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Grey Cross Studios
1920 4th St, New Orleans , LA 70113
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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Grey's Imaginarium

Artists often face the destruction of some of their work. Usually through accidents or clumsiness we have pieces of our art that get slashed, trashed and and broken. 

I can usually face this with a positive outlook. In fact some pieces that I've had broken have been resurrected to become even better than their original was. I've said it before that deconstruction of ones art can teach us as much as the original construction did. 

Recently I wrote a post called Outdoor Art Studio 2.0 which showed my progress in creating an outdoor work area and photography studio on my property. After about 200 hours of work, I created a beautiful setting which included a large lit photo enclosure, and a private work area where I could create larger projects that were not necessarily suited to my indoor studio. I went as far as to brick the whole area and create winged extensions where I could store materials behind and put up shelves along my fence line. 

After laboring late a few weeks ago I finally completed the space to my satisfaction. 

The following day the whole space was destroyed by a late season tropical storm with winds in excess of 60 miles per hour. In one fell swoop, the storm picked up the photo enclosure and tossed it a few feet away in a pile of rubble.

To be honest, I was so heartbroken that I didn't even have the heart to write about it at the time. Until yesterday, I'd not even gone out there. I was not even sure where to begin. But I am not one to bow to fate. I finally went out and accessed the damage. What survived? What is totally destroyed? What can stop this from happening in the future? 

I suppose nothing can really be done when killer storms sweep through an area. In this new age of climate change, we can't really do much. The next time it could be the whole house. 

But there are steps I can take in the rebuild to help the process. I made one major mistake in the original design which I will not make in the next version. 

You may notice in the photo above that the enclosure (the space recessed and lit in the center) looks like graffiti covered walls. In reality the enclosure itself was made from a large piece of canvas. My original design wanted a space that was flexible. I'd created a canvas enclosure within my inside studio with great results. What I did not consider in my original outdoor planning was that even though the enclosure was heavy with a wood frame supporting the canvas, in a heavy enough wind it would act just like a sail on a ship. I honestly had not even considered a storm with winds strong enough to lift the whole thing up.

But this is what experimental artists go through. We can't always foresee problems like this.

So I sat down and replanned the space. The canvas will be removed completely for the rebuild. The support frame can be salvaged, but in place of the canvas, I will use three 6' x 5' styrofoam panels. The panels can be designed to look like real walls. In fact if you look at the photo, I am using styrofoam for the side extensions already. 

This time around I will add a center set of support beams though, so that the styrofoam is heavier and can't break under high winds. 

Thankfully I can salvage quite a bit of the original materials. And I have placed my mind in the right place again to take this on and bring it back to life again. 

So here goes Outdoor Art Studio 2.1. I'll post updates as I go along. 

Day 1 Rebuild

After going out and buying new supplies, I began the arduous task of carefully deconstructing the debris. I was particularly amazed at the strength of the wind during the tropical storm. This photo shows that wind was so powerful that it bent some of the hardware and snapped others in half. These are strong steel support brackets, just mangled.

70% of the hardware will need to be tossed. One of the heavy 2 x 8 also was partially bent and some of the screws were snapped off at the head. That was some powerful damned wind.

I was pleased that the canvas which formed the enclosure is still in good shape. While I won't reuse it for the enclosure, I can reuse it to form part of the privacy barrier along the fence line. 

Now the styrofoam extender walls actually came through the storm quite well. I build these to last with wooden supports behind them. I'll be able to reuse part of these once I get the structure in place once more.

The only thing which was totally untouched was the brick and paving work. The new walls will be the same size as the old enclosure so no moving of the brickwork again. 

So all said and done the first phase went well.  

Day 2 Rebuild

Day 2 saw little work due to an impending threat of thunderstorms. But one important step was taken. That was anchoring the photography enclosure to the house and erecting and securing the back wall of the enclosure.

Day 3 Rebuild

Putting up the second wall was a bit more challenging than the first. Getting it to stay straight was not easy, but I finally got it into place.

Day 4 Rebuild

A lot of progress today. I built a reinforced outer frame that's attached to the house and will hold the structure in place much better. I added the 3rd wall to the photography enclosure. And finally I was even able to add the one of the front brick pieces. These survived from the first structure and were not badly damaged in the storm. After some repairs I should be able to use them both. Eventually the whole enclosure will look like a brick wall also. You can tell in the last two images that it was dark by the time I got done. Its too cold tonight to try and do anything more. Will wait till the sun comes back up before proceeding. 

Day 5 Rebuild

Today saw the addition and final work of both of the front brick panels that came off the original enclosure. Besides that the left hand wing was added back in place almost exactly where it was in the first enclosure. With the wing in place this gives me a storage area adjacent to the house to keep materials within. I may roof it later. 

Tomorrow I will begin the actual art work to transform the enclosure into the replica of a dead end alley. This will probably take several days to complete. I'll also be adding the right hand wing once I get more styrofoam panels. 

Day 6 Rebuild

Now I can get into some of the fun parts of the project by beginning the art. Unfortunately due to bad weather I had only limited time out there to work. So tonight I laid in the line work for the bricks on the back panel of the enclosure. 

These are larger than my usual brick layout. Typically each brick would be 4" x 2" in size. These are substantially bigger at 10" x 5". I wanted the brick work to stand out better. The smaller bricks can sometimes get lost. The bricks are laid out with a marker until the whole grid is lined out. Precision at this stage can save a lot of headaches later. 

Once the brick lines were laid in, I then took my heat pen and I ran it along all the lines creating a melted line that is about 1/4" deep. This is done to make the bricks look 3 dimensional. Later when the wall is painted the line work will jump out and it will lose the look of styrofoam. 

After the lines were melted I took a can of black spray paint (the cheaper the better) to create a more melted look across the surface. The spray paint acts a melter. Indenting the laid in lines further and mottling the surface to create a more realistic surface. 

You'll note that the lines are now a little wobbly. I don't want perfection for the depth. I want it to look old. If you look at an old brick wall, the bricks are uniform but are not necessarily in perfectly straight lines. Time has moved them around a bit.

Now the spray paint will eat away at the styrofoam for an hour or so and dry by morning. At that point paint can be applied. 

Tonight we have winds and thunderstorms coming in. So this will be the first test of whether a built the enclosure strong enough. I have braced the walls a bit in places to give them a little extra strength. So we will see what we get when the weather passes.

Day 7 Rebuild

This has been the most exhausting day of the rebuild. But I got a major amount of work done. First I got all the walls graphed out, cut and melted. This took about 4 hours. 

The next step which can't really be seen, was to take the heat gun and go across the surface brick by brick (1 hour). This creates a mottled surface that more looks like brick surfaces. This has to be done very carefully or else you can literally burn a hole through the styrofoam.

The final step of the day was to completely paint the enclosure (2 hours) with the first base color (tan). As you can see, it looks much more like a real wall now. I wanted it to dry over night so I could begin the detail painting tomorrow. This will really bring out the individual bricks and age the whole surface. 

You will note that the brick work on the left side comes all the way out but does not do so on the right. This was due to some bracing that had to go on that side. Tomorrow I will add a stand pipe to the gap so that it looks like a rusty old pipe goes up one side. 

A very successful day over all. 

Day 8 Rebuild

I started out Day 8 by adding some color variations to the brick work in the enclosure. 

After that I added the first of the additional small brick panels that will give the enclosure an added dimension.

The next step was to add the wall to the right wing. I also realized that I would need an additional couple of inches on the left wing to make it come out past the real bricks on the ground. 

Once it got dark, I put up a heavy beam located up in the tree branches and added lighting that will shine down into the enclosure. The lighting is all controlled from the ground. I will most likely add other lighting up there and a strobe later. 

The final step of the day and the longest was to add the brick grid to the right wing, cut the lines and melt the whole thing just as a I did in the enclosure. The only difference is that these bricks need to match the front panel that is already up. I got it finished so that I can paint it tomorrow and match the color to the front panel also. 

Day 9 Rebuild

The first step for today was to paint the right wing. This was a challenge because the adjacent bricks were originally painted over a year again. So I had to try and figure out the original color scheme so that it was color matched and looked like one wall. 

I surprised myself when I was able to come up with the right combination of 8 different paints and came out with an almost perfect color match.

You can barely see any difference between the two.

The next step was to attach the stand pipe to the front right side, hiding the hinges behind it. 

The biggest step of the day was to install the right wing and build the support braces behind it to keep it in place.

This was a challenge. Making sure it lined up straight with everything else took several tries. But by night I had it safely in place and ready to be painted and designed tomorrow. 

Day 10 Rebuild

Today began with some bad winds that showed that the new right wing was still not solid enough to stand up to a storm. So I spent several hours reinforcing the frame and using stakes driven 18" into the ground and then attached to the frame as added support. It worked well and the wall seems pretty secure now. 

By late afternoon I was able to start building the final piece which was the left wing.

The last wing pretty much took the rest of the day to complete to my satisfaction. But it looks pretty damn good. 

With that wing, the rebuild is complete. Now begins the fun of designing the various elements and turning it into something really amazing. From this point on though the heavy labor and building is complete. 

I thought it would be interesting to compare the photo above to the one below. This was the only photo of the set up from the first build before it was totally destroyed in the tropical storm. 

You can really see the differences between the first build and the second. You can also see the elements I was able to salvage from the first build. 

Day 11 Design

So today the real design and art of the space began. The first area focused on was the left side wing. I wanted to do something very different on this side from the rest of the space. I have a collection of Buddha sculptures that I have always wanted to create an area for. So I decided to turn the left wing into a grotto.  

This is where the flexibility of working with styrofoam really shows its value. If I'd built the walls from wood, there would be no way to do this easily. First step was to find a way to create shelves. I came up with the idea of placing a simple plastic shelving unit in the space behind the left wing. This gave me plenty of shelves but hid them perfectly from view. And they created an added weight behind the left wing to give it better stability. 

After the shelf was in place, I cut through the styrofoam to expose a jagged edged hole to the shelves behind the wall.

I cut three full openings and a half opening at the very top. Then I took natural clay and covered the edges of each of the holes to give it a more natural looking rock like edge. The clay was then covered completely with foaming glue. I lined the space between each hole with small skulls. 

Once everything dried I placed some of the Buddha's inside with candles and just like that I had the perfect beginnings of a grotto. 

After that I added 3 larger skulls directly onto the styrofoam to give it an added effect. 

You will also note that I added a raised border around the grotto. This will have a design on it when I am finished.

Tomorrow I will try to finish this area by adding more skulls around the grotto and filling the rest of the space with clay to make it look more like rock. Once that is done I can paint the whole thing in a color scheme that looks like natural rock. This is really the fun part of the whole project. 

Day 12 Design

Most of today was focused on the Buddha Grotto. 3 more skulls were added to it and the whole thing was painted a base of black. Detailing and color will be added tomorrow.

I've been concerned about the right wing. Even though its braced, the wind (if strong enough) could still sweep over the fence and cause it damage or even knock it over. So I added a cross beam that connects the wall to the fence. It sits up over 6 feet high, so its not an impediment that people might hit their heads on easily. Then I took my reality sign and bolted into place on top of the cross beam. I'll add another sign on the opposing face later to make it look professional. 

I won't work out there during the night because the temps are supposed to be too cold tonight to want to work outside. Tomorrow will be a nice day though and I will complete the grotto painting and can move on to the right wing design. 

Day 13 Design

Today was a cleanup day. I did paint the grotto and skulls and the border for it. But for the most part I cleaned, swept, raked and generally spruced up the area a bit. I'm getting closer to being able to use the space as an actual studio soon, so I need to make sure the little details are taken care of. 

I did make one decision today. I decided on the name for the space. "Grey's Imaginarium". I am creating a sign to go at the entrance to the area. 

Here are views from today's work.

Day 14 Design

Today was a lot about small things. First I replaced the torches that I wanted spaced around the area. They are anchored into the ground this time so they can't fall over.

The second major addition was along the fence line. The plan for this area is to place more styrofoam panels attached to the fence line in order to create an additional privacy barrier to the space. Right now the under brush is heavy enough that it pretty much creates its own privacy barrier, but it doesn't look very good. The first panel was part of a larger piece that broke in half in the same tropical storm that destroyed the first buildout. It fits well and is anchored to the fence and now can have additional panels anchored on either side. All of them will look like a brick wall. 

Next some of the art located in the front area alleyway was brought back and placed on its new shelving units. I am sure I will rearrange these a number of times before I get them in the right places. More will be displayed along the fence line once the panels are added. 

The largest work has no photos yet because the area is not presently lit. But this was to begin moving the shelving units from the front alleyway to their new homes along areas of the workshop area that will have supplies, tables and work areas for outdoor projects. The plan is to bring out supplies from the inside studio that won't be damaged being outside, thus freeing up much needed space in the inside studio. This will take a week or so to move around. 

The last thing done (also not pictured) was brainstorming what I want to do with the final right wing panel. I now have an excellent idea how to being the design and will start working on it tomorrow. 

Overall a very successful day with things taking great shape. Here are a few more photos.

Day 15 Workshop Development

So today I concentrated on pulling together the elements for the workshop area. This is within feet of the studio area but around the bend in the house, so people working in that area will not intrude on photo/art studio itself.

Development included putting in a second 8 foot table and more shelves. I also weed wacked the entire fence area before hand and swept the whole area. Lighting still needs some work, but I have the daylights set up out there now so its easier to move around. I've also started moving my sculpture work from the front area to the back.

I also got my new sign done and hung. I will do something more elaborate later, but this one should do well for the moment.

Overall a successful day even if not much to show for it yet. I should be able to use the whole space in another couple of days. Then I can focus on the tiny refinements that I want to see in place. 

From here I've decided to do different photo albums for each section of the Imaginarium. You can see them at the following links:

The Oracle Wall Photo Album

The Death Grotto Photo Album

The 4 Mystic Doors Photo Album

The Map Wall

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