New Mexican Sculptor

My photo
New Mexico, United States
I'm living in New Mexico where I sculpt and paint. After a long absence from art, I am now creating smaller bronze figures. This blog is mainly devoted to that work.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Zebras and Other Art

I've been busy painting a wide range of subjects this month, among them a self portrait, and also a herd of zebras. I also painted a few that I will not be posting. I found out that my favorite method of working is to paint first in gesso, then paint over with acrylics, and then finally paint in oils. The zebra picture is still at the acrylic stage, but I am making more changes than the two other pictures below. I don't work from source material for the most part-- not directly. I will draw a while and then maybe look, study, and remember. I don't believe in copying photographs. I loath the practice. I told someone that I used video as a reference. This is more true than photo stills. In a way, I like to watch lots of video of the subject I am doing. Watching live models is much better. Now why? Because I feel that copying a photograph is pointless to art. Since the dawn of photography (Which I studied in college at UNM) art changed because if you want something to look exactly like something, you might as well take a photograph. Well, I tend to prefer somewhat realistic art. I also think that artists should be highly skilled. But I share the thought that if you want photography, then get a camera. It is a rather special skill to be able to draw something as you see it. I think artists should not blow away the fundamentals of drawing. Unless they aspire to fine-fine art, in which case, they can toss pigs fetuses in formaldehyde and starve dogs, which to me is less than art, and more like lunacy.

I think that it is tragic that young art students are basically taught to draw from photographs instead of life. I once watched an art student basically transfer the advertisement photos from a glamor mag into her sketch book. It was silly. Why do that? I see such "neat" drawings -- perfect in every way-- on a well known artist's message board I go to. So neat because they are traced from photos the artists just down loaded. I actually should not have used the word "artist" in that last sentence.

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Zebras (unfinished)40X40. I wanted to do some monochromatic (or nearly monochromatic) paintings, as I did with the unfinished Giselle picture I posted earlier.

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Self Portrait 16X20 (I am unusually cruel to myself)

I'd been thinking of my inability to get my measurements right-- I mean "exact." I have always had this strange "warped" style.

Here are a few earlier pictures where, I think, you can see same type of style.
snailsnail shell close
Snail (colored pencil)Done from life
Snail Detail

Natalusnatalus close up
Nautilus (colored pencil) Done from a frozen specimen, and photos
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Next month (August) I start another sculpture.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Water Paintings

I've had pretty good luck painting water. Some times it is not "exactly" correct. Here are a few paintings done over the last few years. I tend to think of these paintings as "semi" abstracts. The actual subject matter exists in the subjective world, so I am still painting in a figurative way, but the subject is ephemeral-- so ephemeral that in a sense, I need to pick and choose what details to actually use (well, that is a normal art thing). The 3 top paintings have all sold so I do not have any decent pictures. The last one is a new direction I am plotting. I am just "practicing" bubbles now, so this one is just a learning tool, but think I will make some large and very detailed paintings of this sort.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Painting of Giselle

I am planning a new sculpture. In the mean time, I want to paint my dog a bit. Here is the under painting for an oil I am doing. She's an IG. I was thinking that I wanted to do a calendar of IG paintings and give a portion to IG rescue. Maybe. I'll probably become one of those one-subject artists whose only subject is my dog.

First I made a quick ten minute line drawing directly on the canvas from life.
I do the underpainting of white and black gesso. Gesso is cheap, and dries easily. It can be tinted, if you want to do a color under painting.
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Then I paint in various stages, building the color up, usually in more transparent washes (this is oil, so it is fat over lean). Here, I block out the volumes, creating more or less 3-dimensionality to the canvas. I do Giselle's under painting in a minor color of her coat, more of a dun, and whiten her fur areas. I also add pink to her skin.

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The biggest noticeable change here is that I intensify her color, she is what you call a "blue fawn," which is a dilute blue. Poor girl suffers from blue dog disease as well. I build up the folds of cloth surrounding her. My idea was to have her somewhat camouflaged, and do the painting in a monochromatic way. It obviously uses more than one color, but It needs that.

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Shadows, indication of left front paw, more of the white draperies:
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The dog's front paws have appeared:
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This is the second "Giselle" painting. This is the first:
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As I was doing this, I thought about my "style." This painting is very similar to the sort of free hand drawing I did when I was in High school. I think I have always had a touch of someone like "Thomas Hart-Benton" in my style. You know, more stylized figures. I've never been fixated on making "true" representations of the subjects I use to make art. As the early non-representative artists pointed out, there is no need to exactly copy anything any more.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Preparing for the Exhibit

These are some photos I took at the gallery as we were finalizing the placement of the horses for the exhibition. This is the Summer Invitational, Gallery 9 Lincoln Nebraska . The show will be opening up Wednesday, the postcard says it will open July 1st. I'll be there on First Friday. I am the guest artist of Judith Andre. I like Judith's calm, and her ability to at least seem unruffled during a crisis. Today she was splendid as one thing after another went hilariously wrong.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Patina: painting with rust

Patina protects as well as beautifies. Traditional patina is a chemical reaction creating a kind of scaled rust that colors and protects the metal. For my patina, I used traditional Liver of Sulfur which gives a light to deep senna brown, and I used a deep blue alkaline dye both products from Sculpt Nouveau (whom I would like to give a plug here). The deep blue over brown creates a nice black-ish color. After mounting the sculpture on the cultured marble base, I was quite satisfied with the result.

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"Down From The Clouds" 1/12 2011 C.R. Larkin Copyright


As you can see the coloration draws out the sculpted muscles of the horse. I liked the way the metal base transitions to the marble base. I also like the "rough" look of the sculpting. Although the sculpture actually took about 45 days, it has a casual immediacy to it. This had been my intention. I have seen too many horse sculptures that are too perfect that they become overworked, and look like plastic toys.

This was my first try with a Patina. I could not get the weed burner to light up so I took advantage of YouTube and watched a piece by a jeweler who used hot water with her liver of sulfur. I left the sculpture out in the sun to heat it a little and applied the liver of sulfur still warm. The result was immediate. I don't think that I will be worried much about experimenting with any other patina.

The other horse is being done as well. I will post something tomorrow or the next day.

I now have something like 7 days before change day at Gallery Nine. I need to spend this time making 2 bases for these pieces. Yes. Big wooden boxes. Oh what fun.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fettle the Metal

Bronze working, is of course, an ancient art. Bronze is an alloy of two soft metals, copper and tin. The bronze age followed the stone age, basically, so no great technological advancements are required to create lost wax castings. From what I have seen, you need a flame hot enough to melt the stuff, and a few buckets of a variety of sand, mud, and wax.

The grinding disc near the face of "Down From The Clouds" (DFC).
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I've come away from the foundry (hopefully safe from the flood) with two rough sculptures. They still need finishing. Fettling means to sand the burs, and to smooth and polish, and basically finish the piece. The phase after fettling is the patina. I've ordered up some liver of sulfur (dark to light brown), and some cupric (which creates a sea green shade). This is a very basic pallet to work from. I am hoping to expand my library of colors as time goes on.

No sculpture comes out of the fire perfectly, I have learned. I do not believe in overworking, and I believe that the accidents of the furnace and the bronzing process are as important to a work as the accidents of the painting process. Working something to death, is what happens when a sculpture ends up looking like a plastic toy. The tool marks of sculptures are synonymous to the brush strokes of a painter. But in fettling, you do have a second chance to tone things down a bit if you wish. Each copy of the work is a unique puzzle, and an individual piece of art, and craftsmanship. In the case of the bronze, the work is a combination of the artist's work and the expertise of the foundry craftsmen. I have tried to keep as much of my own work in this as possible, and I hope to become more involved in the actual melting and pouring of the bronze as time goes on. I would at least like to cast my own "under twenty pound" objects.

Seeing these two in the shiny gold coloration of raw bronze gives me a completely new feeling for them then when they were in dark green clay. They just have a different feel to them. I still like the title "Down From The Clouds" for the smaller running horse, but the larger, for some reason, I started to think of the book of Job (yes, it was the opening scene of Secretariat), but something in that Psalm fits my horse perfectly. What put a quiver up my spine was "He cannot stand still as the trumpets sound." I don't know why. I don't "see" a scene from Biblical days. I see a scene from the Civil War (American). So, as of now, I think I have changed the title of "Hard to Catch" to "As the Trumpets Sound."

The face of "As the Trumpets Sound" (ATS).
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I had a very fruitful meeting with the gallery owner today. I drove the sculptures downtown during a rain storm, and met with Judith Andre, the owner of Gallery Nine. This group is very talented and serious-- The venue is lovely, I brought these two horses in today for her to inspect, considering I got into her show with only a photograph, I thought it was the least I could do. I believe the show (July 1-30) will be excellent.

The meeting got me thinking about what my true objective was. I am a folk singer, not an opera producer. I really see my art more as folk art. I seek "folk art" like subjects. I feel comparable (in the meanest sort of way) with Andrew Wyeth if anyone. That style has always been my goal. I am often blown off course by comic book art and so on, but let's face it, when I grew up by the end of the 20th century, what was the true "folk art?" -- Star Wars.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bronzes and Evacuation -- Omaha, 2011

Hot Shops is located near to the low lying Heartland of America Park, where, at present, the proverbial "100 Year Flood" (you know, the one they said would never come) has raised the Missouri river to 30.4 feet where flood level is at 29.0 feet as of today (June 8th, 2011) at 10:14 am. Heartland of America Park is a picturesque urban park, close to pricy eateries and tourist spots, and of course, the artistic center of Omaha...the restaurants, the galleries...not my thing really. I've never been rich enough to scrape enough together to go shopping in the old market or eat at whatever microbrewery is the place to be at the moment. It's the working artist I applaud. The guy with the dirty finger nails and the welding torch.

So here, I will introduce you to the experts who are helping me to produce my bronzes; Les Bruning the owner of Bruning Bronze at Hot Shops, and his assistant Micheal Godek. Both Bruning and Godek are working artists in the Omaha area. Godek seems to do a lot of welded art, and Bruning is also a college teacher nearing retirement. At some point, Les talked about the flooding river nearby, and the riverside art presently underwater. My personal thoughts were that city planners tempt fate when they allow these merciless giants into their cities. True, riverside walks are picturesque and a nice addition to an inner city, but people tend to forget that water can bring down a mountain, and a few buildings are like piles of sand to a river like the Missouri.

Today my work was to supervise the welding that needed to be done on the bases of the sculptures, as well as the tail of the smaller horse. This is all work I have never done. Earlier in my life I did some large public art as an assistant, but I never really participated in the bronze work. This is all new to me, but I have a good idea how it is done, and I have enough courage to take the tools and work with them, instead of standing idle, (AKA "supervising") while others do the work for me. I truly believe that a metal sculptor should not do art with her pocketbook, yet so many do.

Photo: Omaha Artist Micheal Godek examines a weld.

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Examining the sculpture so far, I decided that it would benefit from some tool work back at the studio. By the end of the day, I decided to do the bronze chasing myself. First, it saves on money, and I believe in trying to create as "perfect" a piece as possible. How difficult could it be? (I'll tell you how that turns out). So, I loaded the sculptures and bases in the car to go back to Lincoln.

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I was tempted to drive over to the river to look at it. I'd lived near that river for ten years both in downtown Omaha, and in Council Bluffs, Iowa, but the area was not my own any more. I felt like someone wanting to sneak a peak at the house I grew up in. What was the point? Was it my nature to take risks? I had gotten into a very tricky business. Art is a craps shoot, like living next to a flooding river.

I was probably thrilled by the bronzes. I can't bring myself to think about emotion right now. There is still much work to be done, and I have some other sculptures to think about right now. I'll wait until the opening to experience these feelings, reflect over the process, when I am standing with a glass of wine in my hands, when the pressure is finally off. That's the life of a working artist. You push them out like baby birds to prepare your nest for the next clutch of eggs.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Right Under My Eyes.

I found some old boxes of pottery clay-- well, I bought the stuff last year. I had this armature I had been working on. I was trying to decide what to use, as far as clay and used wax, but the stuff I have doesn't seem to stick. I used the old pottery clay, and you know what? I like working with it. A 10 pound box costs $7.00. Ten pounds of Roma would cost $50.00. Not only is it ultra cheap, but it is also fast to use. It's soft but becomes leather like in a few hours. Sculpting is easy. This figure took me from about 11 A.M. to 9 P.M. So anyway, I decided I would really "block out" the figure well over the metal wire armature and some plaster, then, over that I would use a thin layer of Plasticine (hard) as a final finish layer to get the more subtle detail. There may be a little sanding and grinding in between. You know sculpture, additive/subtractive.

Now, about the figure: I was originally thinking of swimming. Figures suspended in water. I think it would be great to have fish and some sort of sea plants around her, holding her up. It gives me great ideas for "pedestals." Believe me, trying to keep a 50 pound bronze from falling over is hard. She'll be between 28 and 29 inches tall. She still needs a lot of work in the Plasticine, but I think this is pretty good progress for 10 hours.

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There are some angles that are not as good as others. The arms need more flesh, which I will do in plasticine. The face is not there yet, so I will show this angle.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sculpting Hands

Art is also an engineering problem. The artist has to ask, "how would I build this?" in the same way that an engineer might confront a new job. In this case, my problem was to find a way to sculpt hands in a soft clay. Obviously, I could have gone with the "closed fist" in which no fingers were showing, thus saving me the additional grief of both sculpting and casting somewhat realistic fingers-- a pain in the frontal lobes.

Hands always pose a problem to beginning artists. I've drawn thousands of them, and studied their architecture, so I feel I know them well, but they still cause a lot of lost sleep. You can know the form very well and still create an unconvincing hand. Like the tail on a dog, hands are communication tools, as well as beasts of burden. To recognize the expressive potential of hands makes crafting them well all the more imperative.

But how to do it in a medium that is not so much different from mud?

It seems the answer is similar to that used by Mother Nature. Hands need their own armatures.

Taking five stiff wires I create a kind of whisk here in the photo. Using needle and thread I sew or weave the wires together in the shape of a hand. I cut away some clay and wrap the new armature to the old. I use another bent piece of wire to create a cross bar at about the knuckle.
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I use some Bondo to stiffen the hand a bit, re-pose the fingers and begin to sculpt. (I may end up using a harder clay on the fingers, but will smooth it into the main arm so the boundary is undetectable.
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The hand armatures are proportioned to the figure I am working on. A hand is about 3/4ths to 4/5ths of the length of the forearm. Longer fingers, in my experience are seen as more "artistic" looking.

What to have the hands doing is another problem. As I said, they have expressive potential. I don't want the hands to reduce the feeling of the piece. They must also be relaxed and yet tense. I thought of several scenarios-- as this is somewhat of an illustrative, or character piece, even though this person does not actually exist (he is a composite of various men I have seen). Although it is not a politically correct thing, I thought the perfect hand pose would be lazily holding a cigarette.

This made me think again about what my subject really was. It is not really "race track people." But more like people of certain classes and certain aspirations. I've also noticed in many of my drawings that it there is something unsaid about upward mobility, of "toiling" with the hope of something coming from it, of essentially losing 100 races just to get one win. It might be artistic suicide to concentrate on real people. I don't know. If I start sculpting dragons and warriors, you'll know something went wrong.

One problem I do see is falling into a "Norman Rockwell" mode, which is really somewhere I do not want to go either. Believe me, I think Rockwell was a great illustrator, but my experience is different from his. I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, not in America's Heartland, in the church-going middle class.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A New Sculptural Direction...

Although I enjoy working on human figures, I find that I am not too interested in "what they are doing." I often have a lot of back talk in my head regarding whatever "action" constitutes the pose. I figure that it needs to be interesting like the Discus thrower, or some one playing football. Actually, it is a jockey on a bench watching a race (About 14X15"), so...not too action packed. (Sorry, but I have no idea what people playing football would look like). This sculpture is meant to be more of a study of the physique, not really so in need of violent action. I want to show intensity, concentration, and at the same time, a very relaxed pose. I think it is going well. You can see many parts are not finished as of yet. I like working in a larger size like this. Although it is not a large sculpture, it is not a very small one either. It is large enough for me to use my fingers as well as my tools. Tiny sculptures really need to be touched as though with the end of a pencil, and you may as well be drawing because you are kept at a distance. I like using my hands for the majority of the work. Obviously at some point, I use tools. That reminds me. I decided that I really did like tool marks, and I want to do a lot with screen on this one. I really like the way screen marks the clay.

Here is one picture from an angle I like. I'll publish again when it is up to par.

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This is some very soft white (yellowish) clay which I do not like at all now that I think about it. I had added a little red casting wax in an attempt to make it "stickier" but it did not work, so that is why some is pink, and some is a yellowish color. I guess anyone can make anything work, but I need to freeze it to do any fine work on it.

I think I like working with the human form much more than horses. This is about a week's work, compared to something like a month for the horses. I am extremely interested in "getting better" as a horse sculptor, but in the meantime I am going to start sculpting much more humans.

I will be sending the horses (finished or not) to the foundry next Tuesday. I am in an "invitational" at a gallery in Lincoln over the 4th of July weekend, and need some sculptures.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Complex Mold

Making a mold with metal shims is slightly more difficult than making one with clay walls. You have to weigh the pros and cons of each technique. Quickly, these are the steps. Metal shims are much better to use for a standing statue made with a soft material. The shims cut into the material, so the material often needs to be soft unless you can figure out how to attach the shims to a harder material (for instance: if you are going to make a mold of a stone or metal object). These shims, as you can see come from old beer cans. The shim placement is similar to the clay wall placement. You will want to divide your piece at places where there will be no (or minimal) undercutting. Once the shims have been placed, the next step is to apply the molding rubber in a thick enough layer to register the detail of the piece, and keep any cheesecloth marks from the wax. I then lay down at least 2 double layers of cheesecloth. The final step is to make a mother mold by first spattering on plaster and then reinforcing the plaster with backing fiber. I used burlap in this case but I am sure other materials can be found.
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The big test for both of these horses was the pouring of the wax. I had never done this before, and so I did not know the correct procedure. During a visit to the foundry a "Victory Brown" micro-crystalline wax had been pulled from the mold of the running horse. This wax copy had thousands of unacceptable small bubbles in it, and required nearly full surfacing. I wanted to have as minimal artist's rework on each copy, so I had to come up with a wax that would not bubble up as much.

After many tests, I came up with a mixture of 1/3 victory brown, 1/3 red casting, and 1/3 French. The resulting wax was firm, less pliable (more brittle) and very calm (did not create detrimental bubbles). Unfortunately the French wax was from an old stash (it was over 20 years old!). French wax is now about 5 times more expensive than the red or the VB, so I had to cheap out and make the second horse of only VB and red. I will continue to look for a good supply of French wax for future sculptures. Photobucket
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Wax, by the way, is amazing stuff. I've decided to make a few "one off" sculptures that will be only cast from original waxes, going directly from sculpture to investment.

So, to pull this all together. I've poured several "clean out" waxes, and have gotten an acceptable wax needing minimal re-working. Putting the two halves of the molds together is a bit tricky. I've learned it is better to do any pouring of wax from the inside. Of course, you try to finish in as neatly as possible.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Horse January/ February

I see I have a few followers, and I want to acknowledge and say Hi! I know I am not the most prolific Blogger, but I am willing to accept any constructive criticism you want to try on me. I am hoping to finish a new sculpture every 45 days. Hopefully more than one. I have been doing several recently, another horse, a young woman, and 2 goats (just started).

I am not clear why I chose to sculpt goats. I like them and think they are charming and beautiful animals. I think there is a struggling vegetarian inside of me who wants to depict the almost taboo subject of "animal feelings."

I’m just finishing up on this sculpture. The big forms have been blocked out and now I am working on surface details. What I particularly feel is working is the feeling of weight. A thousand pounds of muscle being lifted up and coming down under the complete and sensitive control of a "prey animal." I must admit: i like horses. No city has ever been built without the muscle of horses. Perhaps Brasilia, built in the 60's.

These are a few views of the sculpture in clay. I was going to call this sculpture "Hard to Catch," but was told that the horse does not seem very "playful." "Turned Out" is another prospective title. I did some major editing of the expression and muscles, and feel happier with it now. Getting a few days off work (unimpeded full days in which to work) seems sometimes hard to me. You know how it is, you get the day off and spend most of it running errands or doing laundry. Well, that is this artist too. Artists have cars and dirty socks and houses and everything anyone else has.

Having two dogs that need to be taken to the dog park does not help me any either.


Thoughts at the beginning of 2011

I've been on again, off again with art. The relationship has had its various incarnations. I feel my main conflict are the "friends" who have undermined me by talking me into "getting a real job" or studying something that distracts me from art in order that I do not "fail" miserably at life. This might be their wish, but (now) it is not mine. I've taken the advice of others various times, and that advice has way-laid me, and often taken me on a journey far away from my art. As an artist, I always end up back at art. As I age though, I realize that I was not given an infinite life span. If I do not get these things done, I will never get them done.

I guess you've heard it put that "life is not a rehearsal." I never learned that like I did in September, last year when I got the call that my sister had been found dead on the floor of the kitchen of her house in Washington State. She was one year older than I was, the same age I am now. At 51 she had finally graduated from college, finally gotten a great job, finally started her life.

My sister was brilliant. talented, but unfortunate to be trapped in a situation of poverty and immobility. It was somewhat where I was as well. I was stuck in an underwater house, with more bills than I could pay. I walked out on those things, said to Hell with this-- my life is more than being a servant to material things.

I think that is how this all started. I decided that no one would ever see me as a cog in a machine again. I would not give another "manager" another chance to pass me over for a promotion. I would drop out, become a born again hippie, or whatever the current term for a free spirit is.

The last piece of the puzzle would be my beautiful, brilliant sister dying on the kitchen floor. I could see myself somehow, my journey ended before it had really begun, and I understood the ephemeral nature of life. It was that clear to me.

I had that quote by Nabokov: "Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness." -Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1951. I knew this quote to contain the absolute truth. Our being is a supreme display of randomness. We will never be here again, and have never been since, so unique are we, and yet the people who trifle their lives away, wait for permission to act upon their dreams, are in the majority.