Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Monster Mold

The umbrella carcass I found by the pond last week quickly gathered enough momentum in my mind to result in a complete mental image of the pieces I want to make for the installation. More specifically, I'm going to use the shape of the distorted umbrella to make the forms of the units, each is different, - that then will be used together to build a maze like environment.
Even when I first considered this shape, I knew it would not be simple to make it, but I don't think I fully comprehended the problems inherent in casting such a fragile material as bone china on such a large scale. Bone china is the finest porcelain, with a consistency that is silky soft in liquid form, then goes to unmanagable cream cheese state, then into a brittle and fragile crumbly mess, then, with a wrong move, back to powder and broken shards. But when it turns out it is the purest, smoothest, whitest porcelan with almost a shiny polish on it.
An umbrella is a relatively basic form: a dome shape with slight ribs and indentations. Since I only need the outside, in any other situations a simple one part bowl-shaped mold would function well for most purposes. The complications come form de-molding the bone china porcelain form once the slip is cast in there. It is safe to assume that the material does not have the strenght to hold itself unsupported or be handled in the unfired state. No one here has seen it made into such a large and open bowl shape.
So, after a day of consultations with several expert staff members, and million drawings on the blackboard of the steps involved, a plan was hatched. The mold would have to be a 6 part one with a complex system of supports and interlocking, that allows the whole form to be safely transferred to a kilnshelf while the porcelain is still wet and also allows the parts be removed one by one as it dries. Everybody got excited when I presented the idea and the challenges with it. It seems that the staff here really lives for interesting technical solutions. The plans got so complicated that after days of thinking I would wake from sleep to realize that a new solution just generated 2 other new problems. The other nagging thought is that I might jut get away with just a simple one part mold...
But I went ahead with the plan. Being here is about experience after all... (or so I say to myself). I've never done a mold this complex on this scale that needs this kind of precision. The umbrella I got for it is a kids' one, but still ends up being about 2.5' (80cm) in diameter. I figured, I will do it slow and deal with the challenges one by one as they arise, instead of trying to anticipate everything at once.
I know only one person who likes mold making, for the rest of us it is a necessity. Into the 3rd day of working on it, when it started looking like it may come together, I finally started enjoying it. Yes, it is messy, it's tedious, it's heavy and hard to work with, but every problem can be solved in a variety of clever ways. It has been a great learning experience; a crash course in advanced mold making. It was finished in 3 nights and 2 days with only some cleaning left to do. It's a little over half of my weight. We still have to figure out how to hold it while putting about 15-20 liters (maybe more, maybe less, I better measure the volume before I go any further...) slip into it.
I will start a second mold of a different umbrella later this week. This time to test if the same could have been done as a one part mold. It will be interesting.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A found umbrella

On my way home from the Sportiom yesterday, I found an umbrella in the park by the pond. Apparently, it had been blown into the water where it must have stayed for some time. It was finely coated with sediment from the pond.
The shape is beautiful; it shifted my mind into high gear. I could not stop thinking about it all day. Finally, in the evening I walked back to get at least pictures of it (the whole thing turned out to be too large, too fragile, and too stinky to bring back into my studio).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Those late night thoughts...

It is remarkable, that one week can go by without venturing much further beyond the perimeter of the studios, my apartment, and the courtyard they enclose. The only exceptions are my daily runs and a few trips for groceries.
I nearly forgot how the ceramic process (especially when molds and casting is involved) takes on the life of its own, a steady rhythm of making parts, putting them together, drying, cleaning, wetting, fixing, polishing, drying, making parts, putting them together,etc...
The studios are truly amazing! EKWC resembles more to a laboratory than a messy art making place. Everything is set up as if someone had thought long and hard how to optimize every process, making each step of it as convenient as possible. For example, the plaster room: stainless steel tables, floordrain and a spray hose for easy clean up. A scale (to measure the ratio before mixing) with a vent, next to a rack for the plaster to be measured, which is adjacent to the sink (for the water). Recycled clay is in closable plastic bins (just the right hight, so I don't even have to bend down), clamps and tools on the wall, boards for mold walls in every possible size on a separate rack. Plaster chunks refuse go to a series of plastic tubs, which are just the right size for being picked up for emptying out during clean up. Slips have their own separate mixer, conveniently next to the dry materials, another sink, another scale and another spray hose, just near the clay mixers and pugmills for making plastic clays. The glazeroom is separate from all of this. It has its own ventiallation system, materials kept in well labeled bins, sinks, scales, everything is organized and clean! Did I mention that there are two dryers for molds? Or the fact that there is a staff member for research on materials? Or that the kilns are hooked up to computers, which not only control them but archive and can print a diagram of the firing cycle (the rate of temperature increase over time)? Or that there is a whole library of clay and glaze tests tiles that one can consult before choosing materials?
It's been a week and I'm still overwhelmed.
...and at this point, already sleep deprived. Working until 2-3am every day, I'm having a hard time to make it to the morning coffee time at 10am. I used to be a morning person..!

There are 3 different things that I've been working on this past week. They all feel like tip-toeing around a still shapeless idea that I have somewhere in my brain but I could not yet fully formulate. I think, these projects will eventually all become by-products, but right now they help me to figure out the form and the visual solution to what I'm looking for. At around 1 am tonight, I considered throwing everything that I have made aside and doing something wild, something that does not look like the work I usually do. Before I got to that, though, I decided to call it a day (or a night?)...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Getting settled in

After 24 hours (+9 hours time difference) of flights and trains, Sandor and I arrived to 's-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) Sunday evening. Apart from the momentary scare of the suitcases, loaded with with my tools and clothes for the next 3-months, are not showing up on the conveyor belt at the baggage claim, the trip was uneventful, and numbing. At least, I got to catch up on the movie hits of the past year on the plane.
Den Bosch is charming. Clean, old, and slow paced. But on Sunday afternoon everybody was out, milling around the Markt (Market square). From one vantage point I could count 6 pubs with outdoor seating (all full) and 3 stalls selling fried food. Near the Sint-Janskathedraal, the town was hosting a big public sing-along event. (Think karaoke with hundreds of people.) Getting our orange straw hats (the national color of the Netherlands) and the printed lyrics of the songs played we were drinking beer, eating waffles, and singing our hearts out until late at night.

We arrived to the Centre Monday morning, me ready to begin and Sandor ready take more trains and flights, this time to Hungary.
In the morning, I was given keys to my apartment and the studio and showed around. The apartment is tiny but it has everything it needs. The studio is amazing! I went speechless seeing the work space I was given: It's almost as big as our entire house in Seattle, at least a 1000sqfeet! 20-foot ceilings, clean white walls, smooth, clean cement floor, a sink with a system to trap particles, floor drains, and a whole wall of huge windows looking out to the courtyard. Everything is clean, spacious and frighteningly empty (for the time being). Later that day, sitting in my space racking my brain on what the next step should be, the studio looked intimidating in its vastness and emptiness.
Unpacking my tools and supply did not take any time, as the result also did not take up much space. The first challenge: I need paper! I did not bring any drawing paper for sketching and planning out ideas, in fact I even left my large sketchbook at home.
After ransacking the copier I started making some ink drawings, trying to decide about the shapes for the clay forms (units) and cutting the drawings out. The plan I arrived with was to cast multiple parts for and eventually make a suspended landscape-like installation one can walk into. I've been conflicted over this plan, I like the idea, but the scale and hassle with shipping it home keeps me from embracing it fully. By the end of the first day, I covered some walls, and some floor and was introduced to the plaster and mold making area in detail. Every shop or technology here has its own expert staff. If a resident needs a meeting with a tech, we put our names on the board and they show up before the end of the workday, to brainstorm, troubleshoot or consult on the possibilities of getting from an idea to the finished product.
By tonight, I made a mold, some bone china clay (both a plastic body for building and a casting slip), explored options of using CAD to design the units I need for the installation. I also fell in love with the possibilities of porcelain-foam and got a crazy idea of using that with pink clay to make sexy little forms (I hope I will eventually ditch this idea too).

I promise to write about the shops in detail in the next post.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Packing up

I was thinking today, leaving is like dying a little bit. (I don' claim to be the first one to note, songs were written with this lyric, but today it struck me anew.) Everything I know here will cease to exist when I board the plane in a few days. Everything that is awaiting me is still unknown, no shape, no image, no thoughts for it in my mind.
Hard to plan for something like that.
Everybody keeps asking "are you excited?" "have you packed yet?" "are you ready to go?" ...
- What should I take with me? Other than my running shoes and all my summer running gear I have a hard time imagining what I will need, what I will actually be doing in the Netherlands. I already miss my yard, - full in bloom; my kitty and Sandor; and the sweet summer time that give people the reason to endure the rest of the 8 months of the year in Seattle.