Thursday, December 16, 2010

Boo YAH!


"Self Portrait, With Ambition"

Only thing lacking is a coat of paint.

Things I wish I'd Made For 1000

From a great site called Old Chum. There was a few really nice totems to choose from, but the crutches on this one sold me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Endless 10%

Gotten a bit behind in my posting, but suffice it to say, I'm still working on the damn figure.

Going for my third attempt at the arrow today.Two weeks ago I finally managed see the sculpture with the arrow installed.It looked like this.

The good news was that the arrow attached to the body pretty much like I'd hoped. The bad news was two-fold. First, while the arrow was the same size as all the others, it looked much, much too long. In the end we decided it looked about 10.5 inches too long. That's a lot to trim off a man's arrow, but you gotta do what you gotta do. The second problem was that it sagged, and a sagging arrow is a metaphor I don't need.

Round two. I decided that the best solution would be to use square steel rod stock. Good in theory, but at the last minute, it turned out that it sticks up too far at the rounded edges, and would be too visible. Round two point five. Back to the hardware store for some brass tubing. Not as strong or rigid as square steel, but lighter. Hopefully that will make the difference.

At the same time, I've been working on paint finishes. Having a failed casting has been unexpected helpful in this regard. Hydrostone is not the same as Forton MG, but I'm guessing it's close enough. They don't really show up well in pictures, but here's a nice image of the two of them stacked together. Makes me think, as always, that it would be even cooler to have millions of them.

Finally, in the face of all this endless work on the last 10%, I've been thinking about why this is taking so long, and I think I have at least half an answer. I'm hoping that this process represents a shift from making things that look good to making things that are good. It's easy to make work that looks good in slides, or looks good on the internet. In the end, that's a lot more about the quality of the photo than it is about the quality of the work. Making something that is good - that can hold it's own in person, from all angles - is a much trickier proposition. And if you're a sculptor, that's what it's got to be about.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Endless 10%

Gotten a bit behind in my posting, but suffice it to say, I'm still working on the damn figure.

Going for my third attempt at the arrow today.

Two weeks ago I finally managed see the sculpture with the arrow installed.

It looked like this.

The good news was that the arrow attached to the body pretty much like I'd hoped. The bad news was two-fold. First, while the arrow was the same size as all the others, it looked much, much too long. In the end, Jess, Rob and I decided it looked about 10.5 inches too long. That's a lot to trim off a man's arrow, but so be it. The second problem was that it sagged, and a sagging arrow is a metaphor I don't need.

So, round two. I decided that the best solution would be

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Male Childhood/Adolesence Fantasy Art


Quick mold tonight
Spent the last couple evenings making a few last little Sculpey pieces to go with the arrows.
Once I got them all squared away, I used superglue to stick them all down onto a piece of melamine.

Once they were all stuck down, I hot-glued some foam core walls around them. I make the melamine level, so the mold will be level when I pour into it. Or that's the theory. So far that hasn't totally worked out, but I keep hoping. That broken arrow in the middle is a gluing error that snapped when I tried to fix it . On the flip side, the other arrows were a bit warped, and I managed to glue them straight, so we'll call it even.

Then I mixed up an old smooth-on pmc121/30 kit I had left over from school and poured away. Almost, almost not enough material, which would have been a bummer. As it is, it's a bit too close for comfort, but since that's all the urethane rubber I had on hand, I can't complain.

Let the record show that at this moment, Even though I don't seem to be able to finish anything, I'm feeling optimistic. I've got the digital system in place (more on that later), hired someone to make the frames, and got some help coming tomorrow. Things are looking efficient. Things are looking good.

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Exciting Digital Development Or Possibly Cheating

Before the break, worked with my incredibly smart and capable wife to come up with a plan to get everything done before the NY show in March. One thing that came out of our discussion was that it was high time to do something that I'd be thinking about for a while, and make a digital record of all the existing elements.

This was a good time to do it, as I'd just made a full set the week before, so I had everyone made, but without nails. This meant they could all lie flat under the downshooting setup with have at school. So that's what I did. As usual, I wish I had more time, so that I could have gotten really great images of every piece. As it is, I got a record of everything at a more-or-less consistent scale, which is basically what I neeeded.

Here's a shot of the raw images.

And here's a shot of the ruler I used, so I could make the digital images the right size in the real world.

From there, I was able to grab each piece individually and (and this is the important part), start composing them digitally. No more making thousands of pieces and arranging them by hand. Now I can figure out the compositions, and then work backward to figure out how many pieces I need to make. So much better.

I'm still working on this one, but here's the progression of a 3 x 3 image I'm working on. This one might be "Tell Me Again How This Is My Fault".

So far this is working great, and it looks like it's going to make life much easier. The only down side is that the process lends itself to endless tweaking, which will no doubt be made irrelevant on contact with reality.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Things I Wish I Had Made, For 1000

Here's where I found it. God knows that's not the whole story.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Does This Look Familiar?

Found this the other day

on ffffound. Grabbed it, but by now they've posted so much, the link is buried. Undoubtedly photoshopped, but right in line with my current compositional preferences.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Progress, And A Few Possible Titles

Ok. Not a bad day. Scrolling down, I'm reminded that I had hoped to be mostly done with the big guy today, but it didn't happen. Sick most of this week, and unable to pick up the excellent mounting hardware pictured below before this afternoon.

Sky Blanchard made the brackets for me, and they look like they're going to work great. My plan is to stick one end of the brackets down to the figure with Forton and fiberglass. The other end of the bracket get screwed to the wall, and both ends have tapped holes so that set screws can clamp down on the bars that run in-between. Smooth.

As far as I know, Sky works without a net (no website), and I'm not about to give his number out on a blog, but if you know Sky, and you need work done, he's the man. Plus, his new shop/house/warehouse is amazing. It's a classic example of the live/work artist's loft that developers are killing themselves trying to sell in Northern Liberties, but without all the granite counter-tops and stainless steel appliances (or, as far as I could tell, a kitchen). He also welded a threaded rod to a steel rod for me, which I'm planning on using for the second round of the arrow. More on that later.

Knowing that today was NOT going to bring about sculptural resolution, I got to work casting relief figures for the next wall pieces. It's boring work, but I did OK. Got two boxes like this

filled before running out of stuff and patience. The new Polycoat system is working great. Surprising how much of a difference it makes not spraying in the mold release, and how much better the pieces look with the PolyFil ND. I wouldn't say that the fill is entirely ND, in that a lot of it seems to end up in the bottom of the cup, but none of it seems to end up on the surface of the cast, so I've got no complaints.

The incredibly fast set time for urethane plastics means that casting these guys is strictly small-batch undertaking. It's not exciting work, but it there is definitely an art to figuring out how many pieces you can before before the whole mess sets up. Not many, it turns out, and less if you pause to fiddle around with anything along the way.

Finally, I had a few titles ideas today.

"Man, It Makes Me Hungry Just To Look At You"

"Explain To Me Again How This Is My Fault".

Now I just need the pieces to go with them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hold This Thought

Something interesting here. There's something so elegant and dangerous about the stance, particularly in combination with that face like a cagey Flemish Madonna. Maybe something for the next large figure?

Link to the image on The Big Picture here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Further Proof Of Life

Ok, more progress. It's the little last steps that kill me, but I hope to be more or less done with this big bastard by Friday. Not counting the finish.

Anyway, last Friday I finally got around to patching a few of the trickier holes. These are places where the surface coat was didn't fill, or broke away in the de-molding process. Some (small) holes are relatively easy to fix, but when the flaw is in the middle of an area of texture, the patch is obviously a little more involved. An example;

getting from this -

to this -

-required not just adding material, but carefully carving and sanding it with a dremel to match the existing texture.

Also on Friday, I cast the long arrow he's supposed to be holding. I haven't made the arrow before this because I needed to build it in relation to the existing sculpture, but I knew that it would be so long and thin that it made no sense to include in the original mold. It's amazing to me that now, in mid-November, I might finally get to see the composition I've been planning all along.

I've run a threaded rod through the middle, both to provide stability, and to have something to tie into in the larger casting.

Finally, I re-attached the top portion of the bow that broke off in the de-mold process. I had run a steel rod through the bow, but it broke off exactly at the spot where the rod ended, so I glued it in place with a mending plate and some JB Weld. I'll go back and clean it up with a little Forton, and it will look good as new.

A last note about working with Forton MG. In general, it's been great. Getting the proportions right is a bit tricky, but I haven't had any problems, and the material seems as strong and light as advertised. Patching has been easy and seamless. My only complaint is that, because so little catalyst is required per batch, it's hard to mix the really small batches I need here at the end. When you're talking abut 145 bucks a kit, plus shipping, that kind of waste has real teeth.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Little Glimmers Of Hope

So after ranting for a bit last night about slow progress and too many steps, I went out to the studio and ran a test of some new material I got from Polytek last week, got a lovely result, and all was forgiven (again).

As I outlined earlier, the small relief pieces are enormously process intensive. My hope in buying this new material was to cut out some of those processes, while simultaneously getting a better finish on the individual figures.

The problem is that the castings I've been getting out of the molds are extremely shiny, which is a function of the both the initial state of the sealed positive, the silicone release needed to get the castings out of the mold, and the nature of the urethane plastic itself. In the test last night, I painted one of my molds with Polycoat. Polycoat is a "one-part moisture-curable silicone sealant" that essentially gives surface of your urethane mold the properties of silicone, which is to say, no need for mold release, and the ability to coat the mold surface with talc to create a more matte surface.

To further flatten the finish, I also bought a bucket of Polyfil ND "...a "neutral density" filler designed for use with polyurethane liquid rubbers and plastics". The hope was that Polyfil would both dull the surface of the casting, and get more mileage out of the casting material.

So far, so good. Last night's test was a dramatic improvement over what I've been getting, and would seemingly obviate the mold-release applying, detergent washing, wire brushing, and spray painting I've done up to now. It cost me something like 150 bucks, and there's still a lot of molds to paint, but it looks like a net win. Better living through chemistry, y'all.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

No Pictures, Please

Oy, it has been slow going lately.

Friday I was in the studio all day,and felt like I got nothing done, except making a mess. The semester's schedule and work around the house have really been taking their toll.

That said, I've managed to make and mold the arrow that the "Self Portrait" figure will eventually be holding, and started some experiments with other finishes for the smaller relief figures, with an eye toward an exhibition in NYC in March.

I am going back and forth on the wisdom of working at this scale at this phase of life. I like working big, and the sense of accomplishment is fantastic, but never being finished is beginning to wear me down. As of this moment, I've still got to:
  1. repair the small places where the surface coat either broke away or didn't fill
  2. cast the arrow, and figure out how to attach it securely
  3. re-attach part of the bow that broke off
  4. clean up the edges and chase the surface
  5. figure out how to mount it, and then do it
  6. figure out the appropriate surface treatment, and then apply it

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Best In The World

Haven't posted in a while, but that doesn't mean I've been idle.

Spent last Friday casting the next positive in Forton MG - which is a complicated and unsatisfying process. Forton requires 4 different proportions of 4 different materials - some dry, some wet, some by lb. some by gram. It also requires fiberglass (I'm using 1.5 oz chop strand fiberglass mat) which is an unpleasant material to work with. The best analogy I can come up with it is trying to wallpaper a toilet with elmers glue and horsehair. It is an inelegant and frustrating process. Add to that the stress working with a new material - not being sure if the mixes are correct, not knowing if it's going to stick to the mold, etc. - and you get a really long and unpleasant day.

If I had written a post on Friday, you might have thought I was never going to make a sculpture again, and you would have been right. On Friday I was sure I would never do this again. Not this big. Not while teaching full time. Not with a wife and kids. Not without a major grant, or a commission, or some clear purpose, other than making myself miserable and pissing money away. Then on Wednesday I got it out of the mold, and now all is forgiven.

There is simply nothing like having a complex, multi-part, process resolve itself more or less the way you thought it would. It's incredibly addictive. It immediately makes you forget all of the frustration and heartache, and start planning your next campaign. All the anxiety and uncertainty of of the last six months is distilled into one moment, and then resolved.

Here's how it went down.

First of all, I bought another set of ratchet straps, and gave myself 8 anchor points inside the casting.

Once I had everything secured, and was able to lift the mold and the casting away from the table, I eased the 7 pieces of the mothermold away from the rubber mold, which was still holding tight to the rigid body of the cast. Then I slowly peeled back the rubber.

I was particularly gratified to see how raising the cast helped in the de-mold process. Figuring out how to make gravity a partner in the process, rather than an obstacle, was my own little innovation, and it worked out beautifully.

There are still miles to go - little places that need patching, etc., and I'm sure I will be cursing again before the end of it. but having this work out is a huge boost to the finish line. Huge.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dry Run

It was a hectic day in the studio Friday, but I did manage to get a reasonable trial cast of "Self-Portrait...".

I decided that before I invested in a whole order of Forton, I'd make a trial run with something relatively simple, like Hydrostone and burlap. My hope was that the cost of days worth of labor, and a few bucks in material would be offset by the trouble spots and problems I would discover, and be able to anticipate for next time.

Here's how it went. First, I brushed in a thin coat of a Hyrdostone into the mold.

Then I added a couple of coats of burlap dipped in Hydrostone, to give the shell some strength. After a couple coats, I added these loops of sixteen gauge wire.

My hope was that the wire loops would allow me to suspend the cast from the ceiling, and pull the mold out from under it.

It almost worked according to plan. I don't have any pictures of me taking the mold away, because it turned out I really could have used an assistant. The wire worked like a champ, and for a minute the whole thing was suspended a few inches above the table, until weight of the mold overcame the structural integrity of the cast, and it started to collapse and bend. I'm hoping that stronger material, more reinforcement and more points of contact will solve that problem, and that the next one will be a keeper.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Matter Of Morfit Vs. Plastic Relief, RESOLVED

OK. I spent a couple of days with this in my kitchen, learned to look at it without anxiety, and decided I love it. It feels like I’ve finally found the right solution for this work. Working through that problem - taking the time to follow an unfamiliar idea to it’s successful resolution, is something I’m particularly proud of.

Let's remember that these started as an offshoots of the plaster plates, were originally cast in plaster, and glued directly to the wall. The first breakthrough came when I convinced by the quietly insightful Christine Pfister that having a body of work that stuck to the wall made no practical sense as a work of art. Nobody wants to spend money on art they can’t take with them when they move.

Up until that moment, I’d felt that the pieces needed to be plaster in order to reference the decorative architectural plasters of 17th and 18th centuries. As soon as I got my head around using plastic, the possibilities exploded. Using the plastic led to the use of the nails, which created the critical space between the figures and the wall.

At this point, I was still working with the original model - that the individual figures would be combined to create narrative vignettes in the space. That was what I did at Eileen Tognini’s, for my show at Pentimenti, and at a couple of private residences this summer. The installation process worked like exactly like I’d imagined it would, but new problems presented themselves as the rubber met the road.

First, scale. I thought the installation at Pentimenti worked well, but I could see that part of its success depended on the scale of the room. Out in the larger gallery, those pieces would just disappear. Second, the pieces turned out to be more dependent on the environment than I had anticipated. Installing pieces in a couple of private homes this summer, I found that if the background color was too strong, or the lighting wasn’t right, the pieces flattened out, and the relief as lost. Third, in a larger space, the vignettes just didn’t have the same impact I’d imagined. They looked good, but they didn’t look like enough.

This frame, to my mind, solves all those problems. The frame keeps the scale manageable (duh), and I can control the color. As I mentioned in the last post, I’m no longer trying to control the light - although now it should makes more sense why I would think I needed to. Finally, the all-over composition is enough. It’s visually overwhelming in the way I always thought these pieces needed to be. I had to give up some of the narrative quality to get there, but I think that’s a good thing. In fact, I’m now thinking that the whole idea of a narrative was somehow limiting . It’s just another one example of how you have to kill your darlings - how the initial inspiration can end up being the idea you need to overcome for the piece to succeed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Overfunction Much?

So I dragged my friend Matthew into the kitchen yesterday to see what he thought about this latest iteration. He looked at it for about 2 seconds before saying, "What's up with those lights? They're not staying, right?".

It was one of those frustrating moments when I suddenly realize that I've been laboring under some wrongheaded idée fixe. Of course those lights are not staying! Do you think I'm the kind of over-functioning control freak who would try to build the lighting into his piece? Do you think I'm the kind of idiot who would torture himself trying to find the right lamps, the right lightbulbs, and the right extension cord for such a project? Not this guy. Not anymore.

Thank you Matthew.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What Is The What

OK. This process has been killing me, but I finally got everything nailed down, glued in, and ready to go. Hung it in the kitchen this afternoon, mostly because I'm tired of being surprised by how things look outside of the studio.

I haven't got the portfolio shot of this yet, but this gives an idea of what it looks like in the space.

This whole body of work has been hard going, so it's hard to see clearly, but I think this is the last, best version. It's tricky to think of an appropriate context. It's almost flat, but then there's this intensely detailed depth on the top 1/4 inch. It's almost decorative, but the high contrast shapes against the decorator showcase colors are at odds with the the fragments of narrative, which are often violent, or unsettling. It looks like a billboard, or a poster, or an explosion at the Wedgewood factory.

I made it, but I'm not sure I know how to look at it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

In The Frame / Process Breakdown

Start of the semester, but finally able to get back in the studio on Friday.

Most of the day spent painting and finishing the frame. Hard to patient here, because I'd like to get started and see if my imagined process is going to work, but I can't do that without having everything else perfect and ready to go. Which means 4 or 5 hours of sanding, painting, and prepping before I can really get "started".

The good news is that I finally did get to put some figures down on the frame, and it works just like I thought.

First, I spray-painted all the elements with a matte white automotive primer. This has two benefits. First, it makes all the color consistent, and protects the plastic from UV light, which yellows it.

Second, it creates a stencil, which I use as a map when it comes time to register the pieces on the frame.

It's slow going, but I think I've got the system worked out, and the end is definitely in sight.

The process thus far:

1) Make original figures in Super Sculpey
2) Bake figures
3) Carve and sand baked figures
4) Mold figures
5) Cast elements in plastic (From here, each step is repeated for each casting)
6) Soak figures in TSP to remove mold release
7) Brush figures with wire bush to scuff surfaces
8) Drill multiple holes into the back of each figure to anchor the brads
9) Glue brads into holes
10) Make foam "testing wall"
11) Cover wall with craft paper
12) Demarcate projected final dimensions on craft paper
13) Compose image, punching brads through craft paper into foam wall
14) Modify, cut, and crop individual elements where necessary
15) Make frame
16) Paint frame
17) Paint figures
18) Transfer sections of figures over to auxiliary foam board
19) Cut craft paper sections
20) Using perforated craft paper as a guide, drill holes in frame
21) Glue each element into corresponding holes

Looking at it like this makes me feel incredibly clever, and totally foolish. Like I've created an elegant Rube Goldberg machine that doesn't do anything.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Full Tilt

If I sell this piece for a million dollars, I will have made a dollar an hour.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nearly There

I got this far before running out of pieces. Frustrating.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ooooh, Good Title.

I realize that after all the huffing and puffing of the earlier entry, I never actually managed to discuss the work in question. No surprise. Writing about how work is made is easy. Writing about what it means is hard. So let's start with something easy - let's start with the title.

Of course there's nothing easy about titles. A title is a dangerous thing. A great title can make a piece (Damien Hirst). Bad titles stink like rotten fish (Barrett Newman). Good titles illuminate. A bad titles obscure, or overreach. In the best cases, a good title gives us a new perspective, provides a new point of entry. In the worst case, a title is pretentious, or obvious, or both.

That said, I think leaving work "untitled" is a cop-out. "Untitled" says, "I recognize how high the stakes are here, and I'm afraid to get it wrong". I understand why people do it - that desire to keep your work from defined a few words or phrases - but it seems to me that if you had the courage to make something, and to display it, you should try to find the courage to give it a name.

So. With all of that in mind, the title for this piece is...

"Self Portrait, With Ambition"

This piece did not start out being a self-portrait. It started with a helmet, and a bow and arrow. It became a self-portrait over time. In some areas I was working from photographs, but in many cases I was using myself as a model, and the references began to accumulate. In the end, it was the Leatherman that tipped the scale. Once I added that, I knew this had become a self-portrait, and I knew what the piece was about.

This piece is a mission statement. It is a declaration of intent, or a declaration of war. It is the moment when I decided that I wanted to compete with my idols, wanted hold myself to the standards of my heroes. This image speaks to both that ambition, and to the anxiety that comes with declaring that ambition.

This is not the hunter triumphant. This is not a frontal assault. The approach here is stealthy, possibly tentative. The regalia is a dressed up lash-up of relics and the regular. Yet even as he sneaks up on flip-flops, crouched low with a simple bow and helmet he can barely see through, we see that the arrowheads are not simple hunting flints, but iron points, designed to pierce armor. For all his awkwardness, for all his reservations, this kid means business.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Horror Vacui

Finally made some progress in the studio today. Trying to resolve at least one of the three projects I set myself this summer. In this case that means working to resolve the relief figures.

This is turning out to be a long process (as my processes usually are). Spent much of last week repairing old guys, pouring new ones, and installing nails. Labor intensive and boring. Spend a couple days the week before that building the 4 x 6 frame that they'll eventually be attached to. Also labor intensive and boring. But! Today I finally got to get started.

Having covered my foam "layout wall" with craft paper, and taped off the interior dimension of my final frame (not pictured here), I was ready to get started. When I've got a composition I'm happy with, my plan is to take the perforated craft paper off the foam wall and use it to transfer the finished design onto the face of the final frame.

My current thinking is to use some of the narrative elements that I started with, but surround them with the random visual clutter that I'm finding so appealing. I'm imaging that when it's done, the narrative will be buried in the composition, like a color-blindness test.

This is an interesting challenge for me, because my general aesthetic tends to be reduced, clean, and clear. Knowing that, in the end, the whole thing will be filled, I have to keep pushing myself to make moves away from the upright orientation, and to avoid getting bogged down in the various narratives.

Here's the progression.

Assuming I don't run out of pieces (a real possibility), I'm hoping to get it all filled in over the next day or two.