ceramic art

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.

Sculpture

Stone Woman

stone 610

The Venus of Willendorf (or Woman of Willendorf as she is now known) is one of the first pieces of art I can remember being aware of.  The first time I saw a photo of this tiny sculpture I felt a deep connection.  Throughout my making life I have returned again and again to this piece for inspiration.  After writing a paper on sculpture of the Gravettian last semester and doing a series of paintings this past summer featuring figurines from the same period I knew I wanted to include the Willendorf figurine in this body of work.  Initially I thought I would have another couple, living  in the attic, and that the fairy godmother figure would come from outside the house.  As the script evolved however and I got real about the extreme limits of space in the top floor I arrived at a reworked concept to change the roll of this figurine within the story.  She was sculpted from a solid block of clay using many images of the original for reference.  Like Bob, this object is something that people know.  I wanted it to be instantly recognizable so I would not have to involve explanation in the dialog of the video.  Of course some modification was necessary as the original can not stand on her own and this one has to not only stand but “walk” within her space.  Her surface is a fired wash using red iron oxide, traces of which still cling to the nearly 26,000 year old original.

With this piece the objects for the film are complete, though I may remake the magic box holders to allow more room inside the apartments.  The next step then in video production is to construct the set and determine the lighting.  It is our intent to continue with this concept for at least 3 more films, so all our decisions are being made deliberately so that the filming can grow as the world does.

ted and stone593

Sculpture

Bob the Unicorn

bob 604

Bob the Unicorn is the resident of the first floor of the Doll House, and he is unique.  Not only is he the only unicorn in the collection, but he is the only figurines of the group made by Gabe.  There were several reasons for handing this difficult piece off to him.  Primarily was the desire for this work to have a marked stylistic difference from the rest of the characters, but also Gabe brings a different skill set to the table.  Gabe’s years of study in drawing  and painting have given him an excellent eye and an ability to deliver convincing detail. Though this work is stylized to emphasize power and size in relation to the other characters of the film, he is very horsey.  Unlike squid or bears, we work with horses every day.   Not getting this piece right was unacceptable.  He is finished in acrylic as the bears are a part of his world and they needed to matchbob outside house 573

Here he is with Ted the squid.  Ted is our hero as in the last video and so interacts with most of the other characters.bob and ted 585

Sculpture

The Complete Squid Family

jeff 550 ted 551

 

Rather than the acrylic surface that you saw on the bears, I chose glaze for the squid, both to set them apart from Bob and his world and to give them the look of being wet.  Above are shots of them alone on a clean back ground and below they are in the house with the magic box on.  It gives a much better feel for the quality of light we will be going for in the video.

mad ted in house531 jeff and ted 542 jeff and ted 518

Sculpture

The Bears Finished!

cave483No spoilers here, but we are very excited with the way the ceramic and sets are coming together.   Here are some shots Gabe took and edited over the last couple days.  I can’t wait to see filming begin on the full video, the test shots and mini films are better than I could have imagined.

bears 612 cave484 cave495 cave502 cave508 cave515

Sculpture

Building a Bear Party

bear party2

 

Today was an incredibly productive day in the studio.  After a reworking of the timeline on the film project and a remade list of things needed to be ready to shoot, it was time to get cracking.  The first goal in terms of time and delivery for the piece is my midterm critique in March.  For this critique I am planning to have all the figurines finished and the mini films that are internal to the world of the film.

Part of the reassessment of last week was to abandon the live action portions of the film.  The logistics were nearly impossible and we were unsure if we could blend these two styles seamlessly, so it was decided the magic box films for the interior of each apartment would be filmed with ceramic.  This meant that I needed several bears in a hurry, not only to have them made by the deadline, but early enough that their films could be made.  I went back to techniques developed for teaching children to create a bear quickly and convincingly in a short amount of time.  They also needed to stay within the style restraints of the rest of the figurines.  The guiding principle here has been the doll house theme, so everything needs to be cute and a bit toy like.

while I built bears, Gabe has been focused on the audio portion of the project.  He spent a good part of the day composing the theme for the Stone Woman.  Part of this was to review the other existing parts of the sound track and ensure that when finished it will sound like a cohesive piece of music.

bear party3

 

In addition to the soundtrack, he worked on the sound for the announcer bear’s voice and layering in the song for the bear party with that voice.  A process that requires several different approaches to the original reading and then hours of listening and making slight adjustments.

Once this sound was acceptable we threw together a little bear party on the dirty table and made some quick proof of concept videos with the iPhones.  Though neither the bears or the sound is finished, I am posting a couple of clips here.  While the work is very rough and there is plenty of offensive language, it is worth sharing these because they are such a good look at our early process for video production.

We need about five of these mini films for the overall film, and production will begin as soon as squids and glazed and bears are painted.

Sculpture

Script and Squids

Once the body of the doll house was finished,  we needed a story.  Initially I wanted this film to center around gender identity issues, and the first characters were chosen as a vehicle for this idea.  The story of course has evolved beyond the first basic idea but Ted and Jeff, the couple up stairs, and Bob the unicorn made it through the editing process to the actual making.  I don’t want to say too much about the story because i want the film to speak for itself, but each of the characters is struggling with a desire that cannot be fulfilled.  This could have been done with a couple of any biological make up certainly, but leaving this a gay couple allows us to avoid a conversation about traditional gender rolls of men and women in relationship, which is outside the scope of this project.  More than that, and more intimate to the experience of life for me now, I wanted to include queerness as an integral part of this film.  Not simply as a concept of sexuality, because I’m pretty asexual these days, but as an attitude and baseline concept.  To me queerness points the way, it will let the viewer know to pay attention and that the subjects of the film will not be understood by a quick read.  We are communicating a feeling with this film.  To me, that feeling is the most important thing in the world.  For the characters of the film it is cloaked in sadness, but it is still true and redemptive and all creatures are granted its grace.  Especially dysfunctional squids.photo-8

From an emotional perspective then decisions were made easily and though the script was certainly not easy to write, one sentence led to the next and though I could not have imagined where it led before I got there, its end is complete and very satisfying (at least from the storytellers perspective).  Once the script was finished then, how to make a film, with such complex concepts from rigid ceramic figurines became the central issue.  When the idea was just an abstract floating around in my head, I though something like the play set for the previous video might work, with a single figurine to represent  each character.  As the script took shape, I realized that would be impossible.  All of the characters have a range of activities and motions.  In the end we needed four separate poses for each of the characters except one, and she is singular.

image-3

Jeff and Ted began as drawings, First I drew squid, trying to understand basic anatomy and then to consider anthropomorphization of the animal.  These drawings here are the final draft and are drawn to scale.  This was a critical tool in keeping each of the various forms of the characters similar enough to carry the feeling that each represents a single identity.

IMG_4565

the first character I focused on was Ted.  Again Ted is the hero and the mover of the story.  Not that you see this in any way from the construction of the figurine.  Although the figures were made to stand up right and seem human after a fashion,  I really wanted them to remain ceramic figurines.  Their life is specific for two things, first is the video, and second is our intention to display the doll house and its “dolls” in the gallery when they are shown.  It seems such a mad idea to want to make films that star ceramic, but thats the idea, so we’ll have to go all out.  We will rely on the script and the voice acting to convey the emotion needed to tell the story.  After making Ted in his entirety twice, Gabe suggested that I make a single head and interchangeable legs for the chatting and stair climbing Ted.  It was also Gabe’s design for the stair climbing sled legs, which will allow for the ceramic to get up the steps on camera.  The head slots over the stem  of the legs and reduced the making time for each significantly.

IMG_4571

Jeff is far less active but had to be seen sitting on the couch alone.  Of course the script was not finished when I made the first pair on the couch and they are fused to it, so a second couch and Jeff had to be made.  Here is that squid, the arm is raised to that he can also sleep on the couch.

IMG_4453

Here they are on the first couch, the second pair built.

IMG_4528

The title of the film is “Magic Box” and the activities of all of the characters center around this TV like device that serves as a sort of electronic life coach.  The Magic Boxes will be iPhones and iPods.  I didn’t want to show anything but the screens so a sort of entertainment center for a phone had to be designed and built.  There will need to be a total of 5 of these for the entire apartment.  The build on these is complex as it requires shrinkage calculation.

IMG_4584

Here is a grouping of some of the objects for Ted and Jeff’s apartment after the first firing.  Glazing ideas are hatching slowly, but nothing will be attempted until all the figurines are ready for glazing as surface will help unite the four figures as one.

Sculpture

Building the Doll House

IMG_4198

Once the molds were dry, the build began immediately.  I have not worked extensively with stiff slabs and there was a bit of learning curve.  The procedure was pretty straight forward.  All the pieces were pressed in a day and left in the molds to stiffen.  the next day they were sprung from the molds and assembled.  the floor, then the walls, one at a time, and finally the ceiling.  once the main floor is built, the details and stairs are added on the following day.

IMG_4271

The schedule for completion was very tight, so these had to go to the kiln pretty quickly.  The large stories completely filled the kiln.   This was actually one of the main design parameters, the small kiln is our studio’s limit, transcending that limit has been a priority of ours from the beginning.  This small kiln also lacks the computer controls that I was used to at the art center.  It was an unfortunate combination of dirt barn floor, that prevented drying, small hot kiln and no way to read internal temps that cost us much time and stress on the build of the piece.  The first piece blew up in firing.  the tight schedule and the stress of deadline pressure, constant cold from working in the old barn and months without a day off piled up.  All these factors contributed to the loss of the piece and certainly to my willingness to give up and bring the work incomplete to critique.  I assumed it would cost me my grade and I was ready to take the incomplete in the class as well.

IMG_4275

But of course I don’t work alone, and after a day to cool down and refocus with the support that is sometimes necessary for hard work, I got back to work and remade the missing piece.  That piece was not nearly the only work lost in the early winter and we employed a variety of methods to get the clay dry in the damp, cold barn.  The first attempt was to use heat lamps to dry the work before firing.  This worked pretty well for the pre firing dry time, but we were still loosing work, those roosters had to be remade three times.  Finally we ponied up the money for a pyrometer, which has been one of the best investments the studio has made to date.  Now we are able to monitor the interior temp and ensure it does not climb to high before we are sure the work is completely dry.  For our situation, its completely necessary.

IMG_4286

Once all the work was fired and repairs made to the porch pieces, which were a design flaw and needed much post firing attention, the work was glazed.  The film was a primary consideration here, I needed to choose a surface that would show the characters and film well.  I was also concerned with the characters being able to keep their feet so an unglazed surface was chosen for the floors and stairs.  We have since modified the method of movement for them during filming and this may not remain a good decision but it is integral to the finished look of the piece and can not be regretted.

 

IMG_4330IMG_4333 

Over all, Im am really happy with the way this piece has turned out so far, and the interiors are wonderfully intimate.  I’m hoping we can translate that into the character of the film.

 

IMG_4353

Mold Making

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.