Materials and Techniques

 

I have been consistently surprised by the scope of the information available on the Internet.
In that spirit I have scattered these crumbs here which you might find useful…..

 

Click on the image above to view one of the large pieces in process

 

Methods of Building

 

I choose clay to be the raw visceral material for my work, because its roots are wrapped around my past.  I have always linked the materiality of flesh and the memory of it with clay.  It has an incredible sensitivity to touch.  Not only is the inert nature of the material alluring with its ties to the primitive and raw, but its voice spans a wide range of sensual, violent, and careless textural possibilities.  It is intimately tied to our natural surroundings, cultural history, and a direct record of my physical presence.  Every intimacy with the material is preserved.

The larger pieces I create take 3 to 5 months to complete.  The typical process is as follows:

Creation of Maquettes 2-3 days
Building the Armature:   2 days- 1week
Sculpting Solid:    3 days- 1 week
Hollowing and Detailing:  3- 5 weeks 
Reassembling Wet 1-2 weeks
Resurfacing 1 week
Cutting for Kiln Loading 1- 3 days
Drying and Firing 1-2 weeks
Reassembling Fired 1 week
Seamwork 1-2 weeks
Applying Surface 1 week
Creation of Supporting 
         Elements
0-3 weeks
*If you would like to see this process in action, 
click the image of  The Beast at the top of the page

 Given the nature of the clay, these pieces involve a tremendous amount of effort, requiring roughly 800 to 2,000 lbs of wet clay each to rough in and  then take several weeks to a month to hollow out.  (see images of  i am no oneA Second Kind of LonelinessThe Inquisitors, and Empire of Dust).  In order to move the mass around, I use my whole body: striking it with chunks of wood, digging into the surface with the palms of my hands and my nails, carving away 20 pound pieces with wire, and slamming it back onto the surface.  This massing in has to be done quickly, and it wears me out.  I work in cycles with pieces like this - pounding away for 20 minutes, and then sitting quietly and looking, making small touches.  I was unable to lift the largest sections of these pieces by myself, and required a team of people to help lift them back onto one another as the sculpture was reassembled. 

            By the time I successfully bring a piece to it’s final stages, I have spent approximately 1/8 of my time creating the form, and the remaining 7/8 of the time preserving it.  It is a strange process.  As I am hollowing the sculpture, piece by piece, that empty space inside becomes one of the most intense focal points for my thoughts about the conceptual image, as well as my relationship with them.  I gain a secret satisfaction from all this weight loss.  I follow each curve and mark in the reverse, thinking about their meaning, and rereading my visual notes.  I like to hum into these dark closed interiors, listening to and feeling the deep vibrant magnification of my voice distorted in answer. I think about closing myself in, slipping them on like skins.  I imagine being enfolded within a wild hare, ears laid back, body tensed… watching.   

 
 

Specific Materials  

**When I am teaching workshops, I usually have a printed summary of these materials which you can find Here

 

Clay:     I was once told that ‘one should be able to roll a sculpture down a hill, and if anything fell off, it shouldn’t have been there in the first place.’ Although I don't quite subscribe to that philosophy, the durability of my finished work has always been one of my primary concerns. For this reason, I have chosen high refractory bodies based on their ability to withstand high thermal shock, versatility, and wet building strength. Currently I am using a commercial clay  called  Soldate 60 from Aardvark Clay and Supplies, though there is a similar product with the same name available from Laguna. This clay was originally formulated by Joe Soldate in Southern California as a Raku body and is an EXCELLENT sculpture body. Its a fairly straightforward body:

 Roughly 50% Lincoln Fireclay, 25% OM4 Ball Clay, 25% 60 Mesh Sand, and an additional 2.5% Custer Feldspar.  
* A certain percentage of the Fireclay is comprised of a type called "Greenstripe"- which adds a crucial plasticity and green-strength to the clay, but has also been know to contain lime contamination.  One disadvantage of this clay is also its massive shrinkage rate.  From wet to fired cone 6, I have measured approximately 20% shrinkage. This means I have to build my pieces 20% larger than I envision the finished work- a large part of the engineering that I go through with each piece is due to this scale and the complexities of a form that is going to change so much during the process.

I also have used cone 6 porcelain (Kurt Weiser's recipe- both in modeling clay and slip casting form) mixed  with lots of Mason stain, fired to cone 2-6, for many small studies, depending entirely on the peculiarities of each piece.

 

Slips and Paint:     Most of the time, I am searching for surfaces that emulate the texture of wet clay or bare skin.  The vitality and subtlety of terra sigillata and vitreous slips are perfect in this regard for my figurative sculpture, but are often unmanageable in my most recent work, due to the fact that I need to fire in sections.  However, I do occasionally still use these fired surfaces on specific pieces where the ability to touch the form is important to me conceptually (see Olympia, i'm sorry..., The Inquisitors The surfaces give the appearance of being pliable, moist, and vulnerable.  I start with an OM4 clay for the terra sigillata and a Porcelain mix for the vitreous slip - adding 8-12% mason stain to each for color.  I apply both the vitreous slip and the terra sigillata to bisque, since the textured surfaces are too fragile for handling when bone dry.  This makes for a a slightly less durable bond between the sculpture and the surface, so I usually bisque low (cone 08), apply the slip in thin layers, burnish, and fire slightly over vitrifying temperatures. 
          My favorite surface treatment is flat interior latex paint.  Yep, that's right..P A I N T.  Read on, skeptics!  A while ago, I was searching for a reason to use color in my work, and I discovered Martha Stewart's line of Designer Interior Latex.    Besides the wonderfully suggestive color names, the brochure I saw claimed that these colors had been specially formulated to evoke certain emotional and psychological states when used in the home environment... I was in love.  So I have remained faithful to the Martha Stewart line of Signature Designer colors ever since.  Each time I create a piece, I consider which specific color to use on the surface of the work- often the 'emotional content' of the color and the emotional content of the form are in direct opposition with one another-  creating a subtle tension between the exterior and interior of the piece.  The domestic and the feral.
        But! Paint??  I should mention that I am *very* particular about using flat interior latex paint. If you look at a high quality can of flat interior latex, you will notice that 99% of the materials in that can of paint are calcined clay and other ceramic materials. So, in essence, I am using an unfired slip on the surfaces of my work...which gives me a beautiful clay-like matte feel to the sculpture.  This way I can cover the seams of the reassembled fired sections- enabling me to work with much more freedom of gesture and scale than would otherwise be possible for my modest studio and kiln setup- without losing the soft and sensual feel of clay  or the immediacy of the rough marks on the surface.

If you would like to know more about the relationship between slip, glazes, and paint, I highly suggest checking out this article by Pete Pinnell: http://www.claytimes.com/articles/glazeadjusting.html  I can't tell you how much I have learned from him though I have  never met him.

 

Other Materials:  I will probably returning to more castable elements in the next few years.  I have had quite a bit of experience with different mold-making and casting techniques, and I have used different aspects of this process in a few of my pieces over the last 10 years. For strength, I always use hydrostone for intimate casts from rubber molds and mother shells.  For press molds, slip cast molds, and experimentation I usually resort to pottery plaster.    When making rubber molds, I order a two-part mixture from Polytek (610-559-8620) which has a very short shelf life but is fairly easy to work with.  I decided to try out their Polygel Mixture a few years ago on The Black Rhinoceros, and was really impressed with how easy it was to brush on the skin coats.  I followed this up with their two-part brush-able plastic for the mother shell, and the end result was a strong, very lightweight mold.  Highly recommended.  

For a list of glues, epoxies, kneadable apoxies, and assorted other materials used in the studio, Click Here.

 
 

Equipment

Kilns:    During my student years and time spent in residencies, I was able to make my work in places with impressive facilities.  At Ohio State University, there were several kilns, all indoors, which allowed for very large work.  I was able to assemble a few of the most awkward pieces right inside the kiln, allowing them to dry safely without having to be moved or gotten through small doors.  These were all gas kilns, and although I bow to the expert intuitive firing techniques of many other ceramic artists, I relied *heavily* on a digital Fluke pyrometer to get me through the initial heating stages up to quartz.  With my insane method of building, I need to be very exact with the drying and bisque firing conditions.  I have found that a slow drying period (1 to 2 weeks minimally) and a six day firing schedule accommodate this method of building with a minimum of complications.   If you want to see a copy of my firing schedule, Click Here.

     Right now, in my studio a I have an Olympic Oval Kiln, with an interior space 41" length, and 29" width.  The best feature of this kiln is the ability to remove all the rings, leaving just the floor of the kiln.  Typically, I will load the large sections of the piece onto a shrink slab sitting on the kiln floor , and then stack the rings back around it. (for images, refer to the process page linked by the image of the sculpture at the top of the page)  This allows me to create far more lightweight and complicated forms without worrying about breakage, and I am also able to handle any damage while the clay is in a receptive state.   

Other Equipment:   I also use a whole host of power tools for working on the fired sections before reassembling.  Sometimes I rework the forms in order alter the gesture  and there is always a certain degree of warping and distortion that I need to correct before gluing the sections back together.  I use a Makita 4" right angle grinder for rough cutting and shaping of fired stoneware, a Foredom Flex Shaft rotary tool with sintered diamond burs for medium and fine shaping, and a trusty Dremel tool with diamond coated and tile cutting bits for all the finicky shaping and textural work.  I will also briefly mention that with my new studio here in Washington, I have finally had the luxury of adding a small woodshop to my workspace- dramatically increasing the range of projects I can tackle.

 

Techniques

 

 Sadly, this section was completely outdated when I was revising the site (Oct. 2009)
HOWEVER...a lot of folks have told me that they found this info useful, so I will leave it here 
as an archival artifact.  I no longer use these techniques in my own work, I but I do believe the info is still good.

Saggar Firing, Smoking, and Raku:    These techniques figured prominently into my past bodies of work, and although I am no longer using them, I still find the process intriguing. The seduction of all three of these techniques is also what a lot of people find the most elusive: Unpredictability. These are some quick resource you might find useful if you are interested in pursuing it:

Sawdust Firing - a book which covers a few of the basic techniques for smoking and pit firing
potters.org - resource site for potters, ceramic artists and clay sculptors
CeramicsWeb
The Saggar Firing Process

Casting and mold-making:     Most of my knowledge concerning these processes comes from my experience working with other artists.  At OSU, I  had the chance to study with Steven Thurston, and discovered just how little I actually knew about molds.  Previously, I had found Lanteri’s Modeling and sculpting the Human Figure helpful in step by step instruction and there is also nice website with photographs detailing the mold making process:   Cementex Mold Making

However, every mold making process has its own variations and complications:  press molds for carved relief, piece molds for slip casting, waste molds, Jeltrate molds for life-casting, rubber molds for waxes, plastics and a number of other castables. 

 
     

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