Work has slowed down a bit with the cold weather but I’ve made some slow progress on the Cheshire cat before it got too cold. The epoxy coating doesn’t “play well” when the temp drops below 60 degrees. However, with the days getting warmer, I’ll be back at it and wrapping it up through the spring.
For the past six weeks I’ve been working on another large commission for Moon Rabbit Collective’s new retail space here in town. Check out the online shop here moonrabbitcollective.com. This will be a wall mounted assemblage piece measuring approximately forty-two square feet and hang behind the cashwrap counter. This has been a great opportunity to explore and push the boundries of the kind of work I want to create in the future. Here are some “in process” photos.
On January 1, 2014, I decided to put down my paint brushes and focus solely on sculpting. I felt that as much as I wanted to paint, sculpture was more widely appreciated than two dimentional art. I believed that “people” engaged with sculpture in a more significant way than paintings, so the path to being a successful artist was through sculpture and I should learn and practice as much as I could to be a sculptor. I had done three dimensional work in the past and it had always gotten a much better reception than my two dimensional work. So I traveled down Sculpture Road, I learned about the vast array of clays, polymer and oil based and water based, etc. I learned about their potentials and limitations. I learned how to reproduce sculpture by molding and casting methods and the potential and limitations of those materials. My skills gradually improved. I engaged with other sculptors and absorbed as much information as I could. When I felt confident enough, I began to show my work and even sold some pieces. However, that sense of fulfillment still wasn’t there. I still didn’t feel… successful.
Exactly what does “successful” mean?
If you know me personally, then you know that I work a regular 40 hr/week job that is completely removed from any artistic pursuit. It is a repetitive, physically active job with virtually no creative aspect to it. Aside from the security of a steady income and health insurance, my job does provide one other valuable element, time to think. Because of it’s repetitive nature, I can rely on muscle memory to complete the task as hand while my brain is free to contemplate and formulate various ideas, like “why don’t I feel like I’m even getting close to that feeling of ‘success’ that I’ve been working toward?” Something is missing. What am I missing? What am I doing wrong? What am I NOT doing right? I need to figure this out.
I started to listen to what other artists had to say. I started to read between the lines. I’m not sure where I started to pick up on it originally, but the idea that the art that one makes should come from the artist’s intent as opposed to what the market seems to prefer. I concluded that as much as I thought I was creating from my intent, that wasn’t necessarily true. Just because I chose to create something, isn’t intent. The intent was dictated by the market. In other words, the “what,” or the subject of the art was entirely to satisfy some imaginary customer that I was, pretty sure, going to buy it but most times, didn’t. At the very least, the only true intent by me, was in the execution or presentation of the art object. My conclusion was that I was going in the wrong direction. The more that I listened, one message became the most prominent for me: Be yourself, do what you do and be as good as you can at it. This gave me a lot to think about. I had to really think about where my heart lays in terms of the art I would like to make. I had to think about what gave me the most personal satisfaction. I listed, in my mind, the elements that I instinctively gravitatated toward. Assemblage of found objects, recycling materials, collaged materials and images, original sculpture, and paint techniques made the list. I had been applying these processes, in varying degrees, since 2005 either in paintings or sculptures. It had taken this long to realize that these techniques have been at the core of what, I believe to be, some of my more honest work. Having made this discovery, I searched for a greater context or inspiration from the historical record. I looked to artists that had used these practices in their own work, not only for inspiration but to cautiously pursue my work without inadvertant imitation or plagiaristic qualities. I wanted to develop my voice as well as honor the artists that pioneered the ideas that are relevant to the work I want to make.
A new start
I’m nervously excited to start with this fresh perspective and have already been experimenting with some ideas. As this new work develops, I hope to present it here and on the social media platforms. I welcome any thoughts or comments you might have.
The idea of Fortune Cat developed from a photo that I had taken of our little sphinx cat, Poppy. In the photo, she has this determined stare that’s characterized by a sense of deep understanding or ancient wisdom. We have also been collecting fortunes from fortune cookies for years. I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the ubiquitous nature of the fortune cookie and it’s sayings and odd literal translations of the fortunes and wanted to incorporate them into art at some point. I had even done an iconic painting of a fortune cookie back in the mid 2000’s. Fortune Cat then became a combination of these two elements. I had already been experimenting with combinations of print techniques and collage so I wanted to use that medium to bring it all together. I wanted to create a logo type of image that could be repeated not mechanically, but manually so each print would have a unique quality. To achieve this, I made a linocut block version of the photo as well as a translation of “Fortune Cat” into traditional Chinese characters.
The basis for the first series of prints are a five by seven inch format on vintage book pages from the index of a book of maps, with random text. I then added some color tones with acrylic paint using a gel plate transfer method.
I was concerned that the original fortunes, on the little strip of paper, wouldn’t read well so I scanned multiple rows and printed them at a larger scale to fit the width of the paper, although future pieces will most likely incorporate the original fortune papers. While scanning the fortunes, I noticed the series of lucky numbers printed on the backs and decided to bring those in as well, but not as prominent as the sayings. The fortunes and lucky numbers are collaged onto the book page followed by hand printed characters and cat.
The Fortune Cat has now become my counterpoint to the the mass produced, home decor, positive affirmation signs of “live, laugh, love.” The wisdom of the fortune cookie presented by Fortune Cat are truly words to live by.
I had set aside the Cheshire cat in order to get another project done in time for an event (rescheduled twice) that I had already committed to, prior to the Covid restrictions. I’ll save that for another post. Also, in the past six months, I’ve been experimenting with some printing techniques and two dimentional work, feeling a little unsure about what I’m doing and where I’m going (creatively speaking). So, as I try to come to some conclusion about the direction to take, my first decision was to work without deadlines. In other words, not to participate in any events, shows, etc. I found myself creating work for the market, or what I thought would appeal to the market, only to be a bit dissapointed when the result didn’t line up with my expectation. Because of this, I feel I need to do something different. But not different shows or different venues, it goes deeper than that. I need to re-evaluate on the creative level.
What do I really want to do?
Truthfully, I have lists of ideas for two and three dimensional work. Literal, written lists and mental lists. A creative block can be one of the worst things to try to overcome. My problem is the opposite, many ideas, many mediums, many subjects, many processes, many, many, many. Too many? Can there be “too many?”
Again, what do I really want to do?
One of the redeeming qualities of the internet and social media is the ability to see an incredibly diverse and wonderful display of creativity by artists past and present, from all over the globe. Inspiring and/or intimidating? We are always told not to judge our work against other artists, which I believe is valid, but there is also that little voice in the back of my head saying, “Wow, I’d like to make work that good.” In reality, it’s all subjective. What is good, what isn’t? Who is the arbiter of what’s exceptional and what’s mediocre? Ultimately, we as artists, can only do what we do to the extent of personal satisfaction. Aha!
There it is: Personal Satisfaction.
The pursuit of personal satifaction has now become the goal, but to what extent? Satisfaction with the idea, the execution, the end result, or some combination of all of these? Maybe it has to start with the idea. I have plenty of those. Let’s start there, but as I continue on with this creative exploration, I still have the unfinished business of the Cheshire Cat. How does this project align with my new outlook into personal satisfaction? Actually I think it fits right in with the direction I would like to follow. I’m not only satified with the idea, but also with the execution into it’s current state.
The current state of the Cheshire Cat
In the last post, I had blocked out some of the cat’s body and done some shaping of the hind end. Since then, I have finished all of the basic foam construction, carving and the core for the tail.
I’ve also added some foam structures for smaller branches. With the two sections separated, I have begun the application of the epoxy coating, starting at the base of the tree. I’m using a product called Free Form Habitat Black made by Smooth On. It’s a two part system when mixed with an added component of Folding Powder, becomes a dough-like material, similar to pizza dough. This is applied in a layer approxamately a quater of an inch thick then textured with a silicone stamp that I made from real tree bark.
I’m feeling very positive about the progress so far.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.