studio building - almost there

We. Are. So. Close!  The last few weeks of work on the studio have been huge and exciting.  Nathan and I have adjusted to a "new way" - one where we actually hire out some big parts of the process. For the last three years, we've literally place every brick and nailed every piece of wood ourselves.  We wanted to get the wood kiln just right (and the kiln shed, and the showroom, and the tractor shed, and . . .)  all the while making decisions as we went.  In some ways, much of it was work that only we could do.

But when it comes to things like dense-pack cellulose, hanging and finishing drywall, even doing a large scale paint job - well, sure, we could have tackled the learning curve and done it ourselves.  As the saying goes "You can do anything.  But you can't do everything."

So with lots of pottery-related things to do before we get to potting and firing, we decided to hire these big jobs out.  After all, these folks are pros- they do this every day, more efficiently and expertly than we could have.  And we (most likely) make pots better than they do.  That's our job.

That said, meet Alex and Matt.  These are the awesome guys behind Central Vermont Insulation (Bethel, VT), who did the tough and dusty work of crawling around on planks in our ceiling to dense pack cellulose insulation into the rafter bays, the drop ceiling, and the diagonal wall cavities.

We actually hung the foil faced foam on the underside of the rafters with a couple of friends, strapped it, and they came around with typar and netting and sprayed the recycled newspaper + borate into the bays.

We ended up very insulated - much more than our old house, in fact!  We can't believe how well the building holds heat and warmth from sunshine.  (Wait, why isn't this our house??) :)

Next up: Cal and Dennis of Cal's Custom Drywall (Braintree, VT) hung nearly 3000 square feet of sheetrock up, down, and all around the building.

It was amazing to watch them work - the tricks and skills these guys have were better than anything we could have hoped for.  They did an absolutely beautiful job, all the while laughing in disbelief tolerating at the antics of our dog running off with their tools, coffee mugs, and lunch boxes.  (Mmm hmm.  He's a nut.)

Meanwhile, Nathan and I worked on framing an interior wall for the utility room below the stairs.  Our rough-cut hemlock framing doubles as adjustable pottery storage. (More on that later.)

Soon, Dick Ratico the electrician (Solar Wind Electric, Bradford, VT) and Tim (Brownelle Plumbing, Norwich, VT), will get all the necessary panels and water heaters installed in the space behind this wall.

(I LOVE this as the back of my studio!)

With the drywall done, and the first phase of interior walls complete, we spent a day cleaning out the building of our tools and tables and staging and accumulated stuff to ready for the next and nearly last phase.

It feels so good to see it all cleaned up and emptied out . . . full of promise.

And as of this week, Gerry Vargo and his crew (Braintree, VT) are cutting, rolling, and spraying this building crisp and clean white.  (With one little color surprise to be unveiled later!)

While we probably could have made pots in here once we were insulated, we are pretty sure we'll never regret having all of this big, messy work done BEFORE we move in.  I can't imagine moving and covering all of our stuff once our potting was underway.  And we probably could have done the painting (actually, we love painting) - but who would cut and sand the ware boards, or scrape and clean our kiln shelves, or teach pottery class, or cut the wood for the upcoming firing?

In short, we are very happy with our choices, and full of gratitude for the folks who've helped us get here.  And we are in awe of the beauty of this structure.

We just can't quite believe this is our life's work space . . . . . . and that we'll be making pottery in just a few days' time.

~Becca

bitter cold and the thing we said we'd never do

This was supposed to be a post about how we'd finished the siding on our new studio.  Instead, it's a post about something altogether different, something we swore on multiple occasions that we would never do: we made a studio in our house.

{very chilly building & very frozen eyelashes}

A prolonged and bitter cold snap in our region prompted some rethinking of our path.  Our main goal of the winter has been - and still is - to get the new shell of a studio ready for pottery making.  Winter, however, has had other ideas.  With the out-of-doors practically inhospitable (we're talking days that don't reach above single digits with sub-zero wind chills and 50 mph gusts), we found ourselves INSIDE.

There is still plenty of what we call "G.C." (general contractor) work to do on our part, and we've certainly been at it - educating ourselves on our insulation options, getting bids on said insulation, discussing our plans for radiant floor heat with a plumber, researching said systems, procuring floor drains, and the rest of the pieces of our as-yet-to-be-poured concrete floor on the lower level - we've been staying focused on studio planning, if not physically building.

But with the days and weeks ticking by (how is it almost February?!), we were feeling a bit antsy about the time and number of pieces it takes to fill our wood kiln.  And thus the unthinkable happened: we moved our wheels out of storage and into an upstairs bedroom of our 160-year old farmhouse.

I'm sure there of those of you who are thinking, "Well, what were you waiting for?  You had unused space that could have possibly been construed as a studio?!" A fair question. (You might also wonder why we have an unused room in our house - short answer: the upstairs has been awaiting a much needed renovation.  And not just a lets-make-it-prettier reno; there are actual holes in the walls from a previous project, and asbestos-containing insulation in the eaves. Not to mention Nathan brushes the top of his head on the drop ceiling.  So, yeah, we haven't been living up there much.)

It would seem obvious, on some level, though, that after years of trucking our pottery home from our rented space, we wouldn't just do this in the first place.  Oh, but we had our reasons, and some of them are good.  The chief reason NOT to put a studio in our not-so-large house is DUST. Clay dust is insidious, and can cause serious health problems when inhaled.   If we're not neat about it, it gets on our shoes and clothes and up our forearms - and is then sprinkled imperceptibly but insidiously through our living space.

This time we promised ourselves we'll keep it neat.  Very neat.  As in, one pair of studio shoes that stays in the studio.  No clay on our clothes.  Plastic on the floor.  Wipe up clay while it's still wet.  So far so good.

Truth be known, it's pretty delightful to put a meal in the oven, a log in the wood stove, stream some podcast of some kind, and just mosey on up the stairs to work, with the puppy/dog to make trouble keep us company at the top of the stairs.

We're keeping things small (or so we tell ourselves) - there isn't much room to really produce plates or large bowls, (heck, there's not even room for us both to turn around carrying a board of pots) so we'll stick to small numbers of things that take time and attention.

For now, it's keeping us busy while the arctic wind blows, satisfying our need to make, and getting us just a little bit closer to our next wood firing.  We will, however, be back on that building just as soon as it warms a bit!

I continue to chuckle at how Making A Plan (I believe my exact words were "the next pottery we make will be in our new studio") is the very best way to get Something Else to happen. :)

{looking out from our temporary studio to our future studio . . . <3)

Stay Warm,

~Becca

 

 

studio building : framing and roofing

Last week was a cold, but very sunny stretch here.  We were able to make big progress, nearly completing the diagonal framing, including these beautiful gable ends.  (Sort of reminds us of the windows at the Stone Mountain Arts Center!)

This past week also brought the installation of our first windows!!  We can't get over the view from up there . . . and the way the cupola adds to the building.  We love it all.

We even got the roof done!  (Good news because we've had a very winter-y mix of weather in the days since.)  Nice to be all buttoned up on top . . . kudos to the roof crew - Nathan, Bob, Caleb, and George.  I stayed firmly 'grounded' and passed panels, closures, caulk, screws, flashing, fascia boards, and ridge cap their way over the course of two and a half days.  (Feels GREAT to be done with that portion of things, and loving how the gray color ties in with all our other buildings!)

We are hoping to wrap this new studio up (like a giant present!) this weather-filled week, install windows and maybe even doors, start some siding (?!?) and finish a couple of other details before the holiday.

We are excited for the things still to come: a slab floor downstairs, insulation in the roof and walls, cozy radiant heat, and, oh, making pottery.  Soon!

~Becca

 

with gratitude

Yesterday, we had what could only be called a very last minute open house. We sent emails, and posted on Facebook, and we thought we might get a couple of visitors to see the new studio building.

In a few short hours, however, we were overwhelmed and delighted by the incredible turn out. People came from all over our little town. They came from neighboring towns- and states. People who had never been here invited friends, and we met many new, wonderful people. Everyone enjoyed hot cocoa in Nathan's cute little mugs, laughed at the chickens, and marveled at how in two short months, we've gone from a muddy, ledge-ridden hole to a towering gorgeous building. While that was happening, other folks continued to order pottery from our website.

Wow. Seriously, wow.

2012 has been a momentous year for us. (Heck, make that a momentous four years.) We can't even begin to log the hours of work we've put into building and finishing our wood kiln, firing it for the first two times, and launching into another huge building project without much (any?) time off.  And while the last four years have been exciting, we'll be honest: it hasn't been easy. Life has been unsettled, and trying at times. We've 'been through the fire', so to speak, both as individuals, and as a couple. We've felt vulnerable, and we've even been scared. We've learned SO much. About masonry- and about working together. About carpentry- and about marriage. About concrete- and about perseverance.

And the hard work is not over, not at all.

But out of all of this, we see a light at the end of a long tunnel - we are watching our dream unfold, and it turns out it's bigger and more amazing than we could have imagined.  We get to be potters again soon!  We get to do the thing we love - the thing that prompted and motivated all of this building in the first place.  Call me crazy, but making pottery - and making a living at it - is the thing that gets me out of bed in the dark and cold, to pull on the long underwear and wool hat, and get back to work outside. In December. In Vermont.

But the most amazing part of all this - and the reason I'm reflecting on this deeply personal stuff here, is because of YOU.  I'm writing this now because it means so SO much to us to have the kind of support and enthusiasm we felt yesterday, and that we've felt throughout the year at our shows.  It brings tears to my eyes - tears of gratitude and thanks - that you would tell us, and show us with your presence, that you, too, think we're doing something great, something worth getting up in the cold and dark for.

Thank you for buying pottery, truly.

Thank you for gifting it, and for telling your friends and family about us.  Thank you for sending us photos of your dinner on one of our plates, or your coffee mug on your desk, or your cat in one of our bowls.  (Yes, this has happened more that once!)

Thank you for telling us that you enjoy using our pottery, and for believing that something handmade by another human is important, or at least enjoyable.

Thank you so very much for helping us pursue what we love doing!

Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons,

~Becca and Nathan

studio building : ten days in

It's really quite hard to believe we're only ten days into building.  (With wood, that is!)  It is amazing what can be accomplished when you combine time, drive, passion, skill, experience, determination - and the threat of impending winter!

This past week brought many productive days, during which we put the purlins onto the rafters, as well as framed for- and built- a cupola.  (The floor with ladder hole (below) is just a temporary platform from which we built the cupola, whose main purpose, besides adding a bit of visual interest to the building, is to flood the new showroom and the upstairs with natural light.)

The views from up there are AMAZING!  (And we thought our kiln chimney was tall.)  We sort of wish it could become a reading nook or some such thing, but hey, the aforementioned natural light wins out for now.  Plus, we can't wait to be throwing pottery at our wheels on the ground level, and look up through the opening in the floor straight up to the sky!

We were also pleased to begin some diagonal framing, an aspect which makes George's buildings very unique.  Instead of putting the studs at right angles, he cuts them at 45 degrees.  They remain 16" on center, which meets building code, but creates a rigid and economical structure, and eliminates the need for sheathing - saving money and lots of toxic glues.

We enjoyed learning more about the process of diagonal framing, and appreciated the many years of experience George brings to this approach.  (He has a good head for math, as you can imagine!)  It is a beautiful end result, one which uses far less lumber than a conventional structure, and will contribute to less overall setting of the cellulose insulation we plan to blow into the wall cavities.

Nathan and George also took some time to build a reverse gable on the north wall. (photo below)  There will be entry doors there, into the showroom, and we wanted to ensure the snow sheds well.  We also think it makes for an appealing entrance!

If all goes well, this next week will bring framing of the lower level (where our workshops will be), roofing (metal), cupola windows and siding, and perhaps wrap!  We are also looking forward to windows and doors and eventually - before Christmas?! - ship lap siding.  Wow!

It's funny how hard it is to reflect on this project in a bigger sense - we're so deep IN it now.  I'm sure reflection will come later . . . but there are plenty of moments when we come up for air, take it all in, and feel downright giddy at the prospect of working in this gorgeous space, on our land, towards our shared passion.  Having the chickens clucking and scratching about the yard is more than just scenic - it's a nice, grounding feeling - that we're headed in the right direction - towards our "pottery farm!"

~Becca

P.S. We've decided last minute to have a Holiday Open Studio and Sale next weekend, December 15th, from 11 am 'till 4pm.  Hope you can join us!And yes, we'll be most certainly giving tours of the new studio!

studio walls are forming . . .

The past couple of weeks since our pottery studio footing pour have been epic.  (Wait, I've been using that word a lot lately . . . hmm.)  The work of forming our foundation walls with the heavy aluminum forms we borrowed from a friend was just plain hard work!  The learning curve has been steep, to say the least.  Wrapping our brains around form ties, re-bar patterns, slumps, drops, release agents, you name it, it's all been new.

Fortunately, we got off to a good start because our footing was lovely and level and square (we fussed around a lot to get it right!) making the job of marking out the form placement, holes to be drilled for vertical re-bar, etc, an easy one - but that's where 'easy' ended and the real work began.

We chose to use a relatively unknown form of foundation insulation, where the rigid foam, or "blueboard," goes INside the concrete, rather than outside or inside the building.  It's sort of like a structural insulated panel (a.k.a. SIPS), except with concrete.  They- being Thermomass, the company we used- call it "concrete sandwich technology."   I love that - gets right to the heart of it.  Four inches of concrete, four inches blueboard, four inches concrete.  Nice. And. Cozy.

We worked for many solid days on this - in the end it was about two weeks between pours.  Thankfully, we had at least two extra pairs of hands on any given day - there were so many pieces of this puzzle to keep a handle on.  It was sort of like a very large erector set, with a lot more weight - and a lot more at stake.   We were also working against a deadline - that of our builder (more on George a bit later!)  - oh, and WINTER.  No big deal. ;)

But we got it all put together in time for a mid-November, Friday morning pour.  (There were, at times, truck headlights and headlamps needed to get the job done.  Daylight savings is tough on outdoor work!)

On the morning of the pour, our good friends Zane and Alex, from whom we borrowed the forms, were on site to coordinate and assist, as was a new friend, Jim the irreverent and entertaining concrete pumper extraordinaire.  (A title he gave himself, but that we would not refute.)

One of the most interesting parts of doing this ourselves has been learning about the consistencies (or slump) of the mix.  Concrete is basically a mix of sand, stone, water, and Portland cement, and is not unlike what we used in places on our kiln's exterior.  I suppose we love these malleable, mold-able materials, and the mix needed for this wall - given all its narrow channels and re-bar and fiber spacer rods - was one that would move well in and around all the gaps, but remain strong once cured.

In the end, it took about four hours and eighteen cubic yards of concrete to fill the walls;  the pour was a big success.  There were no blow-outs, the forms didn't even creak, or pop, or send the steel wedges that hold in the pins - that hold everything together - flying through the air.  Everything remained as it should.

When the forms came off three days later (concrete is happier and stronger when it can cure slowly), the wall was a beauty.

Phew, what a job that was.  Of course we say now that we'll never do it again . . . we very well might eat our words someday.

I'm also pretty sure that someday, we'll be amazed that we pulled this off.

OK, let's be honest, that 'someday' is today . . .

~Becca

 

a solid concrete footing

This was a big day. A very big day.

We woke before sunrise, and to say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was very, very nervous. You might even say I was scared. Yup. After weeks of prep work, there would be two large and heavy loads of concrete in our backyard. We considered having someone more seasoned here with us, but we felt confident we could do it. (Well, confident BEFORE the nightmare I had where all the form boards burst open and collapsed and we were rebuilding frantically while the concrete continued to flow . . . fortunately, things went much smoother than that.)

We had two very nice truck operators, willing to accommodate us rookies, and as soon as things were underway, we were breathing a sigh of relief. (There's nothing like the need to work QUICKLY to keep a girl from worrying about the truck getting stuck, or the chute taking off one of our heads.) Nathan worked with the hoe and shovel, directing the truck and the flow, while I followed behind with the scree boards and trowel.

We got into a rhythm, and I might even say I enjoyed myself! (There was plenty of adrenaline, that's for sure.) Our forms were holding really well and the mix was stiff enough that it wasn't seeping through all the drops (step-downs). When the first truck emptied his load, the second was right behind him, and in position before we knew it, pouring the remainder of the north wall

It's a thing of beauty, isn't it?! A solid foundation from which to build our dream studio.  (Lego approves - although not as happy about the having-to-be-leashed part - but we didn't want our dog stuck in our footing.)

Now, maybe a nap before the next big phase. We'll be form building next week, and this will start to look more like a studio before we know it . . .

Happy Weekend! ~Becca

dreaming a little

The days following our biggest show of the year are ones of re-setting and attempting to ground ourselves in our life and our home.  Pushing to get the kiln finished and two large firings loaded and fired and packed up and the booth built and set up and the nine days of retail sales did amount to some fatigue.  I imagine it's something like trying to stop running after a long race . . . kind of hard to slow down mentally, even when the body is exhausted. ...

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in and around our (present) studio

pottery studio, Becca Van Fleet pottery

Two Potters, Nathan and Becca pottery

These days in our studio, we are:

- working at filling the 350 (or so) cubic feet of kiln space we have built- and getting excited to fire this spring

- adjusting to 'green glazing', where the slip or glaze goes onto the pot in the raw, unfired state . . . it takes a bit of getting used to, but we're starting to really like it

- imagining what said glazes and slips will actually look like . . . we've used and tested many of them over the years, but some are new to us, and every kiln and every firing is different . . . so we really are imagining (this is both liberating and completely frightening at once!)

- making large pots (ok, Nathan is making large pots) and smaller pots, among them at the moment are cookie jars, giant vessels, bottles for flowers, pasta bowls, put-away pots (our version of Tupperware!), wine cups, ice cream bowls, butter keepers, mugs, and 'tp towers' (yes, really)

- celebrating (oh so cautiously!) that our 1 1/2 year old puppy, Lego, has 'graduated' from his crate to free-in-the-studio, passing the hours on his bed by the stove (or right by our feet, or somewhere underneath our wheels smelling dried up flies and clay scraps)

- watching Lego watch and nuzzle with Troy, our friend Joan's greyhound, knowing they are happy to have each other around

- collaborating!  (the large pot in the photo above was thrown by Nathan and given the 'Becca treatment' of a wavy rim)

- enjoying each others company as we share the studio . . . usually our 'free' days are spent kiln building or kiln shed building or some such thing at home (roofing) or on the farm (forestry) and the rest of the time I work in the studio while Nathan goes to teach, but this winter we are spending that 'free' time in the studio and my goodness, it is NICE.

winter scenes

It is mid-winter on the farm, and I've managed to capture a few photos of the ever-elusive snow cover.  What a strange season it has been!  We have more ice than anything else, although a few warm days have allowed us to finish work on the ever-expanding kiln shed.  (It is wonderful!)  With the 'outside work' behind us for the next few weeks, we find ourselves mostly drawn to the studio these days, our pup slumbering by the wood stove while we work independently- and collaborate!- on new pieces for our new kiln.

(Got to get this camera of mine to the studio . . . soon!)

I hope this finds you warm and enjoying the beauty of the season.