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Setting Up A New Studio

By Allen Buitekant

From the November/December 1996 issue of Clay Times

My first studio in New York state was the result of an exciting residential architecture plan and ignorance of what makes a studio work. It was beautiful space, but as I worked in it, I discovered every flaw that negated function. Now, many years later, I have moved to North Carolina and used that experience to plan my new studio space.

Two issues were immediately addressed. First, the size. Experience taught me I wanted about 500 to 700 square feet. The house rises on pillars overlooking a tidal marsh, resulting in space below. I chose to develop 600 square feet of it as my studio. Secondly, I wrote a list of criteria, in no particular order:

  • Ease of access. No stairs, no obstructions.
  • Horizontal flow of material, or as close to "in one end and out the other" as possible.
  • Minimal lifting. Knowing I will spend my older years making pottery, I planned for reduced physical capability, like it or not.
  • Kiln separate from studio.
  • Good light.
  • Sink near throwing and glazing areas, where it is most useful.
  • Work table and ware carts on wheels to allow for flexible use of space.
  • Good sound system. I love listening to music as I work.
  • Ease of cleaning, what with the danger of clay dust being what it is.
  • Attractive and bright.
  • Raw materials handled as little as possible.

As the house was being built, I worked on a 1-inch to 1-foot floor plan of the studio. Having sold or donated to schools virtually everything I previously had, I was pleasantly faced with the prospect of purchasing new equipment. Therefore, I spent a couple of months determining exactly what I was getting and proceeded to make cutouts, to scale, of everything that was to go into the workspace. I could then "play studio." Moving those cutouts around, I could conclude with great accuracy, work flow, distance needed between things, etc. This valuable exercise resulted in a very accurate floor plan. Now I knew how the studio was to lay out and what size it would be. There were, of course, logistics that had to be dealt with as the construction was under way: holes to be placed in the walls for venting the spray booth and electric kiln, locating the kiln shed in relation to the studio, planning for the delivery of my 40-cubic-foot kiln from Geil (a small opus unto itself).

The Kiln Shed

I placed the kiln shed so that I could easily roll a loaded ware cart to it with little difficulty. The kiln shed was planned according to the specifications I received from Paul Geil insofar as size and construction for safe firing was concerned. The construction of the shed would be complete except for one wall. At the appropriate time, the kiln would be delivered. It arrived on an 18-wheeler which we off-loaded at the building supply lot. It was placed (by forklift) on the back of my contractor's dump truck and slowly driven to the site. Backing up to the shed, we labored for two hours, and increment by increment, used wedges, a come-along, pulleys, jacks and eight people to maneuver it into position. The roof clearance was 1/2"--I measured it myself! The event reminded me of what it might have been like building the pyramids. Once in place, with a collective sigh of relief, we completed the last wall. All access doors to and from the studio and kiln shed are double 3-foot doors, allowing 6 feet of space for any task.

Attractive and Bright

It hit me when I looked at the studio with the ceiling in place that despite the windows, the cement block made it gray and foreboding. Obviously, it would have to be painted. The exterior was to be stucco, but not the interior. My wife and I proceeded with the laborious task of sealing and painting "cement block." Two coats of sealer and three coats of white paint resulted in a bright, pleasant environment. The cement slab floor was next. I covered it with commercial grade vinyl tile which served two purposes. Good for legs and back, and easy to clean.

Ease of Access

The other lower space is a garage with direct access to driveway and street. All my materials would be delivered to the garage and off-loaded. I planned the doorways so that the garage exit door is in direct line along a cement walk with the two 3-foot wide studio doors, which open outward. Using a hand truck with extra-large wheels, I can roll anything into my studio with little effort.

Flow of Material

Clay is placed next to the studio door, on palettes. When needed, it is brought to the clay processing part of the work space. There, I have a pug mill, slop barrel, wedging table, scale and clay bin.

Dry materials, when off-loaded, are handled outdoors to minimize dust. I purchased, from a restaurant supply, 10-gallon plastic lidded containers which hold everything that comes in one 50- or 75-lb. bag. Once they are filled, I hand truck them to storage shelving along one wall at or about floor level. I do not handle them again until they are almost empty and very light.

Although I was unable to create a total one-directional flow of material, my solution was to create work areas dedicated to specific tasks: clay storage and processing, glazing, throwing, trimming, slab rolling, clay fabrication, library, etc. For example, clay is wedged, prepared, and brought to my wheel. I throw, or if I am handbuilding, I might use my slab roller. In either case, as the body of the work is being made, it is placed on rolling ware racks.

Once I have completed this work, I roll it to where I have a kickwheel for trimming, if that is to be done. Otherwise, if altering is necessary, I will roll it to my work table. After this second process is completed, it requires drying. I roll the ware rack to a waiting area, drape plastic over it, and let the work dry slowly. I can repeat this process until I have a full bisque load for the gas kiln. I roll these loaded ware carts to the gas kiln, load, and fire. Unloading the bisque directly back to the ware carts enables me to hold them or roll them to where I will wax and glaze them. Once glazed and placed again on the carts, I roll them back to the kiln and glaze fire.

I have a rolling table which I can place next to the slab roller or next to the spray booth, or wherever it is necessary. This allows me to create a functional work station where needed.

The sink is placed near the throwing area and glaze area for ease of use. A 9-foot Formica table, which encloses the sink, butts against the booth to create a functional surface which will not clutter. I completed this work station with shelving that runs the length of the table to the ceiling, enabling me to store glaze testing material, tools, scales, and all the "stuff" that tends to clutter. With a wall phone and chair, it can serve as "the office."

Lighting

I have respect for fluorescent light. I do not like it. Since my natural light is limited (although I have a lovely view, the movement of the sun is uncooperative), I chose track lighting with halogen low voltage fixtures. With two tracks running the length of my 30-foot studio, I can place light anywhere. It took a while, but I have been able to precisely illuminate every work station. The beauty of track lighting is the ease with which you can add and manipulate light. With two wall switches, I can "zone" the lighting and illuminate just the area where I am working. A couple of well-placed task lights, and all is well. It is also attractive. Function is very important, but so are aesthetics.

Planning is a wonderful and fun process (for some). Unquestionably, when dealing with cost and logistics, it is absolutely necessary. However, sometimes it fails for one reason or another. (I waited to write this article until I had been working in the studio for a while...just to be sure!)

 
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