Building a garage studio on the cheap. Part I: The problem

>>>Building a garage studio on the cheap. Part I: The problem

studioflamechair

All Diogenes had to do was find an honest man. If he’d been told to squeeze an entire glass casting setup into an 8×8-foot space, he’d have chucked the lantern and gone to Disneyland.

I know how he feels. Start to finish, my glass casting sequence looks like this:

  • Model in clay
  • Make master and mothermolds of the model in silicone/urethane/whatever
  • Pour wax into the master mold
  • Clean, refine and incorporate the resulting wax model into the piece
  • Invest the wax with a plaster/silica mix
  • Steam the wax out of the mold
  • Clean and refine the mold
  • Pack in the glass
  • Fire the mold
  • Clean investment off the fired glass
  • Coldwork the glass
  • Mount it on whatever (optional)
  • Pack the piece and mount for transport

The problem is that each of those steps can contaminate the others, ruining materials and possibly tools. With my old setup, for every hour I spent making, I spent about four hours clearing, cleaning and prepping the workspace for the next step. And since the studio was in the main house, wax, plaster and other potentially hazardous/unslightly/house-destroying materials were tracking upstairs and beginning to damage my home.

I seriously considered selling my house and buying a small storefront or warehouse someplace, a la Linda Ethier’s marvelous studio. I’d make sure the place had a bathroom and high-speed Internet, put a hotplate, minifridge and cot in the back, and go straight to heaven.

Unfortunately, the current housing market put a stop to that. I considered enlarging the existing studio space, but my contractor brother-in-law shook his head. I’d have to demolish a huge concrete patio, tear out a foundation wall, move the HVAC, gas lines, water and electrical service, figure out how to deal with the bedroom floor directly above. It would be cheaper, he said, to tear down the house and start over. (which wasn’t an option)

Putting up a separate studio building behind the house would cost less, but not much less, and would destroy my beloved trees. Plus, local zoning laws made siting a standalone studio difficult.

That pretty much left the garage. This being Portland, where we’re so recycled we’re green, I hatched a plan: I’d use as much recycled/salvaged stuff as possible. And, taking after those home remodeling shows, I’d do it for under $500. And I’d promised to participate in October’s Portland Open Studios, where hundreds of people would visit my studio to see my work, so I had a deadline.

And I made it, with a LOT of help from family and friends (and huge assistance from my mom). There’s still a bunch of stuff left to do, and it’s not perfect, but I’ve got a light, bright, airy space that lets me work without all the nasty cleanup.

Today my old studio is the “clean/creative” space, where I model clay, pack the molds with frit and work with sheet glass. The garage has become my “dirty studio,” with ample storage and separate workstations for waxwork, coldworking, moldmaking, mold cleanup, kiln monitoring, display fabrication and packing.

I’m not suggesting this is a kilnformer’s wonder-studio. If you want one of those, go look at the Corning glass school, Linda Ethier’s place in Portland, the Bullseye Resource Center studios, John Groth’s studio in Beaverton, OR, etc. (And if you’ve got a studio you’re proud of, please post the URL in the comments section–I’m thinking I may want to start talking about other peoples’ studios, too.)

Mine is nothing more than a garage conversion done on the cheap, and it looks it. But it works for me.

I’ve got a LOT to talk about, so I’m going to publish this in installments. Today’s post is mostly about the problems I had to solve. The next post will deal with basic infrastructure and workstations. After that, storage.

I wish I had some good “before” pics, but so far I can’t find them. Those who saw the garage (very few, because I generally had a “keep out” sign on the door), saw a dark, dank, gloomy cave.

What little storage there was, didn’t work well, so the garage floor was where junk came to die. The walls were either dark grey concrete or unpainted drywall; the garage doors and all woodwork had been stained dark brown, making it even darker. Two lightbulbs in the ceiling provided small yellow pools of light that stopped about three feet from the floor. No windows, no source of water, and no ventilation.

Dismal, but with potential. I made a list of requirements for the garage and my old studio to become a real working casting studio:

  • Light. Light. Light. I wanted to be able to SEE, in correctly colored light.
  • A separate, easily cleaned workstation for every major stage of glass casting.
  • Custom storage for all my tools and supplies.
  • A water source with multiple feeds for coldworking equipment, moldwork, etc.
  • Except for the kilns, NOTHING on the floor that didn’t fold up or roll out of the way.
  • Scalable (because I KNOW I’ll be adding gadgets, it’s in the blood).
  • Completely restorable to full garage status within an afternoon, in case the snows come or the house needs to sell.
  • Reuse as much of the junk on the floor as possible. If I had to buy, first option was buying from Goodwill or a reuse center.
  • Total cost $500 or less

I’ve still got some things to do, but I’ve mostly achieved everything on the list for about $475. More on that in the next post.

2017-07-17T04:48:49+00:00

3 Comments

  1. Jerry Jensen September 28, 2015 at 10:34 am - Reply

    I’m getting close to a nice workable studio you should come visit. I’ll postpone some photos.

  2. Jayne Cornelis November 22, 2009 at 6:11 am - Reply

    After getting back from Pilchuck, & Bullseye this past summer, I came home to a wonderful studio in the garage. 2 car, so tons of space (or so I thought). 2 Work benches, 2 big kilns, shelves for everything. And
    the lighting, “marvelous darling.” Took loads more $$ than I would want to know. It’s still not finished yet but as we have become Bullseye retailers we now have to move to a bigger location or build an out building cause here in Delaware On. There is an insurance issue! Oh no! How we make our lives so complicated. I would love our insurance man to come over I can cook in the kilns & also in the kitchen (the studio is just off the kitchen) at the same time & the reality is I’m a happy little camper!

  3. Ed LaPlante November 18, 2009 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    You have inspired me to shoot a few photos of our Oregon City studio to add to Donna’s web site. Our remodel is still ongoing and cost a little more than $500 but we are very happy with it. I’ll let you know when my photos are posted.

    Ed

Comments welcome! (thanks)

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