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.

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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