Cheshire Cat: Part 4

March 25, 2021

Spring is here and with it comes more progress. Now that the “separation problem” has been solved, the rest of the forms of the tree and cat need to be blocked out. At this point it’s a lot of repetitive glueing and carving of foam, but here are some of the highlights. I cut the wooden board into a rough branch shape. Some layers of foam needed to be glued on the bottom side to form the lower half of the branch.

Another layer of foam was glued on the top side and a rough branch shape was carved out. With the major elements of the tree form carved, the body of the cat was glued in rough shapes of foam panel and glued together then glued to the top part of the tree.

Until I decide how I want to block out the forms for the front half of the cat, I started carving some shape into the foam on the back. Details are not important at this stage, just getting overall shapes and proportions.

Cheshire Cat: Part 3

February 25, 2021

Making a connection:

Although a series of snow storms had slowed my progress, also why this post is about ten days later then I hoped, I managed to determine how the top and bottom sections will connect. Understanding that the weight and leverage of the upper section (which will be the cat body and large branch that it rests on) will need an adequate, stable means so that ultimately no breakage or stress over time can cause damage.

I decided to use 3 inch PVC pipe in two sections and build up the lower tree trunk with two more sections of foam. I inserted 3 inch PVC unions in the first section. In order to get the pipe to fit the entire length of the union, the ridge in the center had to be ground out.

The unions were then glued in place with Gorilla glue. The second section was then glued on with a rectangular opening to provide access for adding additional support strength.

To make sure the unions would be secure, and not pull out of the foam, a layer of fiberglass resin and mesh was laid in. Prior to the fiberglass though, a barrier of aluminum foil was glued in because foam and polyester resin do NOT play well together. After the the resin set, a layer of fiberglass resin jelly was used to add more reinforcement.

With the bottom secure, the pipe sections were measured and cut so that the top was even with the two additonal layers of foam. To ensure that the top will have adequate support, I attatched the pipe to a length of 1/2 inch wood board by screwing drain flanges to the board and screwing the pipe to the flanges. Some grinding and sanding was needed to make sure the fit was smooth and secure. I may add fiberglass to the flanges in the future but this should work well enough for the next step which will be blocking out the shapes of the branch and cat.

Cheshire Cat: Part 2

January 31, 2021

In the last post, I began layering cross sections of foam panel to form the general shape of the lower half of the tree that the cat will be perched on. As the trunk narrows from the roots, I used a piece of clear plastic sheet to outline the shape of the next piece to be cut.

Using a few push pins to hold the plastic in place, I traced the next layer with a sharpie. Then I placed the traced shape on the piece of board to be cut and followed the line with a burnishing tool to leave an indentation on the foam. The new shape was then cut out with a jigsaw. As new pieces are cut they are glued together and weighted to make sure the seams stay as tight as possible.

I’m using Gorilla Glue which has a tendancy to expand as it cures. Three or four layers were glued at a time, always stepping back and looking at how the the layers are creating the overall shape, referring back to the small plastilene model to stay on track. Keep in mind that the model is just a refence point and I’m not attempting to replicate it exactly.

I layered the foam to the height at which I want to divide the sculpture. After using all of the pink foam that I could, a new piece of green foam was purchased to complete the lower half. As I mentioned in the previous post, this will be constructed in two sections for safe transport. This lower section is approximately 39 inches tall.

After all of the sections were completely glued and secure, the carving stage began. I started with a small hotwire tool to remove larger sections of foam.

If your not familiar with one of these, it uses electric current to heat a length of wire that will melt through the foam, cutting it very smoothly. It’s ideal for removing a lot of material quickly and easily.

I used the hotwire to cut down the edges of each layer and begin to create contours but because the tool is a bit narrow, I couldn’t get as close as I would have liked so I improvised a tool to help with the next step.

An array of tools including a jigsaw, hotwire, wire brush and an improvised sander on an electric drill

The tool is basically some kind of sanding cylinder that appeared to be designed for mounting on an arbor or possibly a table top drum sander. I took out the center mounting shaft and replaced it with a long bolt, washers and a spacer to it could be chucked into an electric drill. I could now use this to remove more material that couldn’t be done with the hotwire and eliminate the rough edges between the layers.

When I had removed as much as I could with the sanding tool, the final shape was then carved using a wire brush. Although the wire brush leaves a very rough texture to the foam, this will all be covered with a layer of epoxy material (more on that later).

The next step is to design and construct the point of assembly between to two sections.

To be continued…

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…

Preparing for Illuxcon 2020, virtually.

For the past month I have been going through the process of photographing some old pieces and more recent work in preparation for the upcoming Illuxcon that will be, for the first time, completely virtual due to the pandemic restrictions on public indoor gatherings.

Illuxcon would usually take place every October for five days in Reading, PA. But not this year. Thanks to 2020 being a complete shitshow for public events, the producers of IX have developed a creative plan to take the show virtual and bring to the public online, but not for only five days but for six months.

See the show at IX-online.com.

Creating a Custom Shifter Handle

I was recently comissioned to alter a shifter handle from the manufacturer’s logo to a personal symbol. The handle was made from cast aluminum, so I began by filling in the company logo with epoxy sculpting clay (Magic Sculpt), then sanded smooth.

The new design is an interpretation from a symbol in the client’s tattoo.

More epoxy is used to create the symbol in relief then sprayed with a coat of acrylic primer.

The final paint scheme was created with a coat of black primer followed with a few layers of iridescent black acrylic ink and metallic silver on the raised symbol. Iridescent purple ink was applied over the silver, finishing with multiple layers of clear coat.

Summer Sculptures

Here are a couple of projects that I have been working on over the past couple of months, Both of them have an overall concept of assemblage, incorporating found mechanical, or industrial looking objects and each with the intent for submission to juried publications.

The first one is titled Yokai, (Yōkai are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits and demons from Japanese folklore. The word ‘Yōkai‘ is made up of the kanji for “bewitching”; “attractive”; “calamity;” and “spectre”; “apparition”; “mystery”; “suspicious”). I started with idea of a spider. I had done a spider sculpture a few years ago and wanted to explore that idea a little more.

I found an object that had the shape that I was looking for and added another small piece to complete the body along with copper wire to form the armature for the legs.

I’ve always been a fan of Terry Gilliam films and wanted to give this piece a crazy supernatural vibe, so I sculpted a face based on the creepy baby mask from Brazil. I sculpted it separately over a piece of dense foam out of Cosclay. Cosclay is a brand of polymer clay that, when baked, becomes firm yet somewhat flexible. Most other polymer clays become hard and delicate and potentially brittle.

This gave face the appearance of a mask. The leg armatures were positioned and sculpted using Magic Sculpt epoxy clay which cures over time and becomes extremely hard and durable. For paint, I started with acrylic and acrylic inks. The face was then detailed with oil paint. I masked over the glass part of the body to keep it unchanged.

It was at this point that I wanted to give this piece a name. A google search lead me to japanese folklore, although I couldn’t find a specific spider demon, this fits the general catagory of a Yokai.

The final element was the addition of hair. I decided to try using real human hair, in fact, it is my own hair. A couple of iterations later, the hair ended up being adhered and coated with acrylic matte medium and trimmed at the bottom. This was submitted to the Beautiful Bizzare art prize competition.

The second piece, CatBot, was done for the Art Order submission to the book project, “When Robots Dream,” and grew from the resin cast of a cat head that I had done last fall.

The idea behind this was to create an interpretation of a companion robot with the artificial intelligence to think that it is a cat but disappointingly falls short of the physical appearance and ability of a real cat, thus, the CatBot realizes this and is terminally sad and frustrated.

This slowly grew piece by piece. Starting with the blank head, which the original head was the cap from a decorative collectable Jim Beam decanter, parts came together to assemble the vertical section of the CatBot. The main section of the upper body is a plastic part salvaged from a vaccuum cleaner with various metal washers and fittings with the head given the ability to tilt and swivel.

Much of the body is also parts from the vaccuum cleaner, cut and modified to fit with pieces of wood for mounting support. The front wheels are trucks from a small childs skateboard and the rear wheels are modified from a toy baby carriage. Other plastic bits of pvc pipe, vacuformed plastic, and a chrome plated end from a heat gun help to finish the details. I was able to build this with the ability to roll around. After a coat of black primer, brushed accents of bronze enamel, and a dusting of hammered aluminum spray paint, it started to look like one unified object. More brushed accents of burnt and raw sienna oil paint and a thin wash of paynes gray finished the paint scheme, topped off with a stenciled number nine in faded reds.

The curse of social media

June 27, 2020

Over the past couple of weeks, I have spent a lot of time considering the amount of time and energy that gets devoted to various social media outlets. Specifically, how much time I have spent on trying to juggle Instagram, two Facebook pages, Patreon, this website and how to “engage” with “relevant content.” It gets to be a bit much. The conclusion that I have come to is this:

LESS IS MORE

So, over the last few weeks, I have archived the content from Patreon. In fact the three previous posts on this blog are the last three posts from my former, yes former, Patreon page. Don’t get me wrong, I think Patreon is a fantastic platform for creators. I highly recommend trying it as a means to share and generate revenue. It just wasn’t working for me. I can just as easily post to the blog on this site (which I’ve been paying for for years) and share what I’m doing. Why not utilize it?

Minus one media site left me with this website, two Facebook pages and Instagram. Honestly, IG is my favorite of them all. It stays. But Facebook? As much as I would like to completely walk away from it, it does have some value. The compromise is to dump the “art page” on Facebook since that is what this site/blog is for anyway, and keep the personal page just to stay connected. The final equation leaves me with this site/blog, IG, and one FB page. I’m OK with that.

This leads me back to the original motive for “trimming the fat.” To be able to redirect all of the mental energy that was used to furthur the purposes of the media outlets to the process of making art. To switch the brain power from “managing” to “creating.”

This is the kicking off point, as it were, for this blog as a means of sharing my creativity with you. The site as a whole, is still in a state of flux but that’s ok. None of this is carved in stone. Let’s see where this part of the journey takes us…

Getting a little “Heisenberg” or maybe “Rauschenberg”

April 29, 2020

Copper sulfate looks remarkably like the crystal blue meth in Breaking Bad.

Taking some inspiration from Robert Rauschenberg, I have delved into the world of electroforming. Not that Rauschenberg did electroforming, but he was always looking to incorporate new processes and new materials, adding to the vocabulary in his body of work. 

After seeing some very unique work, I did some research and discovered that these pieces were the product of electroforming. Naturally I turned to Youtube to find out more. Aside from a few specific pieces of equipment, it’s a fairly straightforward set up. Essentially this is a copperplating process. Being able to copper plate conductive material as well as organic and non-conductive material is fascinating to me because it opens up a whole new dimension to experiment with textures and finishes. 

After some preliminary test pieces, I can tell that there is some very subtle intricacies to manipulate the outcome. As I follow the learning curve, I will be sharing some of the results.

Stay home, stay creative, stay positive

April 9, 2020

Here’s another finished piece, “American West.”  I still have a lot more in progress but I’m discovering the challenge of not being able to run to the store and grab supplies or materials that I would prefer to use.  In any event, I’m trying to work with what I have but that won’t last much longer. However, I now have an opportunity to use all kinds of flotsam and jetsam. Dug Stanat has encouraged all artists to join in creating in theme of Battle Turtles, the ranks of which I have now joined. Visit any of Dug’s social media to learn to more about the Battle Turtle movement. My turtle is in the early stages but should prove to be most interesting and unusual.

Starting and finishing

April 3, 2020

While I currently have five ongoing pieces, I managed to finish one this morning. That gave me a reason to start another. The finished piece incoporates a couple of castings from a few years back. I was never really happy with the original sculpting, but at the time, I was eager to get hands on experience with mold making and casting. A lot of my earlier castings have ended up in a box, taking up space, so now the intention is to “rediscover” them into new pieces.  These castings were cut apart and reassembled and resculpted with Magic Sculpt. Also layered in are some salvaged pieces of wood, a magazine image, and paint. 

The new piece will include many of the elements that I’m currently using; collage, paint, and at least one cast object. The foundation is this series of salvaged boards glued together. The nails are existing from whatever these were previously used for. As soon as the glue dries, I’ll be able to move on to the next step. I have a pretty clear concept on this one but things always seem to take a left turn on their own sometimes.