Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Starting Bas Relief Medallion Commission

I received a commission to sculpt a bas relief medallion about 24" x 24". This sculpture will be cast in Forton or Aqua Resin.

To start, I scaled up my drawing and laid it out on a piece of hard foam.

Then I traced the shape out onto the foam board using a marker.
Next I used my hot wire tools to cut the foam away. This stuff is toxic so I was careful to work in the garage and wear a mask!

Once everything was cut out, I drew in some guidelines for the shapes and began carving away using a serrated knife.

When I had the basic forms started, I refined them using files, rasps and sandpaper to further define the medallion.

Finally I put on a coat of primer to seal it. This serves two purposes: to keep the crumbly bits out of the clay and to give an even 'tooth' for the clay to adhere.

I'll let this dry overnight and then I'll come back with some warm oil-based clay and begin sculpting over this armature foam.

DIY Clay Warmer for less than $10

It's winter and here in Colorado, that means a cold studio. Cold clay is not only really hard on your hands, it is also prone to become brittle and crumble - not good for working at all.

So I have a really inexpensive but quite serviceable clay-warmer that you can make yourself for under $10 or quite possibly free if you have these things around your house anyway.

I took an old clip shop lamp and a 60w bulb and clipped it onto an Omaha Steaks styrofoam cooler that I got free off Craigslist. Because the cooler is deep and so insulated, it heats quickly and evenly. Even in my very cold studio. This is better than the old cooler that I had because it is deeper the light if further from the clay and the heat bounces around more so I have more even heating of the clay without melting or making it too hot to handle.

Because I use several different brands and types of oil-based clay, I try to keep the labels with the clay to avoid mixing them up.
I also need to warm the clay that is already in progress so I keep a 20 year old Black and Decker heat gun or hair dryer handy. I can warm the clay in the area that I am working and the oil-based clay will go from extremely hard and crumbly to buttery soft quite quickly. Hopefully these studio tips will help you in your sculpting.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Stan the Skeleton moves to my new studio

Art studios are messy places with more stuff than room. Tools, boxes, bags of clay, more bags of clay, kiln, molds, mold-making materials, scales, lights, photo equipment, files and photos, sinks, buckets, sponges, scrapers, wood, plumbing fixtures, hardware, tables, pedestals, works in progress....the list goes on.
So does the moving! I'm STILL in the process of getting my new studio space up and running full time. Finding the right place for everything is a challenge. Today's event was moving 150 pounds of clay and my buddy Stan.
Stan is a life-sized reproduction skeleton (I don't usually keep the real kind around ;-) that hangs around my studio so I can reference the anatomy when I'm working on figurative sculpture.
My family isn't very sad to see Stan go. They were never too keen on coming down to the basement where I was working and running into him. I really should dress him up more for holidays....perhaps this year a Santa hat.
Too bad the car windows are tinted.....could have been fun for the other commuters to see Stan in his seatbelt.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Casting a Bas Relief in Aqua Resin or Forton

I've been busy moving into a new studio space and casting some bas relief sculptures for the shows that I'm in. I've got a quick peak into the casting process here using my Polytek rubber mold and Aqua Resin. You could also use Forton for this type of casting:

I have been quite busy moving into my new studio space. My new relief sculptures have been juried into several shows and I have been casting them. Here is a quick peak at the process:
1) Set up materials. I'm using Aqua Resin but sometimes use Forton. I have a gram scale, disposable cups of several different sizes, gloves to protect my hands, stir sticks (popsicle sticks work well), a drill with paddle attachment for mixing. I set up on newspaper for easy clean up when done.
2) I have my Polyteck 74-10 mold set up in the plaster/forton mother mold and have brushed in the first two print coast of Aqua Resin. I do two print coats to capture all the detail letting each dry before adding the next. After the first two coats of Aqua Resin have hardened I begin the laminating process. I mix batches of Aqua Resin (or Forton) and brush on - then I apply about 10% by weight of fiberglass strand. For the sides and small detail areas I'll use 1/2" and 1" strand and for the larger areas I use 3"-4" fiberglass strand. I continue to brush in coats and add more fiberglass until the entire piece is thick and strong enough. I build up an area for attaching the hanging wires as the last coat.
3-4) I let the entire piece rest over night - Forton and Aqua Resin need a 24 hour cure time in the mold to ensure it is strong before demolding. I carefully peel the rubber mold from the casting. I used 2 coats of Polytek 7300 so the piece will release but there is a fairly strong suction bond that require slow and careful efforts so as not to put too much pressure on the rubber or delicate areas of the casting. You can see the strands of fiberglass extending from the casting as I pull off the rubber.
5) The finished casting is removed from the mold and washed with soap or degreasing agent to cleanse the surface of any of the mold release. Next I will use a rasp to remove the excess flashing and fiberglass from the edges. Then I will sand those edges smooth before priming the entire piece and starting the patina.
This bas relief measures 18"w x 24"h x 3"d and the final casting weighs about 10lbs. I find the process of casting to be laborious but the finished product is a nice stone-like casting with the benefit of capturing detail like plaster but having the strength of fiberglass and light-weight.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sculpture donated & sold at Greeley Cattle Baron's Ball - American Cancer Society

I had a brush with breast cancer 10 years ago and continue to be closely monitored. This year my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and is undergoing treatment.

Who among us have been untouched by this disease?

So this year, I donated my bronze sculpture, "Ascension" to the American Cancer Society's annual fundraising benefit, the Greeley Cattle Baron's Ball.

It was a beautiful venue and a lovely Colorado evening and I'm honored that the money raised from the auction of my work will go towards a cure some day.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Room with a View - working on patina

Some of my new bronzes have come back from the foundry. I am waiting for my appointment with my patina artist for "Two Possible Outcomes" (Least Bittern) however I have chosen to do my own patina for "A Room with a View" shown here.

This little tree frog will be mounted to a 4" round tiered hardwood base will measures 5" tall with the base - 4" on his own.

Still finishing up the clay for "Knowing Her Strength" bas relief and should be posting photos soon.

The base for this patina of Verdegris Green is Cupric Chloride and Ammonium Chloride.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Starting a new Bas Relief Sculpture

I have started a new Bas relief. It measures 18" x 24" x 3" deep and this time I am using Chavant LeBeau Touche - an oil based clay instead of the water-based clay that I had been using. It takes a lot of clay when working larger - I estimate that I currently have about 8 bars of clay ($10 each) on the piece and will probably have another bar of clay added before I'm done.

To reduce some of the clay, I did cut a foam core board to bulk out the base a bit. While I could have used tinfoil or foam to bulk out the girl and skim coated on the clay, saving $40 or more in clay, I find that I'd rather use the clay because I can carve deeper or make changes easily in the clay, but if there was a foil interior, I would end up digging into that foil and it is harder to make changes as I work.  
You can see that there are swirls in the clay - I started with older clay and bought some new clay and the dye lot was just enough different to show. A bit distracting while sculpting, but of course won't make a bit of difference when I cast and then patina the work.

Since this is oil-based clay, it sticks quite well to the board so there was no need to make the screw and wire network to support the clay as I did when using water-based clay in the first two Bas relief that I sculpted earlier.
Additionally, since this clay won't dry, it is easier to stop and start without worry about the clay drying out and it won't separate from the board, either.

I'm just in the blocking in phase now -she will be holding a larkspur flower and have wild horse mustangs in the background. I have never sculpted horses although I used to draw and paint them often so I am really looking forward to this!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chasing and more wax chasing

I've been busy chasing wax. First it was the new wax for "Waiting on the #9" that needed to go to the foundry and next it was the new wax for the Least Bittern sculpt "Two Possible Outcomes". The sculpture is cut into pieces during the mold-making procedure and the wax is poured and ready for chasing.

The process from clay to bronze is long and arduous. You can see that the wax pour has seam lines where the mold comes together. Sometimes they are small and easily removed but sometimes they are large and require hours of work to fix.

Bubbles are a common problem. I had the foundry pour 3 frogs and each one had this bubble. I did a test pour at home that I took extra time to brush the hot wax into the mold before pouring and it yielded better results with no bubble so I will probably pour the waxes for this frog...the extra time for me to brush and pour the hot wax was considerably less than the time it took for me to correct, fill and fix these imperfections.

All in all, the wax chasing took quite a bit of time to complete and return to the foundry - now the next step for them is to start making the slurry shell. The estimated time for the this to be in bronze is 7/24/15...and it was turned into the foundry on 5/27/15 - as I said - a long process to get to metal and then even more time to apply the patina and mount the base.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Least Bittern at foundry and offered at precast pricing

I have finished the life-sized Least Bittern with green tree frog. I'm still pondering the title of the piece and the predicament of the little green frog but it is currently at the foundry getting the mold made before staring the arduous process of casting in bronze.

This sculpture is of a Least Bittern, smallest of the herons in the U.S., perched upon reeds. This is their common practice for feeding. These little birds are slow-moving and rather than wading like larger herons they take advantage of their smaller size by hiding among the grasses and reeds and perching motionless to hunt with their spearlike bills. Its prey are small fish, insects, freshwater shrimp and yes, frogs.

This Least Bittern sculpture measures about 14.75" high x 10.5" wide by 11" deep and will be cast in traditional bronze and have a shaped wood base. Currently being offered at pre-cast pricing starting at $2100*. The retail price will be $2800 in a limited edition of 20.

*Precast pricing is the practice of offering to sell the first of a limited edition of bronze before the offical release date at a discount to help offset the costs of producing a bronze edition.
I am offering the following pre-cast discounts:
25%  discount on #1 of 20
20%  discount of #2 of 20
15%  discount of #3 of 20
10%  disount of #4 of 20
5%    discount of #5 of 20
Sculptures must be purchased prior to the release date of July 31st. 50% down to pace the order, 50% upon delivery of the sculpture. Money back gurantee on my work. Foundry time is 9-12 weeks from placement of order to delivery of finished bronze.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How to improve your's all about the silhouette.

The best things about taking workshops are meeting other great sculptors and learning new techniques from a master....or relearning old ones. I am sometimes amazed at important tools of the trade that can be forgotten to be used over the years because you are consumed with a new thought, tool, medium or technique.

While at the Sandy Scott workshop in Scottsdale recently she reminded me of something that I'd known about but hadn't been actively using for some time. I say 'actively' because I was employing this technique without conscious thought, but it is so much more powerful a tool when used with purpose and consistently.

The technique I'm referring to is Silhouetting the Work. Painters may do a value sketch to find the shapes and make the composition stronger but sculptors can employ backlighting. With painting, you make one great value sketch and you're in the homestretch, but sculptors must work from every conceivable angle. People don't just look at a sculpture like they would a painting, from basically one vantage point. They will walk completely around the work, or turn the spinning base, to view it from every angle and that also includes from above or slightly below. That is a lot of different viewpoints and the risk of having a dull or underworked area is expanded with every different viewpoint.

So our job is to make the work stunning - from every side. A tall order to say the least. It's so easy to get caught up in one area, one point of view. But that will make for weak work.
By putting the piece into a strong lighting situation, you reduce the the work to a silhouette - seeing only the dark mass that is the work (and doing your best to ignore the pipes or armature needed to create the work). Sandy likes to place her work in front of a bright window to make it dark. Lacking that option in my studio, I shine a light on the wall behind my sculpture which works quite well. Then, with the sculpture dark, you can turn the work and look at it from many angles to see if the shapes and negative spaces are interesting from all viewpoints. Does the sculpture 'read' as it is intended? Does it make sense to the viewer? If this sculpture was placed in the collector's living room window and the afternoon sun sent it into darkness - would it still be beautiful?

That is my goal as an artist. Bring more beauty into the world - celebrate the beauty that exists. Help people notice things more. When a sculpture can be strong when only a shadow, then it is strong, period. If it is uninteresting or simply a single dark shape in silhouette, then all the surface work and patina colors in the world won't make up for that.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Portrait commission

Since my return from the sculpture class in Scottsdale, I've been working on a portrait bust commission. Can't post many photos now, was commission is a surprise gift for my client's wife.

Once they have the completed bust I will be able to post full photos showing the process.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Life sized clay study of Least Bittern Bird

This is a life-sized clay study that I started at Sandy Scott's bird workshop at the Scottdale Artists School.

Sandy and the rest of the class were workin on an Arctic Tern but I chose to go with a closed-wing sculpture as I was going to be taking this back to my studio for further work and needed to be able to easily dismantle from the board and armature and box up as carry-on for my flight back to Colorado. Working with a pose like this made it possible to transport rather easily with minimal damage.

I also chose this bird as it is a wader and I had some ideas for placing it within reeds and wanted to work out my own ideas for casting and basing.

This sculpture measures about 12.5" tip to tail and 5.5 wide and is sculpted in Chavant's Le Beau Touche oil based clay.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bufflehead Duck study in Chavant Clay at Scottsdale Artist School

I was awarded a scholarship to attend the workshop of my choice at the Scottsdale Artists School located in Scottsdale, Arizona.

As my plan was to branch out into wildlife sculpture this year it was hard to choose between so many excellent instructors. Ultimately I settled on the Sandy Scott workshop because she was going to emphasize working with custom armature building, anatomy and artistic reasoning. All of these things, plus Sandy's disciplined approach to her work and life-long achievements were areas that I was keen to work on.

I wasn't disappointed. Sandy was well organized and her partner, Trish, was also there to help and give her input into mold-making and casting tips - so valuable when working on sculpture ideas to find the best and most viable ways of working to see it through from conception to completed foundry casting.

We spent a good deal of time learning bird anatomy, aerodynamics of flight, behaviors, researching and then armature building. What is especially nice is that everything I was learning relating to birds for this specific course will easily translate into mammals and humans when sculpting other subjects.

Sandy was generous in sharing tips on research, work methods and materials and sculpting tips. She was just as receptive to learning new tips from any students who had things to contribute as well and the whole class had a very nice rapport. We began by working on armature building and sculpting a study of a Bufflehead Duck. It was a great exercise and I enjoyed the process. Being a workshop, however, I was there to learn and not take home a prize - so at the end of class I cut apart and recycled this study. I'm looking forward to applying what I learned in new sculpture works very soon.

Armature was 1/2" plumbing pipe with t-bar, bailing wire and foil. The clay is Chavant Le Beaux Touche (regular not High Melt)

The workshop ran from Saturday through Wednesday from 9am to 4pm and the building, grounds and staff were wonderful. I will definitely be returning for additional workshops in the future and keeping Scottsdale in mind for teaching in my future, too.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Review of Polytek Poly 74-20 mold making rubber for brush on mold

I have finished making the mold and mother mold of my bas relief "Setting Her Sights." There is the first test casting in Aqua Resin moments after pulling it out of the mold.
You can see the full tutorial by looking at previous postings on my blog. Polytek Poly 74-20 liquid polyurethane rubber is designed for making flexible, high-performance, high-strength molds. This rubber is very liquid - much more so than many of the others that I have used. Think heavy cream instead of thick syrup.

This rubber is more often used for pouring a once piece block mold or making a blanket mold. I did not opt to do either but chose to do a brush-on mold instead. Block molds are easiest for bas reliefs, as you simply build a wall about 2" all around your relief sculpture, spray with release, mix the rubber compound and pour over the sculpture. When it cures you de-mold and you are ready to start casting.
While this mold is the easiest to make, it also requires a huge amount of rubber on a high relief such as this. If the highest point on my sculpt is 2" deep I would need to pour a mold that is about 3" deep. On an 18" x 24" sculpt at 3" deep for rubber - that's a lot of wasted rubber and the costs increase dramatically. True, if you do this pour you're done - no need to make a mother mold as the rubber holds the shape well - but the cost of material can be prohibitive - especially on a smaller run.

The next choice would be a blanket mold and it would work well too - I could have done that for this sculpture. I may do this mold for the next relief.
But I chose to make a brush-on mold. I didn't have Poly Fiber, but I did have Short Stuff, which worked well enough to thicken the rubber. I can see how pouring this rubber in a block or blanket mold would terrifically easy - it is very thin and pourable and absolutely no bubbles. I have tried pouring other rubbers and most had a thicker or gummier feel and had some bubbles which can be a nightmare, making glaring imperfections in your molds and subsequent castings.

I was pretty careful, using my postal meter to accurately measure out the 2 to 1 ratio, but my gut feeling is that this product is probably a little forgiving if you didn't have access to a scale and measured by volume instead, you'd probably have it work out just fine.
The very low viscosity of the 74-20 meant that it was very easy to stir and mix well with no bubbles and it brushed on very easily with a disposable chip brush. This was a plus for me, as the rubber was thin, light with very little weight or drag on the brush so there was no moving or distortion of the softer clay sculpture. For work with hard surfaces thick rubber or heavy -handed application isn't a problem, but for softer clays, the simple act of brushing a rubber on can cause real problems.
The first two coats were applied very thinly to pick up all the detail without disturbing the clay. Subsequent layers were thickened with the Short Stuff. It did take a lot of layers to build up the thickness of the rubber on the high points, as the rubber succumbed to gravity. Perhaps Poly Fiber 2 would have made the rubber thicker than the Short Stuff that I had on hand. I felt that the time between coats was easy to negotiate - not too fast and rushed and not waiting around eons for it to set up enough for the next coat. Overall it was very simple to use - taking 4-5 hours for me to build up the mold with very, very deep undercuts to fill.

When the rubber was cured (overnight) I sprayed it with release and made the mother-mold shell in forton and reinforced with fiberglass. I could have also added leveling legs, but instead opted to rest the open mold on sandbags as I will not be casting solid, but will casting in forton and aqua resin hollow.
Overall I am very pleased with the results. The rubber was thin enough that it brushed easily without squashing my clay and I could see that there were no bubbles. The mold that I pulled off of the clay sculpture is excellent with good stretch and excellent detail - it picked up all the detail and was easy to use.