was black, white was white, and browns and reds filled in the rest.

After completion of the drawing, Gabe prepared a butcher paper trace of it, sort of a paint by numbers thing with all the shapes clearly defined and each of the colors assigned a number value. After some discussion on the depth of the back ground we settled on a total of seven colors, two separate colors on layer two so that areas that touch would not be the same color for different objects.

After the complex generation of the image, the build was fairly straight forward, if not simple. The trace was used as a layer guide. After cutting out a layer, it was cut off the parchment and used again to trace the next layer and so on. The parchment was a genius innovation, trace goes to crap the second it touches wet clay, it can handle no water at all. The parchment, because it’s design for food preparation, it held up beautifully throughout creation of all 6 layers to a tile.

Our first step of the build was to make the slabs. Layer one was 3/8″ deep and all succeeding layers were 1/4″ slabs. This took a good deal of forethought as we tried to estimate the number of whole square inches each layer of the 10 tiles would need. It also began to indicate just how massive the project was going to be.

While I prepped slabs, Gabe prepared the drywall. Four new full sheets  were purchased that week and all would be used in both the easel and the build.

Breaking the bull down into manageable chunks was another discussion that we gave much time. The debate focused on the joins of the tiles. Each of the four or five possible options we discussed had merits and drawbacks, in the end we chose the one that would make the initial build more simple but the assembly on tile board more complex. A basic grid was layer overtop of the parchment drawing with the horizon line at greater than 50% to help keep the heavier tiles to the top smaller.

Gabe built a heavy oak frame from old hard wood flooring that both kept the build as precise as we could make it and to slow drying from the side of the tiles. The easel has two drywall layers, also to prevent too speedy a dry time. The bottom layer is a full sheet and the top cut into the exact size of each tile so they could be assembled on the tables and placed back into the frame exactly where needed.

Finally we were ready to begin. We chose the Fourth of July weekend for the build because we wanted it done with no large gaps in making process, we both work outside the studio. Aside from a Gabe having to do some small maintenance for the farm, we had four full days to get it done and we needed every minute of it, with very little time even for sleep while we were at it.

The actual tiles are deceptively simple. We assigned each color to a layer, where that color shows in the drawing the layering stops and that color shows through. Where white (the background color) shows, the tile is only one layer thick, where white for highlight shows, on the horns and the nose, the tile is 6 layers thick. Where a higher numbered color will show, all layers but be beneath to build the correct strata for the overall piece. As mentioned above we mapped this out by cutting each color from the parchment map on the tile, allowing only the areas where we would continue to build presence on the growing tiles.

Tile 4, by far the most complex as it held both the horns and the face took 8 hours to complete. The average time per tile was about 5 hours.

First tiles are cut out and assembled, then taken back apart and the slips added to the pieces where needed.

After some dry time we reassembled them with slip to bind them together and placed into the easel.

After completing all ten tiles we wrapped them heavily for a week so the attachments could solidify and the slips could set.

At the end of the week we opened it up and touched up color where we made mistakes and where the slips were not as crisp as we intended.

Now fully complete the bull will rest under plastic 6 to 8 weeks to dry slowly to prevent the tiles warping. Once dry, we will place the tiles on wasters and fired to 01 to fully develop the terra-cotta color that is the primary color of the finished bull.

Cleaning Up at Foxy-Wolff Studio

With school and The Magic Box complete we are moving back into projects and ideas that we had to leave behind because of the limits of time. First up is the heavy cleaning/rearranging of the studio for a series of classes coming up beginning in early February.

The studio is above all a functional space and changes a great deal to suit our current project, most recently, aside from a small space for us to fill some christmas pottery orders it has been a storage space for The Magic Box. Also we’ve been so focused on that project that some of the unused corners of the studio had filled with unconsidered objects.

My grandpa loved games and puzzles and there was one he had that I played with often. It was a small plastic number slide game.

Rearranging a small space is exactly like playing this game, it’s all about how you begin. For us this meant moving the boxes, pedestals and art from The Magic Box into storage until it shows again. So the storage room was the place to start for us. Gabe is an animal about this kind of work, and he had all my personal storage lined out in an afternoon and the pedestals and the rest put away in the next few days.

While he worked that out I had to make sense of the working area. That space has a tendency to get cluttered with the remnants of works in progress, including old clay bits in need of reclaim and tools misplaced on shelves. A clean studio is not always the highest value but its great to get a clean reset before the beginning of a new project. I think it helps to keep ideas fresh and forces us to deal with the dust fairly often.

This freed up the center space, leaving only the Kuan Yin of the Magic Box on a table in the center of the room. More heavy lifting cleared a space for The Great One and we hung her where she can watch over the large front room.

The glaze room was the next priority, that involved clearing the old front office space of everything and then gathering all the materials and tools used in surfacing the ceramic in the kiln.

Critical to inviting other people to the studio to make art was lighting all of the work space. Gabe to the rescue again. Heres a funny little video he made to celebrate getting up on a ladder (again).

Look for posts coming this week with details on the upcoming series of classes.

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.

Building the House for “The Empty Room”

Construction of the house for the film “The Empty Room” began in early September.  Or original plan was to space the build out over several weeks and fire stories as they dried, but after a test build we determined that the box construction would require more dry time than anticipated so we opted to push the build into one very intense week.IMG_6476As with all projects we began with prepping clay and pressing the molds, one story at a time.  Each story needed about 100 lbs of clay wedged and weighed out into specific slugs to accommodate each mold.  Each floor was about 3 days, clay prep was the first.

IMG_6353 IMG_6351The second day was focused on pressing the molds and preparing the wall for assembly.  This was a huge job, as the pieces are very complex and have many details that needed to be prepped on the same day.  Not only did we make molds for the build, but also many of the tools were custom-made for the project.   This tool was designed to give us perfect cuts on the edges of the walls and floor so we could more precisely control fit.

IMG_6349The day following pressing was assembly.  The floor was put in place first and the corner with the stairs was attached to the floor.  This is the second floor.  The cut outs pictured here will be for the staircase on the floor beneath.

IMG_2067 IMG_2068Once the corner was reinforced and secure, the staircase was attached.  We began with the landing and the bottom half and built up from there.  These pics are also of the second floor and so include a handrail that is not present on the first floor.

IMG_2069 IMG_2073 IMG_2074 IMG_2077 IMG_2031IMG_2083The windows were cut earlier on this story to give us access to the underside as the entire stair well is likely to be shown in the film and needed to fe completely finished.

After the stairs we put on the remaining two walls were applied.  With each wall the corners and other details from the molds had to be tuned back up as handling was somewhat damaging.

IMG_2021Once all four walls were in place, the flange was attached to the top and cutting windows and clean up and finish work could be done.

IMG_2033 IMG_2042 Another thing we learned from the test build was that the walls wanted to move quite a bit during the drying process.  To control this to some degree Gabe devised a cap to fit into the flange and stay with the floor throughout its shrinking and firing process.  This was a fairly last-minute addition to the group of molds and had to be resolved quickly, so the original was made from a combination of wood and clay.

IMG_6442 IMG_6454The first two floors were very similar and so we could build a skill set from one two the next and refine the process.  The third floor was another matter, There are far more windows on this floor and another wall inside the structure.  It also has a large facade and a roof.  Mold prep was the same in many ways, but with molds we had not yet used in an order that we had not tested, this was the greatest challenge of the project.

IMG_6481 IMG_6482 IMG_6485 IMG_6489 IMG_6490 IMG_6496 IMG_6499 IMG_6504Because they were made so close to one another we were able to see them wet all at once, which made a great group.

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Pinch Pots

pinch pots

These pinch pots, by Kate Tremel, capture exactly what I love about pinched forms.  Delicately crafted, the rims become landscape and describes perfectly the action of the fingers in making.  Simple glazing accentuates the directness of form.  The only addition to these wonderful bowls, is subtraction in the form of pierced openings in the clay wall which allows the element of light to play in the object in a way that is difficult to achieve in clay.

Simple is truly the defining characteristic of pinch pots, while it is true that making a pinch pot is relatively easy, that makes it all the more challenging to make work that displays innovation and integrity.  One artist who does that perfectly is Priscilla Mouritzen, South African born and living in Denmark, Priscilla’s wood fired pinched forms are some of the finest pots I have ever seen.  The quiet simplicity of form coupled with her rhythmic decorations and the touch of the wood kiln, make each bowl feel like a precious individual.

http://design-mind.blogspot.com/2012/05/priscilla-mouritzen-ceramics.html

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Especially for my students, here’s a nice video done by Ceramic Arts Daily that gives a good beginning on the basic technique and suggests a direction to expand.

 

Clay Mixing

clay mixing 6

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.

photo 1-6 clay mixing

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.

photo 3-4 clay mixing photo 4-3 clay mixing photo-6 claymixing

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.

clay mixing 4

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.

clay mixing 3

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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