Archive | July, 2009

Expanding the studio

My family just returned from a visit to my husband’s parents in Ohio. We went out there to pick up an old wood lathe from my father-in-law. I fear that now that he has fully retired from carpentry, we’ll be moving his shop toys to Charlotte one long truck ride at a time!

The trouble with this is that we really don’t have anywhere to put large woodworking equipment. We weren’t even sure where the wood lathe would go when we returned. Having accumulated more than a decade’s worth of kid-raising debris, it’s been years since we could park our cars in the garage, nevermind use it for something as practical as a wood shop.

But the more we talked (and nine hours trying not to think about just how much gas a Chevy Silverado uses is a long time to talk), the more we decided it was time to convert the garage to a his-and-hers workshop. When I started making ceramics, I really only ever intended to glaze them. I wasn’t going to cast them, and I sure wasn’t going to make any molds. It wouldn’t take much space! Of course, making ceramics seems a bit like buying them; you find yourself in deeper, and by then it’s too late to turn back! So as my involvement has grown, the studio has seemed more cramped by the day.

What I most wanted to do was move the noisier and messier aspects away from my regular work space. The messy part is easy, since all I really need is another plexiglass-covered workbench where I can pour rubber and plaster. The noisy part is a little harder, because what I need is a permanent spray booth that vents to the outside. Small hobby booths – the kind that can be removed from a desk when it’s needed for detailing – vent down into filters below the work. That means there isn’t a lot of distance between the work area and the fan, so the noise is harder to control.

I could purchase or build a stationary booth, but there really wasn’t anywhere to place it within the studio room. And even if I did have a spot, installing one would required cutting a hole to the outside of the house. I could justify installing a utility sink in the studio, which – located next to the kitchen – should have been a dining room. If we ever needed to sell the house, the sink and counter could be converted into a wet bar without much trouble. It’s hard to imagine how I could turn a gaping hole, suitable for running ductwork, into an added feature in a dining room!

But a spray booth would easily fit in our garage-turned-workshop. So I offered to dig through the garage (braving snakes, as it turned out!), and pitch or donate everything not absolutely necessary (really, how many non-functioning, but surely-repairable, waffle makers does a family of four need?). I would do all that, if he would install a bench and a booth for me when I was done.

That part has been kind of fun, and a neat break between etching sessions. I’ve even found some treasures, like these old back issues of “minis!”, a newsletter I published back in the early 1990s.

My only mistake was discussing the specs for the different spray booths with my husband. I should have known that he would become convinced that none of the commercially available booths would really fix my noise problem quite as well as something specifically designed to reduce noise. I guess the urge to engineer things isn’t much different from the urge to color things!

I’m just wondering if he’d find some design reason to give the booth ornate, turned wooden legs. We do have a cool old lathe!

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No tricks

Since posting the pictures of Gaudi, I’ve had several people ask what the trick was to the roaning on his coat. Unfortunately there isn’t any real trick – no special tool or technique. The pattern was created using a #11 Xacto blade, or rather dozens of those blades. (I set the blade aside as soon as it begins to dull, and that happens pretty quickly when it is being scraped against ceramic bisque.) The process isn’t really all that different from the etching some use to customize factory finish plastic horses, though potters usually use the term “scraffito”.

So there isn’t really a trick, other than training yourself to maintain a really light touch with the blade. It also helps if you work in small areas for short periods of time. The temptation to rush and the mind’s tendency to create a regimented pattern are the biggest obstacles to achieving a realistic roaning pattern. That means they take a lot longer than it seems they should, but the end result is pretty cool.

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