clay

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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studio

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

Horse Installation

VIdeo Documentation

The next big project for the installations was to doccument them in video.  I have long wanted to get my work out to the world using video, and this project, because of its scale and complete non portability was a perfect place to start.  It also helped that there was a clear start and it finished within a super reasonable amount of time.  The down side of course was not having decided to make a video until the project was nearly complete.  Fortunately we take tons of pictures and video as a regular practice in our art making so there was more than enough material for the twelve minute piece Gabe and I put together.

As I said the video was decided on after the piece was finished so while there was more than enough documentation there were things that I just didn’t have. For some of that we staged shots, for the rest it was left out.  A process that wont be repeated since we now know that video production will be an integral part of our work form here out.

The film was make entirely with iPhones and my mac book.  The computer worked great but the limit with the phones is one that will have to be overcome, especially mine which has a very limited memory which required uploading all the pics and videos once a day to clear the memory to take more.  Despite all the difficulty we put together a great video.

Since the production of this video I’ve made one myself so that I might  learn the program and participate fully in the production of future projects.  This video documents the erosion of the images on the panels over the last couple weeks

Horse Installation

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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Horse Installation

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.

Horse Installation

Collaboration is King

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Sometimes great art depends on great partnerships. Gabe Wolff pushed this project into the realm of greatness today with his design and build of the internal skeleton of the life size free standing horse we are building in the coral outside our studio.  In my mind I imagined some lashed together twig construction as I have very little wood working skill and was thinking that the clay would provide most of the structure of the piece.  Realizing I was out of my depth with the project I asked for help.  The best move all day for sure.  Gabe spent most of the morning designing and then piecing the structure together and all of the afternoon on the build.

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Here he is testing the designs ability to bear weight.  This is half of the structure.  The other half is mostly built and will be tied together tomorrow and then I will use my twig idea to build a rib cage and hips to hold the volume of the body, it will then be covered in chicken wire and then covered with the brick clay.

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The play set also got some play.  I am leaning toward an insurance agency play set.  It seems the most absurd choice.

Horse Installation

prepping the space

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Today was all about preparing the corral for the work.  The last horses moved out of the barn late last week so the spaces need much attention to be people ready.  For the out door spaces we level, spread lime, then cover that with sand then wet the whole thing down to keep down the dust and seal the lime in a bit.  The lime can burn skin and eyes but is important in killing bacteria and virus in the soil that may be living on the the horse poops.  This has the added benefit of keeping the smell in check.  After just 8 days on the barn makeover, the horse smell is barely detectable.

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The other part of today was to begin to prepare the images for the installation.  My plan is to paint horses on the iron panels of our corral in porcelain slip.  The horse pictured here are in mare motel further east on the farm.  All the enclosures were made in the same style of welded iron panels, that enclose the studio as well.  My intention is to leave the heavy shadows created by the bars in the images of the horses on the panels.  This will serve to abstract the images further and connect the current and previous uses of the space, threading the space together further.

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Horse Installation

New studio and installation workshop

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Its true that when things begin to change there is an adjustment period, as ideas and possibilities are explored. It feels like I have been chasing a series of dead ends as I have been seeking a new studio space with my studio/business partner Gabe Wolff.  We finally feel like we have settled into a space that will work.  Thanks to the generosity of my mom and step dad we have been “put up” in a barn on my parents horse farm.  The barn has been used primarily for foaling mares which my mom no longer does for her clients so she was willing to give up a couple stalls to our cause.  We have been cleaning and moving with great energy for the past week and today I really could feel the work space beginning to come together.  The total move in will take many more weeks but the essentials are in.

Corresponding almost perfectly to this happy event is the beginning of the summer installation class with my professor Linda Ganstrom.  The new location has suggested many wonderful opportunities for work but for my first I will be working on a Rapprochment installation in the corral outside our main stall.

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i may work on two of the three pieces for the workshop in this space. Since installation is an art of space and time, being able to make art in this space at this time would be a bit magical, it is an intersection of many rich threads of our lives.

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Working in the Hoag

 

Another aspect to having a show in the Hoag studio is the opportunity to work in the space.  This was both fun and challenging.  I worked in the gallery during its open hours, except fridays and saturdays which are taken up with teaching.

The studio was well put together, consisting of a super sturdy salvaged table, the small slab roller from my permanent studio and lots of clay and tools.  October was the shortest month in the cycle so far (from first Friday to last Monday) so my time for producing work was limited but I was diligent in being there and using my time so I actually produced quite a bit.

Originally I thought I would make a new pair of monsters to display at the second opening on the third Friday of the month, but I chose instead to work on Tengus, the crow demons that are the other consistent body of work I am involved with now.  This choice had two purposes, first, I wanted to let the monsters rest a bit and take the opportunity to listen to the work and to what people said about it.  Seeing it installed, in sequence both with the story and the time of making was a wonderful chance to review the work of the past year and take stock, consider more deeply the direction I would like the work to take in the future.  Next I wanted to play a bit with suggestions from my school critique, seeing if I could make sense of ideas I felt were compelling.This is difficult to do with the monsters them selves as the rules for their world are in some ways set.  Its not that rules cant be changed but I need a good reason to do so and also a solid direction, neither of which I felt I had.

The first piece I made was not a success.  From build to paint surface the bird is forced and stilted, Primarily I think from the pressure of making work for an audience.  Concentrated stretches of time were few and conversations were many, while this works while I am teaching, I found it much harder to produce my own work under these conditions.  That being said, the Tengu (the largest and most complex of the series) led me to the series I made for the Own Your Own show that opens Friday.  Informed by the problems I felt the large piece had, I made a series of much lighter and smaller birds for that show that turned out very well.  Those were also produced primarily in the Hoag Studio.

 

Here he is before paint.