The Magic Box Complete

The Magic Box has been the central focus of Foxy-Wolff over the last three years. During that time the project evolved into more than we could have imagined when we conceived the idea in hotel room in Hays Kansas. To bring all that time and work together into a solid installation was the focus of nearly a year of that time.

The first step to bring the installation to completion was the show catalog. The size of the objects with their projections makes photography one of the most demanding aspects of a show like this. To get the images we felt we needed, we were fortunate to borrow the gallery at Colorado State University.

Magic Box Catalog (low res)

This was a dress rehearsal for installing the complete show and so required us to consider every aspect carefully. This meant pulling together and retesting all the tech, building the pedestals, and solving the problems set aside for later consideration. Once done, we were ready to set up and photograph the show.

Because projected video is such a crucial element of the installation, lighting the gallery was a central consideration every time it went up. For the catalog we lit the space far more than we did for the actual showings of the work, but even so the images were very challenging to work with.

One of the most incredible things about this project is how multifaceted it is, requiring us to extend all of our skill sets. This was especially true of the catalog. Most graduate students hire out this aspect of their MFA show, but because of my intermedia emphasis, I chose to do this myself. One of the long-term goals of my education was to become proficient in Photoshop and Illustrator. This was the first step on that road. Using some terrific online tutorials, I shut myself in the house for 6 weeks and got focused. In the end I had to learn Indesign as well, plus stay focused through repeated edits but it was a wonderful period of learning and we were really happy with the result. Here is a link to the tastytuts channel. It’s a fantastic resource.

https://www.youtube.com/user/TastyTuts

Once all these preliminaries were complete we were off to install the show at the Moss-Thornes gallery on the FHSU campus in Hays Kansas. Getting the work and equipment to the gallery was our next major hurdle. Our plan was to rent a truck but by the time we finished acquiring all the last-minute gear for the show we were way over budget on the project and so had to find another option. fortunately we were able to arrange the install with graduation weekend so my parents took it and us in their camper and we all stayed for the weekend.

We consider the blog and the website a central piece of The Magic Box. To bring those aspects into the gallery we used QR codes as gallery tags. We generated these through a Japanese company that allowed us to incorporate text and images into the codes design. Using these meant we could keep text and other distractions to a minimum in the space and worked beautifully with the overall content of the piece.  All the QR tags are shown in the catalog pdf above.

Once all the details came together the installation came down to the same effort and endurance required of all installation days. Though exhausting, this is one of our favorite aspects of working in the visual arts. With a couple of good hard days we had the show up and ready for visitors.

In addition to the show in Hays we were fortunate to be invited to show it at the Hoag Gallery at Colorado State University-Pueblo. It was wonderful to get to put it up and take it down so many times in a year, of course each gallery added new features and challenges to the work which really allowed us to understand the dynamics of the entire show.

 

It’s a thrill to see the installation complete and hear from so many people who appreciated the work. We have settled on our next large-scale project and will be developing clay bodies and concepts in the coming months, stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filming The Empty Room

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 10.00.17 PM

Filming for this project always includes elements of what we know and have done before, and things we have never done or seen.  This project fell inline with that completely.  There is always the cramped spaces and the need to be very careful with the ceramic.  The camera angles are always tricky and there is a carefully crafted technique for using the camera, both in first person shots and in third person that adds movement to the static ceramic.

IMG_7309

This film added elements as well.  For the first time we used the device of the flash back.  This adds to the story telling and also breaks up long views of ceramics in conversation.  Earlier posts discussed the extra requirements in building that these required, but they were also time-consuming in terms of filming.  Many of them had separate small films for the magic boxes that had to be made before the scene could be set and filmed.  Once this was complete, they could be filmed, but they continued to add challenged to the musical composition and to the editing because they break up the space and time that are sometimes required to edit or compose something cohesive.

Another addition to this film was a second camera.  We acquired a Go-Pro this fall and used it for the first time in this production.  It was especially effective in some of those flashbacks, where the extreme wide-angle added an interesting element to the memory aspect of Terry the Squirrel.  The size of the Go-Pro was also useful in allowing us to go inside with the figurines and get shots that were impossible before.

IMG_7223

 

The camera was not the only new piece of tech we used for this production.  Video splitters and tiny TV’s replaced the cell phone tech that we have relied on in the past.  This excellent innovation cuts cost significantly for the overall project and gives the houses a permanent solution to the video requirements.  The splitter allowed us to run all 3 TV’s of the new house off the computer for the filming.  This was huge as it allowed us to eliminate the constant pulling the phones out of their cases and trying to sync videos by pushing go at the same time.  We will convert to inexpensive DVD players for the show in 2016.

Rather than recording the audio first as we have in the past, the voice audio came in about mid-project.  In terms of filming and editing this was not ideal, but it did allow us to be more agile as the project developed. We made some late stage edits to the script that really made for a better film.

IMG_7365

No matter how many tricks we employ, the real work of the film comes down to capturing the images and threading them together with script and music to create a cohesive art piece.  This film satisfies our needs as artists to deliver a piece with integrity and direction that is watchable and entertaining.  Stay tuned, we will release it quite soon.

 

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.

IMG_2780

 

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.

IMG_7168IMG_7300

 

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.

IMG_7231

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

IMG_7260 IMG_7271 IMG_7281 IMG_7285 IMG_7293

Surfacing the House for The Empty Room

painting4

Once the house was constructed for the upcoming film “The Empty Room”, it was time to surface it.  Our initial plan was to glaze fire the piece, starting with a coat of the iron oxide bearing spray paint that we use on the pots.  We wanted to use this product because it has a very dry finish and would feel like brick.  The material was applied to the bone dry clay and fired in during the bisqueing.  These tiles are tests of application times relative to internal clay moisture content.

The first firing turned out to be the last on these.  there were several reasons for this, but our primary concern were the cracks that had developed in the kiln.  We pushed the white stone body too far with this construction and we felt that another firing was risking too much, so we opted for a cold finish.

IMG_6754

The first step was to mend cracks and to apply a base coat of acrylic to the surface.  We waxed the cutouts and stair rails during drying to protect delicate features which meant that the first spray coat did not stick everywhere, so we had to fill those places that flaked off.  Another issue was that the color was inconsistent from top to bottom and so color matching was also required.

IMG_2295

Once the basic exterior was complete we focused on window treatments and the interior.  For the interior surfaces, we wanted to reference our original plan and allow the acrylic to look as ceramic as possible.  To achieve this we layered thin washes of paint with layers of clear spray paint to give the surface the luminosity of glaze.

painting2 IMG_2319

After getting the piece this far, we let it rest while we focused on making the figurines.  We wanted to leave the options open to change in case we came across new ideas regarding the furniture or other details of the interior.

paintingIn the end, we opted for a light dry brushed coat on the details of the exterior to set of the features and left the rest to reflect our original intent.

IMG_7311

 

 

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.

IMG_2154

Making Molds for the Empty Room

IMG_6200

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.

IMG_6202

 

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.

IMG_6208

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.

IMG_6210

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

IMG_6211IMG_6214

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.

IMG_6217IMG_6218

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.

molds1

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

molds

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.

IMG_6249

 

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.

Process Oriented

IMG_5698

As the breeding season has been winding down, we have finally been able to give the next house in the Magic Box project some serious attention.  The outline for the script has been done about a month, which is a huge advantage in that we can solve problems in the building before it is built.  We chose to use a building from our city, Pueblo Colorado, for our model.  This is 230 Union Ave, likely built in the early 1900’s, along with most of the architecture in that area of town.

Once the building was chosen and photos taken, the next task was to simplify it and choose details that would carry forward to the model.IMG_5965

This quick sketch done at my kids karate class was the beginning of the process.  We have several needs as we design these buildings.  For me, the first priority is the art and craft of the ceramic object, I want the work to be complex and compelling.  Strong attention to details give the work an overall feeling of mastery and solid construction allows the piece to survive its constant handling.  Gabe’s top priority is its function as a film set.  Careful attention is given to the window and door openings for camera access and the movement of the characters within the space.  The object has to serve the story as well, this three-story building has a restaurant on the first floor, which will require a larger cast and more furniture and so must be somewhat larger.

IMG_5886

We used cardboard models to conceptualize the interior space, especially the stairs and furniture placement, which will be a complex problem.

IMG_5983

Next ,was to make scale drawings of all of the individual pieces to be used in the construction of press molds, which are used to ensure uniformity of each element so precise fit can be achieved.  My discovery of graph paper has been a tremendous help in this process.  I’m spending a fraction of the time on this process compared to past projects.

This conceptual stage is possibly the most difficult in collaboration because there is no physical object to discuss.  To get around this Gabe suggested we build the entire piece in card board so that the details can be clearly understood by both of us, which allows us to work effectively and eliminates the feeling of wasted time on un-communicated ideas.

IMG_6024

Our primary consideration in the early part of this process was to work out details of the windows and doors so the brick texture can be applied correctly, but it has been a hugely useful tool and we are continuing to use it to consider engineering and aesthetic questions as they arise.  Today, Gabe finished the roof detail, which really begins to pull the building together.

A note to non ceramists, all the size dimensions are wet, clay shrinks throughout its drying and firing process.   Shrinkage has been calculated at approx. 12% for the clay body we are using for this piece, making  the finished house somewhat smaller than shown.

photo 3-13