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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foxy-Wolff and Rise at The Red Lady Gallery in Kansas City

Attending NCECA conference has been a goal of ours for several years. This year we finally make that happen In Kansas City. We were in town early to set up a graduate showcase titled Rise, at the Red Lady Gallery with the rest of the grads from FHSU.

We showed The Empty Room in this exhibit and the first step in getting to the show was to get the work pulled together and made ready to show.  We are already prepping the work for the show in May, this was an opportunity to push up the timeline and see one of the pieces fully wired and installed. We’ve finished most of the work  on each of the 5 pieces for the show, but each require some fine-tuning. For The Empty Room we needed to wire in the screens and build the pedestal as well as test all the tech together and ensure all electronic elements were ready to work together in the gallery. Gabe’s diverse skill set and exacting eye make him the go-to for most of this finish work.

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After detailing and finishing, we loaded up and headed to Kansas City. Gabe’s wife Walter came with us on this trip and so the borrowed truck bulged to the top. It was shocking to see how much gear each of these pieces need. It was a great test run to consider the amount of space we will need to bring out the entire show in May.

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The Red Lady Gallery is located at 1229 1/2 Union Ave in Kansas City, in The West Bottoms neighborhood. The show ran for the 4 days of the conference and was well attended considering this was a pop up show with no advertisement from the conference.

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The space reflects the neighborhood, classic with tons of character. I really can’t imagine a better venue in KC. When we landed we got straight to work unpacking and setting up. The entire set up took us about an hour, including hauling all the gear up the steps, no small feat.

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When the piece was up, we proceeded to tour the neighborhood, full of wonderful old warehouses and factories and some really excellent graffiti.

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While the neighborhood boasts several boutiques, galleries and antique shops, the activity there is usually limited to First Friday events in the city and so we had the neighborhood nearly to ourselves that afternoon, we took the opportunity as a private viewing and had a great time exploring the streets, alleys and parking lots.

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The best bit of the day though was finally seeing the Empty Room together with all its component pieces. Having seen it complete, gave us a good idea of the whole installation in place.

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Gabe put this video together to celebrate the show, as he says, you’re welcome. 🙂

 

 

 

Building the Black Church

The design of the last set piece of the Magic Box project was immensely important to the look and feel of the entire project.  This element and accompanying video is the culmination of our learning and focus on a project over two years in the making.  While the piece must work well with all those that came before, It must also reflect the inevitable learning that accompanies work of so much duration and focus.

As with the building for “The Empty Room”,  “The Black Church” was based on a building in our home town Pueblo, Colorado, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. While we considered many church designs for the project, we went with the cathedral because of its classical anatomy and ties to art history, which is an important element of the last video.

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We began by photographing the building.  The main challenge in “sampling” a building like this is discovering how much of the original to stay true to and how much to simplify and modify. To help make these determinations I did an extensive series of drawings, to both see the building fully and to determine the essential elements. In the initial planning stage, before the drawings, I imagined holding a large amount of the detail, feeling that was an essential part of the beauty of the building.

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The slow and deliberate process of drawing the church again and again over a period of weeks helped me to understand the soul of the building, the essential nature of the proportion and what that communicates to those on the sidewalk or inside the structure. By the end of the drawing process I was stripping away the detail and focused on the classical structure.

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From the drawing step, our building was designed, rather than the lengthy process of constructing plaster molds for each section, a heavy watercolor paper was used. This step cut at least 4 weeks from the build which allowed the full project to be completed within the semester.

For the build I broke the structure into four sections, the front section, or Facade and narthex, was built first. This allowed the rules for construction to be set on a relatively small and simple piece and to test the scale of the building against the existing works in the series and to ensure continuity of the installation. Rather than the Laguna’s whitestone that we built the empty room house with, we returned to Laguna’s soldate, a body that we have used for years with success. This decision completely solved the major mid slab cracking issues that had been such a problem with so much of the early construction. Another modification of the build  was to  let the slabs set up several days before assembly. This let the individual units do most of their drying and shrinking before they came together which reduced the amount of stress placed on each piece.

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The second section built was the naive, this section was modified from its proportion in the original building so that we could focus the filming in this section.  Because of the size modification, the roof became problematic, columns were set into the mid center of the hall to hold a sort of half ceiling. This would serve the dual purpose of holding a multi media roof that would be constructed post firing and hide the lighting system for the enclosed structure. The decision to go without decoration or windows on the building affirmed itself as the structure grew.  The exterior and the interior were beginning to be understood as separate realms.  the exterior was to exude imposing darkness and mystery in addition to be immediately recognizable as a holy or sacred place. The interior was to evoke a cave, a hidden space not easily accessible from the outside.

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The third piece was the transept. For the long roof section of this unit a sort of joist was constructed from the side wall panel pieces.

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The last piece was the choir. This was the both the smallest and most complex of the sections.

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Once all the sections were complete, they could be placed together to make decisions about the placement and shape of the passage that would span the whole interior.

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Once the interior was opened it was coated in whitestone slip, to tie it to the earlier buildings and to enhance the cave feeling for the interior shots for filming. During construction of each section a waster slab was placed beneath to limit drying and firing stress. The building was then covered and allowed to dry over several weeks.

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Once the units were dried and fired to cone 06 they were again assembled to assess the warping that took place through the long process of clay to ceramic. While we did have markedly better results with this building, each section did move throughout this time, a solution was then sought to fill the gaps between the sections that would allow light to penetrate into the building. Several solutions were considered for this but in the end we decided on vinyl  joint compound, this substance starts very soft and plastic like clay and would dry very hard to allow the building to be handled as it moves from show to show.  The first step for this was to shrink-wrap the first and third sections so that the compound would only go on  section two and four, minimizing both handling stress and cleanup. Each section was then masked for spray paint.

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The process of application and sanding back the material had to be done through several  times before we were satisfied with the fit. The visible sides were then textured to match the ceramic.

Painting was two coats of semi-gloss black spray paint with an additional two coats of a matte clear finish, this had to be tuned up several times through the finishing as the joint compound was very messy when it had to be manipulated. The interior was largely left alone, but some of the ground bisque clay used on the interior was mixed with acrylic to cover epoxy fill and to allow the heavy texture to be picked up by the camera during filming.

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Once the surface was finished, it was then time to install the lights. small battery-powered LED’s were used, hot glued into position in the roof sections using the joint compound to hide the cord running through the walls and down through the joints into a pedestal built to house them. Initially my intent was to light the interior with fire, but having ruled this impractical from a build and display standpoint,  we opted for half flashing lights.  Though labeled as the same light, we found the flashing lights had a very different temperature from the non blinkers so I applied an acrylic wash to warm up the cooler toned lights.

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Following the placement of the lights, the god tiles were epoxyed into place since their shape and the texture of the walls would not allow them to be simply placed and stay where they needed to be.

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Gabe supplied the finishing touches to the piece, first the multi media roof was constructed of similar materials as the additions to the ceramic. His intent for the addition was that it not draw attention to itself yet compliment the overall feeling of the exterior of the building.

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All these elements unite to form what we believe is an incredibly strong piece that will anchor the gallery presence of the entire installation. The last element added was subtle decoration to the exterior of the church. Gabe executed to scale, tags in black marker around the back and sides of the building. These additions tie the piece into the overall intent and work of the studio and also reward the careful viewer looking for the details that are present throughout the installation.church tag 2church tags 1

Detail and subtlety become the focus of this object, the only one in the group with no magic boxes and aside from lights no dependence on technology. This piece becomes a resting place in the work to contemplate the various layers of meaning in the Magic Box installation and video series.

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Inside the Black Church

The interior of the previous houses for the Magic Box and for The Empty room were furnished much like doll houses, beds, tables, chairs, dishes etc. and of course Magic Boxes and TV’s.  The interior of the church is radically different.  In the early planning stages of the project we were imagining a retirement home for gods, a place where they would play cards and wear fuzzy slippers.  As the concept distilled down and Ted’s role in the developing plot became clear it was obvious that absurd humor would not serve our needs. By the beginning of The Bear Cave project we were settled on a church for the last scene of the 4 part video project. Retirement however remained an important concept for the story so making the space both sacred and to refer to the history of the gods became the priority.  In the early planning I was still thinking of sculpting famous works in the round as I did with the stone woman, but as the space was built and “space” became important the idea evolved into relief carvings

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Images and gods were chosen from all over the world. Once one was decided on it was modified to fit the 3″ x 6″ tile slab and then was drawn in and carved.  There are 17 in all. In addition to the cultures that produced these images I was heavily influenced by wood block carvings for printmaking.

Once the carving was done and the images were complete, the originals were used to create slip casting molds, This was chosen for maximum translation of the detail. All were poured at once so that they could be kept on the same firing schedule. After bisquing the tiles were rubbed in a wash of 50% red iron oxide and 50% gerstley borate.

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The first pieces were taken and modified directly from historical images of the gods.  There were 12 of these:

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This image features gods from China and Japan: L to R the Shinto god of thunder Raijin; A Chinese Temple Guardian Dragon and The Buddhist god of anger and enlightenment Fudo Myoo. The featured image at top are gods from the Americas:  Yelth the raven from the American tribe the Haida,Kukulkan, the Mayan feathered serpent God and Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec death God.

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From the top  L to R From Europe Lady or Venus of Willendorf and Minoan Snake Priestess/Goddess; From south-east Asia Ganesh, god of wisdom and learning and Shiva, god of the dance and destruction; From the Middle East and Africa is Enlil, sky god of Sumer and Annubis, Egyptian god of embalming and the dead.

During the cycle of making these image/objects, Gabe suggested we do some that were totally of our own making that would relate to the world of little animals that we have created in the videos. He developed images for two,  a frog and a bird.

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I took his images and translated them into the clay.

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For the last three I combined the concept of using a historical image but combined them with common animals that might have appeared in our world.

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L to R the pig is based on the monolithic figures of Easter Island, The rabbit is based on Europe’s horned god Cernunnos and the chicken lady is derived from Rangda, dreaded widow queen of the witches from Bali. For these I stayed fairly close to the original image and only modified where the greatest impact could be seen, primarily the head, as can be seen from the image of Cernunnos taken from the Gundestrup Cauldron.

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In addition to these 17 tiles and some new poses and looks for established characters I carved The Great One from Chinese images of Kuan Yin. This small sculpture is carved from a solid block, washed with the same mixture as the tiles and given a glaze accent for the garment.

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Magic Box Collectables

An important idea for us right now in Foxy-Wolff is to develop an income steam to support the video production and installation, which can be very expensive when considering the tech involved.  We have worked with a variety of ideas over the last couple years and continue to search for something compelling that ties to into the heart of the videos.  With this latest idea, I think we may have figured it out.

These came from a series of small drawings Gabe made as we were on our way home from Kansas after the semester critique last December.  While I did like the tiles, I felt they were missing something, and a reoccurring comment we heard during the critique was that everyone wanted to play with the house and the figurines.  combining these two necessities, Gabe developed these wall hanging pieces:IMG_8040As soon as we got home I began with their construction.  For most of these, the molds already exist from the construction of the houses and so the details on the build could be thought through very quickly.

The first was from “The Empty Room” house, which is a challenging piece even at a small-scale.  I chose a window and two brick walls for this, finishing with all the trim.  Part of the challenge was building solo, the piece being too small for both of us to put up the walls.  Once the construction was finished it was dried, then spray painted and fired.  Following that acrylic paint and more spray paint were applied. I wanted to make these close to the original, but art pieces in their own right so there is some deviation from the surfacing of the original.IMG_0661“Ted in the Empty Room” 8.5″ x 9.25′ x 5″ Ceramic and Paint

The second piece was also from “The Empty Room” and is more of a display shelf for figurines than a house.  Again, using molds from the original build, a plan was made.  This house does not include porches and so decisions had to be made concerning that new aspect.  Construction and surfacing followed the procedures listed above and this piece finished well.IMG_0654“Terry and Virgil After Breakfast” 8.75″ x 9.75″ x 6 Ceramic and Paint

The third piece comes from “The Magic Box” and was perhaps the most difficult build of the group.  The reason for this being the molds from which the original house was made.  They are early on in our pursuit of mold making and are imprecise and difficult to use.  That being said, the compact design of this house and the attachment style it uses are very sturdy and make a lovely little piece.  This was glaze finished like the house it is made after.IMG_0646“The Stone Woman at Home” 8.5″ x  8″ x 8″ Stoneware and Glaze

The figurines were made following the construction of the houses and were somewhat different from the originals, the stone woman for example is slip cast for these, where she was carved from solid clay in the original piece.  In this we were seeking a way to differentiate the collectables from the gallery originals.IMG_0665IMG_0650These pieces will hang in a variety of ways, the large free-standing pieces will be placed on a custom shelf, while the piece that includes its own shelf will hang on a French cleat.

This series does exactly what we were hoping for, It reunites the concept of the films with toys and action figures and  gives us an interesting opportunity to return to the “commercial”.  I love the idea of promoting the “Collect all five!” marketing strategy for ceramic art, its fantastically absurd.

 

Hanging Wall Tiles

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Wall hanging tiles are a new part of the Magic Box project that we have been working on.  Like the house, the mold was made for this in July.  This mold was designed by Gabe and is intended to mimic gallery wrapped canvas.  The piece is large (16″x15″x2″) and was constructed initially from wood wrapped in a heavy burlap.  The top pic shows Gabe taking the mold apart after the plaster was poured.  The piece by piece construction allowed the box to be removed cleanly without damaging the plaster.  The second shows the finished piece.IMG_6001 IMG_6177 IMG_6178Once the mold was dry, we were ready to press.  The first slabs for this were 3/8″ and weighed about 15 lbs.  This weight was usually enough to build the supports from as well, provided the slab was well-shaped before pressing.  The photo of the finished tile really shows off the texture.  The initial rules of the press have changed quite a bit as we have made several.  The piece is very large for slab work and has major problems with cracking.  We have adjusted the support structure, slab depth, dry times, clay bodies and added a waster slab.  In spite of all these adjustments, cracking is still a major problem for these pieces.

In addition to the technical exploration I have tried several finishing methods for the surfaces, depending on the image and the condition of the tile.  The first series depicts images taken from The Magic Box film,  These images originated as screen shots and then were translated into paintings or transfers through various methods.

IMG_6659 IMG_6740 IMG_6614 IMG_6741These four pictures show the screen shot after photo manipulation and then the finished image on tile.  These were rendered in oxide and glaze.  This was difficult to control saturation and color gradient and was not attempted again.

IMG_6759 IMG_6751 IMG_6748The other major technique used in the first series was a more graphic approach that relied on decals and glaze effects.  I really love these, in part because they work with the cracking a bit better than the heavily image dependent tiles.  This graphic approach also relies less on images from the film.  Only the house image here is taken directly from the film.  The other two tiles are more descriptive of the development of the characters depicted.

painting tiles1 painting tiles 2 Painting tiles 3IMG_7387The second series saw further development of both the technical clay and surfacing techniques.  The tile above was too badly cracked to glaze fire and so was epoxides and paint finished.  The process of painting ceramic always starts with spray paint for us, the first image shows the tile masked off and the second, the protected drawing after the mask was removed.  The last two are the paint in process.

IMG_7389 IMG_7391The last two tiles combine the techniques used in the first series but rather than oxides, I used commercial underglazes for building the image.  These have a painterly quality that I am interested in, but might benefit from more color.  The series is ongoing, and will likely continue to evolve.

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.

 

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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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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