Monday, September 28, 2009

Adding the fan box

With the plenum enclosed and the exhaust duct caulked, we were ready to start work on the box that would hold the fan. Our timing could not have been better, since the weather finally cleared enough that we could work outside. Since this was the part that vented to the outside, that was important.

This is the box Alan built to contain the squirrel cage fan. This is visible inside the garage, so the facing panel is clear plexiglass as an extra safety measure. The back of the box vents to the exterior of the garage.

Here we are priming the back of the fan box with Kilz. Since this opening will be flush against the vent hole on the side of the building, waterproofing that side of the box was important. That way moisture from the outside would not seep into the box and warp the wood.

The primer on the fan box (back part facing) dries while the legs are attached to the actual spray booth. These two pieces will eventually be connected by ducting.

Here I have propped the vent cover up face down against the back of the spray booth. We've learned the hard way to make sure that the inside of any vent cover has this kind of mesh covering. That is, unless we want the ducting to become home to various nesting critters!

Alan's installing the vent cover on the outside of the garage.

Here is the inside work area. The fan box will attach to the wall where the vent is located. A new breaker has been added for the fan, along with another outlet for plugging in the airbrush and compressor.

Now it is just a matter of connecting all the parts. Well, that and continuing to purge the garage of thirteen years of accumulated stuff! A new spray booth won't help us much if we have to trip over tricycles and fishing poles just to reach it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Finishing up the spray box

The last few days we have been assembling the working area of the spray booth. This part is separated from the fan by a length of ductwork. The idea was to make the area pleasant for painting, which meant isolating it as much as possible from the sound and vibration of the fan. I have found that I have a bad habit of angling myself away from booths as I paint, largely because the noise bothers me. A spray booth doesn't provide much protection if you don't spray inside of it!

The other problem I have found with most spray booths is that they have so little light. This is a big problem when working with ceramic underglazes because the layers do not have a lot of visible contrast. We decided to install five puck lights - two on each side and one overhead - to ensure a well-lit working area. The lights are 20w compact fluorescents daisy-chained together. This gave us a great deal of light without adding a significant amount of heat to the box. Since underglazes don't show their true color until after the final firing, we didn't have to worry about the types of lights and their effect on color accuracy.

Here is the almost-finished box with the filter installed. For simplicity, Alan designed the box to use the same size filters as our home HVAC system.

The filter just slides in to a slot along the back of the box. The filter sits in front of a plenum box. That's an area where the air can circulate after it is pulled from the workspace. There is a second plenum located at the fan, too. (The two hooks on the top left of the plenum are left over from when the piece was hung for painting. They'll be removed before the box is finished.)

Here is the placement of the exhaust duct. (It had not yet been attached when this picture was taken.) The box will have a solid back when it is done, but that piece is just leaning against the filter in this picture.

We'll finish the box up this weekend, and then it will be time for me to do the final finish work. That will mean an extra coat or two of paint, and a bit of white electrical tape on the exposed light wiring. Meanwhile Alan will start working on the box that will hold the squirrel cage fan. Two more weeks to go, and I'm beginning to think we'll make it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Making progress

I have to admit that I've been skeptical that we would finish the spray booth in time for Addi's visit. I had set that as my deadline because I knew that using my tabletop spray booth was going to present a problem. My studio is small - just a converted dining room - so I have one workspace that doubles as both an airbrushing station and a general painting table. Having a removable spray booth fit that need, but it wasn't going to work well with two artists working together.

But perhaps more important, the booth's fan was underpowered. This wasn't a big concern with the transluscent underglazes that I use for most of my painting, since they aren't especially toxic. It was, however, an issue for the leaded glazes that go over the underglazes. To stay safe when using them, I would take the airbrush and compressor and spray outside. Delays to accomodate the weather have been fine with my own erratic schedule; I have far more disruptive things at work most weeks! But if there is one thing I've learned about artist visits it's that time gets really tight. I didn't want our firing schedule governed by the weather. It seemed like a good excuse to upgrade my spray booth.

Of course, this all looked so very easy to do by mid-October, back in July when the plans were being made. I simply forgot that nothing gets done around here until the last minute. Whether we decided to undertake the project in July or not, no one was going to be making a booth until September!

So I have been scrambling to prime and paint all the pieces these last few days. Here Alan has rigged a clothesline for them. This allowed me to paint all the sides at once, without having to worry about laying them down to dry. This worked really well while I primed them with Kilz, which dried almost as soon as I applied it.

The white enamel paint was a different matter. It took forever to dry, and I kept bumping into the still-wet pieces as I moved along the line. It was like returning to my cold-painting days, when friends rarely saw me without paint on my clothes, hands and hair. (One of the joys of ceramic paints is that they rinse off immediately with plain water.)

I did get them done, though!

Here Alan is assembling the box. I'll still need to apply another light coat of paint once it's all together, and then my part will be finished.

In the next post, I'll try to get some shots of the box and explain the design and how it will work with the fan and filters.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cutting the panels

Using what we learned from the cardboard mock-up, Alan was able to draw more precise plans for the final booth. This section will eventually connect to the fan and the ductwork that will take the overspray outside the garage.

Most of the commercial spray booths we looked at were made either of metal or fiberglass. Since we aren't able to work with either of those materials, ours will be made from a high-grade plywood. (Well, that and saying, "I need something that requires you to use the table saw" is the easiest way to get my husband involved in a project.)

Here Alan is cutting out the pieces with the table saw. When Alan and I married sixteen years ago, we started out in an old farmhouse that was in much need of repair. So instead of registering for fine china and silverware, we registered at the Home Depot. That was how we ended up with a table saw as a wedding gift. (We didn't have a sofa, but at least we had good woodworking tools!)

Here Alan is checking the fit on one of the angled cuts. Our hope is to have to do very little caulking after the box is assembled.

The next part of the project will be mine to do. Alan will build most anything, but he has always drawn the line at painting. That's my area, so in the next few days I'll be finishing these. At least, I hope it will only take a few days, since we are running out of time to have the new booth ready in time for Addi's visit.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Starting construction of the spraybooth

After what has seemed like an endless task - clearing out our garage - we have started work on the spraybooth. Above is the rough sketch Alan made of his proposed design.

Alan decided to make a cardboard mockup of the design, just to be sure the dimensions fit with how I work. The mockup also allowed us to test the placement of the lighting fixtures before we committed to building the final box. With a few minor adjustments, we are ready to start on the real box this weekend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cool shiny pony

Okay, he's not mine. He was done by my friend Addi Velasquez. But I have a certain bias towards him - or at least his pattern - so I wanted to share his picture. Addi has been doing some really amazing appaloosa patterns with her recent edition "Jellibaby".

(He's still available on My Auction Barn, by the way!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

North Carolina hobby gathering

I took this picture to remind my husband that he doesn't really have it that bad. My own collection lives in one small corner cabinet.

I spent this past Saturday in Chapel Hill at a gathering for Carolina model horse hobbyists. It was set up as an informal sales and swap meet, but I didn't really have anything to sell or swap so I went primarily to socialize. (If only I had remembered that I have storage closets full of old "bodies" from my long ago remaking days!)

It was great fun and it turned out that I am not the only one who thinks the model horse community needs more non-showing events. I have long thought that we needed these to build healthy ties among hobbyists. One should get a sense of belonging when around people with shared interests, and the online nature of our activity isn't always condusive to that.

Here are Maggie and Jenn ("delacroix" on Model Horse Blab). Maggie is smiling because she still thought she was going home with fewer horses than she came with when this picture was taken!

I was also able to meet Maggie Bennett, who had recently moved to North Carolina from Maryland. Maggie is probably best known for sculpting micro minis like this little Arabian. She brought a bin full of these pewter castings, and they were a big hit with everyone who attended.

She also had a whole host of new micro sculptures with her. It was really interesting to see the originals, which had been done in a combination of Gapoxio and Green Stuff. (I think I have those brands correct!) The reddish brown coloring on some of them comes from the primer.

It was really interesting to hear how Maggie sculpts these guys, and very tempting to come home and give it a try! Certainly they are great as studies for larger works, which is often what Maggie uses them for (in addition to having them cast in pewter). It struck me that tiny horses like this might also be a good testing ground for working with putty again. I have in recent years sculpted almost exclusively in non-hardening clay, but I have often thought it would be wiser to switch to something that hardens because that makes the original easier to cast.

At the end of the gathering, we decided that we'd return in November for what we're calling "Myopia Madness". Attendees will pay a flat fee of $20, and will get their choice of pewter micro and access to all manner of tools and supplies for painting them. We'll then spend the day painting together. I am really looking forward to it. I haven't used "cold paints" (the term we ceramists use for anything that doesn't fire in a kiln) in many years, so I am probably going to muddle it all up. But I am thinking that if I succeed in painting something that small, all these little bisque Imps are going to look much, much easier!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Constructing a tiny guillotine

After trying the new multi-part Vixen mold, I have found I do prefer the first version. Of course, I had to go and cannibalize the original master mold to make the second version! But I am going to ignore the fact that I will eventually need to make another first version master for a while. I do have a working Vixen mold, so I have been pouring castings in preparation for a visit from my good friend Addi Velasquez. Addi will be spending a few weeks at the studio in October, so we'll need horses for our experiments!

Since it's a little unorthodox to chop off a horse's head while it is still in the mold, I thought I would show how it can be done without marring the plaster.

What I need is a guillotine - one that creates a perfect cross section of the neck. Here I've taken very fine wire and used it to form the shape my "blade" will need to make a clean cut.

I then can trace the wire profile onto my guillotine material. Finding the right material was the most difficult part. I needed something paper-thin so that my cut didn't remove material from the neck, making my final horse short-necked. I needed something rigid enough to cut through without collapsing, but soft enough that it didn't leave a mark on the unexposed side of the mold. I settled on stiff vellum paper.

I cut the profile, and left a small tab long enough for me to hold. Small pieces of vellum are surprisingly rigid, so I wanted to keep the length minimal so the paper did not bend. Here I am double-checking the blade profile to be sure it will cut all the way through the casting.

Here is the guillotine in action. There are actually two face pieces that are exposed when the first side is pulled. I've taken them off in this picture (as I always do when I make this cut).

Here is the severed head. (Gasp!) The mold has to be done this way because the body must lift up to come out, but the head needs to move back (towards the neck). Fortunately the strands of mane at the top and the jugular groove on the bottom make it really easy to align the piece when it comes time to reassemble.

The biggest flaw I have found so far is that I am really prone to losing my guillotines. I was pretty good at losing my metal minarettes before I installed a magnetic strip, so I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that I cannot keep track of small bits of translucent paper.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A neat comparison

I finally finished my latest project - an extensively patterned Voltage. I suppose most collectors would call her a sabino roan, but she was done from references of Dominant Whites. While the name would suggest that the horses with the gene are white, in actual practice many have breakthrough coloring that is almost impossible to distinguish from sabino.

Whatever someone wants to call her color, finishing her has been my obsession for weeks. I could really relate to my friend Sarah's blog post from several weeks ago, where she talked about difficult projects that cause almost everything to stop. This mare was like that for me. The consolation is that horses like that often turn out really cool.

She's also a good horse to show the difference clay makes.

These two horses are made from two different types of clay. The Lirico in the back is made of English bone china. The Voltage - the horse just finished - is made from American earthenware. Bare bone china fires really blue-white, while earthenware fires a softer, creamier white. The difference is visible if you compare the two sets of legs. (It's even more obvious in person, but my camera tends to bleach the whites a bit.)

I had asked Joan if I could hold on to her Lirico to see the differences between the two horses. Both horses were painted with the same formula of colors. Much of their painting was done at the same time, and they were often kilnmates, so the only real difference in their color would come from the clays. (Well, the clays and firing conditions. Kilns have a mind of their own when it comes to what they do with any one piece, even when pieces are fired together.)

I expected the Lirico (left) to be cooler in tone than the Voltage (right). It was, but what surprised me was how rosey the brown tones were on the Lirico. I didn't expect that. In person, the Voltage looks very much like she is gray, but the Lirico looks like a rosey taupe. Both are very appealing, but more different than I thought they might be!

I should add the the differences in their patterns are not due to the two kinds of clay. I was simply after two different looks with each horse. It would have been easier to create the more lacey, patchy pattern on the bone china, and the softer, more roaned one on the earthenware. That's because unfired color can be wiped off bone china, while wetting underglaze tends to stain earthenware. But I wasn't thinking about that when I picked the patterns for each horse. (I will next time!)

And with these two (regretfully!) going to their intended homes, I am anxious to get back to work - and to more regular blog posts.