Friday, August 19, 2011

Studio Clean-up

Earlier this week I finished my last wet-clay work. I wanted to spend the day applying underglaze to finished work. However, when I took a load of fired work from my kiln, I discovered a pressing problem. I had no more free surfaces on which to put my work so that I could glaze it. Most of the summer I have been juggling wet work, dry work and bisqued work around the studio on shelves half full of last summer's work, work tables and counters with stacked bottles of glaze and piles of brushes. At one point I was balancing a wet on a piece on thick foam stacked on top of bisque fired pieces while I worked on another wet piece at the high table. Kids, I don't recommend this technique, though luckily the bisque ware didn't shift and I didn't lose any work.

But, not wanting to stack bisque ware on bisque ware, I realized that the time had come. I started to clean. A day later and the studio is much cleaner, but it doesn't look like I'll start applying that underglaze this week.

My studio is a strange space. It certainly wasn't purpose built, but, on the other hand, I'd be hard pressed to find a place as well suited to my needs with so little effort. When we were looking for a new home, we looked for places with extra space to use as a studio. Often this space was a basement. Occasionally it was a shed or garage but our family (my husband) requires garages be used for traditional garage pursuits. Most of the potential studio spaces were dark and gloomy. Some were cold. Some were cobwebby and threatened spiders and icky bugs.

In graduate school I worded in a sub-basement studio with running water (not a tap, I mean a constantly running pipe that dripped into a hole in the floor. We once tried to connect the pipe to the hole in the floor but I guess it overflowed the toilets upstairs.) Either because it was in a sub-basement or because of the water hole or because it was in Wisconsin or because generations of clay students hadn't cleaned very well, the studio was visited regularly by mice, cockroaches and silverfish (ick!)

Anyway, the house we eventually picked, my current house, my current studio has an attached room in the back that I use as a studio. I have no idea what this room was originally built or used for but it has two large glass windows that let in the bright Yakima sunshine, a separate heater to keep me warm in the winter (if I ever have time to use the studio in winter) and a fan and large door that can be used to coax in the nice cool breeze on summer mornings before the sun starts to cook the studio air through the windows. The room has built in cabinets on one wall and a counter topped cabinet on wheels on another. There is a strange lean-to room outside through a second door and carpet on all the walls.

This, the carpet, of course is the room's oddest feature. The floor is carpeted in a square patterned low-pile carpet in shades of brown. All four walls, the low and rolling cabinets, the door to the house, the door to the yard and the interior and exterior of the lean-to door are all carpeted with a flower patterned carpet in the same color scheme as the floor. When I asked about the carpet, the previous owner only said that when her husband thought he might be done with only some of the walls carpeted, she told him to keep going until he was done. (The house in general has a strange fascination with carpet. When I was pregnant one morning I pulled up all the green and orange shag carpet in the living room. When my husband woke up I asked him to take it out.  There is also a cabinet on the way into the basement that is carpeted top, back, bottom and sides with red shag.)

Carpet or no, the studio works pretty well for me. When we moved in I added a pair of raised work tables, a potter's wheel and shelving. Just last summer we made a cement top wedging table and this summer I've added a small "table" and chair for my daughter to use when she is in the studio with me.

The clean up yesterday and today has taken so long because I really don't quite have enough room and because I am easily distracted to details within a project. I like to keep as much work as possible visible at all times because as soon as it is out of sight, I forget that I have it. If I put my work away in a box or a cupboard, application or show time comes around and I panic, sure I have no work at all. Usually I open a box or a cupboard and sheepishly realize that I do have some pieces. This used to drive my mother nuts when her basement was my main storage facility. "Mom, I don't have enough work for this show!" I would moan. She would direct me to the basement. "oh, yeah. I forgot" (again).

Now that I've been actively making work for a decade--and almost half of that in one spot, I have some pieces I probably don't need to shouldn't keep in plain sight. (This besides the work that still hides in the nooks and crannies--or very center--of my parents' basement.) Contemplating the daunting question of what to do with leftovers from an old body of work descended me into an immobile state from which the only escape was, apparently, to organize my bookshelves.

Having accomplished the organization of back issues of Ceramics Monthly, I was able to vacuum and rearrange the layers of plastic sheeting and rugs meant to keep the odd carpet presentable for if we ever want to move out from this house. (Everyone knows that today's buyers look for clean incredibly odd carpeting in their random extra room.)

But at the end of the day (at the end of this one, I hope), my studio is probably healthier for having less clay dust on the floor and reasonable or not, I feel better knowing exactly where I can find that that old binder of glaze recipes from college or the biography of Escher or all 17 books on origami. I have also uncovered at least two surfaces on which I can put unfinished work while I wait to glaze it.

I still haven't decided what to do with most of the very old objects from previous eras of my work. Some of the fountains have moved into the lean-to in the back. A box on the floor behind my wheel houses pieces from before graduate school, and pieces from my MFA show are strategically arranged in a low (carpeted) cabinet with my raku burner. I don't show this work much anymore and I can't imagine showing fountains again, but it seems strange to get rid of them.

At the end of her book, On Design, Eva Zeisel says "When you ask a...maker of things which creation he or she is most proud of, the answer will probably be 'I have no favorites among my children.'" If these early works are my "children" how can I toss them out?  Unlike real children, the individual objects themselves don't evolve and grow, the body of work evolves and grows, leaving the earlier objects behind like shed skins or records of what the work once was. I have albums and albums of photographs recording the growth of my real child. The shed skins of my body of work are heavy and bulky and can't be kept in a small row on a bookshelf--or permanently housed in my parents' basement.

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