After ceramic artist Eric Boos became an (almost) empty nester, he bought some land and designed and built a house and 625-square-foot studio. Even with all that space, he realized he could have made it twice as big, and still filled it to the gills. But that’s okay because it helps him “edit” his work.
In today’s post, Eric tells us all about his super awesome space. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
Just the Facts
Clay: Laguna’s Whiteware clay body
Primary forming method: wheel throwing, press molding, and slab building
Primary firing temperature: 1840–1870°F
Favorite surface treatment: bright fritted glazes
Favorite tools: Sur-Form rasps, especially the half-round blade, and my programmable electric kiln
My studio is located in Prescott, Arizona, where I’ve lived for about 24 years. Five years ago, with my children grown and moved away, I bought some land and designed and built a house and studio, where I now live with my second wife, also an artist and educator, and youngest son.
The studio is 625 square feet, which seemed a reasonable size when I designed it, but I now realize the old saying that “there’s no such thing as a studio that’s too big,” is all too true. I could have built it twice or three times bigger and still filled it up almost instantly with “projects.” Actually, this way I’m forced to constantly “edit” junk projects, which is not a bad thing.
The studio has lots of windows, along with a two-story light well, and I rarely need artificial lighting during the day. All those windows give me solar heat in the winter. Having my studio at home means I’m in the studio all the time. The studio is a primary focus of my life. I can do anything I want in there.
Over the years I’ve worked in probably every ceramic technique there is, including some industrial techniques used in the tile and sanitary ware industries, firing from cone 022 to cone 13. These days, I prefer low fire for the rich and vibrant color possibilities. I respond to the colors in a deep physical and emotional way: seeing a good piece come out of the kiln actually makes my mouth water. So I spray on layer after layer of fritted low-fire glazes, sometimes spraying a slightly different color at the end to create more feeling of depth. I usually have to do two or three glaze firings, spraying more glaze each time, to get the sort of deep, flawless surfaces I want. In some ways, my work is more glass than it is clay.
The clay is a white talc body, Laguna’s Whiteware. It is smooth, sticky, gooey, and limp, and takes a lot of getting used to. I like it because it gives me a smooth, white surface that won’t craze, although if I glaze fire a piece too many times, I may get shivering.
I fire my bisque to 1925°F (1052°C) and glazes from 1840–1870°F (1004–1021°C) in a programmable electric kiln. Oh, how the world has changed! When I was a young student, no one ever used electric kilns. If you wanted a kiln in those days, you went out and scrounged used bricks somewhere, or even made bricks (I’ve done this a few times), and built burners out of metal plumbing parts, and so on. The kilns were totally homemade, and usually with results to match.
I’ve come to realize, however, that in addition to being ultra easy to use, programmable electric kilns actually give the artist a new range of possibilities. No, I can’t do reduction, but I don’t care. The way I’m using glaze requires very slow and carefully managed firings, including periods of temperature soaking and controlled cooling. What I’m doing would be impossible in any other type of kiln.
I form pieces on the wheel, in press molds, and with slabs. After sketching a piece I want to make, I scale it up to size, then make the parts. As the parts become leather hard, they’re assembled into the final piece, which is then meticulously scraped, sanded, and sponged to refine the shape and perfect the surface. These days, I’ve decided I dislike the handmade look. I want my pieces to look untouched by human hands. I want my pieces to radiate energy and fill the room with their presence. I would be even happier if they glowed in the dark. Lofty ambition, but it makes me feel good.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I have been working with clay “forever” (since the 70s). I have an MFA, and while I currently teach part time at a couple of area colleges, for the most part I have always preferred making work and selling it through a network of galleries around the country. When business is good, there is no better way to make a living. Of course, when business is bad, it’s a different story.
My current work, which I’m calling Almost Edible, was developed during the spring of 2011. I have worked this past summer to place the pieces in various galleries, and the response has been very positive.
Body and Mind
Because of the labor involved, I can only finish about ten pieces a month, and that’s working on them intensely most days. But that’s enough. I’m not dependent on them to make my living anymore. I make enough from them to earn a nice supplemental income, and that way I’m less likely to burn out from making too many. In fact, burn out has been an issue at various times in my career. I find that travel, anywhere, recharges me. I usually come back from even a quick weekend trip with a notebook full of sketches and ideas.
I currently market through a network of seven galleries. I maintain a website myself (through Wix), take my own photos in a light tent, upload them to the site, then send the link to the galleries.
If I want to approach new galleries, I usually compile a list of potential candidates. If they have submission guidelines online, I follow those. Otherwise, I just send an email with a link to my website. The return rate on emails is only about 10%, with about 5% positive, but that’s plenty. When dealing with galleries, I prefer consignment arrangements to wholesale. I have been able to establish very long (up to 20 years) and very positive relationships through consignment. The galleries are willing to take more work, and to try new things.
I remember the days before digital cameras and the Internet; marketing was much harder then. You don’t have to be a computer genius or hire a high school kid to be able to do this. It’s actually cheap, easy, and remarkably effective.