ceramic art

Filming The Empty Room

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

ceramic art

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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ceramic art

Surfacing the House for The Empty Room

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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ceramic art

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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Filling the Tank: Fuel for the Creative Life

This weekend Gabe and I had the good fortune to attend the Lawrence Art Center Ceramics Symposium in Lawrence KS as part of the midterm meeting for my graduate program at Fort Hays State University.  The Symposium featured 6 very well-respected ceramic artists working in a variety of techniques and approaches.  The artists that participated were: Sunshine Cobb, Gerit Grimm, Chris Gustin, Akio Takamori, Patti Warashina and Stan Welch.  The two days were divided between simultaneous demonstrations and artist talks.  We also had the great good fortune to visit the studio of Kris Kuksy.

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The slide lectures were an opportunity to become acquainted with the artists of the symposium through the history of their work.  Chris Gustin works primarily on the wheel, making large vessels and platter forms and then wood firing.   His inspiration comes largely from the geometry found in nature and art and architecture of the past.

http://www.gustinceramics.com

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Akio Takamori creates simplified human figures and then paints  them with underglazes. These painted figures have the look and feel of dimensional sumi paintings.   The work explores his identity as a Japanese person living in America and his interest in the act of looking, at art, people and culture.

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http://akiotakamori.com

Patti Warashina also works with the figure.  Her slip cast pieces, inspired by surrealism, are complex narratives that examine human nature and culture.

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Stan Welch combines photographs, ceramic, installation and two-dimensional design to create large wall hanging pieces that feature ceramic figurines and the ocean.  These large works evoke both isolation and anticipation.

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The demonstrations took up most of the day at the symposium, and while we wanted to see everyone work, it made the most sense to drop in and focus on the work of a couple of artists and get the full benefit of what they had to offer.  We chose to watch the demonstrations of Sunshine Cobb and Gerit Grimm.

Gerit Grimm is a German born artist making figurative work on the wheel.  For the demonstration she made two works, a horse and rider and a woman with a flower-pot.  Her process began with throwing parts, torso, head, arms, legs and other bits.  Once the work had dried efficiently it was assembled into incredibly engaging sculptural forms that reference both the style of making and that which they are meant to portray.

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Gerit helped us deepen our understanding of complex form and multi piece attachment processes.  She was an engaging and funny presenter and we had a great time with her.

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http://www.geritgrimm.com

Sunshine Cobb is a functional potter who combines hand building and wheel techniques to create pots that have an incredible vitality and integrity.  The work is aggressively formed and there is no attempt to hide the means of their making.  The vigorous finger marks and pinching cracks add humanity to the handmade work that is for some artists has become indistinguishable from factory produced work.   Her methods were quick and confident and we came away feeling energized and motivated in our own work.  Another great thing about Sunshine’s presentation was her straight talk about the nature of ceramic business.  She offered tips and encouragement on a subject that is often neglected in these types of events.

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We had a great time getting to know her and feel really inspired by what she taught.

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http://www.sunshinecobb.com

The weekend offered other opportunities as well.  The first night of the conference the art center opened a show titled “Souvenirs from the Future: A Survey of Contemporary Ceramic”  It was a very good show.  Here are a few of our favorite works:

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Stephanie Craig, Raft Lake Fables: “Home Before Dark”

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Josh Zimmerman.  Stratified Construction #2

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Shalene Valenzuela.  Implements of Self Construction: Paint by Numbers

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Brett Kern.  Inflatable Astronaut

In addition, Russel Wrankle had a solo show up featuring dogs with things tied to them.  The idea he said came from the old trick of tying a dead bird to the neck of a dog that kills chickens.  Wearing the bird until it rots off was though to cure the dog of the chicken habit.  I don’t know about the practice, but the work was wonderful.  This piece titled “Frog Muzzle” was our favorite.

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We also had the outrageous good fortune to visit Kris Kuksy’s new studio and get to chat with him about his work, upcoming shows and the fine art of kit bashing.  We couldn’t photo any of his work as it’s for an upcoming show, but we did catch this sweet little vignette of roosters and death in a corner of the space.

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If you don’t know Kris’s work, you should.

http://kuksi.com

We also paid a great visit to Bracker’s Good Earth Clays.  They were super friendly and helpful and had soooo many lovely tools.  I’m afraid we got a bit carried away.  It was a good connection to make and I am sure we will be doing business with them in the future.

http://www.brackers.com

We learned a huge range of useful things this weekend, fundamental to our discoveries was the importance of clay body to technique.  That without exploring a range of bodies, it may not be possible to fully engage a personal technique.  Each change brings new challenges and as those are overcome a true vocabulary can be built and potential explored.

This was the bones of the weekend, the rest was inspiration to return to the studio with new perspectives and techniques to push our work into the next project and beyond.  Fuel for the creative life.

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This lovely pic is a bonus from the walls of The Java Bean Cafe in downtown Lawrence.

 

ceramic art

Ceramics as Theater and the Necessity of Video

Either by question or comment, people are often curious about the blending of ceramic and video that is at the heart of the Foxy-Wolff collaboration.  Partly, it is a simple matter of blending Gabe’s and my skill sets, this is just what would naturally come about from a collaboration of a  ceramist and a film maker, but after reading a wonderful essay in Ceramics Art and Perception (issue 92) titled “Is Ceramics a Genre in Theater”, I am compelled to think more deeply.

In the article, the author, Orly Nezer points to a definition of minimalist art that came out of the 1960’s.  Theorist Michael Fried identifies minimalist art as “neither paintings nor sculpture, but rather a situation that takes into account the actions of its manufacture, the activities that have preceded it and to great extent, the presence of the spectator”.  The author goes on to develop a thesis based on this quote that put the viewer in the center of a work of art for the context that is given through that act, and another from Eric Bentley on the nature of theater, “A impersonates to B while C is watching”  This quote establishes the necessity of time in the idea.  So we are left with an audience and a measured time of action.

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Orly then identifies several ceramic installations that meet this criteria.  My favorite is Titled “Signs and Wonders” by Edmund de Waal, it was installed in the Victoria and Albert Museum  in 2009.  For tis installation, de Waal honors the ceramic collection of the V&A through recreating them in porcelain from memory.  The works were then placed on a circular aluminum shelf suspended high above the gallery floor.  This placement distorts and blurs the work for the viewer.  Orly claims that this placement requires the imagination of the viewer to complete the work.

In each of the works discussed, the audience must participate, and that participation can only occur while in contact with the work.  From this keen observation, Orly goes on to include functional pots into this definition, because their use gives them context and meaning and their value is in a collection of gestures that goes into their making.  A pitcher is not really a pitcher until its poured.

So then how does this pertain to Foxy-Wolff and our toys and videos?  I think it’s an easy jump to view the handmade toys and houses as functional objects that are not really complete until they are played with.  It’s true that ceramic is an absurd material for toys but that is, in a way, the point. We act out these strange adult scenarios with toys too fragile for a child.  The play is closely regulated with firm rules so that the video has the look and feel that we need, but none of it has any meaning until they are watched.

It is true that the recording of the play removes the necessity of the ephemeral, but perhaps this is not the play of the script that is really being recorded.  I begin to wonder if the play that we are really interested in is the continuous dialog of the collaboration itself.  Sometimes light and funny and at times a battle with immovable opinions, but always compelling as we continually push for more and more from the work and each other.  Maybe that question; why ceramic and video? is at the heart of the entire project. Though for me at least, its one that I don’t really need to answer.

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Janet Mansfield

I was attracted to the article in Ceramics Art and Perception on Janet Mansfield (issue 92) primarily because I admire her contribution to contemporary ceramics.  She has been so very dedicated to the spread and growing acceptance of ceramic art as a respected medium.  Her legacy as a writer and editor and publisher, including the launch of this very magazine in 1990, is one that will be felt for generations.

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This article had little to do with these achievements however, it was a conversation about her favorite pot.  It seems amazing to me that she could choose one, having made so many, but according to the article, she chose without hesitation.  In her discussion of why she loved it so, she discusses the form, the handles, the salt accumulation and the ash, all to be expected from someone who helped the world understand what good pots are, but she went on to note its imperfections, and to include these in the reasons that it was her favorite.  She said it’s like people, everyone has a flaw.

It is this accumulated wisdom that I carried away from the read.  Her life was spent in clay, and it was her passion.  Through making objects she seems to have made herself, and her view of the world.  A simple wish to be useful, that carried itself into so many lives and influenced so many others.  In the photos she cradles the pot like a beloved pet or a happy baby, it reminds me of the simple pleasure in making objects and the wonders that a life making has to offer.

http://www.janetmansfield.com

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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

ceramic art

Film Festival Trophies

Every year we make the awards for the Pueblo 24 hour film festival in our home town Pueblo CO.  This year we made a video to accompany the process.  Rather than write about this one, I’ll let you watch.

The screening was this weekend and the entire event was very successful, with 25 entries and 18 films for judging.  The big winners of the night were the makers of a film called “The Brighter Side”, Gabe and I were lucky to catch up with the winning team, Lyonman productions at the event to offer congratulations.FullSizeRender

You can view the film here:

The festival is in its 7th year and is growing steadily, If you are interested in learning more or possibly entering a film next year, their website will fill you in of the details:

http://pueblo24hourfilmfestival.com

You can also watch the films from previous years at this address.