Welcome to 2021: revisting the Cheshire Cat

January 18, 2021

With the changing of the seasons comes the cleaning and organizing of the studio and creating new work. This year is seeing a shift to fairly larger work as I revisit a Cheshire Cat project that was started in 2017.

In 2017, after being approached to create a large prop for a themed event, I began constructing a large Cheshire Cat sculpture. Not since college had I done anything on this scale but as I got part way into the project, the call for a Cheshire Cat changed to the Caterpillar from the Lewis Carroll classic. So I ultimately created that instead (at least the first iteration), leaving the unfinished cat by the wayside until this past summer when I was asked to finish the sculpture by friends so that it may enhance their lovely backyard.

I cleaned and reorganized the studio so that I would have ample room to work and brought the unfinished piece in. Having learned from working on the caterpillar, twice, as I made drastic changes to it after its initial construction, I knew I needed to take a different approach. The first version of the caterpillar was entirely one sculpture and having to transport it became more of a challenge so when I revised it later, I reworked it into two pieces for easier transport. Since the cat will be taken to South Carolina from Pennsylvania, transporting it safely is a major concern for me. I began by attempting to bisect the tree trunk part of the sculpture. I had cut intersecting pieces of plywood to give me the profiles and glued cross sections of 2″ foam insulation board at intervals with Gorilla tape to give the overall surface form. Basically, I had no idea what I was doing and just kind of making it up as I went, problem solving along the way. Not an uncommon approach for me. Unfortunately, in attempting to keep it lightweight, it lacked enough integrity so that when I put the sawzall to it, I ended up with more pieces than intended. It became clear that it was time to start from scratch and just recycle as much of the previous sculpture as possible.

Starting over now gave me the opportunity to re-envision what the sculpture will be and having the knowledge gained from the work and rework of the caterpillar, how to improve the construction and design. The first technical decision is to make it in multiple sections (at least two) for safer transport and the the first creative decision is to exaggerate the shapes and create more interesting forms.

A point of reference:

Like the caterpillar, I sculpted a small sketch in plastilene to give me point of reference as I contruct the large version. The original tree shape was very basic and columnar, not very interesting. I wanted to change that and give it a harder angle from the ground and a little bit of a twist and added variations to the form. This also gives me an idea of what the footprint should be.

Starting from the ground up:

With an idea of what the footprint should look like, the question now is what to material to use. As luck would have it, a piece of 1/2 in. MDF was left over from another project that was large enough to map out the bottom of the tree.

After cutting out the silouette of the base of the tree, I glued layers of the recycled 2″ foam board to start developing an overall form to be carved down to more refined shapes. Although the base of MDF allows for a nice, flat platform to build upon, it is not at all weatherproof so before I get too far into building up, I flipped it and applied three coats of spar urethane to the bottom. With the urethane drying for 24 hours, it will be time to continue layering foamboard to complete the bottom half of the tree trunk.

to be continued…

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